January 23, 2003

January 2003 (Vol.2, Issue 1)

Welcome to Truckin' my monthly E-Zine. This month's issue includes two bits of fiction from yours truly, as well as two reviews: the Phish NYE concert at MSG and I also wrote up mini reviews of six independent films. Señor returns with two stories, one from his trip last month to the Phillipnes and the other about his New Year's experiences in India. So sit back, relax, enjoy, and spread the word! Thanks for all your support! Be Sweet, McG

1. The Man in the Clown Suit by Tenzin McGrupp
I teased the now, passed out party clown, who sits slumped up on the bench on the platform. He once was a respectable man in many circles, domestic and in Canada. He was applauded when he entered bar mitzvahs and retirement parties in Miami Beach, he was showered with compliments and happy goofy looks from snot nosed kids at pool parties in Little Neck... More

2. Misadventures from the Philippines, Part II: There's a Red Bird Over Yonder by Senor
What more could go wrong? My first night in Manila was enough to make me want to leave the country forever. But I wasn't ready to condemn the whole country for one bad night in one city. I decided to stick around the Philippines, but you can be damned sure I got the hell out of Manila ASAP! More

3. Phish Reunion Concert: A NYE Review by Tenzin McGrupp
It was the hottest ticket in town, and the most sought after Phish ticket in the history of Phish-dom. Bids were in the thousands of dollars on e-bay and ticket brokers wouldn’t even talk to you unless you were willing to pay big bucks. Even Dead Guru Bruce Cohen declared, “Every Phish freak from here to fuckin’ Idaho will be looking for a ticket.” More

4. Laughing Laughing, Señor falls apart! by Señor
Two days in Bombay was too much! Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed my brief stay, but there was no way I was going to stay for a third night. After relocating to Koh Samui, Thailand from New York City I realized how much I hate crowds... More

5. Indie Film Reviews by Tenzin McGrupp
Over the past month or so, I’ve been spending my late insomnia ridden nights watching a collection of indie flicks that I found on Netflix. I rarely have time to “waste” nearly two hours watching mindless garbage that Hollywood ejaculates on a weekly basis, but unable to sleep, I found myself engaging in late night, early morning screening sessions of several films: Piñero, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harvard Man, The Salton Sea, Widespread Panic: The Earth Will Swallow You, and The Good Girl... More

6. Dream Bubbles by Tenzin McGrupp
While you sleep, do you know that I try to catch your dreams with large butterfly nets? They are cumbersome the long nets, for sure, but I stand over you anyway, my shadows blanketing over you like a sullen storm circling in from off Lake Erie, and your distant dreams and ornate thoughts slip out of your angelic body like little bubbles being blown from the mouth of a small child standing in the middle of the Central Park zoo... More

The Man in the Clown Suit: Part 1

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

The man in the clown suit lost another bet this weekend, his favorite team not covering the agreed upon spread with the bookie down at Jimmy’s Bar and Grill near the old Hell’s Kitchen, now called by it’s yuppi-fied nomenclature: Clinton Hill.

“Why did they name that after Bill Clinton?” she seriously asked me, her long multicolored Korean mafia run salon nails sparkling against the florescent lights in the subway station, annoying me on a chilly Tuesday morning.

“Fuck off,” I scolded her, but the impatient look from my eyes spoke louder than my words, “You are as dumb as your old man. Who bets on the Jets in Oakland?!?”

I teased the now, passed out party clown, who sits slumped up on the bench on the platform. He once was a respectable man in many circles, domestic and in Canada. He was applauded when he entered bar mitzvahs and retirement parties in Miami Beach, he was showered with compliments and happy goofy looks from snot nosed kids at pool parties in Little Neck, yes, he was the clown among retards in our great pre 9.11 society, but these days, who really wants to see a forever sweating, overweight, prescription stealing, narcoleptic necrophiliac of a lush tell stupid knock-knock jokes and make unidentifiable animal balloons, when he’s not hitting the sauce or whoever is nearby, bi-hourly.

I felt bad for his daughter. She seemed normal. But I don’t know too many abandoned children of alcoholic clowns to make a solid guesstimate of why she does what she does. I mean, I know a lot of people frown upon kidney thieves, but hey, if it makes you happy, and if you feel it is your calling in life, then so be it. I won’t interject. Besides, it’s nice to see people with passion in this murky world. And no one was more passionate about meeting horny single guys in bars in seedy hotels and stealing their organs. She enjoyed it, she got off on it, and she also wrote every one of her experiences in three nicely bound volumes entitled: “Did You Wake Up in a Tub of Ice with a Kidney Missing? Confessions and Memoirs of an Organ Thief.”

She called me up to ask me to help her edit all of her random stories of running all over the world stealing organs and then blowing her cash on spending binges in Paris and Milan, and on a bad opium deal gone worse in Myanmar. They seemed oddly familiar but I owed her father a favor. Besides, I figured I’d get on her good side. You never know if I'll need a kidney or liver or third eye on short notice.

But first things first, we need to sober up her father and get the $4000 in cash to his bookie. And that’s why we stood on the icy cold platform waiting for the subway to take us to the clown’s small rat infested place where he usually passed out after several fruity cocktails and a handful of sleeping pills, that he would swipe from the medicine cabinets of his suburban clients. He loved to steal little soaps to, which he would feed to the dogs who lived upstairs from him. The little annoying pugs liked soap.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

Misadventures from the Philippines Part II

By Señor © 2002

"There's a Red Bird over yonder"

What more could go wrong? My first night in Manila was enough to make me want to leave the country forever. But I wasn't ready to condemn the whole country for one bad night in one city. I decided to stick around the Philippines, but you can be damned sure I got the hell out of Manila ASAP! One of the Philippines claims to fame is the rice terraces which are considered to be the 8th Wonder of the World. So I headed up to North Luzon and a small town called Banaue. Banaue is only 150 miles north of Manila but it might as well be in a different world. It took 9 hours by car to get there. The single lane dirt road, which weaved up and down sheer cliffs, was not for the weak of heart. But the scenery was spectacular and we made it in one piece.

Banaue and the entire region are home to the indigenous people of the Philippines. It is an area where very few households have electricity. Cell phones and the internet are unheard of and tribal warfare is still common. And Banaue is considered there to be the big city! In order to really see the most spectacular of the rice terraces one must go to a small village called Batad, home to 30 natives. Batad is only four miles from Banaue but they have no roads. The only way to get there is to hike up and over a mountain. It was strongly recommended that I hire a local guide to take me there, as I am not familiar with the route or local customs. Early the next morning I hired a local guide who spoke very little English. A man who wore nothing but a loincloth and carried a bow and arrow and a shotgun accompanied the two of us. OK! By the way, he spoke NO English. I was surprised that my guide carried a tent with him and many bags full of food. After all, I figured a four-mile hike couldn’t take but a few hours. Little did I know!

Forty-five minutes later we were three quarters up the mountain and making pretty good time. All of a sudden a beautiful red bird flew across us, coming from our west and heading east. As this occurred both my guide and the loin clothed man let out a shriek. From what I could understand from their broken English was: if this red bird flies across your path from the west heading east it means death is lurking. The only way to avoid the death is to retrace one's steps. I was sure they were kidding and continued up the mountain. I looked up to find the barrel of the loin clothed man's shotgun pointed at my face. It was then I realized they were very serious and down the mountain we went. When we got to the bottom we turned around and headed back up. This time we only made it a half hour before the bird flew by again. We must have hiked a good 15 miles that day but by nightfall we were no closer to Batad than we had been at the start of the day. We set up the tent and that was that. The next day we set off again and encountered more of the same. Day Two did see us arrive at the top of the mountain and even a quarter of the way down the other side, but the fucking red bird kept coming! As day two ended we slept in the same spot as the night before. Would day three be a charm? It didn't start out that way. By noon we had already had to retrace out steps four times! I was very fed up with this never-ending hike. But to be quite frank, I was much too scared of the loin clothed man to say anything.

Things started to get interesting. Three-quarters up the mountain and here comes the bird again. However this time I realized I wasn't the only one fed up. The loin-clothed man threw down his bow and arrow, aimed and cocked his shotgun and just before the bird could cross our path he shot the bird dead. The man winked at me and proceeded up the mountain. I guess the death that was lurking was that of the bird! One and a half hours later I arrived in Batad. The natural beauty awaiting me was sensational and I had never been happier in my life to arrive anywhere! My only fear is that I would not make it back to Manila in time for my departure flight in two days.

Apparently our favorite loin-clothed man had killed the only red bird in the area. We had no trouble hiking back to Banuea and I made it back to Manila in plenty of time for my return flight to Bangkok. Ah, Thailand! How I longed to be back in Thailand, my utopia home for the last five months. As I got to the front of the Philippines Airlines check in line I was asked to produce my onward ticket to my next destination after Thailand.

"Thailand is my final destination. I have no onward ticket," I told them. To that they replied that it is Philippines Airline's policy not to let anyone with a non-Asian passport board a flight to Asia without an onward ticket. Just my luck! Most of the time I am scrambling to find ways to stay in a country. Here I was in the one country that I was very ready to get out of, and they were not letting me go! After much arguing they agreed to let me on board under two conditions: I had to sign a waiver saying that I have no onward ticket and I release Philippines airlines of any responsibility for allowing me to fly into Bangkok and they called Thailand immigration, telling them my name, passport number, flight information and that I was arriving with no onward ticket. The lovely Filipino women helping me told me that she had no clue if I would be allowed into Thailand or not, but it was now out of her hands. As I flew the three hours back to Thailand all I could think about was are they going to let me in the country? And if they don't where are they gonna send me?

Fortunately for me the person working at Immigration was a young beautiful Thai woman. I am not able to ask, "Where is the bathroom" with my limited knowledge of the Thai language but I can sweet talk a Thai woman in Thai with the best of them! In Samui the Thai girls all call me "dau chew" and "ba quan" which means flirt and sweet talker respectively. In a matter of five minutes with this lovely lady, not only was I allowed in the country but I also had a date for later that night! It was good to say "Farwell to the Philippines" and even better to be back in Thailand!

Señor is a pants dropper from Koh Samui, Thailand.

Phish Reunion Concert: A NYE Review

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

12.31.02 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Set 1 (1:10): Piper, Guyute, NICU, Horn, Wilson, Mound, Squirming Coil > David Bowie
Set 2 (1:06): Waves > Divided Sky, Lawn Boy, Carini, Rift, Harry Hood, Character Zero
Set 3 (1:03): Sample in a Jar, Seven Below > Auld Lang Syne > Runaway Jim > Time Loves a Hero, Taste, Strange Design, Walls of the Cave
Encore (0:08): Wading in the Velvet Sea

I went into the show with very little expectations. Perhaps it was because I only got a ticket about a week before New Year’s. It was the hottest ticket in town, and the most sought after Phish ticket in the history of Phish-dom. Bids were in the thousands of dollars on e-bay and ticket brokers wouldn’t even talk to you unless you were willing to pay big bucks. Even Dead Guru Bruce Cohen declared, “Every Phish freak from here to fuckin’ Idaho will be looking for a ticket.”

He was right, and I got one thanks to Jessica who originally scored me two tickets for the last Hampton, Virginia show they would be playing right after New Year’s. I was able to find a cool and honest guy named Phil from Reading, PA who took the time to drive all the up to NYC to swap tickets with me at Strawberry Fields in Central Park. A two for one deal. Two Hamptons for one MSG. I was set.

Although to my disappointment, none of my local friends had gotten tickets to the show, and I knew I’d be going solo. But the Phish reunion was not just their chance to play again; it was an opportunity for many people who became friends through Phish over the years to reunite with all of their loved ones. Everyone is scattered geographically, busy with their lives, and it’s tough and expensive to arrange schedules to see everyone you know, but sometimes, big events like Phish shows come around, and it’s the perfect time to gather everyone together and have a balls out fun time. Friends of mine through the years amassed from Atlanta, Texas, California, Seattle, Canada, and even as far away as Hong Kong and Japan just to see Phish play a live show for the first time in over two years.

Security was light, and there was a traffic jam of people trying to get in, which took a while, but as soon as I physically walked through the tunnel into the Garden, I got a huge wave of the “Fuck yeahs!” And walking to my seat I could see the crowd settling in, and you could feel the fluttering energy twinkling, ready to be unleashed. For the first time at a Phish show, I experienced what it felt like to walk into a Grateful Dead show. The Garden was buzzing, like a Jacuzzi filled with two long years on bubbly warmth, soothing waves, and unleashed vigor. I was ready and Phish started the night earlier than I thought. As soon as the lights went down, the Garden got as loud as I ever heard it (and based on the NY Knicks and Rangers records, I’m sure it hadn’t been that loud in the Garden in a long time). When I was a kid watching wrestling on TV, during a crazy point of a match, the announcer Mean Gene Okerlund would yell, “Pandemonium is breaking loose here in the Garden…”

Well that summed up what went on as Phish took the stage. It took a few moments but I recognized that they opened with Piper. Everyone was yelling and going ape shit, and I wondered that this is how insane it must have been like at one of those Beatles concert I saw clips of, where all those chicks were just screaming the entire time. How the hell can you hear the band? But everyone smoked up and settled in, and Phish was back. Only after listening to the show a couple of days later, I realized that Piper began with each of the members taking solo introductions, first Trey, then Page, and Fish, then Mike.

Thanks to the advances in cell phone technology, I was able to keep my friends who weren’t at the show, updated to what was going on. I called Gil during Piper and Guyute, and ended up text messaging him some of the setlist, before I got a little took wasted, and just stopped.

I like hearing NICU because Trey yells, “Play it Leo” before Page’s piano solo. I called Heather because it’s one of her favorite songs and was surprised they were playing it!

After Horn, a random favorite song of mine ended I noticed that Gardenvision, the jumbotron screen/scoreboard was turned on. I didn’t think anything of it, until they showed clips of a beach at nighttime. I thought they were going to play their new song Waves, but I instantly recognized Tom Hanks from his role in Castaway. He was talking to his friend, Wilson the volleyball and threw it in the water. I knew right then they were going to play Wilson, as Tom Hanks started shouting for his volleyball, “Wilson! Wilson… Wilson!”

The crowd joined in, and Trey took off. In the middle of the song, Trey stops and says, “Everybody Tom Hanks!” and he ran out on stage, sang the “Blat, boom…” lyric, shook hands with Page and ran off.

I was fooled. It wasn’t Tom Hanks, but Page’s brother. It’s OK, I even called everyone I knew to tell them the remarkable cameo. I e-mailed it and wrote it up in a mini-review on the Tao of Pauly, but shit, I was shithoused fucked up. I hadn’t been that wasted since I saw Phish in Osaka with Senor, Beano & Zobo. The New York Times, AP, MTV, and several other legitimate news agencies weren’t rolling when they printed and reported the Phishy appearance of former Bossom Buddies star Tom Hanks. What followed was a retraction in the NY Times, and a slew of Phishy Tom Hanks Prank articles in nearly every major U.S. media outlet. Was it staged? Probably not. The boys always fuck around and give everyone nicknames. If Al Gore came out, now THAT would have been funny. But I guess the lesson to be learned is: Don’t take Phish or anything too seriously (especially the NY Times).

The guy sitting next to me was from D.C. and he kept yelling and calling out for “Mound” since the show began. They never played that song for years because they forgot how to play it. Mound is slightly complicated. But here we go, after a two-year break, sixth song into their return they break out Mound, which had not been performed by Phish since November 16, 1996. As soon as they started playing I turned to him and he was pumped!

Everyone knows I’m not a fan of Squirming Coil, so I took the time to smoke a bowl with the guy next to me. We were chatty, both rolling, and my show enhancer was starting to kick in. As I stopped to look up, it was the end of the song, the perfect part, where Page closes with a beautiful piano solo. They went right into David Bowie, and I called Modeski. I didn’t know if I reached him or got his voicemail because I got disconnected, but my phone rang right away and it was Modeski! He was on the other end, digging the Bowie. I promised I would call him if they played that.

The set ended and I bumped into Zobo in the bathroom. His friend from Japan, Emi wanted to hear Mound because it was her favorite song, and they played it! I went back to my seats and talked to the guys in front of me from Philly. They dropped $500 each on their tickets, so they made sure they were going to have a food time. They were fully stocked with an assortment of party enhancers and flavors, and were generous to everyone in our section. Just having a good time, hanging out with no one I know nor met before, yet went to so many of the same shows and sat and talked like we had been friends for a decade.

Set two opened with a new song called Waves. The sound was much more crisp, and then cleared up whatever distortion was going on in set one. This was the first new song they played and it was a good one to pick. Phish could open it up and noodle around into an extended jam, which they did. The entire time I was wondering how this song could be their next huge epic tune, and I was witnessing something rare, like catching the Grateful Dead one night in February 1973, and seeing the first version of Eyes of the World. It felt exactly like one of those moments.

Waves segued into Divided Sky. This was a solid statement. Divided Sky was one of their first recorded songs. They opened with a new tune, and went right into an old one, spanning the nearly twenty-year history of Phish back to back for all of us to see.

I didn’t see Lawn Boy at the show but I know he was there because he was quoted on an article from MTV.com. I kept laughing during his song because I recalled the infamous show in Phoenix in October 2000. I was there with Molly and we saw Lawn Boy and he wanted to run up to the front row during his song. The security guard wouldn’t let him into the reserved seating section without a ticket.

“But this is MY song! I’m Lawn Boy,” the caped-wonder pleaded.

“I don’t care if you're Spiderman. No ticket. No entrance,” the surly security guard quipped back.

Page cheesed out Lawn Boy, and it was good to see Page crooning the audience again. Phish decided that they weren’t fucking around anymore and busted out Carini! The first time I heard a live Carini was at the Garden in 1998, and it kicked my ass. That was the first time I ever used the phrase, “Trey ripped the shit out of that one!” Carini was the highlight of the set for me. I got the one song I wanted to hear, and I could relax and enjoy the rest of the night.

Rift was sloppy and I smoked during most of that song. The set closed with two hardcore Phish songs: Harry Hood and Character Zero. I kind of expected to hear Harry Hood, but hoping to hear it for the encore. I guess the boys did not want to wait. I called Molly during Harry Hood, her favorite Phish tune, and she was excited to hear it! There was a nice glow-ring war during the middle, something I hadn’t seen in some time.

“Could you feel good? Feel good? Good about Hood!”

During the second setbreak it was time to get really sloppy. I found a few friends from Texas, who barely recognized me without a beard and ponytail. JoJo and Laila were inebriated for sure, but they weren’t 100% convinced it was me until I showed them my driver’s license. After a few laughs (I was hoping they were just kidding, and not that far spun!) and a few hugs, and a quick puffage of nugs, I went back to my seat, and scribbled a few hyperactive notes.

The third set began about twelve minutes to midnight with Sample in a Jar. With seven minutes to go, the played their second new song of the night, Seven Below. A disco ball was lowered from the scoreboard and it began to snow on stage. Several people in white costumes, dressed up like snow creatures danced around the stage a couple, circling the band, of times before walking into the crowd. A couple of them dressed as snow angels got up on ladders spread throughout the floor of the Garden, and climbed up, unfurling their long dresses which covered the ladders, making them look like ten foot tall snow angels. Snow began to fall on the crowd and the snow angels began to shine flashlights into the crowd. Just before midnight, and as the countdown began, fireworks shot up and off the stage, and a collection of large white balloons, filled with confetti, some the size of small Phishy chicks, were dropped from the ceiling. It was 2003.

The Philly boys broke out a couple of bottles of champagne they snuck in, and passed them around, along with a baggie filled with Molly, while everyone lit up their 2003 joints, as Trey popped all the balloons that came on stage with his guitar. Runaway Jim was next, an old classic favorite of mine, never recorded on a studio album, but still one of the more popular songs to date. The guys in front of me knew the next song, Time Loves a Hero, a random Little Feat cover, which they last played in the summer of 1998. The Philly boys were at that show too.

During Taste, a beautiful song featuring Page’s stellar piano work, a guy came up to me and he was smoking a cigar.

“Bro, it’s my 50th show. Take a puff.”

“Sweet,” I said, taking a drag, “you know it’s my 114th show.”

“Holy shit! Then take two puffs!” he yelled.

When Page started Strange Design, my thoughts flashed to Señor . I wondered where he was? (For the length of this song, I imagined him in Thailand, dropping his pants on a moonlit beach with a semi-circle of his scantly clad Thai girlfriends giggling at his laugh… alas, he was in India, being kissed by drunk Indian guys!) Strange Design is a rare Phish song. They played it a fair amount of times, “But not enough!” Señor would exclaim. It’s one of Senor’s favorite Phish songs. He once put it on a Phish mix for one of his many lady friends.

“Get’s ‘em every time,” he would wink and smile.

The last line of lyrics for Strange Design is, “Can I bring a few companions along this ride?”

For Phish it was almost a twenty-year ride. For me, the last five years have been deeply involved and invested in Phish, the lifestyle, the subculture, the frenzy, the madness, the friendships, the wandering, the show swapping, and the love, the lots, the late nights driving to the next city, and the early mornings joensin’ for pharmies and herbal supplements in Shakedown, burning hundreds of shows for friends, and all the free hugs, and seeing forty plus different towns and cities in three countries, and riding the bullet trains in Japan in between cities while sipping green tea, and writing down setlists in the complete dark on all sorts of different drugs, and all the balloons, and the random dogs walking around, and everyone looking for an extra, and all those polluted kids running around spun out of their minds, chomping on vegan burritos and heady goo balls before the show, and the agony of getting rejected for lottery tickets, the anticipation of tickets arriving in the mail, the endless scorn I spout out at Ticketbastard who make hundreds, it not thousands of dollars on my Phishy habit, the connection with random strangers from down the street and in Japan. The entire roving bubble of the Phish phenomena affected, shaped, and influenced my life, as a person and artist. And none more than the people I met on this nice run. All of whom I thought of at some point in the night, filled with happy thoughts of all those shows I hung out with everyone, and the rides we all shared, and the pre-parties where we all celebrated, and the numerous late night after shows where we’d wind down the night and watch the morning sneak up on us, and all the commentary and after thoughts, and the song wish lists, and it was all back!

Phish closed with Walls of the Cave, a hefty nineteen-minute version. They weren’t going home without closing up shop the right way. Walls of the Cave has several sections where they can go off on, and the jam towards the end sounds just like Rock & Roll (a Velvet Underground cover), which I thought they were going to play. It was nicely done, and I became a quick fan of the three new songs I got to hear.

The encore was beginning just before 1 AM, and I hoped they wouldn’t disappoint me. My harshest criticism of Phish has always been their encores. They usually failed to close a hot show with a solid song. Sometimes when they know the played a not so hot show, they’ll try to make it up and play a three song encore. I dunno what’s really going on. But on New Year’s they cheesed out with Velvet Sea. I enjoy that song, it has sentimental value, but you don’t close the first show you’ve played in two years with that! I was hoping for You Enjoy Myself, or a Halley’s Comet, not a slow sappy wad of cheese. Phish returned all right, and some things haven’t changed.

Despite the encore being the low point of the show, I felt that night went down as one of the Top 10 Phish shows in my Phishy career. They played sloppy, and most of the songs wouldn’t be on my list of songs to hear at a Phish show, but they nailed some of their classic stuff and it was so good to hear them again, playing with a soaring intensity for a frenzied high-energy crowd. It was more the moment than the music, but then again, that’s why you go to a live show, never knowing what you’d hear, or what kind of hijinks will ensue, and that’s why I’ve been to over 114 shows. And before I know it, I’ll be seeing my 200th show.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

Laughing Laughing, Señor falls apart!

By Señor © 2003

Two days in Bombay was too much! Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed my brief stay, but there was no way I was going to stay for a third night. After relocating to Koh Samui, Thailand from New York City I realized how much I hate crowds. You have to fight your way through people in New York when you are taking a walk. On Samui space is in abundance and I was happy to have it. For five months I relished my space. Then I took off for India.

India is a huge country, but where are you going to put nearly one billion people? Everywhere I went, I fought the crowds and possibly no city in the world is quite as congested as Bombay. Each time I left my hotel room things got worse. The filth covered me from head to toe, the beggars latched onto me and the crowds nearly trampled me. I do not mean to sound so negative. Underneath all that filth and all those people is actually a lovely city! But it is so dirty that people are constantly spitting the filth from their mouths, so much so that there are actually spitting and no spitting zones marked by signs!

Anyway I was dealing pretty well until New Year's Eve came around. Apparently the Colaba area where my hotel is located is the Times Square of Bombay. By the time the clock struck midnight I had been spit on dozens of times, my self and my drink were filled with dust and I was pressed more tightly against those surrounding me than I had ever been on a New York subway during rush hour. In total disgust I fought my way to my Hotel. The next morning as soon as I awoke I checked out early and went straight to the airport. At the ticket window I told them that I didn't care where I was going, just get me on the next available flight out of here. I wound up in Bangalore.

Bangalore is the Capital of the Southern Indian state of Karnataka, a small city by Indian standards as only six million people live there. I wasn't worried about the crowds. First of all Bangalore has less than one third of the people that Bombay has and secondly according to my Lonely Planet guide there is a small village in the hills called Nandi Hills only an hour outside of the city. This is the place to "get away from it all." Apparently the Lonely Planet writers had never been there on New Year's Day. The place was mobbed! That was OK with me. Because such spectacular natural beauty surrounded me, I was able to ignore the crowds for the most part.

Before I continue I need to spend a moment telling you about Indian men. Indian men are the warmest, friendliest, most affectionate men I have ever come across. So affectionate that is it very common to see two heterosexual men holding hands as they walk down the street. Just as common are the sights of men walking arm in arm, men hugging and men kissing each other on the cheek. At first I thought all Indian men are gay! They are not. This is just the way it is. Now imagine how affectionate these men become when they are shitfaced. Well on New Year's Day they were shitfaced! I was literally swarmed by Indian men who were jumping into my arms, kissing my cheeks and wishing me a Happy New Year. I consider myself to be a man of love, but this was a little too much! After a day of hugging and kissing hundreds of men I was ready to return to my hotel in Bangalore.

I had rented a car and a driver for the day. It only cost me $20, which the average Indian cannot afford. Most Indians have to take the bus from Bangalore and then walk two hours to get up Nandi Hill. Driving off in my chauffeured car I realized how fortunate I truly am. Until we turned the next corner that is!

My driver was going a little too fast around a sharp corner and before I knew it I was involved in a head on collision with a Minivan. Everyone was shaken up a bit but luckily no one was seriously hurt. After the initial shock I just lost my shit and began cracking up hysterically. I don't know why I laughed, but I did and I could not stop! The driver of the minivan took exception to my laughter and began screaming at me in Hindi. This just made me laugh even harder. Next thing I know he clocked me square on the kisser! As I was being hit, several of the men I had hugged and kissed walked by. They saw what had happened and jumped in to defend me. All of a sudden, I, who had not been in a fistfight since 8th grade was in the middle of a battle royal. I never could have imagined that these Indian men, so full of love, could be so full of hate as well. Shortly after, the cops came and broke things up. Lucky for me I was not hurt too badly. No hospital was necessary to handle my black eye and bloody nose. In the meanwhile I just hope that my grotesque face will not scare off the lovely Indian ladies!

I am now on a train heading to the resort town of Ooty. There I plan on getting some serious R & R and I promise.... NO LAUGHING!

Señor is a pants dropper from Koh Samui, Thailand.

Indie Film Reviews

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

Over the past month or so, I’ve been spending my late insomnia ridden nights watching a collection of indie flicks that I found on Netflix. I rarely have time to “waste” nearly two hours watching mindless garbage that Hollywood ejaculates on a weekly basis, but unable to sleep, I found myself engaging in late night, early morning screening sessions of several films: Piñero, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harvard Man, The Salton Sea, Widespread Panic: The Earth Will Swallow You, and The Good Girl.


My first encounter with Miguel Piñero was as an actor. I saw him on Miami Vice (playing a drug dealer) as well as acting bit parts in Fort Apache the Bronx, and the Jericho Mile. At the time little did I know he was a writer, a poet, a playwright, a junkie, a convicted criminal, and he lived in my city, just a subway ride away.

The film opens with legendary Broadway producer Joseph Papp (Mandy Patinkin) introducing playwright Miguel Piñero (Benjamin Bratt) to the audience during opening night of one of his plays.

“He is hell bent on telling the truth,” says Papp.

And it’s true. Piñero’s play Short Eyes was nominated for a Tony award in 1974, which chronicled his life in Sing Sing prison where he did time for drug dealing and robbery.

Benjamin Bratt took on the epic role of playing the most of the time homeless genius Miguel Piñero. Unfortunately, the fame and instant notoriety troubled Piñero, who was never able to escape the gloomy street life on the Lower East Side, as he lived day to day on the streets as a junkie-genius-poet-thief. Bratt was able to capture the rambling poet, who would steal anything from you, but somehow charm the pants out of you while you were bitching him out for being a no good junkie thief.

The film was written and directed by Leon Ichaso, which he shot on digital video and hand held black and white 8MM film. Ichaso switched back and forth between the present and past, between the color and black and white in scenes, and in an attempt to combine the harsh, dirty, gritty, dark reality of life and death and morbid addiction with the softer, gentile side of the beauty within the raw power of his honesty in his writing and poetry. The constant switching also represented how at any moment our past flashes into our present. Piñero’s past is a direct link to his self-destructive lifestyle which assisted in molding his artistic genius. Icasho took actual poems and monologues and weaved them into many of Piñero’s lines and dialogue. Rita Moreno appears in a few scenes as Piñero’s mother.

Before the Latin explosion of the late 1990s, and before J. Lo and Ricky Martin (and pre Menudo), the first recognized artistic voice from Latinos and Puerto Ricans in New York (and America) were penned and performed out by Piñero. Short Eyes, a play you should all read, is perhaps one of the most genuine pieces of urban literature in the last 30 years.

Y Tu Mama Tambien

Written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, Y Tu Mama Tambien received a fair amount of press and advertising last year for a foreign film. It’s a classic road film combined with a coming of age story about two friends Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael García Bernal), who get ditched by their girlfriends for the summer. They decide to go on a roadtrip to a secret paradise, a beach called Boco del Cielo. After they meet an older woman, Luisa, at a wedding, the two invite her along for the ride. Luisa herself is going through a personal crisis, after finding out her husband has been having an affair. She joins them on the trip, desperate to escape Mexico City, and seek out salvation on the road. Of course, sexual misconduct, hijinks, lust, and seduction overtake all the characters involved.

Cuaron’s camera work is appealing to me. He chose for medium range and distant shots, which gave me a distant feeling of watching these characters. The distance was enough to keep me at arms length, in a vague attempt to not to reveal too much of the characters, which kept me guessing the entire time.

Gael García Bernal, whom I recognized from Amores Perros, did an excellent job as the poor kid, and best friend to the well to do Tenoch. Their relationship evolves and expands (and eventually contracts) throughout the film, and in the end, you get a sense that their friendship had truly been tested and maxed out.

Harvard Man

Someone told me this movie was about drugs and gambling… more specifically, about LSD and gambling on college basketball. Written and directed by James Toback, his film follows the descent of Alan, a basketball player and philosophy student at Harvard (Adrian Grenier) into the seedy underworld of organized crime, and his journey down a dark road of LSD abuse, point shaving, and sexual misconduct. His girlfriend Cindy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is the daughter of a reputed mobster and gets him involved in a point shaving ring. He needs the money to help save his parents house from a hurricane. His teammate (Ray Allen) suspects something is wrong, while undercover FBI agents (Eric Stoltz and Rebecca Gayheart) are penetrating Cindy’s father’s mob operations. Joey Lauren Adams plays Alan's philosophy professor that is having an affair with him.

The concepts of sin, desire and punishment are briefly discussed in the philosophy class lectures. The script was flawed, and the story was thin at best. The added sections of Alan’s bad trip, after he took three hits of high-grade liquid LSD, gave me mixed reactions. The graphics were right on, Toback’s vision of visuals were very good. The scene with Al Franken and his daughter bumping into the tripping Alan was hilarious. Some of the scenes were funny, but his bad trip seemed like a cliché, ending in a horrible, and annoying sequence of someone’s worst trip.

I don’t know if he’s pro LSD or not. I was too irked with the faulty plot and lack of authenticity with regard to gambling and college basketball, to figure out the overall message.

The Salton Sea

Written by Tony Gayton and directed by D.J. Caruso, this is a story about a man (Val Kilmer) trying to solve his wife’s murder. Although the plot is slightly recycled, with a tweaked setting, it’s weak. The best aspects of the Salton Sea were its photography and cinematography, Val Kilmer’s performance, and the quirky, yet specific minor characters that peppered this film

I watched this a second time without the sound on. The compositions of many of the shots were spectacular, and set the mood for several of the scenes. This flick is of a film noir quality, and sometimes it’s tough to be dark in sun shiny L.A., but the dark side of the non stop party life of Meth users played out well on the screen.

Several of the scenes started with slow wide establishing shots, moving into the medium ground where the action took place. Caruso captured the simple, yet solemn loneliness that the painter Edward Hopper horrifyingly mastered in his works on Americana. Those sad and still images resonated in Gayton's camerawork.

Val Kilmer took on the role of a man in between identities. He’s Danny Parker a trumpet player, whose wife was murdered, and he’s also a junkie Crystal Meth user, hoping to find out what really happened. His neighbor Colette (Debra Kara Unger) is a mysterious woman, constantly beaten by her boyfriend (Luis Guzman). His best friend is Jimmy the Fin (Peter Sarsgaard) who will do just about anything to be Danny’s best friend. In one of the strangest scenes of this film, they attempt to buy a few bags from this the crazy dealer named Hobby Bobby, who answered the door nearly naked, sprayed insect killer on himself to kill bugs on his skin, then he claimed he "is the ocean". The entire time he kept his girlfriend under the mattress and shot harpoons at Danny and Jimmy after asking them if they brought “the plastic men”.

I almost forgot about the sadistic big time Meth dealer Pooh Bear (Vincent D'Onfronio) who lost his nose to excessive Meth snorting and now sports a plastic prosthetic. When we first meet him, he's at his lab, he's enjoying his set up of an elaborate reenactment of the JFK assassination using live pigeons in a remote controlled car, with almost all the details, including Jackie O’s pink pillbox hat, Oswald shooting from a tower, the grassy knoll sniper and the elusive third gunman.

Widespread Panic: The Earth Will Swallow You

The instrumental "The Earth Will Swallow You" was performed by Widespread Panic approximately 24 times in 1990 and then quickly retired. John Wilkins took me to my first Panic show in 1990 in Atlanta, one of the rare nights they played "The Earth Will Swallow You" and I have evolved into a fan since then. Director Geoff Hanson saw this song as ideal music to build the movie around, which he and his crew did as they followed the band Widespread Panic on their 2000 Summer Tour. I caught a few shows on that run, and it was cool to see footage from some of the shows I attended.

The film mixes live performances and a studio recording session with bits and clips of interviews with fans, crew, family, and band members. We find out the band was named after Mikey Houser’s nickname, Panic. Some of the best stuff was from what other musicians said about Panic.

"If the girls come in and sing the lyrics, then you know the band is gonna last," Col. Bruce Hampton said. He wasn’t the only one with praises from the Athens, Georgia band.

There are clips of them playing with legendary musicians the likes of Taj Mahal, Merl Saunders, Jorma Kaukonen, Vic Chesnutt, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The North jam in Central Park near the Alice and Wonderland statue with Jerry Joseph was nice to see.

The highlights were Taj Mahal making dinner for the boys in Phoenix, Jorma Kaukonen jamming with them at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco, seeing bass player Dave Schools sporting a Phish shirt during a gig at the Cotton Club in Atlanta in 1990, their jam with Vic Chestnutt, who according to John bell, “Nobody expresses himself better than that man… We’ll besides Jerry.” The scenes at Red Rocks were kick ass, and the DVD includes a couple of bonus tracks from Red Rocks: Pigeons, Holden Oversoul, Give, and Thought Sausage.

The saddest scene was with Mikey Houser, who died this past summer. He was sitting on a porch in Athens with JB, and they performed an acoustic version of Driving Song. I almost cried at the thought that those two friends will never be able to make music again.

I think Widespread Panic is an amazing band, one of the best things I took away from my time living in Atlanta in the early 1990s, was Widespread Panic’s music. As Jerry Joseph summed up, “Not many bands have both the light and dark side. And Panic knows about that dark side.”

Even if you never heard of Widespread Panic or don't really listen to them, but have always been interested, this film is a good place to start.

The Good Girl

The Good Girl stars Jennifer Aniston as Justine, a clerk at a retail store somewhere in a small town in West Texas. She begins a passionate affair with her co-worker, Holden, a young depressed writer (Jake Gyllenhaal), who re-named himself after Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in the J.D. Salinger novel Catcher in the Rye. Justine’s mundane life is suffocating her, and she wants to have a baby, but she thinks her husband (John C. Reilly), a pothead house painter, does not have any fertile sperm because of all the “doobie joints” he’s been smoking with his friend Bubba (excellently portrayed by Tim Blake Nelson).

Mike White wrote the script, and also acted in the film as the store’s security guard, and leader of a bible study group at their local church. He also wrote and acted in Orange County, where he played the English teacher. Both are films have funny dialogue with odd and likeable characters. The script was good, some interesting plot twists. I didn’t know how the Rachel from Friends factor would affect Aniston’s performance, but I think she did a good job with a not so good accent. I think a lesser-known actress could have done as good, if not a better job, as the confused and overwhelmed cheating wife. Zooey Deschanel gives a funny performance as the Cheryl, one of Justine’s other co-workers, as did all the actors in a well casted ensemble.

Let's recap.

Piñero, Y Tu Mama Tambien and the Good Girl you should rent.

If you like music and enjoy documentaries about bands, then you should take a look at Widespread Panic: The Earth Will Swallow You.

I liked the Salton Sea, for it's artistic content, but I don't think too many of you would enjoy it, it's a cable movie. And the Harvard Man was just bad. Wait for it to come on cable, and watch it when there's absolutely nothing else on.

More reviews to come next month.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

Dream Bubbles

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

While you sleep, do you know that I try to catch your dreams with large butterfly nets? They are cumbersome the long nets, for sure, but I stand over you anyway, my shadows blanketing over you like a sullen storm circling in from off Lake Erie, and your distant dreams and ornate thoughts slip out of your angelic body like little bubbles being blown from the mouth of a small child standing in the middle of the Central Park zoo, the soapy film running down his hand, as the magnificent spectrum of colors all converge to the tip of one of the largest bubble he blew, floating for seconds around his head before they each "Pop" and disappear into thin air. I try to catch your dream bubbles with my over-sized butterfly nets, but most of the time, my fishing twine is not strong enough to patch up the many jagged holes from the vampire like butterflies indigenous only on the island nation of Madagascar. They each hang sharp fangs, with seven tiny claws which dig into your flesh, and induce sickening chill like waves of throbbing despair throughout your blood system. These fuckers are dangerous for sure, but not as dangerous as some of your dream bubbles, which at first appear silky and smooth to the eye and touch, just like those soap bubbles amusing a crowd of beleaguered Hungarian tourists in Central Park, but at closer inspection, the dream bubbles are not as fragile as I anticipated. The outer edges as strong as titanium, the insides as clear and precise as pearls on the necklace of an Upper East Side debutante.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

What a Long Strange Trip it's Been...

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