25 June 2016

HONEYHONEY Summer 2016 Tour

HONEYHONEY Summer 2016
Friday, 24 June 2016
Haymarket Whiskey Bar | Louisville, KY

I'd been waiting years to finally get enough stars to align that I could go see HONEYHONEY when at last that came together two years ago. I'd gotten there early enough to actually observe their three-song soundcheck, with only about seven or eight other people even in the place at that time. Even without any intentional showmanship, they were terrific. It's always hard to guess from studio records how anyone will sound live, and I was thrilled that HONEYHONEY may actually be better live than on record.

Thanks to Crohn's, I haven't gotten to many shows over the last several years, but even with whole years of not seeing one at all, I managed to reach a milestone last night. According to setlist.fm, this was my 100th concert! By happenstance, one of my friends who came along was also there when I attended my first (Garth Brooks, 20 May 1998 at Freedom Hall in Louisville).

The duo of Suzanne Santo and Ben Jaffe (along with drummer Conor Meehan) blended songs from their first three albums, First Rodeo; Billy Jack; and 3, along with a cover of "Lake of Fire" by Meat Puppets, and Jaffe took lead on "A Satisfied Mind". I first heard that song on the album Country Music by Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, and then Johnny Cash's version in the movie Kill Bill Vol. 2. Jaffe's arrangement was distinctive from either of those, a demonstration of the understanding of the difference between interpretation rather than imitation that has been central to the band's musical identity.

As I said, this was my second show of theirs and I'm now 0-2 on getting to hear "Thursday Night". Maybe next time? I was surprised when the 17-song set was over that "Little Toy Gun" wasn't in the mix. Since that last show, of course, they released their third album, 3, which I loved. I meant to bring along my vinyl jacket to have them sign, but forgot. Maybe next time? Two years ago, they played a few of the songs that made it onto 3, but it was nice to hear more of them performed live. There's something wondrous about watching musicians navigate the demands of playing as they intend, coaxing out of their instruments the notes that they've crafted, while also finding and exploring the emotional honesty of the song as well as engaging the audience. When Suzanne Santo tears into her fiddle, as on "Big Man", there's almost a sense of her looking for something, and then she finds it and there's a distinctive shift in the energy of the entire show.

Ben Jaffe (left), Conor Meehan (middle), Suzanne Santo (right), buncha drunks (foreground). Photo by Ronnie Ashley.
Ultimately, it was Santo who made this 100th concert truly memorable for me.

I discovered from the website that the venue, Haymarket Whiskey Bar, featured some arcade games...AND SKEE BALL.


I prepared for the show by bringing along $10 in quarters. There are two lanes, in a section of the venue betwixt the bar and the music hall. My friends and I played several rounds, razzing one another mercilessly about our mediocrity. After the show had concluded, I still had some quarters remaining and wanted to play a few more games. Enter: Suzanne Santo, fresh from signing the last of any fan requests.

Photo by Ronnie Ashley.
It turns out that she was just as excited by the chance to play skee ball as we were, and enthusiastically joined us. It was a flurry of a conversation, so I can't say definitively who proposed it, but my perception is that she was the one who suggested we play doubles, one duo on each lane. She partnered with me. I'd like to say that we dominated because we're the best skee ball players in the world, but there's no photographic evidence to affirm such a claim.

Though it was great fun playing skee ball with her, that alone wasn't what made this such a perfect 100th concert experience. There's one little detail that will stand out to me more than anything else from this show, and that was the reaction that Suzanne had when she discovered that I was paying for the games with my own change. Her face reflexively went to that look of "I wish I'd known!" guilt that we make when we find out something that changes the context of what we'd done. She even said she felt bad that I was spending my own money for her to get to play and that she would go get quarters.

I assured her I'd brought the quarters for the very purpose of playing, and more importantly that I had loved the show. (Besides, I think I spent, like, $2.00, for the two games that both lanes played.) She accepted it when I outlined the reasons why it was okay for her to play without putting in her own quarters, but I will forever cherish that little moment of such consideration and sweetness. You can be trained in playing instruments, to cultivate a public persona, and a lot of other things. But thoughtfulness is either genuine or it doesn't exist, and that little moment was heartwarming and became my new #1 reason for being a fan.

honeyhoney Setlist Haymarket Whiskey Bar, Louisville, KY, USA 2016

19 June 2016

Gun Control Measures: An Open Letter

Tomorrow, the United States Senate will vote on two bills that seek to address some conspicuously gaping holes in our regulations of firearms. One would require universal background checks for all prospective buyers, and the other would revoke legal access to purchasing firearms from those already on the no-fly list. DailyKos.com is organizing an online petition, which you can sign through the form at the bottom of this post.

Being a Kentuckian, represented in the Senate by Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, I expect my efforts to be dismissed out of hand. But for whatever value it may have, here is the content of the letter that I composed to accompany my signature:

While I appreciate the significance of safeguarding our civil rights, I also appreciate that we've made reasonable compromises along the way. To wit, we already restrict minors and convicted felons from legally purchasing firearms. Surely, those on a terror watchlist have also raised enough suspicion that prudence would be served by restricting them as well, without sacrificing the spirit of the Second Amendment.

Additionally, I have diagnoses of major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder. I was hospitalized in September with suicidal depression. But because I admitted myself voluntarily, I can still legally purchase a gun. This greatly concerns me, as well as members of the Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance that I've come to know in Louisville.

We already have a voluntary "do not sell" list for people with gambling addictions. It seems to me that creating a voluntary "do not sell" list for people like me with mental illnesses who recognize that we ought not have access to firearms could join of our own volition (thereby sidestepping the controversial matter of governmental restrictions).

I expect to receive a generic "Thanks for contacting me concerning this issue, but I'm voting the other way" reply as I have to every other petition I've signed over the years. But it is my sincere hope that you will recognize the importance of taking measured, reasonable action in the face of such serious threats to our society.

To sign the petition and send a letter to your Senator, follow this link:

"Clean Room" #9 by Gail Simone

Clean Room #9, cover by Jenny Frison.
Clean Room #9
"Hell Above Us and Heaven Below"

Gail Simone - Writer
Jon Davis-Hunt - Artist
Quinton Winter - Colorist
Todd Klein - Letterer
Jenny Frison - Cover
Shelly Bond & Molly Mahan - Editors
Clean Room is created by Gail Simone
32 pages | $2.99 | Published 15 June 2016

After the intensity of issue #8, I knew only one thing for certain: I wanted to read issue #9 as soon as possible. I did buy it on Wednesday, but have been kept busy enough that I hadn't had time to sit down with it and accord it the attention it deserved until now.


We open on a striking full page overhead shot of Astrid Mueller under the knife, unattributed dialogue blurbs detailing her medical condition and the efforts being taken to save her life. There are also a few such blurbs in an entirely different font that must surely belong to an Entity taunting Astrid. The first reads, "Honk if you love the devil" and the last, "It's harvest time in the meat hospital." Lettering usually goes unacknowledged, but Todd Klein has certainly helped to define the voices of the characters in this book.

Of course, more than all that is the splash page image of Astrid's face being cut right down the middle, her entire head split down to her upper lip by the scalpel and her forehead falling to either side in limp masses. We see some of her hair and the flesh of her throat and shoulders, but the page is dominated by what I think is a detail of her insides being overtaken by toothy parasites. Microscopic Entities, perhaps? It's a surreal image, so it's hard to even guess how literal that visual is, but the gist seems clear enough: Astrid has some issues.

Amazingly, Jon Davis-Hunt and Quinton Winter actually managed to one-up that opening page later in this issue, on story page 13, another splash page set during a flashback of young Astrid discovering what I guess is the Entity's ship. I'm gonna be honest: the only thing in all of fiction that has staggered me like this in terms of scale and ominousness was Unicron in The Transformers: The Movie. This thing is eerie as hell, sort of a twisted amalgamation of Bowser's Airship and the Crystal Castle that She-Ra defends. One cannot miss the dominant color of this thing being Astrid's primary color, pink.

Otherwise, the story isn't quite as intense as the last one, though that's more because issue #8 was just that perfect than because of any flaws with issue #9. The showdown between Chloe and Killian in the Clean Room over the former having brought Spark with her felt a bit rote since it was pretty obvious that Spark would, in fact, act to save Astrid. Of course, the final two story pages certainly restored the unpredictable nature of this book and negated pretty much all of the compassion for Astrid that we've felt for the last month since watching her be shot. The last time I felt this invested in -- and conflicted by -- a character in any medium, it was J.R. Ewing.

Speaking of shady Texans, we also meet a pair of "Christians" in Austin who clearly have designs on poaching Astrid's followers. My early guess is that we'll find they, too, know about the Entities (I don't think it's a coincidence that Chloe describes how the Entities have been perceived as demons over the years and been exorcised at times), though whether they're in league with at least some faction of the Entities is up in the air. As I've said often, it's hard to guess along with Gail Simone!

One last thing: I think this cover is my favorite of all nine so far by Jenny Frison. I really dig her covers for issues #5 and #7, but there's something about the dark shading here that makes this one more striking than it would have been had it been lit with the same aesthetic as previous covers. In a different context, Astrid's facial expression could be read as coy and/or sensual. But in this dark light (and three hands at her throat), it's creepy as hell.