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Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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   how Curtis Mayfield died
Saturday, July 20 2002
This afternoon Gretchen returned home from a two week absence. She'd been off at a retreat for artists and writers in northern Vermont. During her absence I'd been covertly painting pictures of the keeyads, though some of these pictures had taken the form of post cards that I'd mailed to her.
I'd arranged the pictures throughout the house in such a way that she'd discover them one by one. The first (and she noticed it right away) was the postcard I'd made of Noah, which I'd placed conspicuously on the keyboard of her computer. The other two, larger paintings on wooden panels, she didn't notice until much later. I'd placed them in discrete nooks in the living room. When she saw these, she was speechless for something like fifteen minutes[REDACTED].

Three hand-painted acrylic postcards of the keeyads I painted during Gretchen's absence.
I mailed all but the last one (of Noah) to Gretchen in Vermont.

A large painting of Sally I made during Gretchen's absence. Click to enlarge.

A large painting of Edna I made during Gretchen's absence. Click to enlarge.

This evening Ray and Nancy took Gretchen out to some sort of dance performance as a belated birthday present (Gretchen's birthday is in January), while I biked over to the Prospect Park bandshell at 9th Street to see tonight's lineup in the ongoing festival known as Celebrate Brooklyn. Art Winer had told me that a band he likes called Lambchop was going to be playing and he and his friends would be setting up a picnic site near the soundboard.
I picked up a few supplies from a deli in Windsor Terrace and then sat eating my chicken nuggets underneath a tree near one of the entrances to the Celebrate Brooklyn bandshell. I couldn't figure it out; everyone who talks about Celebrate Brooklyn says it's free and yet everyone I saw entering it seemed to be paying money. Complicating matters was the nature of the bag inspections I saw being conducted. I understand that we automatically give up our Fourth Amendment rights whenever we do anything in the proper manner in this country (think trying out for cheerleading as opposed to cruising the motor mile), and for this reason alone I was tempted to jump the fence (as I did last week). But it seemed like too much of an bother in this case. As I continued eating my chicken nuggets, I saw a couple of guys in hemp leaf teeshirts accosting people asking them if they wanted to sign a petition to get medical marijuana placed on the ballot for November. When I saw them approach a couple of lumbering middle aged people dressed in bad shades of green I thought the marijuana people were wasting their time, but then when I next looked over the middle aged people were still listening and it seemed they were getting the point. It doesn't really take much argument to get most folks to agree that there's nothing wrong with terminal cancer patients sparking up a doobie every now and then. While it's no doubt true that countless thousands of children, yes children, are being introduced to druggie culture on the knees of their dying grandparents, it's certainly no greater of a burden to place on the youth than Social Security (and other schemes that rob from the young and give to the old).
In the end I just walked through the entrance. My bag was inspected, but it didn't contain any glass so I was good to go. As I'd seen a couple of other youngish men do, I completely ignored the people collecting money.
Without too much searching I found Art and his posse. They had a couple big trays of homemade fried chicken and big canister full of some sort of vodka drink. Conversation touched on the usual things: the pain and joy of unemployment and how fun it is to be a news junkie in these days of corporate shit hitting the fan. We also talked about the music as it happened. The first band up was a self-consciously geek nu country band act called the Mendoza Line (I wonder if this band had been errantly signed as a Latin act, a la Yo La Tengo). They weren't all that great, except Art really liked the pedal steel. He said he'd have to run out and buy one immediately, "...put it on the credit card." The F trained rumbled beneath us.
At some point before Lambchop took the stage, somebody in Art's posse mentioned that Curtis Mayfield had played at a Celebrate Brooklyn many years ago and had been hit by a lamp that had fallen from above the stage. The lamp reportedly broke Mayfield's back and left him paralyzed and he died a year or so later. That was the story, and it was enough of an indictment of Celebrate Brooklyn that, after the vodka ran out, Art joked that he wanted a beer and would go buy one, but that he didn't want to support the killers of Curtis Mayfield. [Later I did some research and learned something interesting about the nature of oral history. It turns out that Curtis Mayfield suffered a broken neck from a light tower that fell on him at Wingate Field in Brooklyn (not the Prospect Park Bandshell). He died nine years later, in 1999.]
Someone described Lambchop to me as being a hybrid between country and, well, industrial. To me they seemed like some sort of weirdly retro-medieval orchestra. There were about a dozen of them arranged evenly across the stage and nearly all of them were seated or else fixed in position. Even the singer guy was seated throughout the show, and sometimes he wasn't even playing an instrument. His voice was unusually rich with backwoods brambles and the stubbed toes of barefoot Appalachian adventures. I wouldn't say Lambchop's music was typical of the stuff I like, but it was, as Art pointed out, ideally suited to lying on one's back and staring up at the bats racing around amongst the wind-tossed boughs of the trees. I was looking at those boughs and thinking, "boughs like that have been blowing here for millions of years and would blow for millions more, and the odd blip of a bandshell, steel girders, and hundreds of clothed primates on picnic blankets were April snow in the face of that sort of solid worldly experience." Then the F train rumbled beneath us again.

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