Friday, April 22, 2016

New issue in the works

My long awaited goal to make it to issue 30 will soon be realized. For about two and a half years, I didn't publish any new issues of The Yellow Rake because I started another zine, Suspect Press. And now that the latter is humming along fine without me, I need another project. Of course, I loved doing Suspect Press and I have great respect for everyone I worked with, but when it's time to move on, it's time to move on, amiright? The publication will continue strong into the future and I wish them the absolute best. They're a great bunch of people!

Throughout the years, The Yellow Rake has always been a labor of love and that's exactly what I need right now. For whatever reason, it's critical to my psyche to make it to that nice round number of issues released. When I was thinking of what to do with my life (now I have more free time since I am not running Suspect Press), the idea of coming out with another issue gave me that excitement that zine people experience when they get to pour all their creative energy into something that soothes the soul and staves off existential dread for a while. There isn't a release date yet, but there will be. And I'll probably book a rock and roll show to celebrate, because why not? SO, I hope to see everyone soon!


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Demotivational Poster

Over-simplifications of life set against beautiful sunsets make good motivational posters. I hate them. Here's the exact opposite of what I just described...

You're welcome.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Banning the Air you Exhale

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock hasn't exactly been friendly to legalized marijuana. And while his opposition is antithetical to the whole crazy idea of democracy, it has somehow managed to steer clear of comical ridiculousness. Until today, that is. According to the Denver Post, our brave mayor is proposing a new ordinance that will ban the smell of marijuana should it emanate from your backyard or car. In essence, he's attempting to ban the air you exhale, should said air contain the smoke of marijuana. In the mayor's wise words, (and by wise, I mean fucking idiotic), "Your activities should not pervade others' peace and ability to enjoy. Marijuana is one of those elements that can be quite pervasive and invasive. I shouldn't have to smell your activities from your backyard."

In keeping with this bizarre logic, I hereby propose a list of other odors that severely pervade my peace and ability to enjoy, and should therefore be criminalized...

1) Cooking meat. As a vegan I cannot sit in my backyard during the summer months and not smell meat. How am I supposed to enjoy my vegetables in peace with the scent of a couple of grilled steaks assaulting my nose holes?

2) Driving cars. If automobile exhaust isn't a downright attack on my ability to enjoy clean air, then I don't know what is. If we criminalized use of all combustible engines, I could sit in my backyard without the threat of dirty air pervading my lungs.

3) Sex in bedrooms with the windows open. When I lived in an apartment building, sometimes I could smell the scent of sex coming through an open window. Now, I'm not sure if the window was open during sex, or opened afterwards, so an ordinance outlawing this practice should probably take into consideration at least the half hour after the act, unless a generous amount of Febreze is used.

4) Dogs Pooping. The smell of my neighbor's dog's poop can sometimes inhibit my ability to enjoy my vegetables as much as the smell of cooked meat. Ban it! (This shouldn't apply to my dog's poop, because to me, his shit doesn't stink.)

5) B.O. Talk about hampering my ability to enjoy! Body odor should be outright illegal, as it mercilessly offends the nostrils! In fact, the offending parties should be doused in soap (but not cologne or perfume; see #6) and rinsed immediately.

6) All Colognes and Perfumes. Sometimes I'm in my backyard, hating my neighbors for cooking meat, coughing from all the pollution that rush hour causes, getting wafts of my other neighbor's recently-had sex, catching wiffs of dog poop, and smelling a passerby's B.O. when all of the sudden the mail carrier attempts to approach me with my mail, only to be violated by his awful cologne. (To be fair, the mail carrier's cologne and perfume may have rubbed off from all the free samples from those magazines he carries. We should probably ban those too.) Can't a man sunbathe in his backyard without all of these smells violating my peace and ability to enjoy? Where's an dimwitted, overzealous mayor when you need one?

Do you have suggestions of your own? I'm sure the mayor would love to hear about it!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ken Arkind and Denver

When I first started doing readings with Ken Arkind, I had to get used to the concept of being upstaged. Of course, I wasn’t the least bit surprised by this — after a decade of winning national competitions, becoming executive director of Denver Minor Disturbance Youth Poetry Project, and touring throughout the nation and world, Arkind has become an institution in the Denver poetry scene. So it just makes sense that his spoken word performances are less of clumsy readings through material and more of events to behold. Recently he teamed up with another venerable Mile High City poet, Charlie Fasano, to release Denver, a book including a longer poem by Arkind with linocut block print illustrations by Fasano. Arkind and I got to sit down and hash things out for the better part of an hour. Below is a transcript of this momentous conference.

A lot of people like to give the genre of slam poetry a lot of shit.
They really do. I thought it was really stupid the first time I saw it, but it’s like any art form — 98% of it is going to be shit. I think people turn it into an art form where it really should just be an event, because that’s all it is. It was a mechanism that a guy in Chicago invented to get people interested in poetry. The more theatric, the more people are willing to listen to it. So people learned techniques and styles to win slams and those end up being the same techniques and styles to putting on a good show or telling a good story. But when I first saw it, I thought it was stupid. I saw a grown man cry when he lost the poetry slam, and I’m like, ‘This is weird. I’m just going to stick with my open mic with all the old guys.’

So how did you get into slam poetry?
My friends and I went on a tour with the zine we made, which was called 90 Proof and it was just like five writers we randomly selected. And we got this idea to go on a tour. And we would just show up at a city, find the open mic, read on the open mic, and try to sell copies of the zine. Basically we were doing what slam poets do anyway. We kept going by places and hearing about slam and this whole network and this national slam poetry thing, which I didn’t know existed. When I went back home about a month later, I saw the sendoff to the Denver team. So I borrowed $100 from my old boss, hopped in a car, and went out and visited the National Poetry Slam in Minneapolis. Then I went back and started slamming and I made the team the next year. And one thing led to another and my friend and I got picked up by an agency to go do tours for colleges. Half the time you end up getting booked like a standup comedian. They don’t even recognize you as a poet. None of those kids have been to a poetry show. That’s when you find yourself on the front lines where you’re converting people into liking it. And whether they stick to it or not, and whether you get to read the kind of poems you always wanted to read or not is not necessarily important. You’re job is to entertain them, which is good. And you’re job is to also get them interested in this shit.

You’ve been involved with youth programs that incorporate poetry and slam. Can you expound on the work you’re doing currently?
Denver Minor Disturbance Youth Poetry Project is an independent literary arts organization that empowers youth in the mediums of poetry, performance, and slam. So I coach when we go slam at Brave New Voices. I do all the bookings and write a lot of the curriculum. It’s all non-profit. I send emails. I’m an Executive Director, but I don’t know what that means half the time. It means, the guy who asks for money. It’s interesting because I never graduated college or anything like that and I do a lot of teaching work, which is fun. I got to do the TEDx Teachers event last week and do a TED talk. And I got to tell a room full of teachers that I never graduated college. But every team member of Minor Disturbance has gone to college except for one.

So is that what you do for a living?
The Youth Program doesn’t pay me anything now. I honestly wanted to keep it as simple as possible for as long as possible, because the non-profit world is really cutthroat and shitty and I didn’t want to be a part of it. We just want to help kids. So it was like, how can we do that as easy as possible and make it still worth our time? That’s why I used to do all the workshops myself; I didn’t want to subject anyone else to that. All the donations would go to send the team to Brave New Voices every year.

What are the Brave New Voices competitions about?
Basically you bring six kids and two coaches at least and as many entourage kids as possible because even if they’re not competing, at least they get to go see it. What makes it cool is that you get kids from all over the world that are writers. And I’m sure you remember how it was when you were fourteen or fifteen in the back of the class, writing poems, or journal entries, or thoughts. You just think of it as a very lonely thing, which is cool in its own right. But I think poetry is and always will be a communal thing at its heart. And so you get to share in a community with all these other people who share the same secret as you. And when you’re 15, it’s cool. The kids won the Brave New Voices last year and we won the Mastermind Award from Westword last year. It keeps getting bigger and bigger. Luckily the Flobots guys were like, ‘We’ll scoop you up and give you fiscal sponsorship,’ which makes our lives easier. I think our new slogan is ‘Minor Disturbance: Teaching kids to cuss artfully since 2006.’

You often refer to yourself as a writer…
Well I write, but I don’t get paid for the writing as much as the spectacle of performing my writing in front of people. And that depends on who I’m touring with or how I’m doing it with different groups and sometimes it’s more performance-based. And if it’s me, then I literally have an awkward conversation with the audience for an hour and throw in poems to help that conversation go. Compared to other guys who do slam, I’m not a cult of personality or anything. I’m just kind of a weirdo who’s good at being honest. That’s why I like doing all the shows that don’t exist in that realm, like a book release show, or doing shows with Charlie [Fasano], or opening for bands.

What’s the slam circuit like?
It’s like any indie art scene, like hardcore bands in the early ‘80s to a certain degree. You have venues you know do it and you go from point A to point B and you make a little bit of money and keep going. Then you can get more money by going to colleges and certain slams and certain kinds of shows pay you more. But I think there’s a lot of people that get into slam and they’ll be on a team, but then they’ll find out there’s all these venues and that you can tour. And they’ll go on a tour, but they don’t go on a tour so much as they just get to couch surf across the country for free, which is a tour, I guess.

Yeah, that’s a tour.
It is a tour. A lot of bands do it that way. You just do it with less gear and your sets are shorter. So you’ll show up at a place like the Merc [-ury CafĂ©] and there will be an open mic and you’ll do your 15 or 20 minutes and then you sell chap books or CDs and people give you money if they like it and then you move on. There are some hot spots, like New York. New York’s hard to break into, but once you break into it, it can be really good for you. Boston, the whole New England scene in general is great. Seattle is great. Portland is really great. Portland has one of the largest slams in the country now. I’ve done 49 states, six countries including the U.S. I feel like I’ve had my little punk rock career. 

How did the book come about?
Charlie [Fasano] used to work across the street from my house, so I woke up one morning and had this idea like, Charlie should fucking illustrate my book. So I asked Charlie and I said, ‘Hey, do you want to illustrate this?’ And he said, [in a Charlie voice] ‘Kenny, I think that’s a fantastic idea. Let’s do it.’

He’s a good person to ask because he’s so motivated.
Oh completely. He was on it four days later. He’s like, ‘I got seven prints, man. Take a look.’ He kept reading the poem, and he said, ‘I love it. I wish I wrote this fucking poem.’ It is kind of a Charlie poem. You’ve seen the way the guy writes, and the whole poem is crazy like that… It’s cool; I get to mention Don Becker and Corky Gonzales in the same poem, because they’re so much a part of Denver. When people write poems about New York or London or Paris, they just automatically say a place whether you’ve been there or not, and you’re expected to know what they’re talking about because it’s this famous place. So I approached the poem the same way, so when I talk about the Westside or Northside, instead of saying the Highlands or Santa Fe Arts District, you should know that.

So that’s what the book’s about?
It’s just this one poem called, ‘Denver.’ I used to read it every Denver show because I couldn’t read it anywhere else, but it’s a seven- or eight-minute long performance piece. It’s’ a lot, but I kept forcing it on people. I think after awhile people were like, ‘If he reads that fucking poem again, he can go fuck himself.’ So I stopped. But it’s a magic surrealist piece about when we lost the World Series to the Red Sox. That first game against the Red Sox was the worst shutout in World Series history. It was 13-1. It was horrifying. It was the first time the Rockies had been to the World Series and I remember everyone was so pumped, like, ‘We’re a real city too.’ And Boston’s like, ‘No you’re not.’ It was a disheartening time in Denver’s history. The thing about it is the same year Men’s Health released a magazine saying we were the drunkest city in America out of 50 major U.S. cities. So the poem is about us getting really drunk after we lost game one and setting the city on fire. Denver rears up and commits suicide, basically. And it took me literally until last week to realize that the whole thing is about me breaking up with my fiancĂ©. 

You know what’s funny? Your cohort Charlie has an anti-slam poet poem.
I know. I fucking love it. It’s so good. I think it was funny for Charlie because I think he heard of me because we travel around in the same circles a bit. And then he went to Chicago for two years and he was always that guy that read with bands and did those shows. And he came back and there’s some fucking prick with a beard standing in his stead, hanging with the same people, doing a similar thing. I think we just looked at each other and started doing shows. I’ve always admired him so much. He does it the way I always wanted to do it. He’s doing what Rollins did. He’s the kind of guy I would have grown up reading. He really is the Denver poet. But I think I wrote a better Denver poem.

Embracing my Inner Contradictions

As any number of rock and roll lyrics can attest, we are flawed beings rife with endless contradictions. On “Talking Shit About a PrettySunset,” Isaac Brock encapsulates this phenomenon perfectly when he sings, “I changed my mind so much I can’t even trust it. My mind changed me so much I can’t even trust myself.” But since no one likes a hypocrite, it’s all the more difficult to accommodate the myriad discrepancies that constantly duke it out in the mind. We like to present ourselves as a substantive, unified front of cemented opinions and personality. Of course, we’re imperfect beings who can easily be influenced by any number of factors from weather and sickness to a lack of sleep and alterations in serotonin levels. With this constant state of flux in mind, I realized that since attempting to be a perfect person is pointless, I might as well accept my inconsistencies. Some might accuse me of giving up, but I tend to think of it as maturing. Whatever the case may be, I have compiled a few of the inner contradictions that I have come to welcome in my life.

1) Driving. There are so many ways in which I am a hypocrite when it comes to maneuvering my automobile, that it’s almost painful to list them all. That’s why I’m only admitting to a few, such as driving as fast and inconsiderate as possible even when I have ample time to reach my destination, getting upset about people driving while on their cell phones only to answer a call of my own a few minutes later, not letting people into my lane when they signal and then getting mad when people won’t let me in when I signal, and hating people for tailgating me when I’m driving at a speed I deemed fast enough even though I do the same thing when others drive at a speed that I deemed too slow. 

2) Television. When other people watch TV, they’re wasting their lives in front of the idiot box. When I watch it, I’m just trying to get my mind off things.

3) Mistakes. I have no patience when it comes to the mistakes that others make in my presence, yet if I ever make a mistake in your presence, I expect you to cut me some slack. I’m only human, you know.

4) Music. Throughout my life, music has played an integral part of my day-to-day existence. My love for music manifested itself as a very young child when I would ask my mom to leave the keys in the car after we got home so that I could finish listening to a particular song. I started playing drums at 10, formed a band at 16, and have been playing in one form or another since then. The first record I remember owning was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I began collecting cassette tapes in third grade. And currently, I own over 1,000 records. It goes without saying that I spend hours upon hours every week listening to music — and that’s because it means so much to me. And if you ever want to put your record on the turntable or play a CD in the car, you can fuck right off because your music sucks.

Review: Land Lines

Cash Cow Production

Have you wondered what the genre of captivating cello rock has to offer? Apparently the Denver trio Land Lines has it pretty well figured out — at least if the group’s self-titled debut is any indication. A few years after the breakup of Matson Jones, cellists Martina Grbac and Anna Mascorella started crafting songs together. And after reuniting with drummer Ross Harada, they recording a batch of tunes that depart from the more rock and roll influences of their former group. The song, “Boards Over Walls,” for example, abandons bowed cello parts and incorporates plucking in its stead, giving the song a succinct background over which Grbac and Mascorella harmonize the chorus, “I’m a stern worman.” Of course, the bowed dueling cello approach isn’t deserted completely, as demonstrated by the brooding, “Vegas,” a track lyrically penned by Charlie “The City Mouse” Fasano. Still, while this lineup boasts a similar roster to Matson Jones, it’s enough of a divergence to necessitate a completely fresh approach, which benefits Land Lines in the most graceful of ways. More information.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: A.M. Pleasure Assassins

Basement Pharmacy

A.M. Pleasure Assassins is one of those bands that was originally conceived as a recording project — most likely when one of the band’s members figured out how to operate recording software. The outfit has since morphed into a functioning band that routinely plays throughout the Metro Area, including its hometown of Fort Collins. On Basement Pharmacy, the group combines an array of lo-fi punk and indie that demonstrate the band’s ability to incorporate influences from Modest Mouse and a bit of the Strokes (with songs like “Media Mammals” and “Ferns”) to Gang of Four and maybe even some Husker Du and Descendents (with the songs, “Little Green Yarn” and “Shiny Metal Grey”) without sounding too derivative. With enough variation to keep the album interesting, the songs are filled with hooks that might verge on saccharine if they weren’t recorded with such lo-fi charm. It’s a band that sounds like it didn’t leave the practice space to record Basement Pharmacy. And that’s what makes it so good.