Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The King of Cloves

Well, it has finally come to pass- thanks to Obama and the Congressional minions, it is now illegal to sell clove cigarettes in the United States. Smoke 'em if you got 'em...and I've got a few... for now. I've been smoking clove cigarettes ever since I went to Bali eight years ago, and have been a long-time smoker way before then. I don't even remember what brand I smoked prior to cloves (also known as Kreteks, in the Indonesian), and I can't, I WON'T go back to regular cigarettes. To me, they don't taste very good, and for me, it's definitely a matter of taste.

Even though I knew this ridiculous legislation was inevitable, I kept postponing stockpiling a large purchase of the now-banned product figuring I could wait until a couple of weeks before the ban deadline (Sept. 22nd) and still have a sizble amount of smokes before the product disappeared. I got a shocking wake-up call when the place I buy from in Pennsylvania decided to remove clove cigarettes from inventory a couple of weeks early, leaving me virtually cloveless. Panic ensued- I bought up all the clove cigarettes I could find locally, whatever brand I could find. (My preferred brand is Djarum, the Vanilla, or Gold, as you see in the photo.) I looked into online sources for purchase, but the ones from Indonesia (where clove kretek cigarettes are manufactured) didn't seem so reliable. Sure they were cheaper, but they take a long time to get delivered and I could see them being confiscated in customs. That would be a LOT of money up in smoke. Eventually, I found a domestic source, and also enlisted a friend from the South to purchase for me whatever he can find. With any luck, I will satsfied until the first snowfall. It's going to be an ugly winter though.

Back to the whole legislative aspect of banning cloves (and other flavored cigarettes) ...what the hell were these clowns thinking? The rationale is suposed to be discouraging young people from smoking, as if clove and flavored cigarettes are THE gateway to developing a smoking habit. That's just plain ludicrous. Teenagers smoke the most heavily advertised brands- Marlboro, Camel and Newport. After that, it's the generics and a few other name brands like Parliment, Kool, Doral and Virginia Slims. Cloves and other flavored cigarettes hardly factor in at all, and just aren't easy to find. Also, they're a bit more expensive than your average cigarette. In fact, the only kids who smoke clove cigarettes are usually Goth kids, and the percentage is fairly low. The brand of choice is Djarum Black, a pretty strong cigarette. Personally, I can't smoke more than one occassionally, and it is not my kretek of choice. Considering that 99% of clove cigarettes are manufactured in Indonesia, and cloves account for the largest percent of the flavored cigarette market outside of menthol, the part of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act that bans them is a direct embargo on Indonesian cigarette exports.

Under the FSPTCA, methol cigarettes are NOT banned. Why? Because the American tobacoo industry has too big a stake in them. Set up the little guy to take the fall, that's what it amounts to. Clove cigarettes account for only .09% of all cigarettes sold in the U.S. Less then a tenth of a percent! So does this look like an effective move in curbing teen smoking? Obviously not. It's just symptomatic of the empty-gesture ineffective legislation that has become a hallmark of the American political system.

Whether Barack Obama still smokes cigarettes or not is a still a bone of contention among some people. I think as recently as June he's admitted to puffing a few. As for his brand, no one knows for sure. Most seem to think it's Marlboro. I'm pretty sure it's not cloves. If he was a clove addict, he might not have been so quick to support banning them. Maybe he'd just have them imported under the radar. I'll bet Clinton found a way to get his hands on a good Cuban cigar now and then. Obama is classified as an ex-smoker, and I'm sure he'll keep it that way in the media. I think he's a closet smoker; only his wife and the Secret Service may know for sure. Still, the legislation is a bit hypoctitical from that perpective. Ex-smokers are notoriously the worst in their zeal against smokers.

So guberment has taken away my kreteks, or will, when I run out of them. Serves you right, you say. Time to quit. Well maybe, but it's forced cessation, not on my own terms. I think if some (tobacco) cigarettes are illegal, they all should be. If the people in government are so anxious to prohibit individual lifestyle choices (and they are), then pull the rug all the way out. Cigarette smokers have been made the pariahs of society; you can't smoke in restaurants, bars, public buildings, airplanes, movie theaters or any numer of other places. I remember a time when you could light up anywhere. Those days are gone, gone gone. That's fine, I'm not going to argue ETS with anyone. I'm not going to even defend smoking at all, but I believe I have the right to make up my own mind if and when I want to quit.

Just remember though, that banning clove cigarettes is ineffectual as a preventative measure to teen smoking and just pisses people like me off. And it won't stop here. Cap & Trade, Health Care, Bank and Corporate Bailouts and so many other situations where legislation will miss the mark, screw the little guy and allow the Corporatocracy to reap the rewards is the modus operandi of how things work in this country now. You can count on it, unless you're willing to do something about it.

For now, I may be "The King of Cloves," one of the few with the last remaining supply of those tasty cigarettes. But my days are numbered. When they run out, I guess I join the ranks of the ex-smokers. I can guarantee I won't be intolerent of smokers as most ex-smokers are. I respect your freedom of choice. I only wish mine was respected as well.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

What I Didn't Do on My Summer Vacation/Summer Music

Here it is, Labor Day weekend, the summer swirling to a gurgling finish as the last droplets of good weather are sucked down the drain by the inevitable seasonality of the region I live in. What didn't I do on my summer vacation? WHAT vacation, I ask. By conventional definition, I didn't do anything. I worked, sort of, albeit leisurely and without a whole lot of enthusiasm. Vacation by definition is "to vacate" implying one is leaving something, a job, a building, whatever in order to be somewhere else, do something else...usually for set period of time allotted by an employer or, if you're self-employed like me, whatever and whenever you can afford to get away.

This year, there has been no money to spend on the sort of vacation that allows one to get away to sunny climes, idling on beaches, sipping cool, tall alcoholic beverages, visiting interesting places, doing cool things. And that's really a shame because the weather around here has SUCKED big-time for the most part- rainy, cold (or at least very cool for summer) making it the most non-summer I've experienced in years. So enough bitching about summer. It's over. Autumn is moving in and soon there will be a yard full of leaves to rake and dispose of. Maybe I'll get nostalgic and wistful this Fall. I could use a change of perspective.

Not having done a blog post since the middle of June, I pondered what topic might be worth diving into to wave farewell to the season of sun. Business surely isn't it; the sales climate for me has been as depressing as this summer's weather. Economy? Well, surely you know where that's at by now, and regardless of the pundits' call for the end of the "Recession", the real world indicates otherwise. This is just the beginning in my estimation, and you ain't seen
nothin' yet. Politics? Politics is a sucker's game; it's rigged and rotten. A speech given by an idiot full of sound and fury...signifying nothing. Sure, I went to a Town Hall Meeting to listen to my Congressman (Eric Massa) take questions (mostly on the ineffective Health Care Bill), but in the end, even HE said it wouldn't pass. There is no doubt we could use some positive change, but too many elected Representatives are bought and paid for by the Corporatocracy, and the only change you're going to get is the "spare change" thrown to the sidewalk for the populace like 'Cash for Clunkers' and Government stimulus rebate checks. And don't get me started on the Oba-man's "Education Speech". It's been botched in the handling and compromised my the media and Administration before it's even been given. Here's a lesson plan for ya- have every school kid write a paper on what Obama promised in his campaign vs. what he's delivered. What's he done right? What has he done wrong? What would YOU do if you were the President of the United States to make the country more prosperous, efficient, and harmonious, without resorting to fascism. You might find some surprisingly good answers among young minds.

Okay, business, the economy and politics are off the table as far topics I'd care to write about without getting apoplexy. What's left? Sex, drugs, rock 'n roll? Sex- finally getting some but need a whole lot more. That's always a touchy topic for me anyway. I suppose I might be inclined to be more open about it if I wasn't married...but as I am, I'll hold my tongue on that topic. Keeps me out of trouble. Drugs? Once again, touchy subject, at least on a personal level. Unless I'm in Amsterdam where there is some level of legal
tolerance, personal anecdotes and experiences are off the table. Besides, I don't have a sweet dealer like on 'Weeds', so there is nothing happening there....unless you count salvia, but that, my friend, is a topic for another discussion. So that leaves 'rock 'n roll'.

Okay, I'll sub-out music in general for the rock 'n roll tag. I can't ever just listen to one genre anyway. At least here I've made some interesting discoveries (with the help of friends, acquaintances and other sources) this summer...some new, some revisited, and some just weird and out of the blue. As a musician, music-seller, music-reviewer and just someone who loves hearing eclectic music, I have strong desire to always seek out
something new. With the proliferation of music outlets on the Internet, there is no lack of availability of cool music. With MySpace, ReverbNation, YouTube and a slew of other places out there you can find a gamut of music ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. There are only things that you haven't heard or don't know about yet. So let me tell you about some of my recent finds.

First, there is a project called The Division, and the CD called "Mantras". The Division is a solo project by Matthew Schultz of Lab Report and Pigface. Schultz is noted for his weird "Anti Tank Guitar" instrument, but it is the profundity of world instruments used on "Mantras" that makes this album a standout. I discovered it in the last batch of
CDs I reviewed for Chain D.L.K., and it was really the best in the bunch. Conceptually, "Mantras" is supposed to be about Ritual Magick (not something unfamiliar to me) but the music is a pastiche of exotic Middle Eastern motifs, intoxicating rhythms and sweeping ambiences that will blow you away. Highly recommended. Make sure you have your hookah at hand and your girl is dressed in a Princess Leia slave girl outfit, or at least a belly dancing costume.

Next up is
Bat For Lashes. They were introduced to me by way of a friend who sent me the same link of the Letterman show performance you just saw if you clicked on their name. I don't care for every song they do, but the Letterman performance was pretty good. A little Bjork-ish, a bit like Kate Bush, a does of the 80's. You don't find a lot of new artists sounding like this these days. Along the same lines is Sol Seppy, and her "Slo Fuzz" song is worth a listen- very psych/shoegazer influenced. Speaking of shoegazer bands, got me to thinking, how come you don't hear new bands doing that kind of music anymore, and whatever happened to Lush, the premier female-fronted Brit shoegazer (if you don't count the Cocteau Twins). Well, Lush expired in 1966 when flame-topped lead singer/guitarist Miki Berenyi decided to go full-time into the publishing business. Little did I know (or hear) that Emma Anderson, Miki's counterpart vocalist/guitarist in Lush had put her own group together called Sing-Sing with a gal by the name of Lisa O'Neill. Okay, so this wasn't Lush revived, but they managed to squeeze out a couple of pretty good albums when I wasn't looking and disband too before I even heard them. In the world of pop music, you just can't get enough good stuff like this, so I'll take what I can get, even after the fact.

ISB, who I've rambled about enough in another post were also on my playlist this summer due to receiving a 9 CD bootleg compilation called "God's Holiday, Part 2." It's mostly their later stuff when the band was in decline, and probably only interesting to a "String-Bean" like me, but there are some cool gems amidst the clunkers and too many versions of "Black Jack Davy". Finding a copy of this massive set would be a daunting task for most anyway.

So what else have we got? My friend in Florida made me copies of albums I didn't have on CD- Eno's "Another Green World"; the first
UK album (prog-rock supergroup, Bruford, Holdsworth, Jobson, Wetton); John Foxx's "Metamatic"; Kraftwerk's "Ralf and Florian" and the Supreme Beings of Leisure (first album). But this is more nostalgia than anything new, and if you like eclectic and/or electronic music, you probably already own them, or should.

Let's delve into the
DIY category briefly, and an artist who came to my attention via Internet sell-mart Bonanzle, and a visit to my little corner there, Windhamearl's Black Lodge. Out of the Blue I get a request to review the music of someone who calls himself Modartist. In order to formally do a music review (for Chain D.L.K., the only site I formally review for) I need a copy of the product (usually CD) and the music needs to fall somewhere in Chain D.L.K.'s area of genres- Goth, Industrial,Electronic, Ambient, Synth-pop, Experimental, Avant-garde, etc. Since the music of Eric Scott Bloom (Modartist) doesn't fall into the aforementioned genres, I couldn't do a formal review, but that doesn't stop me from telling you about it here. My initial exposure to Modartist was a track called "Real Bad Acid Trip". It's Bob Dylan on windowpane positively cruising down 4th Street. Plenty of psychedelic influence and Pynchonesque lyrics. "Nature of the Beast" is a pretty cool track too. He does sound a bit too much like the rolling stone that followed Bob home on these tracks but further exposure to some of his other songs shows that he's attempted to expand his horizons. I heard hints of Blue Oyster Cult(lite), the Who, Mott the Hoople, Bowie, and a style of music that was predominant in the 70's. I think this guy should get out and tour. Who else is doing this kind of music but the has-beens, and do you really want to pay to see a bunch of overweight, saggy-jowled once-weres crank out the same stale stuff that dominated the radio for so many years? I don't. As for Modartist, I don't think everything he does is great, but there are enough good nuggets amidst the heap that it's worth your while digging into. ESB is a visual artist too, but I'll let you make up your own mind about that.

So what's left? My friend Rob sends me a ton of links, and I think I'm still trying to catch up on a lot of them. Wounded Violets is sort of an odd and interesting duo; experimental dark folk collaboration of a
Parisian chanteuse and a musician dud from Colorado. Kind of Current 93 meets Mazzy Star. Probably too weird for most, but worth a listen for the adventurous. This kind of stuff is most prone to attracting a cult following, especially if you have a number of limited releases that are nearly impossible to find, and expensive when you can find them. I don't think that's the case with Wounded Violets, but it does appear to be the case with In Gowan Ring. Rob also did the legwork on their music and I wasn't initially impressed with their latest musical offerings. Reminded me of Edward KaSpel's lesser solo efforts with a hint of Chad & Jeremy. I think they'd make a competent Renaissance Faire band. However, in digging back through their catalogue, I found them to be much more musically adventurous and interesting on their older material, which of course, is difficult to find. There Oregonians have been touring Europe most of the summer, so they must have something going for them.

real music of summer though, has emanated from the ice cream truck that tours the neighborhood. We must have the only ice cream truck that plays a variety of tunes ranging from "Old MacDonald" to "Swan Lake". (Most seem to play the same annoying song over and over again.) Christmas songs too. What's up with that???

As for me, creatively I've spent what little time I can scrape together working on a piece of music with the working title of
"I'd Walk a Camel for a Mile", something radically different than what I've previously done in my Serious Black project. The track has a Middle-Eastern flavor with mostly genre-appropriate instrumentation. So far, it's nearly 15 minutes long and instrumental. That though, is bound to change as I have some vocal ideas floating around in my head and the repetition spanning 15 minutes seems not as good an idea as it was when first started. It's just a sketch anyway, and if Rob and I can find a way to collaborate long distance on it (he's a ways away in Montreal), it may tun out to be something quite special. But I wouldn't hold my breath; I'm a computer recording Luddite, stuck by choice (and $$) and the world of hardware/outboard gear that nearly everyone regards as passé.

So that's it for the blog post. I encourage everyone to go out and listen to something new today. Yes, even buy something new. If you're stuck for ideas, please feel free to visit
Windhamearl's Black Lodge . I've got a lot of great stuff just sitting there doing nothing, and to be honest, I could use the money.