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30 March, 2014

Silence of the Dams Lifted (Temporarily)


Recently, I walked what had been the bottom of a lake for the past 50 years. A crack had appeared in the dam plugging that stretch of the Columbia, and as a precaution, the lake had been mostly drained. The fat placid bullfrog of a lake became a snake, flaccid flow replaced by rapids.

Shallow soundings, deep sounds

With the water level dropped, rocks and riffles raise their voices.  The Big River (translation of many Tribes' names for the Columbia) sings its song for the first time in decades. Some say that there's a stretch just below the Priest Rapids dam where the river runs free, but for the most part, the Oregon/Washington part of the river (hundreds of miles) has lost its voice in the age of hydro-electric power and irrigation diversion. Hearing riffles and rapids amounts to time travel, and I was lucky enough to hear that past, now. 

One goose says to another...

With the Columbia back in it's channel, creatures from geese to archaeologists walk the flood plain again. Minus the muffling waters, footsteps echo, gravel slips and crunches. The old fords become visible again, instead of dark placid waters crossed only by bridges and damns. 

Threatening to fight, even in death.
On the other hand, dropping the level of a dam lake leaves a lot of creatures accustomed to the sodden past 50 years high and dry. What the photos don't convey is the smell of millions of mussels rotting in the Spring sun, the stench of crayfish turning to rotten goo in their exoskeletons. Weirdly, there was little evidence of gulls and crows Columbia Gorging themselves on this buffet. No wheeling and squawking birds, and the aquatic critters even more silent than usual.

Hopefully, I'll get back again before the dam is fixed, and waters rise again to swallow the roar of rapids, the rhythm of riffles.

24 March, 2014

Goodbye, Dave Brockie

Dave Brockie, during his stint with Virginia Beach Police Department

Suddenly today, there were a bunch of hits here, which is unusual. When I tracked them back to the source, it was an article about the death of David Brockie, founder of Death Piggy, and later, GWAR. Sadness.

I'd pretty much left Richmond by the time GWAR came about, but always enjoyed Death Piggy more. So much so, that 30 years after dancing to their manic music, it seemed important to post about their place in the history of punk, the post which is getting all the hits now, apparently because of the Death Piggy image I posted then and there, and here:

David Brockie and I were not friends, and he wouldn't remember me, but he influenced who I became. The random hilarity of Death Piggy, the utter freedom expressed by a band who could get up and play a song consisting entirely of the words "No prob dude," the refusal to plummet into the pitfalls of many a hardcore band (brick-headed hate, intoxicated inability to perform, and maybe worst of all, sanctimonious preachiness), and the commitment to just having fun stuck with me.

The internet, especially those cul-de-nut-sacs where know-it-all critics lurk, is full of references to the ridiculousness of Death Piggy, but without much appreciation of what a gift it was. They use terms like "Silly Core," and treat Death Piggy as a joke precursor to GWAR, which of course is the opposite of what really happened; GWAR was the Death Piggy sideshow that took over. That Death Piggy did not depend on spike-studded leather or huge mohawks to express their hardcore punkness did not mean that they could not thrash out noise with the best of 'em.

Dave Brockie was a leader in the Richmond punk scene because he did not act like a leader. He didn't give a shit how you danced when they played. He did not write lyrics preaching a Message (a Mess, maybe, but that's another thing entirely). He rode the GWAR waves, but as far as I can tell, did not become an insufferable asshole. He was a self-mocking artist. His "time waster" posts (on some site I cannot re-find now) would show up every so often as I surfed the net--one of my favorites was a screed about art in Richmond, especially the Lady Diana Mural and the Bojangles statue, which he correctly recognized as a racist city's backhanded insult, tucked away off the main (white people) drag and appearing to have been literally slapped together out of shit.

It's sad to lose a creative force. It's a loss to have a rebel die. Personal friend or not, I'm pretty sad. Maybe these lyrics, from the first Death Piggy release, will help:

BATHTUB IN SPACE (by Death Piggy)

I tried to get out, I tried to dry off
But when I got out it called my bluff
Bathtub in space, bathtub in space
Once you get in what a difference you make

I went up in space, I've given up hope
When I got out I slipped on the soap
Bathtub in space, bathtub in space
Bathtub in space what a difference it'll make

We're all in bathtubs, given up hope
What's that mean but soap on a rope

Bathtub in space, high above earth
You know I'm covered in cosmic dirt
Bathtub in space, bathtub in space
Once you get in what a difference it'll make

Time for a nice long soak.

04 March, 2014

An Other Sign Post

Signs may be the Alpha and the Omega

For some reason, one post I wrote about signs keeps getting hits, and currently (again) tops the list of hits over the past month. Signs have been an obsession of mine for a long time; I compulsively take photos of them, and write about them from time to time. Often, it's because signs are so often inadvertently self-mocking. Official signs, so often so lacking in humor, can be hilarious.

But then there are the signs posted by people who have no "right" to do so, no funding, no license to signify the wilds. The "A Line" and "Z Line" signs shown above, for instance, are on logging roads that belong to one of the largest resource extraction corporations on the continent, but somehow I doubt that corporate HQ called for or even approved those signs.  But the elk and shroom hunters wanna get their bearings, and so they put up signs.

Another species of signs in the NW woods are the mile markers. Not sure what "WILLY" has to do with it, or if this is even truly the 20th mile of the road I was on, but on many a logging road, you will see spray-painted upon trees numbers corresponding to the miles and half-miles of haul routes. Entering the forest, you'll see a little paper sign announcing the CB channel you're to tune into, upon which you are to announce your presence in-going or out-going so as not to be run down by a truckload of logs. Some guy drives the route with a can of spraypaint, stopping and hopping out, a scribe saving your life. Unofficial, but important.

Despite those efforts, people still die on roads, be they glacial gravel miles from pavement, or 8 lanes of asphalt. The bereaved often place signs in memoriam. Rex, I'm thinking, went down on his hog. This was on the same logging roads southwest of some place you've never heard of where the other photos in this post came from, but you'll see memorial signs closer to and even in towns, on highways and freeways.

People, humans with no authority or even any tendency to respect authority, have a need to put up signs. Wayfinding, marking miles, or memorializing, we put up signs.