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I’m thinking that a lot lately — i want to help you lift enormous things. It’s a lyric from “At Transformation,” off the Tragically Hip’s latest album. It gets stuck in my head a lot, but it’s not a thing I actually say very often, because it’s dangerous. People take me up on it, and then I’m proper fucked. People were taking me up on it when the Tragically Hip came to town a few weeks back, in fact.
gord downie, the tragically hip. the riviera theatre, chicago. 2012-11-03
The last time I posted, it was to share my awesome rock & roll lifestyle report from 2011. I was like, 2012 is going to be even better for live music!
Then I moved.
title: My First Time: A Collection of First Punk Show Stories
editor: Chris Duncan
other shit: 181 pages, plus (short) author bios. 2007, AK Press.
rating: 3.5/5 safety pins
I will admit it, guys: There is not a lot I love more in the world than stories about How Punk Rock Saved My Life, and this book has many such stories. Most of them are pretty short, only a page or two, and they’re mostly by people who Do Stuff in punk. They’re in bands (Blag Dalia, John Poddy, Blake Schwarzenbach) or they write books (Michael Azerrad, Chris Walter, George Hurchella), something like that, but some of my favorite ones are by regular joes.
Most of my friends play some sort of card game: Magic, maybe. Munchkin was really popular for a while. Poker, of course. In some parts of the U.S., kids still grow up playing euchre. Most people can play hearts or spades, or at least the computerized version. But there is this whole class of older, complicated games like pinochle, games that take no money and only as much time as you feel like giving them — I’m not going to be so reactionary as to say they’re being lost, but if I want to play pinochle with someone who is not a member of my immediate family, there is a 100 percent chance I will have to teach them. And I’ve done it, rounded up three friends and sat down at a table with diagrams and beer and cards, and those are some of the best times I’ve had. Granted, probably that group of people could have fun watching paint dry, but I don’t ever get bored playing pinochle — frustrated, sure, and occasionally even angry — but mostly? Mostly, I laugh, and so does everyone else.
Some of the better memories from my childhood are of playing cards at my grandmother’s house, laughing uproariously at some bone-headed play or at some scathing bit of commentary from my grandmother’s acid tongue. We all play: my grandmother and my mother and my aunts and my cousins and my sisters and we’ve been teaching my nieces. (Sometimes the men of the family play; they certainly know how, but often they go to bed. My mom and my aunt and my grandma and I, on the other hand, will quite happily stay up all night playing cards and drinking coffee and laughing till we cry.) I’ve been playing pinochle since I could hold cards, and I grew up reading this ancient yellow copy of Hoyle’s Rules of Games. Sometimes we go through phases where we’re in the mood for something else, but we always end up back at pinochle.
Pinochle is a strategy game, a memory game, a game of teamwork and of social engineering. There are very strict rules about when you are allowed to play which cards, and you need to know those rules backward and forward. There is a part of the game where everyone puts a bunch of their cards on the table and adds up the points, and you have those few seconds to look at what everyone has laid down and memorize it, because you need to keep track. You have to pay very careful attention to who plays what and when. There are things you say or don’t say, things you listen for, social cues you try to send or pick up on to steer the play. It sounds hard, maybe, but it keeps you on your toes. As my grandmother approaches 90 without a hint of senility or dementia — she can’t shuffle anymore, but if you want to win, you try to get on grandma’s team — I wonder how much of that has to do with these think-really-hard card games she’s spent her whole life playing.
At any rate, the part where you put your cards on the table is called “melding.” Melding is one of two ways to get points in pinochle; certain combinations of cards have different values. A marriage — a king and queen of the same suit — is worth two points. Jacks around — one jack of each suit — is four points. The nine of trump is worth one point. One of the pieces of meld is called a pinochle; it’s a jack of diamonds and a queen of spades.
A standard pinochle deck is 48 cards, 9 through ace, two of each. It is therefore possible to meld a double pinochle, two jacks and two queens. It’s worth 30 points. In my family, we tend to play double-deck, and so you can get a triple pinochle for 90 points. A quadruple pinochle wins the game. I have seen a quadruple pinochle exactly once. I can still hear my mother’s gasp as someone — my aunt? one of my cousins? — laid it down.
So getting a pinochle is awesome, right?
Well. The problem is that pinochle is a bidding game, and you have a partner, and you and your partner have to take tricks. Between your meld and your tricks, you have to get enough points to cover your bid, or you go set and lose everything. If I take the bid — let’s say I took it for 80 — my partner gets to pass me four cards, but I can’t say what I want. All I can do is name trump. And if I name diamonds as trump: What do I want? Am I going for the pinochle? Or do I just have a fistful of diamonds? There is no way to know. No one has put down any cards yet. You have to guess what I have and what I want based on what’s in your hand and what makes the most sense, strategically. There are all sorts of crazy ways to try to figure it out, but in the end, you pass and you hold your breath and hope your partner smiles.
But let’s say it pays off, and I put together the double pinochle. That’s 30 points of meld, which ain’t half bad. But what if I don’t have anything else? Thirty points is not very close to 80 points. To make up the difference, I have to take every single trick when we start playing, and I’m sure as hell not going to do it with a double pinochle in my hand. Jacks and queens don’t take tricks. They’ve just fucked me. In the end, they’re not worth anything at all.
You just spent all this time obsessing about the pinochle, and it didn’t do you any good.
So when I mentioned oh-so-casually that I got a tattoo on a whim in Salt Lake City, that was only half true.
by tyler james densley at cathedral tattoo
Style-wise, that is a very traditional tattoo. It doesn’t remotely resemble any of my other tattoos, which are all [mostly] abstract blackwork pieces. Content-wise, it’s also traditional. All those vices, cards and booze and dice and a big ol’ cigar. Often these sorts of tattoos show aces and eights, the dead man’s hand, but that’s a double pinochle up there. The tattoo is as much a tribute to my family and to the game we love as it is a reminder that maybe everything isn’t exactly what it seems. Maybe this Vegas-looking tattoo was done in Salt Lake City. It could have been done anywhere, of course, but it wasn’t. Maybe those awesome cards aren’t worth anything at all. Maybe our obsessions shouldn’t be pursued so single-mindedly.
…or maybe I just won the game.
Hello, friends! Been a while, and I’m sure you’ve all been wondering what the hell I’ve been doing with myself. Answer: reading (pretty sure I’ve read 30 books in 30 days), traveling (I have been at the airport once a week for the last month), and not a whole hell of a lot else. I have a bunch of book reviews half-written that should theoretically be going up very soon, but for now, here is a concert report for the last month, some tattoo ramblings, something about traveling, and a little about cats. Warning: long.
There’s a quote from a book that I remember, but I didn’t remember remembering until I saw a tattoo of it recently on tumblr:
The quote is from “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky. It reads:
Standing on the edges of life offers a unique perspective, but there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.
I like that quote for personal reasons; I spent a large chunk of my life waiting. I’ve always wanted to do $whatever. I’ll do it when…
When what? I don’t know that I’ve had a ton of Eureka moments in my life, but that was one of them. When what? Now I do what I want.
On Wednesday, I will be moving the RSS feed of this blog over to feedburner. I have absolutely no idea how many people subscribe, and I have absolutely no idea if those people will be fucked if I just change the address in my settings, so I am giving you some advance notice. I think there are two of you. Min and Terry, UPDATE YOUR SUBSCRIPTIONS. The new address will be:
I did some other stuff, too, since I seem to be updating this blog with something that approaches regularity. For example, I put back the buttons that allow you to share posts on spaceface, and I fixed a bug in the navigation, and I upgraded my wordpress install, which I had to do by hand because of some memory error. So that’s all shiny and great. I also killed categories and am just using tags, because I just could not handle trying to figure out what the difference was and what it should be blah blah blah. TAGS, motherfuckers, it’s the only way.
Not much else to report. Another review and soundtrack should be out pretty soon, and then I have these two irritating books on hardcore to complain about, and I just ordered another slew of books to read/review. I haven’t done reviews of biographies, but maybe I will? I may also start doing blurbs on the documentaries I watch, since I don’t watch anything else anymore. (Most recently, a terrible direct-to-youtube one called Welcome to Sammytown, in which somehow the guy who murdered his girlfriend is the most sympathetic person there. Everyone else says shit like, “Oh, yeah, Sam totally killed that girl, but he’s not a murderer! He’s got a heart! Murderers have that stone look in their eyes!” PROTIP, DOUCHEBAG: YOU BECOME A MURDERER BY MURDERING SOMEONE.) But I could put up short paragraphs of a few documentaries at a time, starting with Welcome to Sammytown and that one about Johnny Thunders that made me want to slit my wrists.
I also have a stack of new albums to listen to and review except I keep listening to the Misfits instead. No shows this week, but next week is John Doe (I can’t even think about that one too much or I will freak myself out) and then the Rural Alberta Advantage. I’m still mad at them about their video, but they put on a hell of a live show, so I’m looking forward to it.
I was going to write about a documentary I watched recently called The Heart Is A Drum Machine. I’m not sure what it’s about — what is music, it persists in asking — but at many points, the people interviewed discuss the physicality of music, the mystery of its origin, the rhythm of the heart. The drummers they interviewed said things like, “the heart and the drum are not two separate things.” (Milton Graves, in that case.)
When I found out Bill Berry left REM, I was in my father’s living room. I don’t remember if someone called me, or if I heard it on the radio, or what. It’s even possible I read it online; it was 1997, I had a computer with dial-up and AOL. I stood there and thought about the rumor, the report, the whatever, the thing that told me that one of the band members had said that if one of them ever left the band, REM would break up. And now Bill was leaving, so that was it, right? They were over? I didn’t cry, but only because I was panicking too hard. I got online and refreshed the news obsessively. Were they going to break up? I am pretty sure I did that for three days straight.
I tell that story, such as it is, because Min asked a question on her blog, sort of, about songs and stories and bands. And last week I told her about my sister coming to visit me, and I was wearing an REM t-shirt. My sister laughed because she’d been visiting my mother before she came to Chicago, and my mother has been cleaning out her basement, and had a box of my sister’s old stuff. My sister threw out everything in that box except her REM t-shirt, the one she got in college — she went to UNC in the earlyish 80s, when REM still played the area pretty frequently.