new writing in long forma proper archive for this site

dear brainfixer,
here's a new drinking game you can play when you're watching a Kevin Smith film. (conveniently, it works with any of his films.) any time you catch yourself saying, out loud, "you are fucking idiot!", while looking at the screen, you have to do a shot. and, if you find yourself so incensed by how much of a self-congratulating, visually impaired director Mr. Smith is that you actually destroy something valuable in your apartment with your own two hands just to distract you from your laser-focused homocidal rage, you have to chug a whole beer. even if you have a high tolerance to alcohol, you should be pretty drunk by the second reel.

dear brainfixer,
today i pulled in what could prove to be an amazing haul. i walked by a used record shop in the west village that i've passed thousands of times before. today, however, something compelled me to double back and visit. soon i was dancing fast fingers over racks of used rock, soul, hip-hop and, because i can't help myself, old comedy records.

in the past i've had good luck at record stores and then i've had supernaturally good luck. once, at a church flea market in cold spring, new york, i found every single led zeppelin album on vinyl, one after the other - including, in most cases, beautiful cocaine-ready gatefold jacket design. (i am pretty sure they'd all been exorcised first) then, moments later, i found good high by the disco outfit, Brick. i know a lot more about the album now than i did back then, but at the time i felt i knew everything i needed to know: this album had one of the best jacket designs i'd ever seen. on the front, a grinning, blunt-chomping mack in a white suit and matching panama hat, clutching a "one kilo" hash brick wrapped like a delicious chocolate bar. better still: on the back, the other members of Brick staring up from the bottom of the jacket in wonder and delight as a pair of white platform shoes rises up and off frame at the top of the jacket. how good is that good high? that good.

i really do believe you can judge a good record by its cover. while i've often been pleasantly surprised by the album material nestled within lousy cover art (Teenage Fanclub's bandwagonesque and The Archer of Loaf's icky mettle immediately come to mind) i've never once purchased a record with amazing album art and found its contents disappointing. surprising, but it never happens.

like i said, some days things are supernaturally good but today was insane. it was prescription-strength, state-becomes-your-ward insane. just good find after good find. first came The Pandoras' "it's about time". the album was produced by Greg Shaw (Stooges, Dead Boys, Flamin' Groovies) and is essentially 60s garage rock channeled through the spirits of four unattractive women living and rocking in 1984. the back of the album features a lengthy love letter penned by someone claming to be "Cousin Dickie", and begins with this advice to all teenagers:

So you're standing in your local record shop searching for the perfect album to spend your allowance on. Look no further, friend, this new record by the Pandoras is IT!

in case you're wondering, it is it. well, not quite IT, but something special nonetheless. and again, in case you're wondering, Casey is the band's quiet and mysterious drummer. (so says the liner notes. actually, most female drummers are billed as "quiet and mysterious", which is generally a polite way of saying "obese and surly".)

but the Pandoras merely scratch the surface of this wonderful cache. add to that find Richard Pryor's that nigger's crazy; a pristine copy of a recent pop cultural fixation - "the superbowl shuffle", as performed by the Chicago Bears Shufflin' Crew, on a great K-Tel hip-hop collection; an old redd foxx album; a novelty single called "preppy rap", recorded in 1981; and, maybe the best, most subtextually loaded album cover i've ever laid eyes upon: Richard and Willie's "low down and dirty." i feel blessed today, which means i'll probably puncture my liver tomorrow.

dear brainfixer,
a few years ago i saw a pretty exciting documentary about turntablism (and, more specifically, competitive turntablism) titled Battle Sounds. it covered the history of the hip-hop dj and included a lot of footage from past DMC championships, along with semi-instructional testimonies from various battle djs. the movie toured for a bit with the promise of future theatrical release but that promise was never fulfilled.

now, perhaps three or four years later (can't remember back that far), comes Scratch, another documentary film on the same subject. it opened in new york last week and is gradually rolling out across major cities over the next couple of weeks. when i first sat down to watch this movie i was a bit skeptical, especially after seeing some interview footage that was almost identical to clips i'd already enjoyed in Battle Sounds. i got over that feeling soon enough as Scratch surpassed Battle Sounds in scope, depth, and direction. easily the best film i've seen in about a year, Scratch is an insider's and outsider's film at once. the experts being interviewed here serve double-function as great characters. it gets location right. it gets emotion right. it gets history right. even if you find hip-hop grating, the interviews are completely rewarding. and even if you don't care about the subjects of the interviews, the footage of the musical equipment trade show (with the acoustic guitar salesman claming that when there's no more electricity, all DJs will be out of a job and all that will be left to play are acoustic guitars) is reason enough to attend.

ok, all that selling makes me sleepy.

dear brainfixer,
i did something very out of character today: i passed judgment on a homeless man. i regularly pass judgment on every other type of person, including myself, but this was different. i don't see the point in passing judgment on the homeless since, at least at that moment, they don't have an enormous amount of power to change. it's like passing judgment on a baby (i've done that) or someone with a serious illness. (done that, too, now that i think of it.)

i spied him sitting on a milk crate outside a bodega, and i was reaching into my pocket for change. with the change gripped between my fingers, and my hand still in my pocket, i froze, then with drew an empty hand and passed him by. why? to begin with, he was wearing brand new 23 JumpMan Nike sneakers. that seemed so insulting, especially since my sneakers were 10 year-old kangaroos. (which reminds me - i probably have some extra change in one of my sneaker pockets. someone just earned himself a jolly rancher fire stix.) still, even with a pair of brand new sneakers, my imagination is powerful enough to explain it away with sufficient tragedy. harder to explain was the beautiful silk top hat perched on his head and the Bentley parked behind on him with a bumper sticker that read, "my other car is a beat-up shopping cart filled with blankets and broken televisions."

dear brainfixer,
if i believed, i mean truly believed, life were as rich with metaphor and symbolism as books or movies or delicious sandwiches, then i wonder how i would have reacted to the "i" key breaking off my keyboard, as it did today?

dear brainfixer,
finally finished my cd for SQUAT. now i've got a lot of grunt work left to do. listening to a test copy (and then again, later, to an altered final copy) i realized immediately that i broke a couple of cardinal rules in the kingdom of putting together a cool collection of music. strange, though - those violations are my favorite moments on the cd and i suspect the recipients of this disc will (consciously or not) share the sentiment.

as my birthday creeps under the 24-hour mark, my body is reminding me that i will surely be dead soon. a number of unusually symptoms have presented themselves aggressively in the last few days. first, there's this strange sharpness in my chest. it's not a tightness, but a physical scraping every time i swallow anything, including water or jellybean juice. i've had it for about a week now and i originally suspected the pain originated from an unfortunate vitamin incident. i took one late at night last saturday (just as i do every night) and didn't really chase it with enough water. as a result, i think it scraped my esophagus. this is only a theory, and probably a bad one but it's all i've got for the moment.

add to the chest scraping a complete loss of muscle mass. this confounds me, actually. the little bit of muscle i worked under my skin over the last year has suddenly disappeared completely, leaving me with soft, rubbery limbs that ache terribly when i pin them beneath my sleeping head.

this morning i awoke with a brand new feeling: exaggerated sensitivity to light. am i turning into something? at least all of this has made me realize what i really want for my birthday. i just added "blood transfusion" to my amazon wish list.

dear brainfixer,
today's discoveries:

wearing a gigantic belt buckle with an image of a champion riding bull named "Royal Pain" engraved into its face does certain things to a man's walk. i could be proven awfully wrong, but i felt like that belt buckle alone changed certain questions regarding my sexuality. it was like i went from "is he?" to "he isn't, is he?" with the addition of the belt buckle. now that i'm alone in my apartment, without the belt, without the boots, without the bolo tie and blazer and FDNY baseball cap, the question has changed once more, to "does he really sleep with a stuffed panda?"

discovery the second: sisqo's line of apparel, Dragon Clothing, is probably pretty inexpensive by now. i can finally take that red leather jumpsuit off lay-away.

dear brainfixer,
while i attended the new pornographers show in greenpoint, brooklyn last night, many things happened. first, a child was born. this did not happen at the show, but statistically, it surely happened somewhere. also, a woman was being beaten by her spouse and a child was contracting lupus from an unclean wiffle ball bat. a gun was misfired, a korean war veteran complained about the price of a hand job, and someone picked up a two-pack of pink Hostess Snowballs, only to return it to the shelf a quick moment later when a lone Choc-o-Dile was discovered, hidden away behind a blueberry TableTalk fruit pie. (later that evening, an obese child who had run home almost 1/2 a mile to scrape together the remaining 15 cents required to purchase the very same Choc-o-Dile he himself had secreted away, would discover that he'd arrived too late and an important lesson would be learned quite unintentionally: in the future, shoplift. in six years that child will be caught stealing a three-pack of multi-colored Gold Coin condoms from a neighborhood Walgreens and, though the authorities will ultimately not be called despite several serious-sounding threats from the day manager, the now-teenaged boy will publicly vow to never steal again, and silently mean it. upon retelling that frightful story, many times over, he will always leave out this small but significant detail: when he felt the warm hand of the walgreen's plainclothes security bearing down hard on his shoulder, he involuntarily shook a few drops of urine free.)

some nice things happened at the show as well. the band was in great spirits, and the audience followed suit. new pornographers even invited the fans onstage for free dancing during their last few songs, although they disclaimed the offer by announcing "no guys acting like assholes" would be welcomed onstage. i wasn't sure how to judge whether guys were indeed behaving like assholes (and sort of suspected the announcement really meant, "hot girls only, please.") and, while i was pretty sure there was one obvious male asshole onstage during "letter from an occupant," the band didn't seem to notice or care or share my judgment. and that was fine by me.

the other thing that happened, right then and there, was this: i became a willing prisoner of maria muldaur's disco creeper, "midnight at the oasis." i think that's my new favorite song. it was so thoroughly caught between the folds of my brain that i actually did the unthinkable: i purchased one of those awful "super hits of the 70s" collections. i think it was volume 374 or something, and contained other monster hits like "the streak" and "the theme from the rockford files". i generally avoid those compilations because they manage to take an assortment of songs, some good and some not as good, and make them all sound entirely bad just by bland association. (those collections belong on jukeboxes but certainly not on home stereos) but, even though it caused me to disregard my own beliefs, i had to have it anyway so i could spread the disease of miss muldaur through my new CD exchange club. sorry, suckers - but you're about to eat some silky disco.

dear brainfixer,
i was at a bar called the blarney stone the other night, enjoying an ice cold budweiser beer. the blarney stone, located near ny city's historic penn station, is a great irish pub serving many of new york's alcoholic, homeless black men.

i started drawing my surroundings in a pocket sketch book i carry at all times, rendering the bar bit by bit - a coaster, a bottle, a nipple glass. when i came to a stopping point i decided it might be interesting to flip through through the sketchbook and see what i've been up to for the last few months. i immediately noticed a pattern: i draw a lot of bottles. J&B, bud, cutty sark. on nearly every page in this book there was a shaky illustration of some kind of liquor bottle or another. what was it with me and these bottles? i decided either i spend too much time drinking alone or not enough time blowing glass.

dear brainfixer,
apologies for another plug. i just shot a short (very short) video that will be appearing in a show called "THE NOMINEE AWARDS" in manhattan next week, february 21st. the show is basically an ersatz academy awards ceremony for achievement in short film. should be fun.

you can swipe a copy of the invitation, with all the show details, here. i'll try to remember to post something else about the show as time creeps toward it. i am also considering posting a director's cut of my piece when i've completed editing it.

this was the first time i've ever really written and directed a short (thankfully, a friend shot it) and in just this single experience i've learned a lot about filmmaking.

  1. it is very difficult to execute a crane shot without a crane. or a camera.
  2. not every actor will drink urine on-camera, even if they drink it pretty regularly off-camera
  3. most actors are spoiled cunts
  4. burning hair smells awful. crack a window!
  5. pasolini. antonioni. altman. scorcese. bergman - all hacks. altman's Popeye film was a rare, genius fluke.
  6. remember that cool, liquid-metal terminator in T2? i'm still not certain how they created that effect but i do know this: it wasn't by making the actor drink mercury. lesson learned.

it's like alexis massie always says - "that's show business, baby."

dear brainfixer,
it's nice to use this area as promotional space occasionally. this is one of those occasions.

i would urge all new york-based readers to attend one of the following performances of a show written by and starring a very good, extremely talented friend of mine. (the show was built for laughs, by the way. it deals with the following subject matter: british people, new age funerals, rodeo clowns, the traveling wilburys, steve perry of journey, sequins) the information is as follows:

Saturday, February 16th at 1:30pm
(pre brunch show, good for TV writers)
Monday, February 18th at 7:30pm
(paired with Shotgun Wedding)
at the Actor's Playground
412 8th Avenue (between 30th & 31st streets)
Reservations: 212-592-9029 Tickets: $10

and here is the show's press release-style description:

Allison Castillo woke up one day to find the life she dreamt of was nowhere to be found. Where did it go? Who took it from her? Joined once again by director Sean Conroy, Allison discusses family, love and death.

as alexis massie is wont to say, "how can you resist?"

dear brainfixer,
here is my gift to you: a longer piece of text i've named "Accountants" is now available in new words. if you read it slowly, the time it will take you to enjoy this piece will mean three full games of Farkle you won't have to play today.

dear brainfixer,
even though i'm still a little mad at him for drowning my baby, i must admit that julius sharpe has a nice wit about him. i mean, honestly, he talked me into letting him borrow my baby to test his hand-made, miniature submarine. and, even more recently, he talked me into laughing at this.

dear brainfixer,
in case you were wondering, the Breeders are still an excellent band. the lineup has changed significantly, but the core sisters remain. it was strange, leaning against the wall of the club, feeling jealous of the bass player because he had the privilege of fingering that amazing bass break from "cannonball", and realizing that it had been almost 13 years since i'd last seen kim deal perform. 13 years! that's a lot of living in between, if you measure my life in rock units.

what impressed me most about the band was how happy they seemed to be. poorly dressed and happy. goofing around between songs and, occasionally, during them.

what impressed me least about the show was how old i am, and how old everyone was around me. i was within poking distance of at least a dozen sagging male bellies, resting contentedly beneath age-softened WFMU t-shirts. where were the Le Tigre fans? the Donnas fans? why weren't those young, cute lesbians paying their respects?

dear brainfixer,
you know how, as your life goes through changes, the music that nourishes it changes as well? i felt like, in college, when i was completely disconnected from everyone around me - my friends, my professors, my marijuana delivery service - i could still lock myself in my dorm room, turn off all the lights except for my lava lamp, crawl up into my loft bed, and listen to the one person who understood me unconditionally: Chunky A.

lately, i feel a bit lost musically. nothing seems to fit anymore. i can't tell if i've grown restless or music has become a less effective means of expression, but my need for music slips all over the place now - it's like trying trying to claw at icebergs.

some days, when i'm retiring on one of my dozens of moroccan throw pillows, stuck in a fog of clove cigarette smoke and white linen perfume (peeled off some middle-aged country club divorcee) there is nothing that can pull me out except for Fred Blassie's "Pencil Neck Geek". (or maybe a fudgesicle) but there are other times when Fred Blassie's ordinarily penetrating sonic assault just glances off me, like it was nothing, and only the soft coos of the Chock Full O'Nuts coffee jingle or the depressed sigh of a chubby ten year-old accidentally peeing on himself after zipping up his pants, thinking he was finished, can get under my skin. why did i have to be such a complex adult? WHY?

dear brainfixer,
i'm an activist! today bob and david (of mr. show) posted a sad, desperate letter on their web site regarding the possibly infinitely delayed release of their first major motion picture collaboration, Run Ronnie Run!.

the letter includes the email addresses of semi-instrumental New Line Cinema executives to whom you can plead the case for this film. i feel nerdy caring so much but i really want to see this film and i hate when companies get cold feet. especially when those same companies have no problem releasing poo like Jason X.

anyway, here is a copy of the letter i sent out. i urge you to do a bit of the same, if you've time:

To Whom It May Concern:

i'm sure you're getting a ton of email regarding the uncertain release of the mr. show film, Run Ronnie Run. well, here is another.

i would very much like to see this film get released, and not just for my own selfish reasons. it would be genuinely refreshing to see a movie like this which, from everything i've read about it, was the product of a great deal of work and love from the individuals involved. and if you think bob and david can't sell tickets based on their personalities, think about the people who can: the dozens of cameos in this movie by well-loved and well-known faces in mainstream comedy. ben stiller. jon stewart. andy richter. more. all people with their faces in the media regularly. all people with careers and talk show appearances and fans who are intensely loyal and not small in number.

so fuck bob and david. they'll probably be heroin addicts or, worse still, celebrity judges on "battlebots" in two years, whether this film is released and does well or not. think of all the other people involved. the people who can help this movie. this small movie. this tiny risk. this "not a $300 million gamble on the guy who made that movie with all the kiwi puppets fucking each other and eating their own poop".

and think of the movie-goers who can't laugh at cynical crap like JOE DIRT when there's nothing to believe in, but would be happy to laugh at anarchic crap with real, funny, genuine (if insensitive) characters. and while you're at it, think about how much LITTLE NICKY stank up the box office, and how much less risky this film would be. you are at a crossroads, new line cinema. no one remembers your tiny failures but everyone remembers your underdog successes. what have you got to lose, really?

.todd levin

dear brainfixer,
ladies, ladies. i'm sorry. i DO NOT have time to look at all of your web cams, though i do appreciate the emails. please try to understand - i'm only one man.

dear brainfixer,
"You're lookin' at the Fridge,
I'm the rookie.
I may be large, but I'm no dumb cookie.
You've seen me hit, you've seen me run,
When I kick and pass, we'll have more fun.
I can dance, you will see
The others, they all learn from me.
I don't come here lookin' for trouble,
I just came here to do
The Super Bowl Shuffle."

sometimes providing a context only cheapens the moment.

dear brainfixer,
today i received an interesting invitation via my contact page. it was from a legitimate email address - not TONYA9872383356! at or anything - and the subject line read: "studying here". here's the rest:

"come here now, study the holy writ and become anew. you'll stay with us just outside the capitol. huge home - we are most of every week abroad. please think it over and get back to us."

(i actually added all the punctuation. apparently, the note was written in a feverish hand and there was no time to separate thoughts.)

here's what i'm thinking: why me? why seek me out? how did he know i needed to become anew? who told him? i wish i never gave my parents that computer. maybe he's right about everything. maybe i do need some writ, and stat.

but here's what i'm really thinking: D.C. party house!! keggers every weekend!!! girls, karate, motorcycles, and fire-eating. and if it means a little bit of holy writ before bedtime, fuck it. i'll be so high on pabst blue ribbon and glue that i won't know apostles from a popsicle.

dear brainfixer,
i'm sure the question many people have been asking since last night's super bowl (wasn't it super??) is this: when U2 performed and the black tower of names rose from the stage, bearing the names of all those killed on september 11th, was it respectful or disrespectful to have it drop from the sky at the end of the song, crumbling to the ground not unlike world trade center towers 1 and 2? i mean, what's the significance of seeing those names rise and fall like that? is it a painful recreation of the tragedy or a fitting elegy? (i guess, if you consider the effigies of christ on the cross you might be inclined to think it's the latter) i'm still not sure, though i found the whole thing completely disturbing.

even more disturbing, perhaps, was watching an aging, sweating bono run feverish laps around that tower of names while fans threw glow sticks at him. dude, lay off the Quizno's.

dear brainfixer,
halfway through vomiting last night - a result of a sudden flu or possibly tainted oxtail soup - i realized i hadn't really thrown up since college. it made me feel somewhat nostalgic, actually. then i threw up some more.


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2001 todd levin