The Nitty Gritty

But more than all of those I am an entertainer. I carry around a ukulele with me for the same reason a gangster carries a gun; better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Stage or sidewalk, Your Pal Pete shows are just where they happen.
Currently, I'm working on a musical, RagnaPOP(or she's got the bomb), set to premiere at this year's Capital Fringe Festival. I'm also working on music, comedy, and musical comedy; for kids and/or adults.
The fruit of these projects will be available on this site, so check back regularly!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Lights

It was the lights, that’s when they knew.

The Herschel Earth/Space Telescope Array was specifically designed to give us more detailed pictures of extrasolar planets and it did just that. What was once fuzzy stripes became tempestuous oceans and  sharp mountains, much like ours with obvious water and atmosphere. But it was the lights that really got us excited.

As an Earth-sized moon made it’s transit around the dark side of the gas giant it orbited about 8.5 light years away, we saw lights of civilization; steady and artificial. Concentrated more closer to the edge of bodies of water, much like our planet, but on a hexagonal grid that allowed for no dark spots like the ones in the more remote parts of Earth.

So we aimed the most powerful transmitters in their direction and beamed our entire civilization at them; World history, representative works of art in every form, and the basics to learn 20 Earth languages. It was our way of saying, “Hey, there! You’re not alone!”, but it was a galactic message in a bottle; the uncertainty stemming not from whether it would reach, but if the recipients would be able to receive our message as it was intended.

We’d have to wait 17 years to find out, at least. The transmission would take 8 and a half years to travel there and the quickest possible response would take as long. We would have to be patient, something human society historically has shown less and less of.

Seventeen years passed without any return contact and we just exploded. Our pent-up frustrations from having no other option but to wait for physics to do it’s thing kept us relatively quiet, but now it was on the aliens. Some thought that they simply couldn’t understand our message, regardless of it’s attempted simplicity. Others believed that our transmissions, in the hand of greater, less benevolent intellects, could show how easily we could be invaded and it would be sooner than later if they’d mastered faster than light or warping technologies. I thought we might have just be coming off as needy.

Then the lights of the moon, the same that had capture our imagination almost two decades before, changed while they were at their most visible. Many lights went out, but the ones that stayed on unmistakably formed an English letter:
Oh, my God! This was it! First contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence! But what could they be saying? The possibilities mixed with the realization that one of the most significant events in human history was happening in front of you was an intoxicating and paralyzing combination.

The moment the “F” hung there, long enough for the browser window of our mind’s eye tried to auto-fill responses both anticipated (“FRIEND”),  feared (“FOE”), and non-sequitur (“FALAFEL”)  Then the lights seemlessly changed to another letter:
Well, that narrowed things down quite a bit. “FUEL”? “FUN”? ...“FUDGE”? But not nearly as narrow after the next letter:
Now, there isn’t a whole lot they could be spelling. Our minds lept to the same knee-jerk conclusion, but we couldn’t believe it could actually be what would happening. Surely, the first message received from an extraterrestrial intelligence wouldn’t be ….
Ok, it would be actually. Along with the letters “O”, “F”, and “F”. The most historically significant trolling in all of human history. That was all they said. Actually, they sent similar sentiments in 19 other languages, but that was all the attention they ever paid to us.

This all started a new round of conversations. Many took umbrage at the message, a reasonable reaction when someone says “fuck off” to your face or from 44 trillion miles away. Some hoped the aliens WOULD try to invade so we could show them some manners.

In the scientific community, there emerged 2 different theories. One side believed that they were too advanced to see us as anything other than the object of mockery (since referred to as the Hipster Planet Theory) The other side wasn’t convinced they were more advanced overall. All They were able to do was be more in sync as a society or be advanced enough to send a packet of photons that made it seem like they were. There was no evidence that they were that all that special otherwise (the Sour Planet Theory).

I still say we just came off as needy.

Until the aliens contact us again, these will remain theories. Our minds, with the gift/curse of imagination, will color the picture of the unknown with whatever crayon we choose. Because the only thing we know for sure is there is intelligent life out there and it’s kinda rude.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Artistic Licence and Registration, Please (reprint)

"There are three sides to every story: Your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently."- Robert Evans quote from the beginning of The documentary The Kid Stays In The Picture.

I haven't been blogging often, but the Mike Daisey story has compelled me to weigh in as a fellow, albeit far less successful, non-fiction storyteller.

One of the biggest problems I face is credibility, especially in regard to my retail stories. It doesn't happened much with fellow retail soldiers, but there are many that are still burdened with faith for humankind. The benefit of the doubt is given to the total strangers that I tell of rather than me or the story is dismissed as outright fabrication.

I'm not a man prone to anger- at least outside of my retail job- but this infuriates me. It's a denial of experiences have ruined my day and/or night and added to the cumulative stress that led to several, very real, breakdowns. I've tried to use the bullshit to fertilize the topsoil in which my anecdotes and observation have sprouted.

Wow, I have to apologize for that last metaphor. Tried to come up with something less hackneyed than, "When life gave me lemons...".

I included the quote at the beginning because I recognize my perception by its nature is biased. But the truth is in no way affected by believability; the elements of my stories that give them their "what the fuck" qualities absolutely happened. Have I overstated? Maybe. But more likely I understate, because I don't want to completely bum everyone out completely, myself included.
In the Surviving Retail show, I talk about misspelled tattoos. I attribute the phenomena to one job, when I actually saw them at a couple different places. Since I go job-by-job in the show, I didn't want to keep bringing up the subject so I wanted to simplify and clarify.

In the Surviving Retail book, I talk about- and have blogged about- the most annoying customers that weren't mine. Stuck in a line at Borders, a dad behind me prattled on about how long the line was, but at the end didn't hear the cashier calling him to their register again and again. Every single part of the story is EXACTLY how I remember it but the end. Not to say it didn't happen, but I wanted to get the hell out of the situation quickly and don't remember it definitively. My mind MAY have plugged that part in.

But have I seen-as a cashier- people complain about waiting in line, then not come to the register when I repeatedly try to end said wait? ALL THE FUCKING TIME! So it happened, maybe just not literally as written or told. That's the artistic license that I take, to edit for clarity and give you a feeling for my experience rather than a straight account.

This seems to be how Daisey is framing his argument as well, the problem is some of his story was flat out made up. His justification is a need for shedding light on unfair and unsafe labor practices in China. Everything's been made in China for decades but Americans have remained blissfully ignorant about where the things in their life came from, that was the genesis of Daisey's story. But obviously the real story needed some "punch-up".

My question: why? Because it was "theater"? That argument would work a lot better if Daisey himself had mentioned that before now and didn't attempt to represent his story as a 21st century version of The Jungle. If a real story is worth telling, it shouldn't be necessary to fabricate important details. Any awareness or change raised by Daisey's story has now been undermined by sensationalism, one of the cheapest commodities of contemporary culture.

So Daisey joins the long list of folks better known for putting a "non" on some of their fiction than their actual talent, and that's a shame; Mike Daisey is a hugely talented storyteller. My favorite video was when a bunch of audience members- reportedly members of a church group offended by his cursing- left at one time with one person pouring water over the notes he uses on stage. Daisey took this bewildering situation and turned it around with quick wit and bright mind. That really happened. Here's proof:

This just makes it harder for us who depend on actual facts to add weight to our stories. Artistic license in non-fiction is a seasoning, not a entree. I'd hate to think I lived a weird life for nothing.

Monday, August 22, 2011

My 15 Seconds Of Fame On TheBest Show on WFMU

I called The Best Show on WFMU with Tom Scharpling the other night after being a fan of it and Tom for quite a while. As I put together my podcasts, it’s his voice I hear going, “Work, dummy!” because that’s exactly what he’s done himself. I try to entertain by any means necessary, but he does it, by writing, directing, tweeting, and talking for 3 hours (for no pay!) on the Best Show to a nation’s delight. I wish I had his work ethic, maybe if I’d been born in Jersey.

The Best Show was brought to my attention through the albums released of the phone conversations Tom has had on it with Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster; Tom playing straight man to Jon’s a variety of characters, often from the fictional Newbridge, New Jersey. When I lived in Iowa, I would listen to Scharpling and Wurster almost every day while I wrote my retail book. It was funny, but it was also clever in a way that has influenced my storytelling a lot in the time since.

I hadn’t listened to the show in a while and didn’t know that Tom had just banned all regular callers. It was like driving alone down a 6-lane road. In 1983, my calls for things like Adam Ant tickets in Ft. Lauderdale were answered with a busy signal. In 2011, the host of one of the most popular radio shows in America answered right away.

But I had the wrong number. I recognized Tom’s voice, but I never acknowledged it as he gave me the right line to call. As a listener to the show, I thought it best just to go through the proper channels as to not agitate Tom. He was already dealing with enough from the fallout from the regular caller ban.

As I waited on hold, I got to listen to the show and it was Tom at his prickly best, offering his services as a buffet bouncer so seniors don’t make off with the prime rib. Between that and the Led Zeppelin he played before, it was a good soundtrack to the muted America’s Got Talent that I had on.

What I wanted to share on-air was of a topical nature, in a way. The Gathering of the Juggalos was the weekend before and I used to work with a Jugglette that went. She was smart enough, but oy, the self-created drama! I would start with her joining a dating site called- lord help us all- Juggalove and end with a Justice of the Peace marriage in full ICP-related regalia to a dude we (her ex co-workers following her exploits through Facebook) all thought had died.

I have found it important to write notes when I tell stories like this, so my enthusiasm for telling the story doesn’t make me lose my place. This was what was written on my note page (I won’t subject you to my handwriting). I’ll present without context, because I might want to do a separate post about it and it’s kinda funny that way.

Juggalo that I know
Drama Salvadoran immigrants
Juggalove- Cupcakes, Bonghits, Orgasms, Scrubs
Stadium full of jackasses

Grease Painted White Trash Soap Opera
Jugga-stein 1)allergy 2)Powdered Stimulant
3) Baby Mama
The dude went to jail
She dated a guy that died
And came back then
She married a third guy
Take Status Updates Literally
Quasi Sci-fi Rock Musical

How Many More Times
Elton John

So I was ready when I heard a slight bit of static and,
“Hey Tom, it’s Pete from DC.”
“Hey Pete, how are you doing?”
“Pretty well, it seems better than you, big guy. I wanted to try to cheer you up. As you know, The Gathering Of The Juggalos was this weekend and I’d like to tell you about a Juggalo that I know. If that’s OK?”
I heard nothing, “Hello?”
I was disconnected.

That’s cool. I knew the show, I realized that he could have not been interested and to not take it personally, he cuts off people all the time. To be honest, it was a little bit of a badge of honor for me, as pathetic as that may sound.

Yesterday, I listened to the podcast of the show to hear the rest of the show to hear Philly Boy Roy (Wurster)’s call about the Gathering of the EOTs (enemies of Tom), Tom threatening to rain retribution on his high school bullies …..and check out my call. As I was about halfway through my introduction… my voice cut out. Tom didn’t disconnect me, my fucking phone did!

So, I may call again. I might share my absolutely true story about the taxes I’m being forced to pay for royalties I never received for a hit song that I didn’t write.

And I’ll use a landline.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Irony Alert System!

The thing we forget when we rely on text-based communication is how important body language truly is. With no physical cues or vocal inflections to go by, the raw expression of words paired with our often-poor grasp of grammar can have an unintended impact.

Also, the reconnecting of people over Facebook has it’s own challenges. The people from earlier in your life knew you when you were happy-go-lucky (or as much as you were going to be), before you were beaten repeatedly by fate. They simply aren't used to the sardonic you and, unlike when you were in high school, they now take what you say seriously.

Sarcasm is our gift as English speakers, as most of the rest of the world takes things at face value. I once had to explain it to two Swedish women, but even with the help of another American, I couldn’t explain why something like the Onion was funny, they just saw it as being mean, yet I've rarely been prouder to be an American.

So I created the Irony Alert System, a way to gauge the sincerity of statements, based on the Terror Alert System. Attach it to any blogpost, tweet, status update, or comment. It's an attempt to create more understanding, arguments will continue unabated, but maybe we'll get pissed about the right things.

Red: Irony: using words to suggest the opposite of their literal meaning! I am full-on fucking with you and pulling your metaphoric leg. I don't actually mean a syllable of what I'm saying. This should go without saying, but I'm going to anyway.

On the other end is blue for sincerity. I realize that green is the color on the other side of Terror Alert System, but for me, blue just seemed more apt for the tone; true blue! More earnest than Bono and Jim Varney put together! What I am typing is being dictated from my VERY SOUL! Therefore, all basic rules regarding grammar, punctuation, and over-capitalization will be pushed aside.

Orange: Despite the overall sardonic tone, there’s at least a hint of genuine emotion. To use a personal example: I tweeted a month after the earthquake in Japan whether it was cool to play the song “Radiation Vibe” in front of people yet. Although I was kidding mostly, people don’t actually come to see me play, but if some one said, “Too Soon” (and it was Irony Level Blue), I would understand. It’s the alert color that says, “Hey, I may rock, but I’m not made of stone.”

Green: Discourse on the internet is like a big bottle of snark juice. You can drain it and fill it with sincerity, but you’ll still taste a bit of snark. That’s what the green irony level is all about.

And right in the middle is yellow, the color of yielding. Yielding gets a bad rap these days, but it’s what keep us out of accidents and not just in cars. The yellow alert is wisdom and maturity working together to strike a balance between sincerity and irony. I don’t expect this color to be used all that much.

Friday, July 22, 2011

I'm Back, Baby

The Underachiever's Progress is becoming a podcast. Podcasting seems to be a natural fit with where my mind has been for a while. It's taken me a while to put stuff together and I hope it's as fun to listen to as it is to do.

My motto for it is, "Entertainment By Any Means Necessary", which means: let's roll and see what happens. That's not saying everything that's being recorded is part of it. I'm just opened to the opportunities having live mics in my apartment.

Music, comedy, musical comedy, stories interviews, whatever works. I've already recorded some skits and songs and a VERY loose interview with Filmmaker/uberdrummer Brendan Canty.

I will also be podcasting my Surviving Retail show and a musical called "Ragna-Pop or She's Got The Bomb" but I will also post here more to relieve my need to snark in more than 140 characters.

Stay Tuned.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Lovvers- Popagenda Fail

I went to see a band tonight, Lovvers, that play great songs and put on a great show. But I will never see them again and will never buy any of their music. Why? You may ask, since those are the very traits that send my heart a-flutter? Because the asshole lead singer violated the Popagenda. I went to Comet Ping Pong to catch them; I did the last time they played, but they went on too late for me to stay too long.

I should have been able to pick them out of a line-up:

Ironic T-shirts: Check

Ironic haircuts: Check

So skinny they run the risk of falling through their ass and hanging themselves (and the girl jeans aren't helping): Check

Ironic glasses that were last seen as "spare glasses" that kids used to dread wearing: Check

They have the markings of the North American Hipster Doofus, but they came from England. They might have tried to grow beards too, but I'd be surprised if they were able to grow pubic hair. The drummer carried a canvas tote bag that said in big letters "Fuck Your Blog". I thought what a negative and pointless statement, so very English.

I heard the lead singer grouse that playing was "Pointless" because only 8 people showed up. Then when they played, he complained that one one was getting right up front. But when he said before one song that he was playing in front of "Nobody", I lost it.
"We are not nobody!" I yelled, motioning to the other seven people, WHO WERE REALLY INTO THEM.
"Well, why are you hiding?" He replied to me.
"Who the fuck is hiding?" Comet is slightly larger than a classroom, there is no place to hide.
So I get the next song dedicated to me, accompanied by an middle finger. Clever boy, aping our obscene gestures along with our easy-to-mock affectations.

I was just going to leave, but I thought, fuck it. I stood in front, not aggressively,just trying to enjoy their music. Then I had to dodge, lest I be impaled by the singer's bony hips being thrown at me. Great, asshole, I do what you say and you start shit with me?

After the last song, people wanted to hear more and the lead douche snidely said,"We learned something from Fugazi about encores," and disappeared backstage.

I had a rant boiling up inside me, but the rantee wasn't available, so I took it out on my poor bartender. "Look you limey piece of shit, I know it sucks to play in front of 8 people, but don't fucking insult the people that bothered to show up, someday it might be nobody at all! I played for YEARS those kinds of shows and had to work my ass off to get even that kind of crowd, but I played my heart out anyway because it's a lot more fun to do that than piss off people that like you!"

I have a personal manifesto called "The Popagenda" and the second tenet is: honor every audience regardless of their size or interest. They could always be doing something better than watching your lame ass.

One of my most favorite memories playing with my old band the Milk-O-Matics was one show where we didn't think we were playing in front of ANYBODY, but still rocked out to the best of our abilities. After the show we were unloading and a couple of people came out of the club with one of our posters.
We were surprised, I didn't know where they were hiding.
"Thanks for showing up!" I called out to them.
"No, thank you, THANK YOU!" they replied. We may have only seen a hundred faces, but we rocked most of them.

The Ramones changed the world with 8 people in the audience, to name merely one example. Talk about Fugazi: If they were in your position they would have still delivered the goods without moping and insulting the crowd. Then they would have eight people telling their friends for years how amazing Fugazi was in front of eight people. That's the lesson you should have learned.

Signed, a guy that could have been a loyal fan.

P.S. The blog says, "Fuck you, too."

UPDATE:11/5/09 I actually ran into Fugazi Drummer Brendan Canty- he's a customer at the store and one of the nicest people you'll meet- told him this story and asked him about my guess about how his band would have handled that situation. He sheepishly admitted that he's never played that small a show but said if they had they would have most assuredly kicked out the jams (I paraphrase).
"That's what you're there for," he said. Exactly.
"And if those people wanted to hear more, we would have played more."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hey, you know who's still alive? Prince!

“Remember when we were kids and we’d fight about who was better: Michael Jackson or Prince? Prince won.”- Chris Rock

Hearing about Michael Jackson’s death didn’t really effect me all that much and I haven’t been sure why. Not that I would have thought I would have pounded my fist into the earth and scream “Why, God, why?!?!” but I thought I would have felt SOMETHING. When I did actually think about it I felt a sense of relief for him, he just seemed to be at war with himself.

The man lived a life that is about as unique as any person could possibly live. He went from being merely famous as a child to being the de-facto king of the world for a good chunk of the Eighties. This set quite the stage for the inevitable fall and with all the records he sold he had the money to fall anyway he saw fit.

But if Prince had died, forget it. I’d be right out there sobbing with the masses, in a bootleg T-shirt celebrating the other Jehovah’s Witness music superstar. I haven’t be listening to much Michael since his death, but I’ve been listening to tons of Prince recently.

This is partially because Spin just did an awesome story about the making of Purple Rain, the movie –and soundtrack -that made Prince’s career, complete with a downloadable Purple Rain tribute album. Did you know that it was basically recorded live? I kinda did, but I’m a music nerd. It wasn’t completely live, but compared to many other albums recorded in the 80’s, it might as well have been recorded on a boom box at practice.

Did you know that Vanity- according to Purple Rain director Albert Magnoli- dropped out of the movie at the last minute to appear in as Mary Magdalene in The Last Temptation of Christ? I wonder how that worked out for her?

Did you know that Wendy and Lisa were an actual, factual Lesbian couple? Thank God I didn’t know that in 1984, it would have been all too much. The fate of the chick that was all up on Wendy in the “1999” video was not disclosed.

Ah, the “1999” video, that was my introduction to Prince. My parents had separated and we moved in with my grandparents in South Florida and got my first real dose of what I had previously only seen when I was able to slip away at gatherings where the hosts had cable: MTV.

Prince was the one person making pop music in the 80’s that I actually liked from the beginning. Except for my metal-head friends, he was the only person we could all agree on; I wasn’t into Janet Jackson and they certainly weren’t feeling The Replacements.

Oddly, I didn’t buy much of his music until I got a bit older; I just didn’t want to explain to my dad why I wanted to buy an album that came with a poster of the artist in bikini bottoms or sang songs like “Jack U Off”. Jeez, I got embarrassed when my parents saw toy commercials. Luckily, I didn’t have to; he got a lot more radio time than most of my other favorites by a light-year.

And the man is still making ridiculous amounts of music- too much, a lot of writers say- and people still flock to his concerts. In short (sorry, Prince), he is still alive and worthy of celebration and that’s just what I intend to do.

In a music nerd side note –and this isn’t in the story- there is kind of this weird connection of Prince’s exes and Motley Crue; Vanity was engaged to Nikki Sixx before she became born-again and Tommy Lee was engaged to Prince’s ex-wife Mytae Garcia. I wonder if he ever came up in conversation.

In yet another music nerd aside- Prince and Larry Graham- bass player for Sly and The Family Stone- have gone door to door together for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Something tells me that they got a lot fewer doors slammed in their face than most missionaries.

Monday, February 23, 2009

How to have a hit song and not know it.

In 2007, a song I co-wrote, “I Still Burn” was recorded as the debut single of the winner of the German version of “Pop Idol”. It was a smash hit through out Europe, charting in many countries that I have yet to set foot in.

The problem is, I didn’t write that song; someone else named Pete Wright did. When I say I did, it isn’t like claiming responsibility for the achievements of my namesakes, otherwise I could say I played bass for the band Crass and was a former British secret service agent turned author. The difference is that two very important organizations seem to think I did.

First, I’ll start with the IRS, who recently sent me a two thousand dollar tax bill. Although I haven’t seen the bill myself, they said I didn’t claim $16,000 in royalties that I had made in 2007. I made $16,000 in 2007? I sure could have used it; I spent most of that year eating tuna and ramen as I finished my book and spent a few months as a kept man in Texas. I would have loved to take my wonderful then-girlfriend to Outback a couple of times to show my appreciation.

Then there’s ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Arrangers, and Publishers. This esteemed organization has been vigilantly protecting the rights and royalties of artists such as myself since 1917. Obviously they were much more zealous about my rights than necessary, since I was getting someone else’s money. Since I’m my own record company and get no radio airplay to speak of, I didn’t feel the need to burden ASCAP with the details of my travels over the last few years, so I didn’t give them a change of address. So to my old apartment, fat royalty checks were arriving completely unknown to me.

But between the night I found out about the royalty tax bill and the next day when I was able to investigate the matter, my mind swam with possibilities. To get that much money, the song in question would have to had some substantial sales and airplay. In this country, I’m almost completely obscure, I haven’t sold a physical CD in over 3 years and can’t get a arrested in this town. To think that there was some place on Earth where people were feeling the magic of Your Pal was a thrilling proposition. This hope was dashed quickly by a visit to the real Pete’s myspace page.

Hopefully some one at the IRS reads my blog.