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Rock & roll moontower chatter bugs
human crickets chirping in the dusk
their boozy drone echoing up from concrete floors
to the dizzy rafters of this
monolithic steel cavern

Outside, though, the trees are oil paintings
Out of time, serene in the motionless moment

Pale green hut’s arc beams explode skyward
its imperfect panels rusted in all the right spots
as we hope to someday be
putting on rings like live oaks
like careless pimps
and new brides
each of us saturn breaking over the horizon

Corrugated walls ripple out in waves
like the floodlight nightfall tractor beams we’re caught in
the persistent clatter of the crickets
a drop in the bucket
one-thousand time-lapse hurricanes
across the velvety ceiling of the gulf

On the back patio, I am weightless above the concrete
Atmosphere undetectable on seismograph skin
all things equal inside and out

The dwindling sunday strollers amble
along the path in the honeysuckle night
going nowhere & everywhere
There is no sleep
There is no wake
only dream

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(lyrics)

Kettle whistle cuts cold air 
I see my breath, I fix my stare
Mercury falls like an angel cast from Heaven high
And it’s not any warmer in my heart
You sprained your ankle at the start
Of the beginning of the end of this fool race we’ve run

The highway’s slick and mirror-black
I cut my teeth on heart attacks
Half-empty glass of bourbon in my shaky hand
I’ve lionized your lying eyes
Torn you down inside my mind
The truth it lies in the distance between you and I

Discovered weaknesses, built up walls
Innocence no longer calls 
Like the melody’s rise and fall I’m hanging on
But innocence is guilelessness 
Gutlessness, subconsciously
I hope in time you will see some good in me

There’s a darkness in my mind
A learned bleakness behind my smile
The flickering ember of an accidental electric fire 
Smoked my soul and rolled my eyes
Is it better to try to or not to try 
I hope I don’t die before I understand
I hope I die, with a hand in my hand

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Last year I wrote a narrative essay for website Myoo.com introducing a playlist of nontraditional Christmas music I’d compiled. Then I decided to turn the whole thing into a holiday radio play featuring Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, Mannheim Steamroller, The Ramones, OutKast, Dodd Ferrelle, and Neal Holman as The Ghost of Christmas Past. It takes place almost entirely in a bar. You can stream or download here…

A Christmas Music Story

And if you’re interested, here’s a link to the the two-volume playlist on Spotify…

A New Christmas Canon, Vol. 1

A New Christmas Canon, Vol. 2 

Here’s some commentary on Vol. 1…

1. Dodd Ferelle - Strung Out Like the Lights (at Christmastime)

Ferelle’s aching yet hopeful voice wraps delicately around his duet partner Betsy Ingelsby’s, capturing perfectly what it’s like to battle addiction and loneliness during the holidays.

2. Tom Waits - Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

A Christmas piano ballad for the dregs of society. A ruse, a sham, an attempt to prey on the better nature of some poor greasy haired schmo, a sucker in love with a hooker. But in this tale, even the tramp has a conscience, coming clean at the very end, perhaps inspired by the true spirit of the season. 

3. Eux Autres - Teenage Christmas

A brand-new lo-fi holiday anthem that sounds as if was stuffed in your stocking by Guided By Voices circa Bee Thousand.

4. Yo La Tengo - Mr. Tough

Nothing I’ve heard in decades sounds more like an outtake from Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas.

5. The Band - Christmas Must Be Tonight (Alternate Version)

A tender, stripped-down, upbeat rocker celebrating the Christmas story. Bassist Rick Danko takes the lead vocal on this, his vulnerable warble taking full spotlight.

6. Matt Pond PA - Holiday Road

A gorgeous, contemplative take on Lindsey Buckingham’s holiday roadtrip classic, made famous by its inclusion in Christmas Vacation precursor, National Lampoon’s Vacation.

7. Dolorean - Violence in the Snowy Fields

Portland, Ore., folk-rock outfit Dolorean, paints a desolate, sighing, soundtrack to winter.

8. Santo & Johnny - Twistin’ Bells

The same duo responsible for instantly recognizable steel-guitar instrumental “Sleep Walk” cut this twangy surf-twist version of “Jingle Bells” in 1962.

9. Big Star - Jesus Christ

This celebration of Christmas day is a two-minute twenty second handbook for jangle pop. One of the finest songs from one of the most under-appreciated bands of all time. 

10. James Brown - Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto

James Brown’s soulful plea to St. Nick to remember all the good little boys and girls celebrating Christmas in the ’hood.

11. Red Simpson - Out on the Road for Christmas

A master of country-music niche marketing, Simpson made his entire career singing for the truck drivers of the world. This one’s for all the lonely big-rig kings with no family back home.

12. Cyndi Lauper & the Hives - A Christmas Duel

Eighties pop star Lauper and Sweden’s garage-rock darlings The Hives team up for a naughty duet of holiday family dysfunction.

13. Mötley Crüe - Home Sweet Home

This is not a holiday song per se, but I’m including it to illustrate that any song can become a holiday song under the right circumstances—you just have to build the association. Back in the ’80s, when I was just a kiddo who still believed in Santa, my parents charged my hair-metal-obsessed teenage sister with transferring all of our family’s old Christmas favorites from vinyl to cassette. As a subversive, rebellious joke, she inserted Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home” smack between Jimmy Durante and Mario Lanza. At first, my Dad was a little peeved, but every year we played that cassette, and eventually the Crüe evoked for us the same Pavlovian response as the rest of the old-school tracks, nostalgic pleasure centers lighting up like Christmas trees at the sound of that melodramatic piano intro.

14. Run DMC - Christmas in Hollis

Picking up where Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” left off, these rap pioneers tell the tale of the time Santa visited Queens, N.Y.

15. The Ramones - Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)

Three-chord sledgehammer power-pop just about everyone visiting their relatives this holiday season will relate to. 

16. Tobias Froberg - When the Night Turns Cold

“Will you help me start a fire?” A much less creepy (less date-rapey) alternative to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

17. Rogue Wave - Christmas

It’s as if these Oakland indie rockers have bottled up this epic Who track from Tommy inside of a snowglobe.

18. Pixies - Winterlong

Black Francis and Kim Deal’s sad-beautiful harmonies anchor this Neil Young cover, as does lead guitarist Joey Santiago’s simple but perfect octave guitar chugging. Even better than the original.

19. Elliott Smith - “Angel in the Snow”

No one since Nick Drake has been able to tap into the bleak depths of human sadness like Smith. Even in a gentle, nervous love song such as this, he leaves a cloud for every silver lining.

20. Low - Little Drummer Boy

Slo-core fuzz rockers Low obliterate this tune from the old Christmas Canon in a wash of static destruction.

21. The Clash - Lost in the Supermarket

Like I said before—any song can be a holiday song under the right circumstances. This one perfectly captures how out-of-my-element I feel the one day a year I break down and go to that swirling vortex of everything I hate about gluttonous consumerism in America—the mall.

22. OutKast - Unhappy

Big Boi says it all in verse 2: 

Once upon a rhyme, one time when I was a child 

When I found out that Santa Claus was nothing more than Vanilli

It was silly, `cause my mom and pop they worked for every penny

Didn’t have many, but had enough to get by, enough to get fly

Only to start off New Year off in debt

23. Weezer - O Holy Night

From the Weezer’s 2008 Christmas EP. The band’s signature wall of guitars fits surprisingly well on this traditional tune. 

24. The Pogues - Fairytale of New York

Desperate, depraved and as real as it gets. Christmas Eve in the drunk tank. A rocky romance set against the backdrop of seedy ’70s New York. Of all the reasons to love charming drunkard Shane MacGowan and his band, this is at the top of my list.

25. Dwight Yoakam - Santa Can’t Stay

In this country song for the ages, little junior tries his best to understand why Mama is kicking Santa out of the house.

26. The Everly Brothers - Christmas Eve Can Kill You

A poetic ballad chronicling the hardships of the drifter at Christmastime.

27. The Last Heard & Bob Seger - Sock it to Me Santa

If Wilson Pickett’s “Land of 1000 Dances” had been a Christmas song it would’ve been this. Guaranteed to get any holiday party wild & sweaty on the dance floor.

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Playing pinochle
after hours on Bull Street
cross-legged, slumped against the wall
with a girl from Wooster
Lured by Moe Tucker’s velvet whisper
we drink a toast to never
She shuffles the deck 
asks if I believe in God… I nod
This game could last forever

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Every time I sit down to write I’m like a sculptor staring at a giant uncut mountain of stone. The first 2/3 of the experience is almost always brutal, painful, overwhelming and exhausting. I start and stop in fits. Hide out in my room for hours, sometimes days. I forget everything I’ve ever learned. I curse the path I’ve chosen in life and myself for following it. But then, eventually, inevitably, as I keep chiseling at the stone, arranging and rearranging the seemingly bottomless well of information and research and experiences I’ve gathered, something shifts. A form begins to emerge from the rock and a threshold is crossed. From there, with every paragraph, a weight is lifted. The act becomes more lucid and simple, and words and ideas begin pouring out. By the time I drop the last sentence, everything is so easy that I feel dangerously confident, like Bernini or Rodin must’ve felt admiring their work, like a god who’s just whipped some new universe into existence—like the whole tooth & nail struggle was just some fever dream, a smoke-ring in the breeze, a fading transmission beamed from the recesses of some poor, distant, long-forgotten dead hack’s memory banks to the shortwave radio of my subconscious. Yes, dangerously confident. And chasing the dragon again. Maybe Greg Porn is right. Maybe everybody addicted to something.

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There’s an emptiness in this cold, cold house
There’s an emptiness and I gotta get out
of my own head

There’s a void in the wake of what never was
I’m a failure, baby, just because
I was born

Confess your sins and call it art
Drag the depths of your black heart
I’ve got nothing left to lose
Are the last words of a fool

Blood in the doorway of my old house
We’re not guilty, we’re just down and out
It’s by design

I’ve got a quiet mind on Cascade Heights
I got no dog left in this fight
I’m alone tonight
And I like it fine

Confess your sins and call it art
Drag the depths of your black heart
I’ve got nothing left to lose
Are the last words of a fool

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Trying to get the word out about an event I’m bringing to the Plaza Theatre.

It’s an excellent new documentary on Mark Sandman, mysterious/iconic frontman for the band Morphine. The film explores the band’s impact and artistic merit as well as Sandman’s tragic story and untimely death (onstage, of a heart attack). I appear briefly in the film along with Sandman’s family, surviving band members, and musicians and critics like Ben Harper, Mike Watt, Josh Homme, Les Claypool, Seth Mnookin, John Medeski & Nic Harcourt. Here’s the trailer.

Another interesting facet of this event is that I’m using a brand-new platform called Tugg, which is like a Kickstarter for bringing indie films to any major city nationwide. Tugg has a vast network of affiliate theaters, and about 500 indie films to choose from at any one time. You select a film, a city, a local theater, a date and time, then Tugg tells you how many tickets you need to sell to make the event happen. They set up an event page where people can purchase advance tickets, but it only charges their cards when enough tickets are sold to greenlight the event. If the quota isn’t met and the event falls through, no one is charged.

Trying hard to make this screening happen, and could really use some support in the form of reblogs and posts on your other social media if you’re interested in helping. Here’s a link to the event page.

The screening is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 13 at the Plaza Theatre, 7:30 p.m. The deadline for meeting the pre-sale quota is Nov. 4.

Purchase your advance tickets asap! (remember - you’re only charged if we hit the quota!)

Thanks,

Steve

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RSVP here!

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Here’s a sneak peek at my new band Sex BBQ. We’ll be making our debut Thursday, March 15 at the Peoplestown Palace. Stay tuned for details. 

LISTEN NOW - Sex BBQ (Untitled cell-phone recorded demo)

This track features…

Kate BBQ - Lead vox, guitar
Steele BBQ - Bass
Bunny BBQ - Backing vox, cowbell, vibraslap
Steve BBQ 1 - Lead guitar
Steve BBQ 2 - Shitty surf casio, backing vox
Steve BBQ 3 - Drums

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Download my new lo-fi covers album for free at soundcloud.

Download my new lo-fi covers album for free at soundcloud.

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"Wave of Beatbox (Tropical Paradise Mix)"

I recorded this take on the Pixies’ “Wave of Mutilation” around 6 a.m. in March 2011, on the back porch of a beach house in Charleston, S.C. in the choppy wake of my friend Jeff’s bachelor party. Features myself on guitar & vocals, the super-fly beatbox stylin’ of crunk duo Needers & Compton (aka Danny Needers and Matty “You Know I Like Chicken” Confer) and some really enthusiastic birds.

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1. Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.

2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.

3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.

4. Go very light on the vices, such an carrying on in society—the social ramble ain’t restful.

5. Avoid running at all times.

6. Don’t look back—something might be gaining on you.

- Originally published in the June 13, 1953 issue of Collier’s.

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My ’50s obsession continues with this Ritchie Valens cover. He wrote this song for his girlfriend, Donna, when he was 16. A little more than a year later, he died in a plane crash with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper.

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A CHRISTMAS SONG STORY

Just turned this narrative I wrote into a radio play. An idyllic Christmas gives way to its depraved antithesis before I wind up in a seedy Atlanta bar, sipping sangria and talking holiday tunes with the Ghost of Christmas Past. Featuring the impeccable voice acting of myself and Neal Holman, and created for myoo.com.

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Heard this Townes Van Zandt song for the first time about an hour ago, and it hit me like nothing has in while. Here’s my own take on it…

Steve LaBate - “Rake”