Archive for the 'Punk' Category

In Which I Listen to Modest Mouse and Get Nostalgic in a Hanoi Hotel Room

Sitting in my underpants, white sheets and AC, bag of lychee beside me and lychee fingers, sticky on the keyboard.

Pitchfork tweets something about Silver Jews. I click, I scan, I click on something else and I scan on something else.

See the ad in the sidebar. Ignore it, actually, flashing words and image of a sky outside a car window, like I’m in a car on an American highway, looking out of the window, riding. Finally succumb to the ADD-inspiring ad and read the words: “Pitchfork Classic: Lonesome Crowded West.”

“Lonesome Crowded West?! A ‘classic’?!” I scoff through through my mouthful of sweet goo, spit a seed into a plastic bag. “That was… oh shit, that was hella long ago.”

Click, load, let the video start to play. Montage of young boys on tour, wrestling, grinning, sweating under the lights on stage. Familiar sounds come blaring out of the speakers of my laptop; I turn it down, though fuck knows why since everyone else is this hotel is so damn loud. Hear the jangles and screams and distorted echoes of another place, another time, another era.

It hadn’t felt like that long ago.

*

North Oakland, 58th Street, the end of the last millennium. The first house friends of mine got together: ashtrays, 40 bottles, Goodwill couches. It wasn’t a proper punk house since there were only four people living it. Every punk house needs at least 1.5 residents per bedroom and it also needs a name. This house never had one; it was just “The 58th Street House.”

Sav, Jon, Sophie and Ben. Sav was a punk and so was Jon, though it was fading into a general Carhartt-wearing blue-collar tough. Sophie wasn’t a punk. Ben definitely wasn’t a punk.

So it was probably Ben that first brought the album to the house. It was that Northern, woodsy indie shit we generally didn’t like—too soft, too weepy, grow-a-pair-and-start-screaming. But he did scream was the thing, and I guess that’s what got us. Got me.

It was my first year at State and I was staying out there, over the bridge and through the BART tunnel, in that foggy patch of clapboard houses that disappear into the ocean, at the end of the continent. My first year in college, my first year sober, crazy as a motherfuck.

I’d take the train out on the weekends, those kinds of houseparties kids have when they first move out on their own: all-night, wrecked, music and smoke, backporch and basement and bodies on the floor. I didn’t drink—what the fuck did I do? Kick it and pretend. Feel less awkward than at the college parties, cause at least these were my breed. My people. My tribe.

And that album playing, over and over. Polar opposites don’t push away.

Sav and Jon singing along, late into the night.

*

They’re playing clips and flashing pictures, someone’s home movies of the band on tour. “A time when strip malls were coming, the paving of the West.” Do I remember that? Not really. I was in the city, we didn’t feel it as much, didn’t see the land changing under us.

“I guess you could say it was a prophetic album.”

They’re talking about the grunge era, old bands: Candlebox, Karp, Heavens to Betsy. I laugh; I hadn’t heard those names in a long time.

“It was a different time. Pre-internet, pre-youtube. You actually had to go to a store and buy a record.”

Is that not how we do it anymore? I wonder.

Holy shit, that’s not how we do it anymore.

*

There was this weird thing about the 58th St house—it attracted stray animals.

Like a lot. So much it got to be a joke. First it was a couple cats lurking around. Then someone knew someone who needed to offload an iguana. So an iguana cage showed up in the kitchen. Iggy the Iguana would come out and party with us, crawl around people’s backs.

Then there was a rabbit. It just showed up. Hopping down 58th St like it wasn’t a thing, like it was the goddamn Green Gables out there instead of North Oakland. Sophie was on the porch smoking and swooped the rabbit up. It chilled with them for a few weeks, then the owner showed up, some little kid asking.

A couple weeks later, they saw the same rabbit hoping down the street. They ignored it this time.

Then there was Mama cat. She wasn’t Mama cat when she first showed up, a skinny teenager howling at the top of her lungs. “God, go out and get laid already!” Jon yelled. She did. She got knocked up and plopped out four kittens. Sophie videotapped the birth. They’d watch it over and over, having it on during those houseparties, tiny kittens crawling around the floor and people trying not to step on them. “The Lonesome Crowded West” playing over and over. Smoke billowing, bottles clinking.

Soon a chain reaction.

Stray animals to stray souls, I said. Or maybe I just thought it.

*

They start going through each song on the album—the history behind it, explaining the lyrics, who wrote write part first. It’d be tedious if I wasn’t already invested, strung along by a whiff of nostalgia like the aftershave of an old boyfriend.

“They did it the old-fashioned way: you get in a van and you tour. You play shows. There was no Myspace, no Facebook, no youtube.”

I feel a little pang when they say that: “the old-fashioned way.” Is that an era that’s really gone? I still think of Pandora and youtube and iTunes as an accessory to going to shows, accessories to hearing some awesome touring band you’d never heard before, to the hat that would pass for gas money. Sure I’m away from it all now; sure I’m dependent entirely upon music blogs and PirateBay, but that’s just because I’m on the other side of the planet, right? That’s not really how it’s done now?

The laptop screen glows in the dim hotel room. I think of the hearing Le Tigre for the first time at a Santa Cruz co-op; I think of seeing Lost Sounds open at an East Oakland warehouse. I think taking the train out to see Modest Mouse at the Great American, Murder City Devils at Slim’s. I think of the last band I saw before I left the Bay; I’d found out about them on Pandora.

Did it really all change that much, when I wasn’t looking? Or worse, when I was looking but just couldn’t see it?

They keep flashing pictures of the band when the album came out. Their skin burns with youth, that flush of youth. They snap back to the recent interviews and their faces have dulled. Wrinkles and grey hairs in their beards. It feels like the first time I noticed wrinkles in my friends’ faces, the first time I noticed them in my own.

I’m enraptured by the younger shots, by the burning. Did we really ever have it? Did we really lose it?

I’ve said what I’ve said / and you know what I mean

I want to look. I want to check and see. But I can’t—the pictures from then aren’t in my iPhoto. They’re in crackling old albums in some box in a closet of my parents’ house, halfway around the world.

*

Iggy was the first to die. Sophie went out of town and someone didn’t feed him. Or someone left his heat lamp on or didn’t turn it on, I can’t remember. They buried his limp green body in the backyard.

One of the kittens died too. Someone sat on it; it was trapped beneath a couch cushion and they didn’t hear it crying. Another kitten got hit by a car but it survived. It had a wonky tail and it ran crooked, like its equilibrium were permanently off. “Brains,” they called it.

There was a fight in the kitchen one night, at one of the parties. That jack-ass Kevin tried to stab his girlfriend—threw her up against Iggy’s old cage and they had to pry the knife outta his hand.

Well, do you need a lot of what you’ve got to survive?

Whatever happened to Mama cat? She got old, I think, disaffected and uninterested. She wandered off one day. Or maybe I’m remembering that wrong. I can’t be sure anymore.

*

I remember being shocked that Modest Mouse made it big.

It was eight years later. I was back living in Oakland—had I ever really left?—waiting tables and had just started dating this new guy. God knows why, we didn’t have much in common. It was a beautiful June day and he wanted to draw the shades and play Guitar Hero. Um, okay.

A song came on; it sounded oddly familiar, the sensibility to the screams. “Who is this?”

“Modest Mouse.”

“What the fuck happened to them?” I remember thinking. It was poppy, slick, overly produced. I hadn’t been listening to the radio, didn’t pay attention to much outside my little DIY bubble. I’d forgotten all about Modest Mouse. My friends had moved out of the 58th St house; North Oakland had gentrified. Ben had broken a heart and left town. Sav had gone up north, lost in doom metal and an abusive relationship. Jon had disappeared. I’d imported “The Lonesome Crowded West” into my iTunes, sold the CD and promptly forgotten about it.

“Are they, like, big?” I asked the dude.

He gave me a look. “You haven’t heard of them?” he asked.

I shook my head. “Not like this, I haven’t.”

*

“Here / There” signs in North Oakland

It’s not all bad—Ben and Sav moved back. Ben got married, had a baby. Sav got clean, still plays in bands. Sophie became a preschool teacher; she moved to Costa Rica a few months before I moved to Cambodia. I think one of the kittens survived; Meiko adopted it and it might still be alive.

The malls are soon to be ghost towns / Well, so long, farewell, goodbye

Jon never showed back up.

*

I end watching the whole damn thing, all 45 minutes. The heat of the laptop has made me sweat and the lychee stick on my fingers has dried. Miniscule ants scurry around the keyboard, disappear behind the glowing keys.

I click on my iTunes, bring up Modest Mouse. Yup, still there. I go to click on the album, then stop.

All the people you knew were the actors

I’m alone. I’m alone in a cheap hotel room, a long time away, on the other side of the planet. What’s the use?

I get up and brush my teeth instead.

My Memory Lane Is Littered With Poems

So I’ve started up on the going-through-boxes bit of moving: digging up, spreading out, wrenching off dusty lids and getting elbow-deep in scraps of memories—you know, the “ugh” of the to-do list. Not so much because it’s tedious and time-consuming, but more because of what it opens, draws you back into—old mix tapes and yellowed papers and skinny sheets of photo negatives, the cluttered corners of your own life.

So I brew a phat cup of coffee and put on a song that seems fitting (even if it’s just the shitty YouTube version) and let the confetti of my life explode across the bedroom floor.

It’s a kind of Memory Lane without street patterns or building numbers (and so in that way, kind of like Phnom Penh itself)—just a hodgepodge of unordered relics and artifacts. Memories are one thing, because you can distort them, whether you mean to or not; you can warp them over time, into what you want them to be or need them to be. The actual physical crap you accumulate is more like the facts—the hard, plastic facts, an old bedside clock covered in stickers—of what your life is and has been. If an autobiography is the facts, and a memoir is the memories (and thus inherently flawed, and those flaws often telling us more than the facts), then my room and my life have turned into an explosion of upturned facts, mini-autobiographies presented non-sequentially, with just a dusty trail of memory to string together any narrative meaning.

And you start to wonder, from an anthropological standpoint, what your life would look like to someone, if all they had to look at were your possessions. (I think there was actually an MTV dating show with that as the premise, and I’m embarrassed that I know that.) But this is more than just your possessions—the things you’ve saved. They tell a kind of story, it seems, about you, one that you probably couldn’t tell yourself—one that you’re probably only vaguely aware exists.

Old fake ID, never once used to drink, only to get into shows.

Sketch by an old ex-boyfriend, found in a notepad

Show flier, and about 100 old Gilman cards. #scenecred

Second print piece I ever published, in August 2000.

New Kids On The Block newsletter I self-published back in the 2nd grade. Note the rub-on letters. #scenecred

45-page novella I wrote in the 4th grade, about little girls who had a secret club.

Mountain o' notebooks, zines, poems, etc.

And I think if you looked at it, without knowing me, you’d think, “Holy shit, this girl loves to write.” Cause that’s what I thought—surprised by it, startled like an animal in the lights of it, the reams of evidence—which I guess goes to show you how little you can know yourself. Like I’d forgotten, you know, how much writing has always been with me: the poetry and the zines and the pseudo-chapter books and the stories I dictated to my dad before I even knew how to write, that he transcribed for me and I somehow saved, in a dusty old box all these years later.

It’s kind of astounding, the sheer volume, and that some of the lines strike me as good. Really good. As in, “Holy shit, I wrote that!” It’s been a curious experience, like viewing my life from the outside, and it’s caused me to ask myself: Why? Where does this all come from? And the truth is, I couldn’t tell you why I write, where this need in me comes from, anymore than I can tell you why I travel. I’ve read great essays on these topics, even tried to write a few myself, but in my most honest of moments, I have to admit that I have no idea why, except that there’s that thing in me “that will not be still.”

So I guess you could say that digging out all this crap has helped to remind me of who I am, the fact of who I am (which might be different from what I tell myself)—that I didn’t just make this up, that I really have always wanted to write. And more than that: I’ve always written. Funny, that I’d have needed all this evidence to remind me.

But then there’s reality, which is that you can’t hang on to everything, save all these Xeroxs and yellow legal pads and notebooks that you really only ever go through when you move. It’s too much to possibly ever read, and besides, I’m trying to avoid the whole storage unit thing. So I set up two piles, the larger of which goes into the recycling bin, and I sift through and save the gems and take my own little stroll through Memory Lane.

Where Glen E Friedman and Travel Blogging Intersect

Friedman/Fairey collab that happens to hang in my living room

I didn’t expect to get so sucked in. I didn’t expect to get so inspired, and I certainly didn’t expect my interview with photographer Glen E Friedman to have anything to do with travel writing or blogging.

Which it didn’t, not explicitly. But in talking to Glen, crosslegged on my bedroom floor for over an hour one Monday morning, in asking him about his drives and motivations, about what inspires him and what doesn’t, I saw so many parallels to my own experience in the travel blogging world that I couldn’t help but write something up about it. Our chat served as a kind of check, about what really matters to me and what I really want to do with my writing.

Glen is old-school. Some would say “an idealist from a bygone era,” and I suppose I can appreciate where they’re coming from. But that wasn’t my experience with Glen. My experience was that he didn’t want to fuck around, that he didn’t want his time wasted by people who didn’t actually care or didn’t want to work hard, and that he truly truly believed in what he was doing and had done. And fuck if you can say that about a lot of people.

But in fact, the most personally inspiring part of my interview with Glen didn’t make it into the actual published interview (up in two parts, one and two, on Hi-Fructose). Because, well, an hour-long interview is really fucking long transcribed.

I was intrigued by Glen’s frustrations with the contemporary art scene, and asked him about it. He went on a kind of rant (homeboy can talk) and some of the lines he used I’d actually read in other interviews. But as he described the scene of it all, what is really the inherent bullshit in any artistic scene, I couldn’t help but think of what one writer dubbed “the circle jerk of travel blogging” (don’t worry, I won’t dog you out):

There’s definitely some people out there that are doing some good stuff—Shepard’s name goes to mind—but there’s a ton of shit out there too. And it makes it boring and frustrating to go to a museum or an art gallery and see the stuff that gets the credibility, because the people hobnob with the right people, you know, or they get high with the right people or had sex with the right people, or they’re just in the scene. I have a strange feeling that if you’re in the scene, then you’re probably not very good. It’s all about the emperor’s new clothes in art. I’d say maybe 5% of people actually have a real talent for what they’re doing and aren’t just getting over. And that’s in most of the fields, whether it’s in music or painting or any kind of craftsmanship that’s considered an art.

It’s a pretty bold position, but as he spoke, I replaced “art” with “blogging,” and well, the same held true.

“I don’t know what suddenly makes so many people artists these days,” Glen wondered aloud. He talked about a laziness, a getting-over attitude, enabled by the ease of having one’s voice heard these days; when he was young, you had to be really driven—you had to really want it. Everything was DIY, because there was no other choice. No one was making any money off their bands or their skating; you did it because you loved it.

It reminded me of my own beginnings in writing—the little callous on my thumb from the pencil ridge, fingertips covered in glue from making zines, waking up from a long night with bits of poetry scribbled across my arm because I hadn’t had any paper on me. I didn’t do it for page ranking, I didn’t do it to “travel the world and get paid”—I did it simply because I couldn’t imagine not doing it. Because there was a voice in me that would not be still.

And I wouldn’t say I’ve sold out or even sold myself short. But it’s easy to get caught up in the scene of it all. It’s easy to see all the recognition other people get and to want it too—to want something measurable, to drive traffic, something to point to: “See, it actually matters; what I have to say matters.” And if you’re a decent writer, it’s easy to write the kind of stuff people want to hear, that garners retweets and comments and link outs. And it’s even easier to get lost inside all that.

Glen’s always followed a higher call that went beyond this scene or that scene, the cool kid club. He’s done his work in order to inspire other people, and he’s really held himself to it. To be fair, he’s had the luxury to hold himself to it: he begun being successful at age 14, and has supported himself through his art his whole adult life. But despite that, there’s always always the opportunity to get lazy, to ride the gravy train, to put your images on a tshirt and make a fuckton of money cause who can’t use more money?

It’s also easy to get frustrated with the scene, to point the finger and scream (internally, of course), “For fuck’s sake, write something real, not just what’s easy or convenient! Write about what’s inconvenient, about what’s difficult and painful and scares the shit out of you.”

In my best of moments, I’d like to be able to take a more loving, tolerant approach. I’d like to not roll my eyes and shittalk (which I’m of course guilty of), but to somehow say to all those writers: “You’re fucking better than what’s easy, than what drives traffic, and you deserve to let that voice be heard.”

But I’ve got a big enough job just trying to hold myself to that standard. Cause, you know, I still have to pay the rent too. And I’m sure as hell not gonna do it transcribing Glen Friedman interviews. But what I will get from it is a reminder, like a small stone you can carry in your pocket and rub when you’re bored or lonely or nervous—of what it really is I want to do with my writing.

Travel Tip: Wear a Fanny Pack

Much has been written about the fanny pack. Most of it is bad.

What began as a utilitarian fashion craze of the early 90s (shut up, you know you had one) has now been strictly relegated to the arena of unabashed tourist. Worse than Tevas, worse than zip-off pants, worse than wielding a guidebook or clutching a map or asking for directions loudly in English, the fanny pack is the ultimate signifier of clueless tourist. Just ask the people who write this blog.

But on my last trip in Austin, my good friend and travel buddy Liz presented a most compelling argument in favor of the fanny pack:

I guess it’s all in how you wear it.

Having trouble finding support in your fashion-forward revival of the fanny pack? Use your free hands to take solace at The Real Fanny Pack.

Beautiful: The Ridiculous Hair of Chaos in Tejas

Oh, kids these days…

Or actually, kids circa 1979. This year’s crowd at Chaos in Tejas was kind of like a time warp. I haven’t seen that many liberty spikes and back dreads since the hey day of the Telegraph Ave gutterpunk.

Now everyone loves a good Elmer’s glue mohawk with an anarchy symbol spray-painted on it. And who hasn’t shaved half their head before? It was like being a kid again…

By the end of it all, I wanted to wear a pink leotard and sparkly tights. To the dude who wore a tie-dyed t-shirt: rock on. You might have been the punkest of them all.

Sunset at the Super 8

Dusk and the birds come out.

Diving dark bodies against a fading pink—the kids are getting ready.

Ripples in the pool, empty cups and sagging neon intertubes, nodding “yes, yes.”

Drums and distortion and a screaming rage, rattling out of too-small speakers, a half-open door. Hanging over the rail of the balcony, smoking and slouching, bad postures and back patches.

A bird swoops, circles, disappears inside a nook under the drain pipe—small squabbling voices: hungry. Ready to be fed.

Skateboarding in the parking lot of the Super 8 as the light fades: pink and darkness stretching, chasing, reaching for the sun and consuming the city instead.

Night is coming, the shows are starting, the air exhales and a breeze from no particular direction blows across the pavement, the hot stretch of steel, winking windshields, “yes, yes.”

The birds keep circling, searching for something to take between their beaks. They are only aware of their wings, the wind—not of their dancing or the shape it makes against the sinking Austin sky.

Chaos to Kona: This Will Be Epic

SFO –> AUS –> SJC –> LAX –> KOA –> LAX –> SFO: This will be epic.

It happened like this: my brother’s family was going to Hawaii. It’s an annual thing. My sister-in-law has a good family friend who is famously, fabulously wealthy, and owns a private villa along the Kona coast (“It’s like your own personal Four Seasons,” my parents told me). They go down and stay at the house every year, usually with a big group of people in January (when you can watch the migrating whales from the pool deck). The imminent arrival of my new baby niece pushed the party back till the end of May this year, which gave me enough time to scrape together airfare and justify taking a proper vacation (travelers don’t vacation, see below…). I roped my hard-working best friend into getting some time off from her fancy scientist job and come along with me.

Aside from the not-paying-for-a-place-to-stay bit, it’s kind of the classic American vacation: a relaxing one-week Hawaiian beach vacation. We’re renting a car (which I’ve never done while traveling), traveling with family, have nothing on the agenda other than morning yoga, noontime naps and all-day sunbathing. Which means, of course, it was nearly impossible to justify. I don’t relax when I travel; that’s not the point. If I need to relax, I’ll sleep till noon and go eat ice-cream cones in Dolores Park. I travel to see the world, dig in, explore, run myself ragged on third-class busses. When I travel, virtually no sacrifice is too big: I’ll bankrupt myself, take as much time off work as I can without getting fired. But when it came to taking 5 days off work and spending $436 to fly to Hawaii, I balked. It seemed like a lot to do nothing, learn nothing, gain nothing but a couple pounds from my brother’s bad-ass cooking.

I took it on as a sort of spiritual challenge: a traveler vacationing. In a lot of ways, it’s going to be my first vacation in 5 years. Unwinding, unplugging. But of course, I’ll have to write about that. And bring my laptop along. And then a friend gave me some tips on non-touristy places to go on the Big Island. An independent traveler tackling the most touristy place in the US? Sounds like a killer article…

Already, I was chipping away at the “vacation” element of my vacation. And then came Chaos.

It’s the dirtbaggiest, DIY-est music festival of the year. Organized by one dude with a blog and Xeroxed flyers, Chaos is Tejas brings out some of the biggest names in punk/crust/sludge/metal for four days of sheer debauchery in Austin, Texas. Friends had been road-tripping out since its inception 6 years ago. I finally went 2 years ago, and partied like I was 15 (minus the malt liquor and methamphetamines). I stayed with a tattooer/artist friend of mine, and ran around the streets till 4 in the morning, lighting off fireworks at after parties and making out in the back of a truck with some dude while his friends careened us around the city. And that was stone-cold sober.

I remembered the festival as being in early May. A tight squeeze, but I could fit it before Hawaii, right?

Turns out Chaos in Tejas (which has entered the digital age this year with a Facebook page) is Memorial Day weekend. And I was leaving for Hawaii on that Sunday. Some friends were planning to drive out. A hair-brained scheme began to hatch.

The road-tripping part had to get chopped out, but here’s how it’s ended up working out:

Wednesday: Fly to Austin with Liz and Melissa.

Thursday – Saturday: Rock our effing brains out. Killer bands from all over the world playing nearly 20 different shows. 3 single girls in a sea of crusty boys: think “Girls Gone Wild,” but with more tattoos.

Sunday: Fly from Austin to San Jose. Meet Alicia at the airport. Fly from San Jose to LA, where we’ll connect and fly to Kona. Grab our rental car and traverse the dark turns of some deserted highway, arriving at the gate to the mile-long driveway.

Monday-Saturday: Chill-ax.

Saturday night: Red-eye back to LA.

Sunday morning: Fly back to San Jose. Get a ride back to Oakland. Be at work by 2:30.

It’ll be one end of the spectrum to another: ridiculous partying to ridiculous relaxing. Punk rock shows to private properties, dirtbags to nieces, stinky clubs to island paradise. 11 days, 2 destinations, 7 flights, 1 rental car, 3 girls in 1 cheap hotel room, 15 people in 1 oceanside villa, 99 bands and 1 me to live (and write) it all.

Where Do Dirtbags Go for Valentine’s?

One of Aly's photos from the Burlington Hotel

It happened like this:

Making the rounds last Friday at the Art Murmur, I came across the photos of a friend of mine, Aly Su Borst. They were pretty bad-ass: a series of self-portraits set in some run-down opulence that got my spooky/awesome sensors spiked. I took some photos on my phone. At home the next day, I showed my roommate, “Hey, Luke, check out Aly’s photos.”

“Oh, rad, Port Costa.”

“Where’s that?”

That’s how I found out about the overnight destination all the local dirtbags have apparently been partying it up in for decades. And like most things, I’ve found out just in the nick of time: the reputedly haunted, ramshackle old bordello/hotel that serves as the heart of the 250-person town of Port Costa (that despite being 30 miles from my house, I’d never heard of) has plans to spiffy itself up, and recently received coverage by the San Francisco Chronicle. I knew no time could be wasted—I booked a room for this Saturday night. It’ll be a Valentine’s weekend overnight the way I like it: full of bats, bedbugs, dive bar denizens and rock n roll.

The Chronicle‘s article made the Burlington Hotel sound like the very definition of “hidden gem”—not in the Tuscan villa sense of the word, but in the gritty, visceral sense—which is to say, the sense I dig the most. Whether it was in fact an old whorehouse, and whether it is indeed haunted by the ghosts of prostitutes and shipyard workers, one thing seems for sure: the Burlington Hotel is a relic of the Old West California, the one Jack Black captured in the book You Can’t Win—the one that’s all but gone amid the Botox and SUVs of Southern California, and the Blue Priuses and Tibetan prayer flags of Northern California. Which is why I want in.

It won’t be a relaxing, rejuvenating or romantic getaway. Its Yelp reviews reveal as much: “dirty,” “bad-ass,” “like a horror movie,” “whore-tel.” One person laments that it’s no longer the all-night rager spot it had been in previous years (frequented by the likes of none other than the East Bay Rats—nuff said). A raucous bar next door constitutes much of the clientele, including “bikers, transients, nazi crack addicts, and drifters. maybe tourists are in there somewhere, too.” (Really, there’s some effing gems on the Yelp page, read through that shit.)

Already pretty convinced, I came home from work the next night and found Liz and Melissa on the couch. “You guys ever heard of the Burlington Hotel?” They turned their heads slowly towards me. “Oh. Dude.”

They swapped debaucherous stories from their hard-partying youth—Liz being haunted in Room K, Melissa’s heshen friends getting permanently 86-ed (which apparently is saying a whole lot). “Make sure,” Liz advised, “that you bring your own sheets. Bedbug city, yo.”

I called to make a reservation, which wasn’t quite as difficult as the Chronicle article made it out to be. After a long succession of rings, someone picked up; muffled and scratchy, he told me they weren’t quite open yet, but to call back in a half-hour, and they’d be ready to “rock n roll.” I did, and they were. Butt rock blared in the background. All the rooms I’d been advised were the best were, of course, full, but I did get in on the “special” (Valentine’s Day special? probably not): the room and 2 surf-and-turf dinners for $99 total. Now that’s my kind of overnight.

Ridiculous photo from the Smokey's Tangle V-Day Photo Booth, February's Art Murmur

So sadly, since the Chronicle recently did a piece on the hotel, I’m gonna have to dig a little deeper to a) out-do their article, and b) find the right publication for it. The good news is that my partner in crime is bringing along his fancy camera, so the photos, well, they’re going to kill. Hopefully not literally.

Forget the Guidebook, This is the VICE Guide to Travel

Dolores Park: "You would think VICE Magazine threw up there."---SF Comedian Ali Wong

At the risk of sounding like a gold-lame-wearing, ironic-mullet-sporting Dolores Park denizen, I’m gonna say it: I like VICE Magazine. And I fucking love the VICE Guide to Travel.

Quick run-down, in case you don’t know: VICE grew from a Montreal zine into global empire of youth counterculture, serving as a kind of hipster voice of a generation in what some could argue was the next CREEM magazine. By 1999, VICE had exploded on to the hip-slick-and-cool scene. A free, glossy magazine peppered with American Apparel ads, you’d find issues at trendy clothing stores and serving as coasters on your friends’ coffee tables, or stacked beside the toilet for inspirational reading material. Having reached new heights of hipness, VICE was nearly immediately deemed as have “been better” in previous years, in the perennial way that everything was better before it got big. But here’s a little secret about VICE: it’s got some killer articles. Some are better than others, for sure, and many breach a little too far into the snarky, too-cool-for-school realm. But I’d argue a good half of the magazine is usually filled with quality journalism, covering super interesting international cultural phenomena.

Which leads to the VICE Guide to Travel. It’s not Rick Steve’s, or even Lonely Planet. VICE goes to some of the most fucked locations on earth, “the kinds of places that nobody else wants to visit”; digs up shocking and bizarre stories; sends sweaty dudes in v-neck t-shirts to interview warlords/cannibals/other locals; films it all, and sets it to a soundtrack of doom, gloom and rock. It’s “edgy,” it’s “off-the-beaten-path” (to say the least), and it’s some of the most bad-ass travel journalism out there.

First, some clarifications on the meaning of “bad-ass.” Empty, self-serving sensationalism with no emotional depth or historical perspective is not bad-ass. And there’s plenty of that out there in the travel world.

A couple months ago, I complained about this kind of trying-to-be-bad-ass-edness in a post blog and subsequent Matador article. Later, I came across an article titled “5 Totally Bad-Ass Travel Experiences” that made me want to vomit. The article listed 5 “daring” travel experiences, two of which capitalized on some of the most heinous aspects of a country’s history. The perspective reeked of a privileged disconnect with the suffering caused by events like genocide and drug wars:

Home to one of the biggest genocides and mass killings in modern history, Cambodia is awash in guns and weaponry. It’s a pretty peaceful place these days but there are still opportunities to get a taste of the weapons of war.

Oh, well, bummer the murdering is over, but at least there’s still cool guns to shoot off. I wanted to reach through the computer and punch the writer. Granted, the article struck a personal nerve; I guess when you know people who escaped the Khmer Rouge, but who’s families all died in the killing fields, well, that takes the thrill out of shooting war weaponry in Cambodia.

What separates the VICE Guide to Travel from lame travel “journalism” like this is skill (they hire professionals)—but more importantly, approach. Traveling to some of the most depraved and damaged places in the world, VICE toes the line, certainly runs the risk of lapsing into one-dimensional exhibitionism and aren’t-I-cool pats on the back. Some in the series are stronger than others, but I’d argue that all stay true to the basic purpose of bringing obscure, untold stories from the gnarliest corners of the world to a Western audience. The liner notes of the original 2006 DVD explains:

The news is all bad. Sitting in our Western comfort, it’s easy to forget that most of the world is hell. War, disease, famine, genocide, and poverty dot the globe like big chunks of cancer. Basically, humans are fucked.

We thought we already knew something about current international events, but we didn’t really know shit until we set out and started doing some serious traveling. These aren’t vacations to Disney World, Paris or even some Outward Bound safari. These are trips to the places that you see once in a while on TV and think, ‘No way in hell am I ever going there.’

Well, we went so that you never, ever have to go for yourself as long as you live. We went, and we’re glad we did. Here are the stories to prove it…

What the VICE Guide to Travel offers is what some of my most difficult, but ultimately most illuminating, travels have: a new perspective on this crazy-ass world we live in. It’s tough to watch—the visit to the shell of a high school in the episode in Chernobyl made me tear up—but I think it’s some of the most interesting and important stuff out there in the travel world.

Which brings us to the new series, the VICE Guide to Liberia. The 8-part series is being released on their website; currently, the first 4 installments are up. Prepare yourself: this is some severely brutal material.

While I don’t think I’ll be going to Liberia any time soon, I’m glad that these guys did, and that the stories they found are getting told. In a world of SEO, Twittered trends and Top-10 lists, the VICE Guide to Travel gets down to the unmarketable, inconvenient bone of what travel (for me) is all about: seeing how other people live, and glimpsing into the strange stories that compose this world.

(Okay, so, it may or may not be a secret fantasy of mine to one day tag along on one of these installments. But for now, the website’ll due.)

Subtle Like T-Rex: My Obscure Top 10 Travel Songs

Just in case there’s someone who hasn’t got enough of the Top 10 list, get ready for another nail in coffin.

When it comes to songs about travel, there’s plenty looming giants that drown out the subtler stars. Now, I love “Route 66″ and “On the Road Again” as much as the next red-blooded American. And I’ve got a well-bred affection for “Graceland,” “Booby McGee” and “I’ve Been Everywhere.” But when it comes to the songs that really get my feet itching and fingers a’packing, it’s all about the lesser-known jams.

Call it the forever-to-the-contrary, anti-mainstream, cranky old punk in me, but I think these songs kill the more widely embraced classics (though, baby I was born to run too). I’ve listed them vaguely in order of ranking, but more in terms of a flow fit best for you’re listening pleasure.

In the spirit of old mix tape, my early Christmas present to you:

1. Hard Travelin’, Woody Guthrie

Whenever a bus is delayed or flight canceled, I wanna bust out a harmonica (that I don’t own and can’t play) and break into a freestyle rendition of “Hard Travelin'”. I may have been born three generations too late to live the train-hopping, vagabonding hobo dream, but Woody’s keeping it alive for me.

Best Line: “That mean old judge done said to me / It’s 90 days for vagrancy / And I’ve been hittin’ some hard travelin’, Lord”

2. Ramblin’ Man, Hank Williams III and Melvins

Not the Allman Brothers. With the heart, soul and twang of the original in his DNA, Hank Williams III buddied up with, that’s right, Melvins, and well, they killed it.

Best line: “I can settle down and be doin’ just fine / Till I hear those freights rollin’ down the line / Then I hurry straight home and pack / And if I didn’t go, I believe I’d blow stack” Amen.

3. Ready for More, Murder City Devils

AKA, the best show you went to in 2001 (really, no one lights their drums on fire anymore). The boys that made the trucker hat cool wrote this one about the exhaustion of hard-partying touring/traveling that only copious amounts of cocaine can fuel you through. I may have missed the boat (or tour bus) on that one, but I can get down with the angsty howlings of Spencer Moody any day.

Best line: “And I’m subtle, subtle like a T-Rex / And I haven’t even started yet / One week on the road / One week, and I’m already wrecked”

4. I’m Moving Along, Patsy Cline

With the guts and growl that can only belong to one woman, “I’m Moving Along” is an anthem for anyone that’s split town to heal a heartbreak. The way Patsy belts out that last line always make me wanna grab a suitcase and slam the door on whatever’s bumming me out at home.

Best line: “I’m moving along, I gotta be free”

5. Gone Till November, Wyclef Jean

He may be pretentious at times, but god damn, it’s a pretty song. If you’ve ever had to reconcile the traveling lifestyle with leaving loved ones at home, this is the jam for you.

Best line: “See you must understand, I can’t work a 9-5″

6. Sloop John B, Beach Boys

Not every trip is awesome. And even in the best of em, there comes that moment when, say, you’ve had diarrhea for two weeks and are really over the whole squat toilet thing. For moments like these, “Sloop John B” ‘s refraining “I wanna go home, Let me go home” hits the swollen and tender spot.

Best Line: “This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on” (though, with Charles Manson running around the sandbox, we can’t be totally sure what kind of trip they mean…)

7. Board of Tourism, This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb

The touring-est band I’ve ever known wrote this cheeky tribute to the “attractions” their hometown Pensacola, Florida. It perfectly captures the two-bit claims-to-fame that small cities grasp at. And it’s adorable.

Best Line: Tie between the refrain, “We got a drive-thru funeral home” and “You know they even filmed a movie there one time / They had James Brown and gave away hot dogs”

8. Rock Island Line, Leadbelly

This song is the definition of bad-ass, by the guy that created the word cool. Nuff said.

Best Line: “If you wants to ride, you got to ride it like you find it”

9. Unknown Passage, Dead Moon

By another band that spent half their lives on the road, the hypnotic riffs of “Unknown Passage” hauntingly capture those road-tripping 3ams full of dark highways and strange landscapes. (And if you wanna know how to build a house, raise a family, travel the country six months a year, and rock and roll like it’s going out of style on less than $20,000 a year, check out the Dead Moon documentary by the same name.) Just don’t put this on if you’re trying to stay awake while driving.

Best Line: “There’s a red light on the hill / And a bridge out going down / There’s a city limits marker / Of an unfamiliar town”

10. So International, B-Legit Featuring Too $hort

Nothing like a little local love to round it out. Hometown boy Too $hort teams up with B-Legit and flows about, well, mostly having sex around the globe and flying first class. Can’t relate, but the hook is catchy as shit.

Best Line: “Yea, we fly first class, touch down like pimps / What’s the next event, tell me what town it’s in”


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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