The Coolest Bookstore on Earth?

(Photo Credit: Garry Knight via Flickr)

I remember growing up as kid near Camden Town in London. Once a grimy, hardscrabble warren of Victorian industrial canals in the Northern center of the city, it had evolved into a low rent artistic and musical neighborhood by the 1980s. Camden Lock Market grew from a run down antiques/junk sale alongside the old locks and horse stables into the massive Rock N Roll tourist trap you can find today. Still, a pretty damn cool place to check out if you’re ever in London.

What fascinated me then (and still do now), are the old canals that ran through the borough. Once hauling barges of goods up from the river Thames into inner areas of the city, the canals are worth exploring in their own right and certainly give you a very different perspective on a city that is rapidly gentrifying and losing a lot of that gloriously sooty character it had when I was growing up.

Even more interesting is that there have been, and still exist today, small communities of houseboat dwellers living on these canals. Being that the canals are so narrow, the boats tend to be, of course, quite narrow themselves, but often up to 50ft long.

Living without central heating, sewage lines, normal electricity hookups and disconnected from the hustle and bustle of a city hell bent on well, Money, being the denizen of one of these brightly painted canalboats must be like living in a different century. A squatter gypsy life on the water.

Although some of the first canals were constructed in the later 1700’s for industrial traffic, we can assume that many folks were already making their homes there, as many had always done on the waterways of Europe. Indeed, there are entire communities of people living in these boats throughout the canals of Britain, free from the landlubber tenant serfdom of the capitalist classes.

As trucks and road traffic eventually superseded waterways as the primary mode of commercial transportation by the 1960s, these longboat dwellers have been basically left to themselves to create alternative communities as they saw fit.

Then there’s these guys: Word on Water

These two highly educated fellows have been squatting on the back canals of London for decades, seemingly living on the edge. But it was with no small amount of perseverance and vision that led them to create what must possibly one of the coolest fucking bookstores on the planet. Even if it has to move every two weeks, keep strolling down the Regents Canal (connecting Little Venice and Camden Market) and you should be able to find it.

Started almost 10 years ago in the midst of large chain stores going out of business, the owners decided: ‘Well, if all the bookstores close, we’ll still be here.’ Their original incarnation then sank into the brackish waters of the canal when someone forgot to close a plug in a toilet below decks.

But neither Hell nor Highwater would keep the store’s owners: Paddy Screech and Jonathan Privett, from realizing their dream. Now a thriving fixture on the waterways, Word On Water even boasts a small stage on top where any passing musician can play an open mic set.

According to Paddy and Jonathan, they never have to worry about customers stealing from them: fans of the barge surreptitiously leave their own used books on shelves as donations to the stock. In a day and age where bookstores are becoming a thing of the past and humans are probably reading less and less anyway, isn’t it nice to see something that was never really intended to be make money being given so much support from total strangers?

Originally, the biggest perk from their endeavor was simply an “unlimited supply of books”, but with their newfound success, both owners have been able to take some small international vacations. And good on em’: sounds like they wholeheartedly deserve it.

For me, I could download as many books as I want on a Kindle, but where’s the fun in that? It’s not only reading a book that’s enjoyable. Simply the act of spending a free afternoon walking to a favorite bookstore and then whiling the hours away leafing through photography, art and history is enough to feel like it was an afternoon well spent.

A good used bookstore always draws me in, like a great cafe, to simply peruse, read, find a comfortable chair and explore the inner workings of an another human being’s imagination. There’s no rush to buy something or move on- in fact you never have to feel pressured to buy anything at all. A good bookstore is there simply to be present in; a welcoming space…

I can honestly spend hours in a good one and I hope to find Word On Water berthed somewhere on the London canals next time I visit.

What’s Your Vision of The Perfect Bookstore?

Creepy Hotels And Shoulder Tapping Ghosts…

(Photo Credit: Julie Jordan Scott via Flickr)

The wifey and I decided to do a spontaneous getaway the other weekend. We just had no idea what to do with our Saturday while it drizzled outside down, but neither did we want to stay at home doing nothing. We’d been to the off the beaten track town of Port Costa, CA before and the decrepit old Burlington Hotel had always intrigued us. So, what the heck- no time like the present, right?

Port Costa was once a prosperous ferry and industrial port along the Sacramento River, about an hour outside San Francisco. During the late 1800’s it was a thriving and somewhat lawless boomtown (like so many in the those days). But as railways and modern technology passed it by, Port Costa declined in importance, and its population soon began to dwindle, its businesses shuttered and its houses became abandoned.

By the 1970’s, the entire town was almost slated for demolition, but through it all the 1883-built Burlington Hotel held fast. Now it holds the distinction as the longest continuously operating hotel in California. Though it’s probably seen better days, when it was once probably a bordello of ill repute, the Burlington and Port Costa in general simply ooze dilapidated Victorian history.

In decades past, you could pay the bartender from the biker bar across the street to get a key when you wanted to crash out in one of its rooms. Ravers in the 90s were supposed to have used it for wild parties as well. A co-worker who grew up in nearby Martinez said that when he was in high school, the rumor was that the pioneering porno film, “Beyond The Green Door” was also filmed here. He and friends would walk along the railroad tracks at night to the Warehouse Saloon and drink underage. Maybe that’s where they formulated their fantastical stories, who knows?

In any case, me and the missus wanted to check this place out and stay the night (there’s also reportedly a ghost living here as well). The adventure was just too tempting to pass up. Even more fun, each its rather rough around the edges rooms is named after a different lady of the night who purportedly once worked there.

And if there is any hotel that’s potentially haunted, The Burlington is undoubtedly a prime candidate. With peeling damask wallpaper, dusty chandeliers, mirrors so old that the reflection is rusted black- this place is seriously creepy. The hotel is semi-maintained in a state of glorious decay, much like the haunted movie set you’ve always dreamed of visiting. If these walls could speak…

The Grand Staircase
The hallway to our room on the 3rd floor
Who the heck was this lady? I hope she didn’t die here…
Going back up to your room at night…

The biggest problem about this hotel is that, with the exception of I think only one room, the rest have only shared bathrooms down the hall. That means if you get up in the middle of the night, you have to walk down these darkened, decaying, musty halls and try to find the bathroom half blind. Rumor has it that the ghost who lives here likes to come up behind people at night and tap them on the shoulder. Not while I’m taking a leak please… Shudder.

However, if you an survive the night here (a few shots at the rowdy bar next door always help) the downstairs lobby has an adjoining cafe that serves freshly made biscuits, coffee and honey made by the owner. Not a bad way to start the day I must say.

So, if you crave a little adventure off the beaten track, don’t care about luxury 5-Star accommodations, and don’t mind the occasional ectoplasmic, free-floating entity watching you while you sleep, the Burlington Hotel will be right up your alley. Port Costa is a charming and run down kinda of place, with a few other funky antique stores and old houses to check out. So with it’s sordid, whiskey-fueled, counterculture history, I give it all the Bohemian stamp of approval.

Your Turn: What’s The Coolest Historical Hotel You’ve Ever Stayed In?

Time To Kill Your Smartphone?

I don’t know if you’ve been watching Black Mirror on Netflix lately, but this is one seriously twisted show. True mental scar tissue. Kind of like an homage to those old Twilight Zone, Tales From The Crypt and Alfred Hitchcock Presents series from the 60’s, but with a suitably modern twist.

More than anything, Black Mirror is a not so subtle critique of how modern technology and social media warp our lives in the worst of ways. The title itself, “Black Mirror”, describes the empty, nothingness of your computer or telephone screen when it’s powered down- only your darkened mirror face reflected back at you. A Doppelgänger from a cruel, alternate reality. 

I think it’s a timely and prescient show, considering how pretty much nobody ever looks up from their smartphones anymore. Texting on your phone seems to be the new smoking, though certainly a lot less obnoxious health wise. It seems to have replaced the stinky, smoldering cigarette as the item of choice for fidgety fingers with too much time on their hands. People texting in movie theaters, on dates, eating with their friends, walking down stairs, crossing the street in traffic, bicycling at night, even fucking driving.

Is it that people actually subconsciously want to die? Or maybe they imagine that looking at a little plastic telephone provides them with some sort of a invisible, magic forcefield that protects them from that 5 ton Mack Truck bearing down on them in the crosswalk? Is the contents of a text your friend sent you worth your life?

More than anything, it seems people use their ever present telephone screen as a way to not have to be alone with the thoughts inside their heads. Heaven Forbid, we’d actually have to think or feel something throughout our day. What are we afraid of? Perhaps most people don’t like the thoughts inside their head anyway…

In any case, one of the best episodes of Black Mirror so far, “Nosedive, takes an over the top, satirical look at social media, image and addiction. You always see people taking photos of their lunch, their coffee, posing for a selfie etc.

It’s somewhat disturbing to me how our own private lives start to become “doctored” in a way to present a false public facade in order gain points with people we don’t know. Everything starts to become a constructed facsimile life as filtered through our telephones.

Why in heck do we do this? Peer group approval probably. Does it really matter how many likes you have Instagram? Is “Unfollowing” someone the ultimate social bitchslap?

Nosedive depicts a world in which how many “likes” you have does actually determine your entire life. Everybody can rate each other like an Uber driver in every single social interaction they have (buying a coffee, bumping into someone on the street, friends you associate with etc).

Your entire access to things like jobs, apartments and dating website is exclusively dependent on your rating in social media. Therefore, the characters in this “Black Mirror” of our own reality are constantly scrutinizing every single interaction in order to improve their score from say, 4.2 Stars to 5 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

People in “Nosedive” are only “polite” to each other because of what they can personally gain from it. Much like little Alex in A Clockwork Orange, he’s only kind to people at the end because he’s forced to be (via drugs and brainwashing) not because that’s how he really is inside. Though who he really is inside is a violent monster…

The main character is so desperately fake and addicted to her social media profile it’s almost agonizing to watch- though probably no different than how many people live their lives today. Her perspective on life only changes when she meets up with a whiskey swilling, tough-ass lady trucker, who tells her that she “stopped giving a shit what others thought a long time ago”.

Of course, the main character’s life only spirals downhill from here, but at least she finds the confidence to start telling people what she really thinks of them before completely imploding. Like many, she only finds personal freedom when she stops caring about what others think of her.

So what the heck did people do with their free moments before smartphones came along anyway? I keep asking myself that question as to what did I do with my time before the internet. I guess reading books, learning a musical instrument and making eye contact with your fellow human being proved too daunting a task for many.

Better to put some mini-headphones in your ears and just zone out. The clear blue sky above you wasn’t ever very inspirational anyway.

Though I’m not too familiar with Moby’s music, I think this animated video sums up a lot of feelings towards modern life, smartphones and social behavior nowadays. I love how it’s animated like an old 1920’s Felix The Cat style cartoon, freakin’ awesome:

Is it possible to take a step back from smartphone addiction? Where are we headed as a society if this is our future? Do we withdraw even further into our little plastic telephones as a way to disconnect from our fellow humans?

Has Consumerism Gone Too Far?

As I think back on the past week and the holiday season in general, I like to reflect on what the heck I’m thankful for. I remember sitting at the dinner table and saying that I was grateful for the big ass plate of food spread out before me like a cornucopia of gluttonous delight- not in those exact words though.

Anyway, I thought the whole point of Thanksgiving is to stuff your stomach until it hurts like fuck, then conveniently pass out in front of the game while the womenfolk clean up back in the kitchen (just kidding Mom).

Some people in the world don’t even have anything to eat, nor a roof over their heads since a smart bomb blew it off. Other folks sleep rough on the streets this winter etc etc. It’s really not very hard to think about someone else who is more unfortunate than you. So yes, I try to be grateful and humbled by my very privileged life.

Then I think about the next day after Thanksgiving: Black Friday. Only in America could we come up with this kind of ridiculousness… Good Times:

This looks like my idea of hell actually: I have some ugly crowd phobia, so watching these videos of swarms of people pushing, fighting and clambering over each other en masse really makes my gut churn. Sadly now, this grand American tradition is quickly spreading across the world to wherever shopping malls are to be found. Its like “We Are The World” in reverse!

I really feel for these poor Walmart crew members and security guards. Working on Thanksgiving evening/early morning for minimum wage, having to potentially pepperspray, restrain or taser these aggressive mobs of unwashed cretins trampling their fellow humans for an automated popcorn maker.

As society gets poorer and people become more economically anxious, perhaps we will see more and more of this dog-eat-dog behavior. People instinctively need to grab anything they can, even if they don’t really want it. It’s like survival mode in high gear all the time. A Zero Sum Game of whatever the other guy has means that he’s now depriving me of it- thus I am losing the fight to the bottom of the garbage pile.

Still though: are really that poor? You see riots like this in Somalia over, you know, a sack of flour. Why? Because they’re actually starving. Most people in these videos are pudgy, clothed, literate, probably drove to the Walmart in a comfortable car and have an average life expectancy of 75. Why are they behaving as if they are starving?

And don’t they already own these things they are fighting over? They probably already have a flat screen or a microwave- they just feel entitled to punch a stranger in the face because they want the newer version of said flatscreen or microwave.

Then there’s just plain old, run of the mill, mob mentality: Human beings- just one chromosome removed from screeching chimpanzees with crusty backsides- seem to have an innate desire to ape whatever the other primate is doing at any one time. One person starts pushing and trampling, so the others do it as well. The guy next to me is running for no apparent reason- I think I’ll start running too! Why do they do it? Because, well, monkey see, monkey do…

Personally, I prefer a good book…

A fat, prosperous society is usually a contented and non-competitive one. If we all feel like we are fighting with the other chickens for just a few measly grains of corn, then our aggressive instincts will certainly kick in against our perceived competitors.

It’s like those drivers on the freeway who feel the need to suddenly cut you off with 1 foot to spare simply so they can grab that small stretch of asphalt in front of you. They don’t actually need it, but they’ll snatch it simply because they can- even if they have to get someone else killed in the process (or themselves).

Ultimately, this is what capitalism wants: suburban soccer moms brainwashed into beating the bejesus out of each other over cheap crap made by underage slaves in China.

To be fair, I’m actually not anti-capitalist per se. Just as Winston Churchill once said about Democracy: “the worst form of government, except for all the others”, I’m not seeing a successful alternative to capitalism that hasn’t resulted in death camps and mass starvation. Industrial Capitalism has undeniably raised human living standards, propelled technological innovation, and advanced human progress unlike anything we’ve ever seen in 10,000 years of history.

But guess what? The goal of America is not to make everything cheap. I don’t see the point in making consumer items that are intentionally fabricated to break after a few years, thereby inducing you to buy a replacement, all the while simultaneously instilling an atmosphere of selfish, competitive violence in the populace around aforementioned unnecessary items. The effects on the environment, society and the waste of dwindling resources cannot be understated.

As for me, I spent my Black Friday napping under a cozy blanket, eating leftovers and watching movies on my ancient 4 year old flatscreen. Good enough for me.

How Do You Plan To Spend Your Holidays? And Has Consumerism Gone Too Far?

Einstein’s Theory Of Happiness

So who would you nominate as one of the smartest people in history: Stephen Hawking? Marie Curie? Leonardo Da Vinci? Albert Einstein would probably pop up in most peoples minds as being the most important physicist of the 20th Century. Of course when you ask exactly what he’s famous for, we all might be a little more stumped.

Then we all think, “Eureka!” Einstein’s famous for the Theory of Relativity: E = mc²

Do I even understand this theory? Can I explain it to you? Nope. Nor am I even gonna try, although my high school science teacher made a pretty good stab at it back in the day. Truth be told, I never was a whiz at Science in school. I always preferred History, Music and Literature.

Why is it important? Something to do with the atom bomb I believe. When we’re one day flying around in dilithium crystal powered spaceships, landing on strange planets and sleeping with sexy, green skinned alien women- the human race will surely thank Albert Einstein.

Of course his absurd, unruly gray hair, mustache and droopy dog face are instantly recognizable. His rumpled tweed suits, eccentric mannerisms and slightly disconnected from reality gaze, fit well into the “nutty professor” stereotype. Supposedly, Einstein would often go walking into town wearing mismatched socks, or with one sock missing, as he shuffled along, mind lost in questions of cosmic importance. Having become a famous public figure, people would often try to stop him on the street and talk to him, to which he would reply, “Pardon me, sorry! Always I am mistaken for Professor Einstein.”

But as it turns out Einstein was also a pacifist, Civil Rights advocate and humanist thinker. Some of his quotes and philosophy on life are just as beautiful in their simplicity as his scientific theories. Not content with simply revolutionizing Quantum Mechanics, Einstein also came up with his lesser known “Theory Of Happiness”.

According to the recently published story, Einstein was staying at a hotel in Tokyo in 1922 where he had just learned via telegram delivery that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize. He wanted to tip the bellboy who had delivered the message, but had no change in his pocket. So, he quickly scribbled down a note in his native German and gave it to the bellboy. It read:

“A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness”

He gave it to the bellboy and told him that, if he was lucky, the note might just become more valuable than money. Turns out, the great-grandnephew of the original bellboy still had this handwritten note in his possession and, through an auction house, sold it for $1.56 Million in 2017!

So there you have it: the world’s smartest man, having just learned that he has won the Nobel Prize for Physics, reducing his life’s philosophy into one sentence. Einstein’s humble Theory Of Happiness. A life that embraces inner peace and rejects earthy, material success is of far more worth than that of the vainglorious, harried pursuit of celebrity and gold. Be satisfied with what you have. Turns out Einstein was a pretty smart guy after all…

What’s Your Theory Of Happiness? Is There A Philosophy Of Life That You Try To Follow?

Do Millennials Get A Bad Rap?

Its seems it’s impossible these days not to find another “Millennial Bashing” article in the media. Indeed, I just took a look at my local rag the other day, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the front page had this piece of hard hitting investigative journalism:

The cover photo feature 3 beautiful looking youngling’s with perfect smiles and miniature porkpie hats taking a selfie on a smartphone. And as we all know, Millennials do this, like OMG, every 5 minutes, right!?! Probing deeper into this potential Pulitzer Prize winner, we can find such young people panty-twisting strategies as:

  • Use Millennial slang terms incorrectly (“Savage”, “Woke” etc)
  • Tell Them That They Should Be Able To Buy a House
  • Tell Them That Avocado Toast Isn’t Anything New or Special
  • Tell Them Climate Change Is a Myth
  • Tell Them To Start Having Babies
  • Hate on Tattoos
  • Telling Them About What Industries They Are Ruining Because Of Their Spending Habits: (Diamonds, Vacation, Marriage, McDonalds McWrap and Golf, among others)

I mean, really: what did these poor kids do to deserve such asinine vitriol? They’re way too young to have really screwed things up… yet. At least give them until around 45-50 when their generation actually has Money and Power and starts moving into positions of influence.

If the worst thing they’re doing is eating avocado toast and posting a photograph of it on Instagram, I’ll give them a pass. Though admittedly, seeing people at restaurants taking photos of their food is a decidedly odd phenomenon…

I’m a bit too old to be a Millennial (Born 1980-2000), I guess that makes me a young Gen X’er- whatever that means at any rate. But I certainly hope it doesn’t box me into a one sided marketing bracket. I honestly feel really bad for these kids having to see stuff like this repeated ad nauseam by our mainstream media. At the bottom of it all, I think these attitudes just stem from jealousy and resentment.

People in their 40s and 50s who know that their best years of beauty, sexual opportunity and personal freedom are behind them, and whatever fashions, music and trends that were once cool when they were in high school are now passé. New slang has been invented that is incomprehensible to older people and cultural outsiders.

Music, well, we all know each generation invents a new genre whose sole appeal lies in its ability to make one’s parents yell: “Turn It Down! That’s not music- it’s just people screaming!” I’m seriously curious what the children of parents who grew up on Gangsta Rap will be listening to 15 years from now: Its gonna be REALLY OFFENSIVE.

Now Hipsters, I simply just don’t get: bikes with no brakes, $8 Coffee, skinny jeans, dorky glasses. But, hey I guess I’m not supposed to “get it”- maybe that’s because I’m over 35. Damn: time to get into bed at 10pm and put my dentures into a glass of water on my nightstand. In the end, I’m not gonna spend my days hating on younger people just because they’re into music, fashion and culture that are different from my own tastes.

Things change, society changes, we’re all going down the tubes anyway, so what difference does it make? I really hope the next counterculture that’s arising is more than just fashion though. In the grand tradition of their ancestors, today’s outliers should continue to challenge the status quo and celebrate the values of personal freedom, creativity and making the most of life.

So instead of raging on about what Millennials are doing wrong this week, lets take a look at what Millennials are actually doing right (and don’t worry, they still have their entire lives to completely screw things up). According to Pew Research, Millennials are:

  • The Most Educated Generation In American History
  • More Technologically Adept
  • Less Racist, Sexist and Homophobic Than Previous Generations
  • Support Legalization of Marijuana
  • Less Religious Than Their Parents
  • More Ethnically And Racially Diverse
  • Less Interested in Driving and Owning a Car

Though this is just my humble opinion, I do believe the younger generations also seem to be following the trend of creating greater independence and material simplicity in life. Perhaps this is the consequence of new technologies that allow us to work from wherever there is an internet connection and the ability to store a bookshelf’s worth of literature into a small electronic tablet. All of these inventions can do a wondrous job of freeing us from living a hoarding, fixed-location existence.

I see most young people in my neighborhood riding their bikes to work, buying organic vegetables and striving for a financially simpler existence. It’s easy to assume that they’re “above it all” or elitist, but I don’t think that’s the case at all. They’re just trying out a life that’s different from the one their parents lived- and power to them.

Maybe the Millennials will never be quite as sexy and obvious as their rebellious 1960’s forebears, but I think their Revolution will be a quiet one. A world that will be less filled with “things” and more filled with experiences, less prejudiced towards different cultures, and a smaller carbon footprint. Whether you like it or not, the young are the future: they have the energy, the optimism and the intelligence to get it done. If you can’t lend them a hand, get the fuck out of the way…

What do you think: Do Millennials deserve the scorn that’s so often heaped on them? What promise do they hold for the future?

Sharon Jones: F#%k The Naysayers!

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

That’s right: don’t listen to em! All the people who tell not to do what your heart tells you, what you really would like to do with yourself, who you would like to love, where you would like to live, whatever impractical dreams you scheme about in your head: they’re all wrong.

Don’t let the naysayers bring you down: its just the small, complacent inadequacies in their own heads that are threatened by your larger than life dreams. Some people’s light and energy is just too bright for the other gray, boring denizens of this world. It either burns their eyes, or they’re just too blind to see anything at all…

Take Miss Sharon Jones for instance. Told by many a music agent that she was “too short, too fat, too black and too old” to be a successful recording artist, Sharon Jones proved the petty doubters all wrong and had the last laugh in the end. She started her music career at 40(!), and throughout the course of 20 years of hard work achieved fame, toured the world and was even nominated for a Grammy.

Despite the odds stacked against her: her race, her non-Beyonce looks, her age, even her height, Sharon Jones just seemed to make it happen for herself anyway. And I don’t doubt for a New York second there wasn’t a lot of sweat, touring, travel, late nights, financial setbacks and uncomfortable accommodation in fleabag motels along the way. But the bad thoughts, the negativity, the mental blocks that tell us we’re no good, or that we can’t, well, just let Miss Jones show you how it’s done- despite even the worst of odds.

Born in Augusta, Georgia (coincidentally her idol James Brown’s childhood home), Jones grew up with a ingrained love of music. But by her teens, her mother packed up stakes and moved Jones and her siblings to New York to get away from an abusive marriage. There, Jones continued to sing in her local church choir alongside her sister.

By the time she became an adult in the 70s, Jones was performing in numerous funk bands, wedding gigs and serving as a backup singer in studio recording sessions. But a true breakthrough in the music business frustratingly eluded her. By her thirties, she had left the music dream behind and found herself working as an armoured car guard for Wells Fargo, as well as Corrections Officer at Rikers Island prison.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Now, I don’t know about you, but to be a guard at one of the toughest and largest holding units in the country is not a job for weaklings or the easily intimidated. Her band, The Dap-Kings, often introduced Sharon Jones onstage as “110 Pounds of Soul Excitement”. I’m 170 pounds and know damn well I wouldn’t last a fucking day in Rikers Island.

So we can safely assume, that this lady was tough as nails and didn’t back down from a fight. In fact, she purportedly made her first solo recordings in the studio still in uniform with her gun belt attached to her waist.

However, single by single, album by album, and tour by tour, Jones slowly persevered and started to make a name for herself as one the preeminent stars in a rising New York-based 60s Soul revival. Her incendiary live performances, kicking her high heels off and dancing barefoot onstage like a dervish, led some to dub her the “Female James Brown”.

But bad news would eventually strike, Sharon was diagnosed with Stage II Pancreatic cancer in 2013, leading her to take a year off of recording and touring. By 2015, the cancer was in remission and she was back performing again, but chemotherapy had left her completely bald. However, clearly not being one to let obstacles hold her back, she performed for her fans anyway. In her words“When I walk out [onstage], whatever pain is gone… You forget about everything. There is no cancer. There is no sickness. You’re just floating, looking in their faces and hearing them scream. That’s all that is to me.”

Sadly, Sharon’s indomitable spirit and boundless positivity, couldn’t defeat the illness that slowly ended her life in 2016 at the age of 60 (and I’m seriously disappointed I didn’t get to see her perform live). In a crummy year for great musical icons passing, she was perhaps a lot lesser known than Prince or David Bowie, but certainly had the most inspiring personal story.

Even though she died too young, and I think she hadn’t even reached the peak of possible success that she could have, Sharon Jones stands as a testament to someone who made IT happen. Those last 20 years of her life must have been the most satisfying as she went from an armed security guard who the music industry rejected to performing onstage for millions. Not too damn shabby if I may say so myself. So, if Sharon Jones can do it, maybe you can too.

What obstacles are holding you back? And after reading this brief biography: what’s your pity party, hard luck story?

Is The Age 27 Cursed?

(Photo Credit: MK Feeney via Flickr)

“The 27 Club”- we’ve all heard about it (or most of us have): the age so many talented young musicians seem to leave this world behind to go play in the Great Gig In The Sky. Let’s run down the list we have so far:

Robert Johnson (blues singer), Brian Jones (of the Rolling Stones), Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Ron “Pigpen” McKiernan (of The Grateful Dead), Jean-Michel Basquiat (NY graffitti artist), Kurt Kobain & Amy Winehouse.

All of these young folks, with the exception of Basquiat, were musicians, and all of them died, or at least were heavily involved in substance abuse. Is there a common link here uniting them all together? I can’t say. Maybe its all just one big coincidence.

Plenty of other famous musicians engaged in wild party lifestyles died at later or earlier ages in their for other reasons: Tupac Shakur (25), Charlie Parker (34), John Bonham (32), John Lennon (40)… among many others. Some nutcase artists and musicians, particularly from the Sixties and Seventies, are still somehow going strong (Keith Richards, Ozzy Osbourne).

Perhaps the 27 Club is just concocted by the media for sake of a good romanticized story, but this particular number is certainly odd after reoccurring so many times. Is 27 simply a stage in life where a lot of successful artists just can’t hack it anymore?

Maybe the year 30 was just bearing down on them is like a deadening Tsunami, ready to subsume their creative talents under a tidal wave of bland complacency and existential crisis. Doomed to play the revolving bar in adult diapers at the Circus Circus in Reno in their 50s… Perhaps bowing out with their reputation and youthful sexiness still intact probably seemed like the better option for these artists. Or, was the fame, booze, drugs and groupies just too much to handle for these sensitive artistic souls- leading them to medicate the pain with even greater intoxication, and ultimately: the final curtain call? 

The stereotypical reputation of musicians have always seemed to be one of a rather over-the-top, hedonistic bunch of characters. They don’t live by the same rules as the rest of us, and consequently have very different needs and personalities. They’ve often looked to mind-expanding drugs and pushing the limits of excess to inspire their art and expand the boundaries of their consciousness. Maybe that’s just the edge they need to create mind-blowing music for the rest of us.

(Photo Credit: Christine via Flickr)

In fact, a lot of great music out there was inspired by drugs and alcohol (along with heartbreak), and probably never would have been nearly as good had Miles Davis, The Beatles and Bob Marley all just sat around drinking soy milk and kale smoothies with their friends. They probably wouldn’t even be that good to listen to either (after downing a soy and kale smoothie, Bitches Brew just kinda sounds boring). Healthy livin’ just ain’t conducive to great Rock N’ Roll, dude.

However, according to an study covered in the UK’s Independent, most pop musicians seem to actually die at the more relatively advanced age of 56 (2.3%), while the age of 27 was only 1.3%. So, it would seem middle age and the all-you-can eat prime rib at the casino buffet prove to be a far deadlier combination than sex, drugs and rock n’ roll for many of our favorite artists.

But the article did go on to conclude that, “there was no peak in risk at 27 years, but observed a two- to three-fold increase in risk of death for British pop musicians with number-one albums between 20 to 39 years compared with the general UK population.”  Thank God for statisticians by the way. And chart topping British pop musicians: what the hell’s wrong with you?

Successful rappers, if they can manage to not get shot first, usually seem to be quite content smoking blunts and counting their money in a jacuzzi full of expensive French champagne, laughing quietly to themselves. Maybe growing up dirt poor in the projects make you appreciate your newfound creative success a lot more than mopey middle-class rock musicians from the suburbs. I know which attitude I would prefer frankly…

Honestly, I think the artists who’ve joined the 27 Club are linked through a) both an unlucky coincidence and b) were some of the most famous musicians of their day. So, it stands to reason that these tragedies would stick forever in our pop culture consciousness.

Jim Morrison’s Grave- Paris
What do you think: Does excess make for better music? Are musicians, by their very nature, just 100mph people unable to take life in the slow lane?

Are You Trapped On The Hedonic Treadmill?

The Chile Cheeseburger Will Grant Me The Body I Desire…

Do you ever find yourself wistfully fantasizing about some great event in your future, a life shaking change-up, a glamorous new material purchase guaranteed to make you happy (i.e. a sofa from Walmart)? I know I do. Especially old display sofas from Walmart that smell like must and beef soup. Somehow we think, after I obtain THIS thing, THEN I will be happy.

Don’t feel like superficial drone for entertaining these thoughts, I think they’re very human, and we’re all subject to them from time to time. The problem arises when we plan our lives around achieving these goals and they don’t make us any happier than we were before. A new relationship, promotion, marriage, moving to a new city etc, all can be wonderful milestones in your life, and do/can make you uplifted- at least temporarily.

Conversely, tragic events can harm our lives too. Break-ups, the death of a loved one, losing an arm wrestling contest to a 12-year old little girl. Yeah, life can kick you down in the dirt and rub siracha into your eyes from time to time. Usually, we pick ourselves back up again. Time heals all wounds, or so they say. The point is, no matter how bad it gets, nothing stays the same forever, and neither should our sadness.

Probably, most of us spend our days trying not to dwell on the negative, but on the rainbow tantalizing us just on the horizon. A leprechaun’s pot of gold awaits us if we only run or work hard enough. And for most of us, that pot of gold is not entirely unattainable- we usually don’t set goals for ourselves that we believe are unrealistic to our daily lives.

Enter the Hedonic Treadmill: essentially our baseline of happiness is relatively unaffected by events and things. Whether it be good or bad, the grand arch of your emotional well being is always gonna stay about the same. Particularly with regards to material goods, a new pair of $300 sneakers gives you a temporary high, but then our minds simply adapt to our new station in life and your momentary happiness drops back down to how it usually is. A raise at work simply raises our expectations and spending habits along with it, thus canceling out any benefits we might have gotten from that injection of income.

Like the proverbial carrot being dangled out in front of the cart-pulling donkey, we lurch forward, certain that true fulfillment is within our grasp. However, even after getting whatever we lusted for on the horizon, our “baseline” goes back to normal. Our minds, and often our culture, tells us we then need more, or something new, to recreate this high. Hence, the idea of a treadmill. But of course, this is all ultimately fleeting…

Luckily, when something bad happens to us, our emotional state should also “adapt” and eventually return back to normal. Here’s a handy dandy graph I made for y’all to illustrate my point:

So if attaining the goals or objects of our desire doesn’t make us any happier in the long term, what does? Are we just trapped forever in a hamster wheel with little to ever sate our appetites for more?

I like the documentary Happy. I’ve watched it more than once, and it really has great interviews with some of the world’s foremost researchers into the subject of human happiness. The film also introduces us to some people around the world, who for all intents and purposes should not be happy at all (poverty, physical injury etc), but are actually pretty darn positive about their lives.

There’s a lot going on in the film, but one of the key points it shows is a breakdown of the sources of human happiness and misery:

So at the very least, recognize that about 60% of how you feel most of the time is not your fault. For me, this is where Jack Daniels comes in handy. But for the rest of our our lives, around 40% is actually under our control. These are simply daily activities that we can all choose to engage in that don’t require mad amounts of money, travel, fancy clothes or social prestige.

According to the film, these are some key intentional activities we can try to incorporate into our lives:

Helping Out Your Fellow Human

We can just serve ourselves, or we can try and help others out. Bringing aid to someone less lucky than yourself can be highly rewarding. Sponge bath day at the local senior center is always looking for volunteers you know.

Flow

“Flow” seems to be about being in your zone. That can be anything from being engaged in your work, painting, cooking or tagging subway tunnels at 3am. Flow is individual to you, but you should have experienced it in your life. Whatever puts you in a different mindset and has you focused only in the moment- that’s something you want to cultivate.

Take Care Of Your Health

Eat your veggies, get enough sleep, don’t binge drink (except for Monday mornings) and get some exercise. I know this blog is supposed to be about being a free, hedonistic bohemian, but take it easy, cuz: you can’t go down to the shops and buy a new body now can you?

Be Appreciative

Try to focus on the moment and be grateful for what you have- rather than what you do not. There’s always someone who has less than you.

Try To Pick Yourself Back Up

Life gets us down, for sure. But no need to wallow in it…

Goals

Well, you can try to be the Kardashians, or you can get your head in the right place. Try to work on developing yourself and the relationships with those around you. Money, Power, Status: leave that crap for Russian Oligarchs.

Get Out in Nature

Me: I like eating, drinking and ordering things in restaurants. But supposedly simply the color green calms down our brains. So, try some camping or hiking, it is actually physically good for you.

Be Around Family and Friends

Many people have problematic relationships with their families, so for some, their friends are their family. But the point is, be around positive people you like who care about you.

Well, I’ll try and remember all this stuff. I don’t know about helping out my fellow man, as I’m kind of an introvert to begin with. But, I can do without chasing a Leprechaun’s pot o’ gold. Life is simply too short…

Are You Stuck On The Hedonic Treadmill? Is It Important To Be “Happy” In The First Place?

Let’s Make Absinthe!

Ah Absinthe, Le Fee Verte, “The Green Fairy”: liquid muse of poets, artists, writers and ear-cutting painters generally. The LSD of the 19th Century. Beloved by such luminaries as Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, Toulouse Lautrec and Vincent Van Gogh. An emerald liqueur steeped in mystery, prohibition, misunderstanding and condemnation.

So, what is Absinthe anyway? Where does it come from? What are its effects? Why was it banned for over 100 years? And will drinking it turn you into a raging homicidal maniac?

Well, here at Romantic Bohemian, I intend to educate you and dispel those myths once and for all. Sadly, by doing so perhaps some of the mystique and urban legend will be stripped from your consciousness forever, but I think it’s only right and just to lay down some boozy education where it’s most needed.

Lets start off with a little history: Absinthe is derived from the naturally growing Wormwood plant Artemisia absinthium. Historians have found evidence that the bitter tasting wormwood bush was used as a medicinal, alcohol-infused extract dating back to both ancient Egypt and Greece. It was not until 1792, that the first recipe of a distilled, wormwood based liqueur was invented by a Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Couvet, Switzerland. His version of absinthe contained the combination of wormwood, anise and fennel. Like so many herb based liqueurs of the day, Dr Pierre sold it as a curative tonic for a variety ailments.

By the early 1840’s, French colonial troops were being given Absinthe as a “malaria preventative” (not that it helped), and their thirst for the milky green beverage was brought back home with them to France. The drink grew in such popularity by the middle of the 19th Century that it was being produced on a mass industrial scale and became a fixture of the many bars, restaurants and cafes of sophisticated European capitals. Indeed, 5pm in Paris became known as the l’heure verte “the green hour” as both wealthy bourgeois and the common working people poured themselves a nip and unwound after a hard day’s work.

(Edgar Degar: The Absinthe Drinker [Public Domain])

So why did Absinthe get such a bad rap? A twofold confluence of events:

1. Let’s face it, alcohol safety production standards were not exactly regulated in those times. For the cheaper versions favored by the poor, Absinthe’s trademark green color was often achieved using, instead of natural herbs as was originally intended, dyes derived from rusted copper pipes or other dubious industrial chemicals. The alcohol level of Absinthe is also extremely high: 60-75%. Your average whiskey is around 40-45%, so this stuff packs a serious punch. So, if you’re the average slum dweller in rapidly industrializing Paris, a cheap bottle of Absinthe certainly gave you some bang for your buck, as well as a rapidly deteriorating liver.

2. The temperance movement was quickly gaining steam in many countries. Distilled spirits were replacing traditional beer and wine, often getting a bum rap around the world and being blamed for all the attendant violence, alcoholism and misery of the working classes. The French wine industry was also threatened by Absinthe’s incredible popularity, it was more than happy to jump on the anti-Absinthe bandwagon that was eating into its profits.

When a Swiss farmer, Jean Lanfray, murdered his wife and daughter in 1904, supposedly in a bout of “Absinthe Madness”, and despite the fact that Panfry had earlier that night drunk seven glasses of wine, six glasses of cognac, one coffee laced with brandy, two crème de menthes, before consuming the final 2 glasses of Absinthe, Absinthe was demonized as the culprit of his murderous behavior. It was just the excuse the temperance advocates needed to push the public into supporting an outright Absinthe ban. Belgium, Holland, the US and France soon followed suit in the next decade. The ban would remain in place for almost 100 years in these countries.

(Swiss Anti-Absinthe Propaganda Poster)

Most of the purported “hallucinogenic” and insanity inducing effects of Absinthe were attributed to the chemical Thujone, present in Wormwood. Yes, Thujone is a neurotoxin, and in large quantities, can be poisonous to the human body. However, lab tests of vintage, pre-ban Absinthes found only trace amounts of Thujone to be present. Seriously, you would have to drink multiple bottles of Absinthe at 70% alcohol to even start being effected by any sort of Thujone.

And guess what? Its little known fact that alcohol itself is a fucking poison!!! It’s going to kill you, or make you murder your wife and kids in a fit of anger, far faster than any sort of microscopic toxin present in a naturally growing herb macerated into a liqueur. Got it?

How is Absinthe made?

Well, this is where things get fun! A standard 19th Century Absinthe was made with the “Holy Trinity” of Wormwood, Green Anise and Fennel Seed. A few other herbs could be used as well, like Coriander. These were left to soak for a number of days in high proof, wine-based brandy and then distilled. The distillate, which is clear at this point, was then left to soak in a few more green colored herbs: Melissa, Hyssop and another variety of Wormwood known as Petit Absinthe. After a few days, the liquor would be dyed a chlorophyl green color and is ready to drink. When water or ice is added to the glass and the alcohol level drops below 40%, oils held in suspension in the Anise will turn the drink a cloudy, milky white Louche – an effect that can also be seen in French Pastis, Greek Ouzo and Turkish Raki.

So lets start with our recipe. This is my own, and it works well enough for me. I use Star Anise along with Green Anise seed, as honestly, Green Anise just didn’t give me the nice thick louche I’m looking for. I also add Angelica, a licorice-like root that was also traditionally used in some older recipes I’ve read.

3 Tbsp wormwood (I bought this from a local Hippie/Herbal store)
2 Tbsp star anise
2 Tbsp green anise seed
3 Tbsp fennel seed
1 tsp corriander
1 tsp angelica
750mls of high proof ethanol (i.e Everclear)

To color the Absinthe, we’ll use:

6 leaves fresh mint (I get some fresh from my garden)
1 tsp hyssop
1 tsp melissa
1 tsp wormwood

You’ll also need a couple large glass mason jars and a pretty bottle to put it in when finished.

Lets start off with getting a coffee grinder and finely grinding the first 8 ingredients.

Once finished, put all of these into your mason jar of ethanol. It will look like a cloudy, dirty soup, but smells divine. A lovely mixture of anise and other fragrant herbs. Leave this to marinate for a good couple days.

OK, now: let’s just say that I have a friend, who has a cousin, who knows this guy in New Zealand who has an alcohol still. This mysterious and unknown character was kind enough to distill my mason jar full of macerated herbs for me (its legal to home distill in New Zealand). Once done, it simply looks like a mason jar of clear white vodka, but still smells strongly of the anise and wormwood. If you drank this now, it might be what the Swiss would call “Blue” Absinthe- they would often distill it clandestinely and transport it across the French border uncolored to fool the customs officials. But let’s stick with the traditional method and perform the second step.

Separate about 30% of your clear liquor into a separate jar and now add the green coloring herbs (mint, hyssop, melissa & wormwood).

L: Undyed Absinthe R: Macerating Absinthe With Herbs

The reason for doing this is if you add all the herbs to the entire jar, your final absinthe will have an ugly, cloudy look to it- not what you want. While retaining the other clear jar, take the smaller jar of separate coloring herbs and either microwave it for a minute it to warm it up, let it sit in a saucepan of hot water for 30 minutes, or simply leave it for a week in your closet. Either way, you want to extract those lovely, natural, chlorophyl colors from the herbs.

When the coloring jar is sufficiently dark and green looking, we’re ready for the final bottling. Get your pretty bottle (a old white wine bottle will do) and pour in your retained clear distilled liquor. Now place a funnel with a coffee filter in it on top and pour in the remaining dyed liquor to combine. You obviously want the funky herbs to be filtered out. You can see the green absinthe dripping into the clear in this photo.

Once finished, I took a sample on the alcohol hydrometer to reveal an alcohol by volume level of about 65% (130 Proof). You can even print out a label from the internet and glue it on. Viola! You now have fantastic looking bottle of homemade Absinthe to win friends, influence people and seduce the opposite sex:

Now, the final step: lets drink a glass of this bad boy. It’s really too strong to drink straight up, so diluting it is essential. As we add some water, you can see the louche cloudiness begin to take effect. As the Absinthe’s alcohol level begins to drop below 40%, it becomes almost opaque, and it’s at this level that I like to drink it. Some who like their drink sweeter add a sugar cube (the reason for the existence of the Absinthe spoon) but I prefer it just on its own. Beautiful!

Raw and with added water. Notice the milky louche effect on the right.

So, if you feel like painting a Post-Impressionist masterpiece, murdering your family, or simply cutting off your ear and sending it to a French prostitute, give the Green Fairie an unjudgmental chance. Its really all up to you folks, but I hope you enjoyed this week’s post of Romantic Bohemian.

Did this post change your views about Absinthe? Does it still deserve its “Boogeyman” reputation- or should it still be banned?