Saturday, May 29, 2010

Ani DiFranco - A Review

Ani DiFranco - Live at Bull Moose Music 4.17.2009

She hadn't done an in-store performance in over fifteen years, not since it became unnecessary for her to do them. During my time at Vintage Vinyl, Jim and I tried a couple times to get something lined up and, though we came away with some awesome swag for the fans, the answer was always the same: Ani doesn't do in-stores or meet-n-greets. Period.

Last year, however, in celebration and support of Record Store Day, Ani DiFranco dusted off the proverbial stool and bellied up with bandmate Todd Sickafoose on stand-up bass to play a 4-song set to a group of captive fans. Sponsored by WCLZ and that station's Randi Kirshbaum, the songs are interspersed with brief interview segments in which Ms. Kirshbaum poses some questions to the lil' folksinger and does so surprisingly well. The 24-minute program contains two previously unreleased tracks, "November 4, 2008" and "Unworry," both slated to appear on an upcoming studio album to be released in the fall.

What first strikes you about the performances themselves is that they recall a much earlier Ani, when the music was less layered and complex, when there were fewer members in the band. The simplicity of the music deflects the listeners' attention back to the trademark Ani lyrics. "Alla This" (from 2008's Red Letter Year) and the older "Everest" (from 1999's Up Up Up Up Up Up) sound like they just had a fresh bath and a haircut. "November 4, 2008" is a powerful, politcal song extolling the victory election of Barack Obama. "Unworry" a relationship reflection that sounds simpler on its surface than it actually is.

In short, "Live at Bull Moose..." is, for me, akin to rediscovering faith in something I thought I might have lost. Though not necessarily the disc I would choose to introduce someone to her for the first time, it is a wonderful example of Ani DiFranco at her stripped down, acoustic best.

Read a first-hand account of the show HERE. There are some great snapshots, too!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Carry My Luggage?

Carry MY luggage…fucker?

Mark Foley, Republican from the Florida 16th, in September 2006, resigned from the US House of Representatives after it was discovered that he had sent sexually suggestive text messages and e-mails to former Congressional pages. This behavior, it was eventually discovered, went back over 10 years, involved numerous male pages and was readily known about in the higher ranks of the Republican leadership. At least he finally came to terms with his gayness.

Ted Haggard still hasn’t. Formerly an extremely influential evangelical pastor with a congregation of over 10,000 and the leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, Haggard worked tirelessly to ban gay marriage in Colorado until, in late 2006, it was revealed that, for the past three years, Haggard had been paying a male hooker to have sex and party down with some meth. He immediately resigned from all leadership positions and the revelation rocked the evangelical community, eliciting statements from such monumental fucks as James Dobson, Jerry Falwell and that ever popular crazy fucker, Pat Robertson. Good ol’ Ted finally went into a 3-week intensive counseling session with four other pastors and, to this day, refers to himself as “a heterosexual with issues.” Sounds like an underestimation to me.

Larry Craig, now there’s a smarmy fuck, eh? Republican from Idaho, he serves ten years in the US House of Representatives before being elected and serving another eighteen years in the Senate. He twice voted for and, in 2008, was a co-sponsor of the Federal Marriage Act which would have denied marriage rights to same-sex couples. He twice voted against extending the federal definition of hate crimes to include gays and lesbians, though the legislation finally passed in 2007 despite him. Oh, and he likes dirty toilet sex. In mid-2007, Craig was arrested in the mens’ room of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, allegedly attempting to solicit sex from and undercover officer by employing a series of toe-taps and something with a dropped piece of toilet paper. Craig later pleaded guilty to a lower charge while simultaneously maintaining his innocence.

Roy Ashburn, Republican California State Senator…a man with a solid, anti-gay voting record. “No” on recognizing out-of-state gay marriages; “no” on extending anti-discrimination laws; “no” three times on the creation of Harvey Milk Day. But yes, yes, yes to partying down at a Sacremento gay club, getting drunk and driving his state-owned SUV a short distance before betting pulled over and charged with a DUI.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, we have Doctor George Rekers, professor emeritus of neuropsychiatry and behavioral science at the University of South Carolina and a founding member of the Family Reserch Council. A highly educated man, Rekers, an officer for the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality and founder of, a website essentially posing as a phony medical group attempting to solicit anti-gay propagandist literature under the guise of trying to teach teens about sexual orientation, has worked to advance anti-gay views for years. And wouldn’t you know it, just this week he was photographed at the Miami International Airport in the company of a male hooker named Lucien, whome he had allegedly hired as a “travel assistant” to carry his luggage. The problem was that Lucien was hired through, a online gay escort service. And though Rekers denies any impropriety, the young man tells a different story, indicating that Rekers received daily, nude rubdowns and that he was a fan of something called the “long stroke.”

Revile them or pity them, you’ll have to admit that these men easily fall cleanly into the “Biggest Fucker” category.

These aren’t just men who are unhealthily wallowing and stewing in their own tar pit of self-hate. These are men who have been gifted with positions of extreme influence and power in our society, the ability to hold the fates and lives of hundreds if not thousands and tens of thousands of people in their trusted, seemingly capable hands. These are men who are trusted to shape the fabric of government, trusted to guide our children into adulthood, consulted on matters of extreme importance, matters of faith and religion. These are men whose bottomless pit of epic self-loathing, when coupled with their roles as politicians, lobbyists and advisors, have the awesome capability to inflict untold amounts of hurt and damage upon hundreds of thousands, millions of gay men and lesbians in our society, not to mention our world at large. These are men with the power to destroy lives. And they always seem to be Republicans, don’t they?

To them and the countless other smarmy, closeted, Conservative fucks, I would simply ask that you STOP shitting on those of Us who are perfectly OKAY with who we are. If you’re conservative, if you’re a Republican, then you and I are already at odds with one another on a political, social and, hell, probably even intellectual levels. You try to stop my liberty and pursuit of happiness at every turn and I’d really love to take your semi-automatic rifles and sub-machine guns away forever. Fine…but when you actively, knowingly and, in many cases, vigorously pursue courses of actions to deny freedoms, strip away previously granted rights and criminalize the very behavior you, yourself, are engaging in every bit as actively, knowingly and in EVERY case vigorously, that…that is simply some of the worst evil one could commit in this world.

You would destroy the lives of others because you hate yourselves that much.

You are beyond pathetic, gentlemen…welcome to the Biggest Fuckers Club.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Perfect Knit, Part II

The perfect knit is an elusive creature because there’s always something, some small thing you forgot to do or something you did too much of. You never really know how it happened (or sometimes maybe you do), but it did and it’s there and what are you going to do about it?

But, wait…I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? We last we spoke, we knew what we were going to knit and with what we were going to knit it…but we hadn’t actually started. And it (almost) always starts with a slip knot. The core, the seed, the nucleus of many o’ knitted thing: the simple, yet effective, slip knot. Make one…and slip it onto your first needle. Long-tail or knitted cast-on? Depends…do we want a stretchy or firm edge? Either way, we diligently work the needles in and out of the yarn, creating intricate patterns in the air while simultaneously multiplying the number of loops on the main needle, each loop perfectly formed, its tension identical to its neighbors and theirs to their neighbors and so on and so forth and…

You count. Once, twice…three times a lady, making sure you’ve got the precise number of cast-on stitches called for. It just wouldn’t do to start the horse out of the gate wrong now, would it? No, of course not…so you’ve got it, the right number, the magic number and the light is green! And you’re off…

At the beginning of any project, if you’re at all like me, there’s a certain amount of reverence, a certain due diligence paid to the craft. This is where the meditative aspect of knitting comes into play, when the craft becomes contemplative. By delving into the movement and formation of every stitch, everything else in the whole of the world can be mitigated. All that exists is right there, in your hands, and you fall into a rhythm. If it’s a pullover, you’re working the stockinette diligently, row by row, remembering every third (or was it fifth?) row to decrease 2 (or…maybe 4?) stitches. If it’s a simple 2x2 ribbed cap, oh baby…this, this is the ultimate meditative knit, especially when knit in the round. Why? Because it ain’t nothing at all except 2 knits, then 2 purls…and repeat forever (or until you have about 6 ½ inches knit)! When you’re working in the round, there is no end of the row, nothing to break your concentration, your stride, no need to stop and turn your work. Just knit and go…

But then you see it! What?! No, it can’t be. Something’s wrong…I’m short one stitch. Or, maybe it’s a purl where there should be a knit. It’s just one stitch, one little insignificant…but it’s right there! Right in the middle, right where it’s most noticeable…it’s…right…there!

Just think about the law of averages for a second. Now think about how many individual stitches make up any given knitted item. Small things like dishcloths might have as little as 225 (given a 15st x 15rw square). Socks, scarves…probably close to a thousand, if not more. Sweaters? Shoooot! Hundreds of thousands of stitches, each one a unique opportunity for something to go wrong: knit when you should purl, slip one too many stitches, forget a yarn-over, decrease in the wrong direction. When framed in these terms, who cares about the perfect knit? Think of how many of those stitches were done properly, perfectly…and stand proud of your excellent average.

But the knitting powers-that-be don’t care about your perfection average. They’re only interested in that one time, that split second, that late night when you’re so tired but simply must finish this one last row; that knit night where you had one glass of wine too many; that airline knitting fiasco with the turbulence, where all the luggage went flying about and you dropped your knitting. Yeah, that’s when it happens.

Knitting is a cassette tape of the craft world. Crochet is, too. Not cassette tapes in the sense that they’re outmoded and have been supplanted by newer better technology, no. Knitting is a cassette tape in that it is sequential, one to two to three…you must pass through all points between A and B to reach B. Unlike a CD or DVD which will allow you to immediately and easily access any point you’d like right now, cassette tapes need to be fast-forwarded and rewound to find that one part or that one song. Likewise, in order to correct your knitting mistakes, you’ve got to be willing to backtrack to the scene of the crime. If it was just in the last row, then it’s probably not much to ask. Praise be to the knitting goddesses! You have only to tink backward to the mistake, fix it and keep going.

But what happens when your transgression is miles back, rows and rows of perfect, little stitches. Your mistake, it stares at you like a fox crouched at the treeline of great forest, watching you, taunting you. No one else in the universe may be able to see it…but you do. Worse yet: an intricate, complex lace pattern pristine in its construction…except right…here. You see? You’re missing a yarn-over. See? Yeah, I know…it breaks up the whole pattern, really ruins the continuity, doesn’t it? Hmm, right…you could go back, but…that’s an awful lot of work to have to pull out. Well…can you live with yourself if you don’t go back? Hmm…can you?

And there, ladies and gentlemen, right there…there is the one million dollar question. Can you, dear knitter, can you send out into this great and wondrous world a creation that you know to be flawed?

You betcha, I can. See, in my knitting world, there’s a sort of statute of limitations on mistakes. If they remain undetected long enough, they stay. Imagine you’re in the process of casting-off the back of a cardigan with three stitches left to go. At that moment, all the way down by the ribbed waist, you see it: a purl stitch where there should be a knit, right there in the ribbing. Damn! Then…I shrug my shoulders and bemoan my outcast state because there is no way in hell you’re going to get me to rip out three days of knitting for one lonely stepchild of a stitch. No way, no sir! I take a mental note not to do it again and I move on. It teaches you the value of sometimes letting go.

This is why, in my knitting, I strive for perfection but I am very often very okay with less than that. In my world, however, this does not equate to failure. This is learning, an ongoing, never-ending process…and this is just one reason I’m a knitter.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Perfect Knit, Part I

As a knitter, I strive for perfection in my knitting but I am very often very okay with less than that. I like to think other knitters do, too, but maybe not all of them. It could be argued by those who know me best that my quest for perfection in knitting has less to do with my identification as a knitter and more to do with me being who I am as an individual. Which ever way that quirk comes out in the wash, the fact still remains: I try to knit the perfect knit every single time. So far? I have not succeeded.

You wouldn’t think the road to knit perfection to be perilous and fraught with pitfalls (or, if you’re not a knitter, maybe you would). Knitting is, simultaneously, a severely clever craft and insanely simple. There are only two real stitches: the knit and the purl (which is simply the mirror opposite of the knit). That’s the simple part. So…what could possibly go wrong? There are myriad variations and a seemingly infinite number of combinations thereof…decreases, increases, cables, textures, patterns. Knitters are, by and far but certainly not always, some damn clever elves.

So, how does it happen? It creeps into the process, which, for me, is the most important part of knitting. It’s the “how” that fascinates me eternally and not, contrary to conventional belief, the finished product. Sure, the item I’m knitting must hold some level of fascination, intrigue, wonder or, at the very least, passing suitability before I’ll ever deign to knit it. I need never knit a bikini or frilly lingerie-type things. Feminine sweaters with beads or picot edging are also out for I know no one for whom I would ever dream of knitting such things. Plus, I’m a guy. I’m one of those increasingly less rare mythical creatures: the dude knitter. We’re like the unicorns of the knit world, trumped only by the straight dude knitters who are like…I don’t know, the Loch Ness monster? Time Lords? My point is that dude knitters are rare, straight dude knitters even more rare…but we do exist and in ever-increasing numbers. But, I digress…

The item does matter. Am I making it for myself or, as is most often the case, for someone else? I have a serious shortage of things made for myself. A couple pairs of socks, my Boneyard shawl and a pair of gloves comprise the collection. I’ve promised myself that, before the end of 2010, I will knit myself a cardigan, something comfy, with pockets for small stuff and buttons instead of a zip. Everything else I have ever knit in my life has been for another person but never for a stranger. An embroidery tote for Mom (with lining and pockets courtesy of Miss Stacy), a hooded sweater for LoLo, a scoop-neck sleeveless top for BK, mitts and hats for a panoply of friends and even a Doctor Who scarf for Johnny. Each item chosen for a reason…because it was requested by or selected for or reminded me of the person who eventually becomes the recipient of said item.

Once the item has been chosen, materials must be selected. This is perhaps the most fun and agonizing decision present in every project. A veritable pallet of color and texture at your disposal: thick, thin, smooth, rough, chunky, fine, light, dark, solid, self-striping, hand-painted, randomly variegated…the choice is almost without end. These are the reasons the choice is so very enjoyable. The same also give reason for agony and fret. Personally, I have an affinity for the finer gauges of yarn: lace-weight, fingering, sock and DK. I can easily move into the worsted, heavy worsted and aran range but you’ll almost never see me in chunky or above. Blues, greens, greys…burnt colors and solid contrast work best for me. If I’ve selected a handspun or a yarn from a smaller producer, I’ll often stare at it and appreciate the work and craft that went into its creation. Someone, somewhere spun, dyed, painted and wound this hank, skein, cake or ball into what it is right now. And I’m about to transform it again, using only two (or more) pointed sticks, from one mammoth length of string into a three-dimensional, wearable, useable item.

Knitting is fucking transformative, man.

To be continued...