Friday, May 29, 2009

Mexican Folk Song

Friend, when I am dead,
Make a cup of the clay I become.
And, if you remember me, drink from it.
Should your lips cling to the cup,
It will be but my earthly kiss.
Source unknown; found in The Popular Arts of Mexico (see post below).

Thursday, May 28, 2009


SP Lager
"If I was not in the situation, and I was objectively watching what had happened to this team in the last week, I'd probably be drinking a lot of beers and booing [...] usually I enjoy Japanese beer, but given the situation, if I was objectively watching the game, I wouldn’t care if it was Japanese beer, American beer or beer from Papua New Guinea." -- Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners, May 23, 2008
Some of the readers of USS Mariner, the best sports blog in creation, including myself, took this as a challenge: Find some Papuan beer and drink it in Ichiro's honor.

Derek Zumsteg, maestro of USSM, quickly ascertained that SP Lager was the stuff we were after. I personally visited the strange and wondrous Big Star beer store up on Northgate Way, but they didn't have it. Others tried Bottleworks on 45th; no luck. Uwajimaya, no. No place. You cannot buy SP Lager, or any other Papuan beer, anywhere in Seattle--nor anywhere in the United States.

So we tried online. I know more than a few of us paid our $13.75, plus $5 shipping. A month later, after no word, I was a little worried, but then I got an email saying it was on the boat. On July 31st of last year, it arrived in LA. Whoo hoo! Beer!

Then the shipping company called. You can't just send beer in a UPS box; it's gotta be shipped like freight. Plus, since it's alcohol, they have arcane rules: if it's over five bottles or cans, I have to become an importer. I have to sign up with the FDA's Industry Systems program, whatever the hell that is, and fill out a Prior Notice Application, which is a million pages long, and I'm going to have to write a letter to US Customs begging for permission to bend the rules just this once. And then I'm going to have to pay the freight forwarder NINETY DOLLARS to pay for their end of the deal.

I said screw it. I told them I was abandoning the shipment. No beer for me. Five bottles of wine and I'd be in the clear; a six-pack and I'm considered to be Heineken all of a sudden.

The reason I'm writing this post now is to provide the coda to this tale of woe. I got a pink letter from the Department of Homeland Security yesterday. They still have my six-pack, and they're going to AUCTION IT OFF. Abandoned property, you know.

Any readers who live near Carson City and have a hankering for beer that's been on a slow boat for a month and a warehouse for a year, be my guest.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stay Lucky

The best band in the whole world are breaking up. The Lucksmiths call it quits.

I first saw the Lucksmiths in Chris Munford's living room on Roosevelt, back when he was in Incredible Force of Junior, playing with Kissing Book. Just the three of them then, Tali's snare drum and duct tape kit, Mark grazing the ceiling with his head and the head of his bass (I've seen him smack others), and Marty hunched over his big f-hole guitar (Gibson? Gretsch? Guild? Ibanez? I never pay attention to these things). They were different; I'd never really heard an indiepop band until then with a singer who could really sing.

And their songs were so homely and charming and bookish and cozy and comfy but tricky and true. And words! "Outside every thin man is another man who's fat." "When we were arrested we were bare-chested." "I'm not happy but I'm near enough." "That was the winter of my discount tent." "She's a damsel in distress; she feels a damn fool in this dress." Very clever, but more than that: funny and vernacular and aware. Marty's songs were as true as the clear ringing yearn in Tali's sweet voice. With a bit of warble. I like a bit of warble.

At the time they reminded me of another great Australian band The Sugargliders, who had a similar approach, but not as personal, as quotidian, as these Melbourne scruffs.

Is there a more evocative, anticipatory phrase in pop than "take the tennis ball off the towbar"? Seven words. And then "If either one of us could dri-i-i-ive, we could drive away, and the times of our lives could begin today". Indiepop is always striving for wistfulness, but the Lucksmiths make it look easy. And little things like the way he sings "The hedges and the hibiscus" in "Untidy Towns" -- right there on the "hi" of "hibiscus" still make my heart flutter like a little girl.

That first time was 1997; they should have played the Seattle Popfest but we were too stupid. They had records out but they were rare and foreign and acquirable only at gigs. For many years I thought "A Green Bicycle Case" was some sort of confusing, er, case that you'd put a bicycle in for some arcane Australian reason.

Later that year we stumbled across them in a restaurant in Somerville, Mass., where they were playing in front of a roomful of diners who clearly weren't there for the music. Cramped -- the Lucksmiths could always set up in the tiniest of corners -- they charmed further. They are the most charming band ever as well.

Further gigs, every two years, more or less: Graceland (or was it still the Off-Ramp then?); The Baltic Room; Victoria, BC in front of three spectators other than the opening band (the amazing Salteens) -- me, Nancy, and the drunkest man in the world who alternately demanded I buy him a beer (the bartender had cut him off), sloppily hit on the Salteen's girl keyboard player, complaining about how hard it was to be gay in Victoria, and calling me a goddamn faggot; Bellingham; the Crocodile Sunset Tavern a couple of times; the 2003 San Francisco Pop Holiday, another gig at the Rickshaw in San Francisco we stumbled across by chance; Portland; a few odd record store appearances; and a wonderful trip to Melbourne to see the Candle Records Tenth Anniversary show at the Corner Hotel. I've missed a few, I'm pretty sure.

Every single one of them was magic, not just magic but like points in a line an infinite series of magical moments too close together to distinguish from each other.

I haven't even mentioned Mark's inventive and yet oddly sociable bass lines or Marty's guitar playing, surely the least-obtrusive in the world, just enough to prop up the improbable rollercoasters of the melody, or fourth-member Louis's altogether more muscular guitar texture, roaring (but subtlely, if that's a word) like something out of Loveless-era My Bloody Valentine or early Slumberland band Lilys. Or, most amazing of all, the crazy breath control that allows Tali to sing like an angel while playing drums standing up. Pretty good drums, too; I've always felt that the best drummers are the ones with the fewest pieces.

The records are pretty great, too. Naturaliste and Why That Doesn't Surprise Me are the two best albums of this decade to my mind, and I'll take "Midweek Midmorning" from Naturaliste to dance to, or the overlooked b-side "Winter Proper" from Spring A Leak to cry to: "she's going if not gone, and nothing said could stop her; put something warmer on, and await the winter proper" --Tali's voice slicing it off clean like a limb cut off so quickly there's no blood yet.

Next week I'll have a different two faves, maybe "The Music Next Door": "it might have been the music from next door, reminding me I should have loved you more, a song I've heard a hundred times before" -- Tali, better than anyone, better than Morrissey or Ferry or Lennon or Presley, drives another one home. He's relentless, both a butterfly and a sledgehammer at once. His phrasing is unparalleled.

Or "Here we are, silhouetted in the smoke from the shipwrecks at the bar of the Anchor and Hope" and the last time he sings "And I haven't seen you smile in quite a while, and I haven't seen you anywhere in ages", damn, that little rise makes my heart pucker and buckle every time: "Synchronized Sinking".

Or "You keep the curtains closed and you hide behind the newspaper; You got yourself some nicotine in the nick of time. And even though the weekend doesn’t really make much difference, You spent Thursday on your backside whistling “Friday On My Mind”, Super-supine."

Or "And I say it like it’s unrehearsed but I said it in the bathroom first."

Or "What sorry sights we sometimes are; these sameshit nights under stayaway stars -- these sameshit nights in the saddest bars, the city lights and the stayaway stars". Like a good dozen or more of their songs on this one when the chorus swells my heart rises in my chest and my eyes well up with tears; I'm doing it now just looking at the lyric of the song.

"Your loyalties are divided between digital and vinyl, but I’m biding time until the cassingle revival, because you promised when it happens you’ll return." Now I'm waiting for it too.

I know the lads are not deceased, and music will continue to be made. I wish them all the happiness there is. A different poet, E. E. Cummings: "Accept all happiness from me. Then shall i turn my face, and hear one bird sing terribly afar in the lost lands." That little bird is singing a Lucksmiths song. God bless.

EDIT: aside from a couple of idiotic errors, I seem to have somehow neglected to mention that all of the song lyrics quoted above are by the incomparable MARTY DONALD, ladies and gentlemen.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Tepic and Nayarit Bibliography

  • Herbert Corey. "Along The Old Spanish Road in Mexico: Life Among the People of Nayarit and Jalisco, Two of the Richest States of the Southern Republic". National Geographic, 43 (3), March, 1923, p. 225-281. With illustrations from photographs by Clifton Adams. Long and insightful article with many great photographs, several of them full-page. A color photograph section includes other parts of Mexico. This is the earliest Nayarit item I've been able to find.

  • Harry Carr. Old Mother Mexico.With illustrations by Louis H. Ruyl. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company; Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1931. 270 pp. A Breezy, charming automobile blitz through Mexico with a Hollywood reporter. Chapter XIII is entitled "Old Tepic", of which he says "Of all the towns in Mexico, I like Tepic the best. It is very old. It sits there, sweet and complacent and contented, while the rest of the world tears around in such a hurry that it is like a chicken with its head cut off." Carr likes his cliches. He also tells the one about the peon on his way to market who refuses to sell his entire load for a great price, because then he would have no reason to continue on to market, his greatest pleasure. Is this the first appearance of this trope? There's a lovely illustration of the Tepic plaza, above. Amusingly, a previous borrower of this book from SPL has added every single missing accent mark including over the e in México in the title, on facing pages; there must be five hundred pencil slashes.

  • Frances Toor. A Treasury of Mexican Folkways: The customs, myths, folklore, traditions, beliefs, fiestas, dances and songs of the Mexican people; illustrated with 10 color plates, 100 drawings by Carlos Merida, and 170 photographs. New York: Crown Publishers, 1947. 566 pp. The classic study of indigenous folkloric traditions, including many references to the Huichol and Cora people of Nayarit.

  • Dana Lamb and Ginger Lamb. Quest for the Lost City: A true-life adventure.Santa Barbara, California: Santa Barbara Press, 1984 [1951]. 340 pp. Photographs. Enormously popular swashbuckling adventure story of the 1950s, from an intrepid couple who traveled mostly on foot down the west coast of Mexico to Chiapas and Guatemala in search of a "lost city" and gold tablets of the Maya. Their archaeology is suspect, and accusations of fakery have been made, but the portion of the story taking place in San Blas seems pretty straight-forward.

  • Howard E. Gulick. Nayarit, Mexico: A Traveler's Guidebook to this historic and scenic state of Mexico's West Coast, and its capital, the city of Tepic. Maps—Illustrations—Index. Glendale, California: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1965. 168 pp. The kind of quirky, individual guidebook that just isn't made anymore. Gulick covers just about every inch of drivable ground in the state, with meticulous mile markers. Mexico was opening up to automobile tourism, by Americans traveling down to Mexico City or one of the beach resorts, and Tepic was a handy overnighting spot by then, with a good highway through to Guadalajara. But he also gets up into the remoter towns. A substantial state history and overview of the flora and fauna is included. Tipped in at the back is a gorgeous hand-drawn map. I wish there was a 2009 edition of this!

  • Kojin Toneyama. The Popular Arts of Mexico. With a foreword and notes on modern Mexican folk crafts by Carlos Espejel, Director, Museo Nacional de Artes e Industrias Populares, Mexico City. New York & Tokyo: Weatherhill/Heibonsha, 1974. Japanese text translated by Richard L. Gage. Significant section of Nayarit crafts, including the well-known yarn paintings, with many bright oversaturated photographs, including photos of the Nayarit countryside. An attractive book. The focus is on current (i.e., 1970s) market-stall crafts, in a combination of styles, not particularly "authentic" in terms of pre-Columbian traditions but often-overlooked modern interpretations of indigenous life and art.

  • John M. Ball. A Return to Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico: A personal geography. Atlanta: Inman Park Publications, 1991. 42 pp. Monograph No. 1. The author, a geography professor, describes his parents' retirement in Tepic, in 1957, and his subsequent visits there in the 60s and 80s, with photographs.

  • Richard F. Townsend, ed. Ancient West Mexico: Art and Archaeology of the Unknown Past. With essays by Patricia Rieff Anawalt, Christopher S. Beekman, Barbara Braun, Kristi Butterwick, Maria Teresa Cabrero, Jane Stevenson Day, Peter T. Furst, Mark Miller Graham, Lorenza López Mesta Camberos, Joseph B. Mountjoy, Robert B. Pickering, Jorge Ramos de la Vega, Otto Schöndube, Richard F. Townsend, Francisco Valdez, Phil C. Weigand, and Christopher L. Whitmore. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1998. For the Art Institute of Chicago. 308 pp. Profusely illustrated with drawings, maps, paintings, and color photographs. This is the big Kahuna, the standard survey of Western Mexican art and archaeology. You will find no more comprehensive look at what is known about the shaft-tomb people and their artifacts. The area covered includes Nayarit, Jalisco, and Colima. This is a beautiful (and expensive) book.

  • Estado de Nayarit, México: Guía Turística. Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes: Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática, 2001. 204 pp. Three tipped-in folding maps; one large separate folding map. Government-produced tourist guide to the entire state. Many color photographs. Nothing like this exists in English, alas. It's as complete a guide as you could ask for.

  • Mauro Lugo Izaguirre. El Museo Regional de Nayarit. Tepic, Nayarit: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2001. 130 pp. In Spanish. Useful guide to the museum, which is located in downtown Tepic in an eighteenth-century house, which was used as a school until the museum opened in 1971. The book briefly covers the history of the region, with special attention to the archaeological discoveries of the West Mexican tomb-shaft peoples. Several photographs of important artifacts and displays are included.

  • Bruce Whipperman. Moon Handbooks: Puerto Vallarta, Including Guadalajara and Lake Chalapa. Sixth Edition. Emeryville, California: Avalon Travel Publishing, 2005. Devotes eleven pages to Tepic, which is generous by modern English-language guidebook standards, and includes a good map of downtown. Whipperman is "not an adventurous eater", and seems to list mostly pizza restaurants no matter where he goes, but he's good on the culture, and driving instructions and so forth. There is also coverage of San Sebastian, with a map, which is rare.

  • Nayarit: Planos de las Cds. de Tepic, Acaponeta, Ahuacatlán, Compostela, Ixtlán del Río, Tecuala, Santiago Ixcuintla, Tuxpan y Mapa General del Estado. México: Ediciones Independencia, [2007?]. Standard folding highway map of the state and major towns. Some inaccuracies have been found, but it's the best available.

  • Michael D. Coe and Rex Koontz. Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs. Sixth edition, revised and expanded. With 181 illustrations, 20 in color. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2008 [1962, 1977, 1984, 1994, 2002]. Excellent survey of pre-Columbian cultures, including few pages on, and some good photographs of, the Western Mexico shaft-tomb art.