When the Music Is the Trip

journeySpeed-reading fans will rejoice in Ted Prokash’s latest gift to literature, Journey to the Center of the Dream.

Pills, beer, and blow fuel this fast-paced account of a rock band’s tour of 30 cities in five weeks, but even more than the chemical enhancements and a whole lot of weed besides, this epic road trip book thrives on the narrator’s rage: rage at complacency and artlessness, at the general dearth of vision in America, at the plight of artists and the absence of passion and respect for those madmen among us who dare to live their dreams.

In that, the book transcends its debauchery and elevates the whole enterprise to the level of euphoria.

The narrative zips, a trim account of Marlow, Leo, Dante, and Dessy bringing Black Darkness into the bars and basements and empty art spaces of America, small venues that sometimes conjure exactly zero fans. They plug in and strap on anyway, because that’s what you do when the music is the trip.

The pace is a testament to Prokash’s narrative control. One can only imagine the buzz saw it would take to trim the fat off the recollections of an addled mind, jotting notes god-knows-how in the back of a crowded van or while flopping for weeks to sleep on floors and sofas and soiled mattresses in places the like flood-damaged squatter homes of New Orleans. And after grinding off hunks, he appears to have worked with a precision scalpel. So while the principal concern is with the art and artlessness of modern times, the corners into which the music scene has been driven with indignity, Journey is itself a testament to the art of writing, the craft of prose, the channeling of human energy and spirit into a precise tale that informs, entertains, bewilders, inspires, angers, thrills, and so much more.

Part of this joy is in imagining for oneself what sounds Black Darkness conjures in the night. While his rendering of the bands and barkeeps, show promoters and rock devotees, drop-outs, drag-queens, drug abusers, artists, queers and even a few churchgoers in between capture the world he’s running in, Prokash spares few words on the music. His sets are summed up neatly: “We filled that big, empty room with the mournful sound of our souls’ lament” (Baltimore); “‘One, two, three, four…’ The little space exploded in sound and the four of us were engulfed” (Middletown); “We played our shit real cocksure and loose” (NYC); “Black Darkness played to nobody. We played purely for our own glorious gratification. Which isn’t all bad. A good, loud sonic blast will knock the cobwebs out the soul, anyway” (Olympia).

The expression “Living the dream”—usually uttered in grim acquiescence to its irony—seems to have gained a broad fraternity of users in my workaday world. But now these colleagues and others unable to break away from their timecard lives, who can’t for themselves live a bit of the dream, can soak it up here. A modern-day revision of On the Road and Electric Kool-Aid Acid TestJourney calls to mind so many accounts of artists turning vision into reality.

Maybe it all sounded like this.

Slightly more is revealed in this longer review.

San Francisco: Crime and Baseball

San Francisco–can you get any stranger? Spiked baseball bats chained to parking meters all over town. They appeared, 27 of them, on Thanksgiving: preparations for the Black Friday zombie shopper apocalypse?

SF's strange new bat population...
SF’s strange new bat population…

Speaking of crime, baseball, and the City by the Bay: check out Tom Pitts’ Knuckleball…

The whole city of San Francisco wants a cop-killer caught. Over at Giants stadium Hugh Patterson’s jolly mug fills the Jumbotron: 30K reward and the good will of the city, the tabloids, the cops.

Patterson was a good cop. No ordinary beat-walker. Loved his uniform, helping old ladies and handing out stickers to kids. He was a believer, a Giants fan. He was a man of the people until one of the people put a bullet in his head, then five more for good measure.

knuckleball

Patterson’s partner, Vince Alvarez, a cop in golden handcuffs, doing his time until retirement. Bust the baddies and get home to his wife, his high school sweet heart. Doesn’t give a fig about more than that. She’s his reason for being and maybe some day they’ll have kids.

Shooting at 24th and Capp, San Francisco’s Mission District, good cop goes down. Bad cop’s got a shoddy story, looking for someone to pin it on.

Full Review

Debut San Francisco Cyber-Noir

Mark Richardson’s Hunt for the Troll (New Pulp Press) is a step up from ordinary pulp. It’s what happens to San Francisco noir when the shiny new promise of Silicon Valley comes to town, pushing back the fog to play some light in the corners. In this case, the light is more ominous than the dark. Our comfortable eyes, adjusted to the power outage, are burned by the glare when the lights go on.

Gone is the reluctant hero and snubnose pistol stoicism; in their place are dot.com entrepreneurism and quantum computing. Gone are the troubled dame and her leggy needs; in their place are the chessboard and another step toward transhumanism.

hftt

The narrator’s a cipher, a man without a name, an identity tattooed on his arm in binary code and a bad-ass alter-ego in the gaming world of Centre Terrain. He’s king and serf in his own domain, part creator and part creation. His story proceeds between worlds: the real world of breakfasts and sex; the gaming paradise he helped build, not unlike a Tolkien wet dream; and that place between sleep and wakefulness that isn’t a dream but nor is it quite real. Is it?

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