Two weeks in northern Italy, in sunsets

The fiery one, igniting boats and cliffs and haphazardly piled, tropical-hued villas in Riomaggiore, as viewed from the rocky shore with at least 100 other admirers.

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The one that shrouded the highest point in a village rising from a castle, all of it adrift in the Mediterranean Sea (after missing the last ferry back, while drinking local wine and eating rosemary biscotti with an idealistic couple from Verona, who love opera and linguistics and wish cruise ships would stop docking in Venice).

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The one that streaked, chemically colored, across a flat sky in an unknown, industrial town, where we stopped for a patio after hours hiking the Alps. We were starving, and there was a crowd. It was, undoubtably, the best aperitif spread in town. We only bought the wine for the free sandwiches and pasta.

The first one solo, orange and yellow over the Umbrian hills, surreptitiously absorbed from the rocky overhang of a cliff on the wrong side of the autostrade railing.

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The one that painted the Tuscan mountains, leaning fast into cut-away curves from the back of a motorbike, riding the thrill of breaking into an abandoned hospital with, essentially, a total stranger. Cold wind, sheer drops and rosy patchwork vastness.

The second solo: warm drape over red-clay roofs of Lucca and the purple hills beyond.

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The throngs of tourists snapping photos of mauve-tinged roofs and bridges from Piazzale Micheangelo, dangling high over River Arno.

The last one, an elegant stillness settling over the domed, mist-softened magnificence of Florence, as viewed from the deserted streets of Fiesole.

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(More adventures and visuals to come…)

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To see the rest of my pics, go here.

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Wayne Coyne seems a bit of a tool, but maybe narcissism is a pre-requisite for spectacle-creation?

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Air Dubai, this Colorado hip-hop fusion band, was fantastic.

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Alexander Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros were kinda lame, but at least there was crowd participation. For a crowd-sourced story that made 60,000 folks cry, see the last video of this post.

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Toby (from Dr. Dog) sat on a random guy. Then a random girl sat on Toby. He looked bewildered. Wonder if his wife’s the jealous type?

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I don’t know this guy. I just liked the way the picture turned out – the mood and the aperture and such.

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Reignwolf. Best. Set. Ever.

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Yep, there was a ferris wheel. And Arkansas’s take on north (midwestern) lights.

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There were boobs and lots of butt cheeks. This is the most fleshy photo of my lot, because taking pictures of strangers, even strangers who choose to be naked in a crowd of 23,000, felt too creepy. Maybe I will overcome my puritan roots and emerge with way-better flesh pics next year?

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Alex Ebert changed this guys life. Apparently.

Memphis music and Mack City

Fun facts: If you brush corn starch through your hair every few days, you never have to wash it.

There’s an entertainment district in Memphis called The New Mack City. You’ll know you’re there when everything around you is yellow and green. (It’s a bit like Oz, y’all).

We stumbled upon a Mouserocket show at Black Lodge Video in Memphis’s midtown. It was actually a DVD release party for Mike McCarthy’s 2009 film, Cigarette Girl. (From what I gather, smokers must live in the ghetto, a scantily-clad, leggy lass deals cigs to addicts-in-hiding, who still live in the fancy part of town and there’s lots of Tarantino-style action.)

Mouserocket, currently one of my favorite bands, is a decade-old collab between garage-punker Alicja Trout, Big Ass Truck’s Robby Grant (who freakin’ shreds on guitar), drummer Robert Barnet (also of Big Ass Truck), a bass player (the world-wide-web says Hemant Gupta?) and Jonathan Kirkscey, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra cellist who did the music for Cigarette Girl and Black Snake Moan.

Hanna Star also played a set. She’s Mike McCarthy’s 15-year-old daughter, who has pink hair and braces, a pretty, shivery voice, puberty-meets-nursery rhyme lyrics and sparse but catchy guitar bits. (We saw the stripped down version, just Hanna and a guitar. It was less poppy and frankly, more interesting, than what you’ll find online.)

And before Black Lodge, Pat Sansone (of Wilco by way of Mississippi) played with Jody Stephens (drummer and last surviving member of Big Star) and a rotating collective of other folks that we didn’t recognize. It was a free show in Overland Park, and the sound was fantastic. They went through all of Third and a lot of stuff off Big Star. They also played several Chris Bell songs, bringing out Richard Rosebrough, the original drummer for “I Am the Cosmos.” The finale? “The Letter” by the Boxtops. Pretty perfect, right?

Here’s my unsatisfying Mouserocket clip (card ran out of memory):

Here’s my even less satisfying clip of Stephens & Co.’s “September Girl”:

Here’s what Mack City looks like (more after the jump):

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dancing

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Rainy Sunday marathon

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No Facebook. In fact, no mention of internet at all (which, if they had it, was surely AOL dial-up). No cell phones and not even multiple land lines. Only beepers and subway tokens (ha, tokens) and a young Eddie Vedder with a terrible band name (Reigndance?), and a Mazzy Star/Suzanne Vega siren, stylistically and emotionally preserved somewhere between Parker Posey in Party Girl and Winona Ryder in Reality Bites, and a lady rapper befriending a gal from Alabama, the latter an obvious product of neighborhood dance competitions in chain-hotel ballrooms (cut to the spandex short-and-bra set), and a smart, hyper-defensive poet, a bisexual artist, some lava lamps and chiseled abs and a frat-boy haircut, a respectful exchange with a homeless drug addict, earnest discussion and, believe it or not, authenticity.

Thanks MTV. Thanks Hulu.

First night

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The night was lovely, carefree and endless, with hot winds that sent clouds soaring and evoked summer cabins and childhood and drinking in parking lots on the seedy side of town.

It was everything “grown up” once promised and hardly delivered.

I walked to the reading, and it didn’t matter that the poems were overwrought and horrific. The wind whipped my kurta, that loose swath of linen tailored to my body by Pakistani men who held the tape measure an inch-and-a-half from my flesh, so as to maintain the purity of their souls. The boys were on the porch, beautiful gay boys with long eyelashes, so I sat there too, and the air swirled around us on our wrap-around Victorian, assuring us that soon, we’d have the storm we’d been waiting for.

We drank beer and talked hippie-fests and orgasms, meditation and cleanses. One boy cradled a dog, a skittish, leggy chihuahua mix, that looks like a tiny, birdy dinosaur. The upstairs crew came in, the guy who works at the arty magazine and a girl who looked cool, kind of plump and hip, like a indie-rock librarian, and his roommate with a cute but more boring-looking girl. Those two are the smokers. They leave overturned beer bottles and spill butts on the upstairs landing. I swept them up just this afternoon and cut away the ripped screen, so now we can all sit on the wooden banister thirty feet up and gaze at the rooftops of Quapaw.

Really, that’s where the evening started — among those rooftops and before bad poetry, when I drank a raspberry Shock Top and called Olivia in Boston, and we made fun of ourselves, our end-of-relationship drama. She laughed at my laugh, which made me laugh more, and those old-fashioned rooftops made me feel like I was in Boston, too.

Upstairs didn’t stay, just said hi and went in. But it felt like things could happen here, at this house, with the porch and the landing and the backyard and the sprawl, the myriad of ways to escape my airless shoebox. Now it’s the warm season. This could be just what I need.

A girlfriend came over, because the sleazy ex she dumped but still sleeps with had ditched her after dinner, and she needed distraction.

Around midnight, we all went in, the boys to do whatever, and the girls to make boxed mac-and-cheese, because I hadn’t eaten that day. The overhead lights blared, buzzy and hyper-real after the darkness, like the bare bulbs of a raw, island country or maybe, that marvelous wound that is the Mississippi Delta.

We took our bowls outside and sat in the backyard, on the bench I bought at Goodwill and chained to a concrete block so it wouldn’t get stolen. We could hear the upstairs chatter – they must have been on the landing or had their door open.

The wind snatched away our complaints about work and small-minds and bad match.com dates, and the night wound on until we felt delirious, high on beer and orange powdered cheese and electric-pre-storm air. It reminded me of my early-twenties, watching movies all night on the laptop with Tim on that back deck in Boston, or with Drew and Austin on the roof of the art co-op in Jackson, and of course, every post-party walk home with Monica that first endless summer, and then the second, quicker summer, when we never made it home before (the T stops running) midnight.

At 1 a.m., my friend left, and I went in and wrestled with the two windows that open (each, a mere crack), and slept, tightly at first, then fitfully, as lightening bounced through naked windows and around the walls of my bedroom. The sky growled, the cat cowered, and the world was made anew.

Leo Welch and Kari Faux

So I capsule-reviewed the new (and only) Leo Welch album for the paper, and then, in searching our archives, realized we already reviewed it a few weeks ago. Lest my labor be in vain, I’m pasting it here for my fine reader(s?): Leo-Bud-Welch

Last year an 81-year-old logger turned gospel singer dialed up a record label, because he heard it promotes the music of old black men. This year, he released a debut album with Big Legal Mess. Leo Welch’s “Sabougla Voices,” named after a Mississippi Hills Country community, doses gospel with blues for a body-swaying, hip-shaking, soul-shivering experience. Welsch sings about prayin’ and prostratin’, but the delivery is pulpit-fiery and the rifts are ripped from the devil’s juke, in steady-pounding, electric-boogie style. The album opens with “Praise His Name,” a robust original that features call-and-response warbling by Martha and Laverne Conley, members of Welch’s local singing group. (They provide back-up vocals throughout, and additional instrumentation comes from BLM/Fat Possum’s finest: Jimbo Mathus, Eric Carleton, Matt Patton, Andrew Bryant and Bronson Tew.) Welsch can make a big noise, but he’s most effective when he’s stark and sparse, in numbers such as “Mother Loves Her Children,” “A Long Journey,” and “The Lord will Make a Way.”  These tracks showcase his idiosyncratic phrasing, burbled vocals and acoustic guitar, channelling Muddy Waters and even Sam Cooke.

Also, I interviewed this adorkable 21-year-old lady rapper from Little Rock, Kari Faux, and on her first mixtape, Fact or Faux, inspired by Foxy Brown and made when she was 19. Her voice sounds like Ladybug Mecca’s and her beats sound like Tribe Called Quest. She’s done four others since then, and there are some gems on all of them, especially this year’s Spontaneous Generation (Generation Wh(Y), House of Avalon, Rap Game Daria, Cootie Shot + Cellphone’s Dead). But Fact or Faux is my fave. Get it while it lingers. She thinks she took it down, and once she realizes it’s still up (i.e. my profile runs), it may go away forever.