Pardon merci, je suis le grande zombie; I’m just not human tonight

OK, if you’re new to these parts, I would suggest you go read this.

The next question, of course, is did the latest Mekons show live up to, or exceed, the rambunctious character of that one?  Oh my yes, it did indeed.

And right here, I am going to avoid drawing out the suspense:  I did, indeed, have a few beers.  The first, in fact, since The Event.

When I was in the hospital, and after they had managed to make sure I could breathe again, I found myself thinking of the future.  The near term future, to be sure; after I had managed to get some sleep, I thought that attending Summerfest was probably off the radar.  But there was a gig on the 14th…

she had been misplaced by the government 
our old friends are under attack 
they crossed over the border 
(but) i have been to heaven and back 

In fact, the Mekons show was kind of uppermost in my mind.  When I was cleared for most activities, I saw a few days of Summerfest (and a few days of work) as the perfect trial run/shakedown period for my new cyborg heart and shiny new lifestyle.  But even more, when things seemed to be kind of bleak, it was a goal, something to reach for and a reason to make the efforts necessary with all the changes to be made.

The Mekons are spread out over three continents and several countries-Chicago, New York, LA, England, London, Siberia…So a tour is something that doesn’t happen lightly.  Or frequently; if you read that earlier post like I told you, the last time they hit these parts was 2011.  Also the last time they released new music.  But I wasn’t particularly surprised when the announcement included the juicy tidbit that they would culminate the tour with a live recording of new material, recorded in a club with 75 fans participating.  “Why should a record take longer to record than to listen to?” asks Jon Langford.  Even more curious, that one of the stops was Mineral Point, a small historic former mining town on the west edge of Wisconsin.  

Since I was not going to be able to pull off the logistics of making the New York recording show (christened “MekonCeption”) we got the tickets for the MP show.  15 bucks each, hilarious…

I had booked a room prior to the Event, figuring I would be misbehaving and not in any shape for the 2.4 hour drive back.  We met some friends, and I disappointed my cardiologist by having a cheeseburger.  Damn, it was good, too…

i’ve been to heaven and back
right in front of my eyes
things have a habit of happening to me
it’s no suprise

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At this point, I could talk about the show and the songs they played and the setlist and so on, but no one ever gives a shit about that stuff, so let’s take a different approach.

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In the recent movie Revenge Of The Mekons, Joe Angio delves into the question of why the Mekons keep on doing it, in the face of industry indifference (even hostility) and a small and unchanging fan base (which very nearly decreased by one! and they can’t afford to lose any…) no matter how fervent.  I don’t think he answered it.

But the recent show, and this tour, I think provides a glimpse into the whys.  With the barriers to recording and touring, it would be easy for the band to just go on extended or permanent hiatus, and focus on their other activities (all of them have many creative outlets).  The band has often said that part of their motivation is that they are friends, and really like getting together and playing music, seeing their fans.

But further, they want to make their time together special, to make whatever they do interesting to themselves – and that becomes interesting to their fans (who also tend toward the stubborn and iconoclastic). It’s why they have played punk, folk, alternative rock, electro, noise, alt-country; done books, graphic art, a multi media art installation, poetry readings, and the world’s best cross-dressing lesbian pirate musical.

It’s also why they played a small, restored burlesque theater in the middle of Fuck-All, Wisconsin.  And it’s why they will later play in a small club in New York for 75 people to record a new album of new material and the audience will participate as a “feral choir”.

The show featured two sets of material, and it covered everything back to 1984.  They played two sets, and the band was having a splendid time; including two filthy traditional songs sung/chanted by Lu Edmonds.  Sally led the obliging crowd in the yoga-like choreography for Now We Have The Bomb and Deputy Mekon Janet Bean (of Freakwater and Eleventh Dream Day) left the merch table to join in on a couple of songs.

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some of the people they stayed behind
now they’re all in prison or dead
i’m looking up at the mountain
i have been to heaven and back 

 

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They played everything I could have wanted.  Short of playing everything, that is.  Memphis, Egypt, oh yes.  Orpheus, o MY yes.  Even a song for the Bastard, which I can’t recall them ever playing before:

At the end of that video, you see how much fun they have on stage, and they were having as much fun or more last Tuesday.

ooo animal radar 
like a thread around the world 
loving and laughing my head’s going ’round 
i am a curious boy…

In one post about music, I talked about having tears in my eyes and that if I ever stopped being able to feel that, go ahead and bury me because I will be dead.  Well, that may not be so funny anymore, but in the end, I think a deeper connection revealed itself this week.

The Mekons keep making music because they are friends and colleagues and they can still find ways to connect and ways to create together.  It’s still exciting and vital for them, so the lack of traditional success never really enters into their calculations. They love to howl and sing, and although they continue to change and find entertaining new ways of doing so.

They keep on, because they still find a reason to do so.  Giving up is not an option…

Three weeks ago, it was enough to look forward to a Mekons show, and that was a good enough reason to tell my treasonous heart that giving up is not an option.  In a discussion with a friend, he mentioned that his cardiac event scared him; but I don’t recall being scared, even when I was wondering if I would breathe again.  I recall being resigned, then relieved.  But I knew that if there was a way, I would be in Mineral Point, watching some great friends have a wonderful time, and having a wonderful time with them.

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And now, a few days later; giving up is still not an option.  Not as long as there is music and friends and family; not as long as the Mekons are still around.

some people write little verses
others go on looking for cracks
uh handcuffed to history
i have been to heaven and back

I am STILL not dead yet…

12:30 Sunday Morning, and I was laying down to read and then go to sleep.  But when I lay down, my breathing got shallow.

1 AM, I was sitting up to get my breath back, but then some chest tightness started.

After trying a couple of different ways to get things under control, it became obvious something was wrong.

I woke up Wife Sublime, and said “I think I need to go to the hospital.  I can’t catch my breath, and have chest pain”…

I hate to say I was lucky that two friends had had heart attacks in recent weeks, because having that weighing on my mind made me pull the trigger quicker than I might have otherwise. For DAMN sure, I am fucking lucky that we live five minutes from a world-class hospital…

I walked into the ER.  I was still having trouble, but it wasn’t strenuous.  And when they did an EKG, they thought it didn’t show classic heart attack; what the ER doctor thought was that I had a blood pressure spike (my BP was something 2,000,000/500,000). that was straining the heart, which was causing my lungs to operate like a Soda Stream machine and fill up with liquid.  But at this point I didn’t care, because even with an oxygen mask or a biPAP machine on, I couldn’t even breathe anymore.  Later, the cardiologist said the ER doc wrote an unusual paragraph in his report, saying he could see me losing my ability to breathe.

Eventually, they got it under control, the biPAP was helping me to breath and get oxygen, and the BP was down.  So they moved me up to the ICU, where they kept working on the vitals, and I just luxuriated in breathing.

Until they did an echocardiogram, to see how the heart looked.  When the cardiologist looked at it, he hit the big red button calling available team members to get the hell in and scrub up; remember this is about 9AM on Father’s Day…. They didn’t even worry if I had anything in my stomach.  The RN on the team told me brusquely “you’re having a heart attack.  If you weren’t, I wouldn’t be here”.  twenty minutes later, I was receiving a stent for my LAD, which was blocked 100%

The procedure was remarkable.  I was fully conscious, and they kept TALKING to me.  They went in through my right wrist, and plumbed a wire up to my heart.  They actually installed two stent pieces, because the blockage was long enough that one wouldn’t cover.  After it was over, they even had me stand up to transfer to the mobile bed.

Later, I found out that my heart had been either ‘stunned’ or damaged so function was at about 25% (normal is about 50%).  There was no way of telling whether that would improve or not, because no one knew how the heart was in shutdown.  This is a problem, because that level makes arrhythmia a distinct possibility; The discussion was that I would be using a defibrillator vest until they could see if  the heart recovered in 90 days or so, and if it didn’t, a permanent defibrillator would need to be installed.

Meanwhile, lab work indicated that I now have a diagnosis of diabetes.

The cardiologist then came in and read me the riot act, saying if I didn’t change my lifestyle and immediately, it was likely I would wind up back here, or maybe not; maybe just going directly to the coffin, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

The thing I still have trouble wrapping my mind around is that all of this happened in about 20 hours.

They spent the next day getting my vitals under control.  Insulin, blood thinners, BP meds, oxygen, constant monitoring.  Nurses and doctors constantly asked, over and over, if I knew my name, what day it was, and where I was (amusingly, all of this was printed on the status board in front of my bed). Then they would ask me to squeeze their hands, and then would grab my feet and ankles.  It was like the world’s weirdest specialty fetish movie.

I had stabilized, and they started talking about moving me to a general room, or even discharging me.  But the cardiologist decided that he wanted to go back in and deal with a second occlusion which was at 90%, but in a much less hazardous location.  So on Tuesday afternoon, I was rolled back down for an encore.  It went almost exactly the same.  It is remarkable how low-impact this procedure is; they told me it is often done as an outpatient procedure.  One more night in the ICU!

On Tuesday, I was first told that I would be going home as soon as the doctors signed the discharge.  However the cardiologist decided that he wanted to have another echocardiogram done, to see if the heart had recovered at all. I think he wanted to know if he needed to worry about me.  Riot act aside, he was concerned.  AND…heart operation back up to 35-40%!!!! Not only does that make it more likely that I might get most or all of my normal operation back, but that I wouldn’t need the defibrillator.  I can’t tell you how excited I was about that; the doctors were too.  I think they raced each other back to the room to tell me

Came home tonight with an armful of meds, a whole bunch of diet outlines, appointments for cardiac rehab, and no activity restrictions.  Which means I will be going into the office tomorrow, then to Summerfest tomorrow afternoon!  I intend to become famous as the guy who survived a heart attack nicknamed “the widowmaker” because he needed to attend Summerfest.

Modern medicine is goddam amazing.

Barenaked Ladies dudes, you should know better than to ask for that kind of hassle.

Yes, so we had cold, and fog, and monsoons, and flooding.  And bicycle hazards.

AND you big amusing musical assholes took it all in stride, making it a comedy riff (Brian Ritchie:  Colin Hay: he’s from Scotland, he don’t give a shit about the cold.  Barenaked Ladies,  they’re from Canada, they don’t give a shit about the cold.  Y’all are MILWAUKEE, we KNOW you don’t give  shit about the cold!”

It was great, and it made me change my mind about the Femmes (I guess they need more damn money) and it is also pretty much the pre-season kickoff for the SummerfestBlog, so go there. Because this damn blog is going music anyway:

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Hey there.  How y’all doing?  I know mikey has recently ‘been released to find new opportunities’  but it sounds like his profile is much higher and more desirable than in the past, especially when he is wearing pants.

Been so damn busy, me.  Hey, you know what?  remember that crazy shit where I added four stories to a building?

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Got a Mayor’s Design Award for that shit, and the Dean of the Architectural School likened to to European design and also said that this view makes it look like the project is a triumphal phoenix-like eruption from the original building.  Well, gosh.  I was just trying to make it look cool…

And you guys remember back to when I talked about cutting heads off of drawings to create new hedgehogs?  Come on, that was magical wordplay combined with a callback to a very obscure mikey comment.  Here’s the hedgehog in question:

hedgehog 1

And after much trial and tribulation, we are now at this point.

DD 4.1 [East elevation] copy

Yeah, design involves a lot of compromise (which is apparently lost on the Mentors Remaining).  We moved in many different directions to make it acceptable to all the parties, and now we are ….more or less OK.  I got a check from them.

of course, no one ever comes to the Empire looking for Happy Time Happy Talk.

SPOILER ALERT: things get dark from here on out.

Did I ever talk about this project, directly across the street from that crazy award winning project?  We had worked on the site and managed a building code variance to allow a curious combination of construction types and a pretty aggressive  code version to allow a very tall wood construction.  It kind of looked like this:

2214 7 story design

Yeah, well, it ain’t gonna happen that way.  you see, while I am really really great at design and overall work and urban design, I have a chicken vs. egg problem.  While making the PRIOR hedgehog work out, I had to get design aspects ironed out including many many many MANY unit layout changes, I had to forward them to the associate architect who was agitating so he could get his work done and get some checks as well, and the clients are just basically pushing like hell to get it all done WHILE they are demanding more changes and revisions, so that taller building kind of went on a back burner.  Well, the client (same one as the head-swapped hedgehog) was only willing to be back-burnered so long, and I was notified that he would be finding a different architect to deliver that baby.

The dilemma whose horns are rammed up my ass has to do with the Great Bush Economic Unpleasantness.  Before that I had a few folks on staff, and was able to work around the demands of bigger projects.  But the Shit came down, and for a while I was barely able to maintain myself, let along take responsibility for others.  so I let everyone move on… And now, while I am re-building cash flow and a bit of cushion, I am strangely gun-shy about bringing on staff willy-nilly.  and so; how to build capacity before I have the staff, while bringing on staff prior to having projects seems kind of stupid.   Been burned and well burned at that; scared to grab the damn stove again…

On top of that, at the Mayor’s Design Awards reception, a friend and client notified me that one of my long time clients and someone I consider a friend had been in the hospital for a couple of weeks.  This is the guy for whom I have designed many of the MLK Drive renaissance buildings, which you may recall from this:

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And not long after that, I saw the sad news that Welford had succumbed.  Here he is in front of our first project together:

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Gonna miss him a lot.  He was a good man, a good friend and a great client and he had a huge impact on the city that both of us loved.  Zombie props, Welford, and you live on in the work we did.  Kind of zombie-like, now that I put it that way…

Well, on a less depressing side of things, I had a GREAT time at the Murder By Death show last week, and may have been a bit over-served.  And a lovely girl kept playing with my hair while I was having such obvious enjoyment of the show.  How weird…

And tonight, I saw World Party in a stripped down three piece show, and it was a splendid show, yes it was.  It was supplied with tables and chairs, because the WP fans are older, yes we are.  And I managed to avoid that dastardly over-serving issue.  Also talked for a while about music and shows and common acquaintances with Brian Wooldridge, one of my favorite local musicians.

Mr. Wallinger, (if you did not know, had an accident several years ago and dain bramage made him lose his goddam voice and it is so good that he managed to work back.  Dammit, we don’t have enough artists, universe, that we can let you just remove one like that) does not look like that anymore (but which of us do?).  Now he looks like this (but fortunately he still sings and plays and writes like he did).

However, his son was working the merch table and he does pretty much look like Karl in those younger days.  And I think between Brian Wooldridge and I, we managed to buy Karl a new guitar strap.  Someone else will have to buy him a proper left-handed guitar rather than just an upside-down righty.

I am always curious about lefties who play right handed guitars, and whether they re-string so chording is just reversed rather than upside down; and looking at it, I see he keeps the right hand stringing.  What a weird thing to do, but then I shoot pool left handed, so who am I to judge?

Such is life.  There’s Bad, and Good, and Bad, and a little more Bad just to spice things up….

Wow, I am in a lousy mood today.  Woe be to the poor bastard who tries to reach me on the phone….

I am, however, seeing a darkish Goth-alt-country band tonight, across the street from my office at the wonderful Turner Hall; Murder by Death.  Here are some samples:

It will either cure my mood or deepen it.

…it is, however, dependent on whether I can get the goddam ticket sitch straightened out, they haven’t been delivered yet.  Gotta see if I can switch them to Will Call…

Now that I am between construction teams, perhaps I need to apply:

Hooo, boy.  

THAT was a long day.  Hell, it was a pretty trying week, all told.  As I’ve said, my car had a massive computer-related infarction.  It took the shop four days to track it down….

1.  “It’s the ECM.  We’ll get you a used one, won’t be too bad.  Should be here today.”

2.  “Won’t be here today in time to get installed.  First thing tomorrow.”

3.  “Seems that the instrument cluster is the culprit; it shorted and the resultant signal fried the ECM.  We’ll get a used one of those too.”

4.  “…has anything else gone wrong lately, related to electronics? Just asking…”

5. “Here’s what happens when I plug it in here.  The ECM is freaking out and making everything hell.  But when I plug it in HERE, the ECM is OK and the dash cluster is screaming digital gibberish.  Short story:  still don’t know.  But we have many thousands of dollars in diagnostic equipment telling us MANY things we don’t know….”

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At this point, since I had a mission critical meeting I needed to get to, they let me borrow their little shop truck.  I had rescheduled the meeting from Wednesday 10 AM to 7 AM today, and then needed to catch up in the office until about 1:30 AM, updating drawings and printing plans.  2 Hour stressful meeting, as we are behind schedule, then back to the office to work on the new marching orders….

3:30.  Mechanic on the phone “Good News or Bad News?”  Shut up.  Is my car fixed?  “Yes.  and ultimately it was NEITHER the car computer NOR the dash cluster.”  Turns out it was a wire connector located near the bottom of the fire wall that had some errant salt water work its way in.  So although I didn’t have to pay for the electronics, the technician took several hours to track down the short.  They billed me for 5; I know they spent way more time than that (over four fucking days), so I’m OK with it; I effed at them a bit over how I kind of needed my car, and that I had spent much Ameros at their shop over the years.  Other than, you know, the whole damn week without my car; if it wasn’t for that damn meeting  I would have been OK cuz I could have bussed in to the office.

However, I had to pay them with a check, because yesterday my bank card was “compromised” and the bank canceled it to send me a new one. I will be seeing some paperwork to file the fraud claim and get my money back. I may see a replacement card tomorrow.  Or not.

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AND I have a client that has three months of arrears, to the tune of $30,000.  So I got THAT going for me….

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So, halfway through the day I got a text from Zorgy reminding me that we were meeting to see some music tonight.  At the Riverside Theater, this humble little palace:

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to see this band:

[I think they’re from New Zealand]

The opening band, Mini Mansions, features a Lead Bass player from Queens of the Stone Age, but they played a lovely set of 80’s inflected synth pop that channeled a healthy bit of Sniff ‘n The Tears.  How 80’s were they?  They not only did a dirge-cover of “Heart Of Glass” but they opened with a cover of “Sherlock Holmes” by Sparks.

After the long day and stressful week, I was more than happy to be sitting in the audience watching a couple of great bands, and drinking beers with my friends.  I was tired and my feet hurt.  But after a bit, Tame Impala and the light show started something, flickered a bit of internal warmth…

That clip up there does not do the band justice.  The other live clips are closer, but the sound is mostly borked; and with the exception of the reedy thin vocals (which I still have not decided on) the music was muscular and rich.  It was deceptively simple and unassumingly complex the band started and stopped and went into digressions that made you think it was a different song, then brought it back hime before you figured out what they were doing.  It was contemporary, with some trip-hop and some EDM flourishes, but there was something naggingly familiar about the whole thing….

The light show encompassed the entire back of the stage, but there were several pole-mounted LED Varis behind the band, and more standard ones mounted on the sides of the stage and above; they kept spinning, arcing beams of light and spinning stars out into the crown and on the sides of the theater.  The band was shrouded in mist and shadows, the focus was on the music and the light show.  It felt so familiar….

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It wasn’t until they added the bass pedals to the mix that it struck me;  we were watching spiritual heirs to the mid-period Genesis when they still had Steve Hackett and before they started pursuing pop stardom! All the elements were there; they often used Tony Banks keyboard sounds, the bass pedals made the bottom end shake your rib cage, the light show was splendid and dovetailed the music, and even the drummer, on a small kit, did some Collins-style drum drops.  The only thing missing was the occasional twelve string guitar.  At one point, I could have sworn they were ready to launch into the organ intro to “Watcher Of The Skies”!

Good Friend Rory, later admitted that he felt let down.  He had seen the band a couple of years earlier at one of the other stellar venues in town, and remembered being completely amazed.  He allowed that alcohol may have affected the memory.  I argued that they were actually pretty awesome, the music was great, the mix near-perfect, and the light show stellar.  I had no complaints (other than my sore back and aching feet goddammit doesn’t getting old suck).

But GFR was having a troubled, emotional day; remembering his recently departed parents and also more current troubles.  I drove him home, and spent some time in the car listening; I liked his Dad quite a bit, and never actually met his Mom.  So I cut him some slack, because his memory of the band was most likely colored, and his memories of his parents were uppermost in his mind.  My parting wisdom (such as it was) was to go to bed, get some real sleep, and cuddle with his dogs.  I am reminded that for all my angst and distress, I still have much to be thankful for…..

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This is normally the point in my music post where I reference the Soul Asylum line (when they were still angry and not polished and before mikey had ever heard of them and this is still one of my favorite lines) but tonight that is not quite right.  It’s not so much a ringing in my ears as a vibration in my bones, a rumbling in my soul.  No less heaven sent for that….

There is something so vital about seeing live music.  It’s less artificial; no overdubs, fewer electronic trickses and no studio carry.  3 or 4 or 5 (or, in the case of the upcoming Mekons shows 7 or 8 or 75) people actually playing instruments and feeding off the audience response to boomerang it back out.  It’s a wonderful feedback loop and the best way to experience it is in a small club.  Because that is where the amplification factor is most evident.

GFR talked about spending hundreds of dollars to see Jeff Beck, which is perfectly valid.  But I compare that to the $25 we spent to see this show tonight;  or the $15 I punched out to see Murder By Death, or a similar amount to see World Party.  The first concert tickets I ever bought were to see BOC/ UFO at Alpine Valley and they were fifteen bucks and I was a mile away.  Decades later, I paid fifteen bucks to see them at a 300 person club and you know what?  THEY WERE AWESOME and I was right up in front of them (they are kind of short).

With very few exceptions, I will almost always not spend my money on the “big shows” and spend it on smaller clubs, smaller venues, and younger bands.  I was encouraged to see several folks of my age cohort in the venue tonight…But then, I am admittedly atypical.  It doesn’t make me wrong….