Monday, December 11, 2017

Putting DMX in XMas... or How I Created a Viral Moment

Some people are lucky enough to create a viral sensation once, but as I listened to DMX’s officially recorded rendition of the Christmas classic, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” for the first time, I couldn’t believe the outlandish idea I had during an iHeartRadio digital department meeting was now in its second life.

Let me backtrack and recount my role in the making of this “modern classic” (truly, it’s frightening how proud I am of my involvement in hatching this idea). I’m obsessed with DMX and his tenuous understanding of reality. Don’t get me wrong, in a perfect world, the Ruff Ryder should always be known for his gravel-voiced flow on some of the darkest hip-hop classics this side of the Gravediggaz—but you gotta admit, Dark Man X has been known to raise an eyebrow when he opened his mouth, particularly during a rash of Breakfast Club interviews he’d treated us to during my tenure at IHR.

Who could forget the time DMX detailed his mindset prior to being arrested for impersonating an FBI agent in an Arizona airport parking lot? “I was rushing for a flight, and this dude in the raggedy-ass Honda, he’s driving wild slow. Now usually if I’m in a rush and I’m in that truck, I hit the lights and throw [up] the sirens and they get out the way, but he was just totally disrespecting my authority. NOT that I really had any authority. I didn’t really have the authority, but what if I really had the authority?"

When asked if perhaps having a black-on-black Supercharger with tinted windows and police-style lighting might have added to his bravado, X threw in: “Well, I might have asked for his license…” before being busted by a parking lot guard.

And now, back to that digital department meeting. Having to create daily content around five radio stations and their wide-ranging audiences wasn’t always easy, especially when it came to keeping things fresh for Lite fm’s monumental Christmas-themed ratings juggernaut – which I was conditioned to begin thinking about sometime around Halloween. As we sat there discussing the various guests that would be coming in the following week—DMX among them—the latest of his bon mots remaining fresh in my head. “What if we get DMX to rap 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' or something?” I blurted.

Little did I know, our Power 105.1 junior producer, Vanessa Denis, took it upon herself to follow up on my idea implicitly, going as far as printing out the lyrics to the classic song. Vanessa, too, had experience with X’s ways, having asked him to Google himself just months earlier. Not only did DMX respond positively to the request, he eschewed the carefully-printed lyric sheet, bragging: “I know this, I GOT this,” before launching into the beat-boxed rendition in the Breakfast Club studio.

Sure, I was amused, but I was really excited that planting the video on all my applicable sites (sorry not sorry, Q104.3 fans!) meant making the lofty KPI goals set by the IHR national leadership. What I hadn’t expected were so many hilarious mash-ups and remixes, including a hilarious Claymation version created for The Soup.

But imagine my surprise when five years (and many more X ordeals) later, news dropped that the rapper would finally be releasing an official version, replete with beats by Divine Bars. When I heard the short single, and moreover, watched DMX perform it on Showtime at the Apollo’s Christmas special, there was a strange sense of pride mixed with the hope that perhaps this wholesome act might balance out for some of his troubles. If we can keep the DMX in Xmas, surely there is hope for all of us.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Another New York Comic Con in the Books

I survived another NYCC! This one actually felt closer to one set in Manila, given that the early October weather clung to the mid 80s with tons of humidity in the air.

Javits Center cosplay; credit: Steve Bunche
Because of the Javits Center's undergoing multi-year construction project, the airy annex that once housed Artist Alley is gone, leaving creators to squish themselves tightly into the subterranean space the convention outgrew long ago. That, and sales practices preferring single day admission tickets meant that over 200,000 attendees were uncomfortably close at times, some wondering if they'd make the return in 2018 or seek out new and smaller, more specialized shows.

Still, it was great to see so many cosplayers, new action figures, inspiring art, and to speak with so many people in real life that I tend to only catch up with on social media these days.

A gallery of my photos can be found here, and my roundup of the 7 Coolest Booths at the Con can be found on the fabulous The full thing, as is my life is documented on Instagram.

Monday, October 2, 2017

I Wrote a Thing for Noisey on L7

L7, l to r: Suzi Gardner, Donita Sparks, Dee Plakas, Jennifer Finch

It's been a while since I delved into professional music journalism, but when one of my all-time favorite bands, L7, became the subject of the documentary, L7: Pretend We're Dead, I knew this was the interview and topic I had to explore.

Thanks so much to the patient and gracious Kim Kelly at Vice for letting me to have a ridiculously revealing and candid interview with L7 singer/guitarist Donita Sparks - and for letting me hold a personal record for longest pitch-to-published piece I hope either of us will ever deal with.

So without further ado, CLICK ON MY NOISEY L7 FEATURE and read the damn thing!  I worked long enough on it.

I recently described writing as "worthless torture and I don't understand why anyone does it." Which might just be the most Russian writer thing to say, ever. So... yeah, maybe I'll still pitch a thing or two.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Free Download: New Afghan Whigs Single

Heads up to all my fellow Afghan Whigs completists: the band has released a free download of the Pleasure Club cover, "You Want Love," in honor of the late Whigs guitarist Dave Rosser.

His longtime favorite song from the New Orleans local legends was recorded with Afghan Whigs and Pleasure Club vocalist, James Hall. I had the pleasure of seeing them perform it live at their European tour warm-up gig at the Apollo Theater and it was moving, to be sure. Chances are they'll still be incorporating it into their U.S. set when they begin touring here in September.

Get your download now at

Monday, June 12, 2017

The First-Ever Five Points Festival in (Mostly) Photos

Since I've got upcoming conventions on the brain, I wanted to add this throwback post... A while back I attended the inaugural Five Points Festival in lower Manhattan. Aimed at folks who get down with Supreme more than Superman, 5PF featured plenty of designer toys to drool over, and once again proved that cats are the ultimate muse. And possibly aliens.

I wrote a full report for Comics Beat, and added a full gallery of photos here, but included below are a few choice photos I snapped while I wandered around.

The Scaredy Cat

KanoKid's Voltron-inspired "Defender" was an easy sell for me.

Toy Tokyo displayed an enviable private collection.

Friday, May 26, 2017

My Travel Sabbatical

There's really no other way to put it: 2016 sucked. We lost Prince and Darwyn Cooke, among so very many others. My dad lost a brutally painful battle with lung cancer three days before my birthday. I lost my job after spending the summer alternately building a new website for my former company, and stifling tears while riding the length of an entire subway line — from Astoria to Brighton Beach — to maintain a stiff upper lip and be with my family. Then a huge neon orange monster came and left a miasmic stench no one can seem to get out.

So I took a long, much-needed break and traveled.

It really helped to be away from home, now the site of so many nervous nights pacing the rooms, meticulously reorganizing every inch of the place as if controlling the tidiness of my possessions would somehow bring order to all the chaotic situations that were so big and out of my control.

Thorns, always a proponent of experiences over material gifts, came in to help. For our five-year anniversary, he flew us out to Portland, OR for a fun several days before he started his tour with Red Fang in their hometown.

I'd been wanting to check out Portland for a while, since I already had an affinity for the Pacific Northwest and the wide availability of dairy-free mac & cheese (there are a LOT of vegan options in this town).

Surrounded by mossy trees at Hoyt Arboretum.

During our time there, we enjoyed the mild fall temperatures with long walks around Cottonwood Bay, located right behind our hotel, and destinations like the Hoyt Arboretum. We did a walking tour recounting the city's "seedier" past that included the famed Shanghai tunnels, and ate well at Portland's many quirky joints (including Voodoo Donuts, the food carts, and my buddy's new brewery, Wayfinder). Coffee on the East Coast will never taste the same after sipping PDX's endlessly tasty brews, and nightly meet-ups at the B-Side tavern for Buffalo Trace & gingers were dangerously cheap. Photos from the Portland trip are HERE.

My next adventure came by way of my dear friends, comic book creators Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, who let me know they were special guests on the fledgling Fan2Sea cruise, which sought to bring all the fun of a comic book convention to the high seas aboard a smaller Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

The itinerary included the port city of Tampa, Key West and Cozumel, but who cares? I love comics. I love cruising. I love Jimanda. So as soon as they told me they already had a buddy in mind for me to room with, I said yes. And it was a BLAST! More on that one in its own post soon. [Photos HERE]

Trekkers rolling deep aboard Fan2Sea.

Unfortunately, 2016 really decided to wring out the last bit of blood and tears out of those I hold dear. And in early February, I went out west to the high desert in California to support my best friend as she memorialized the life of her longtime partner, Doug Evans, who now shares the same last day on Earth as Lemmy Kilmister (December 28).

Having zero expectations of any kind of elaborate accommodations, I was stunned to find myself staying in a colorful suite at a gorgeous Moroccan-tinged bohemian hideaway isolated high up the mountain. Filled with tons of imported antiques and unique sleeping options, the views all around were of wild desert — a far cry from my current life in Queens. So remote that cell phone service wasn't an option, nor were there any road signs after a certain point.

The Desert Airie, hiding in plain sight on the left.

The celebration of Doug's life was beautiful and emotional, filled with friends, family and fans. Music, great food, memories, tears and temp tattoos were shared among the many in attendance. And I hope it gave the divine Ms. M a little closure.

There was still some bonding time with the family, dogs, and Merilee's band of "desert hellcats" with trips for surprisingly tasty sushi, a long hike at Joshua Tree National Park and a cursory tour of downtown Palm Springs. I was grateful to spend the time with my best friend, her mom and sister, Doug's sons, and Mer's supportive, beautiful local friends, who will always have my deepest gratitude for being there when I couldn't.

Of course, I took a bunch of photos that can be found HERE.

For a while now, Thorns and I had been planning a grand trip to Europe, with hypothetical pins dropping in places as varied as Portugal and Croatia, with a detour to Iceland. Ultimately, T planned us the perfect four-country exploration of central Europe, starting in Budapest, then heading via train to Vienna, Prague and Berlin over the course of 12 days.

Sign of the Hammer a Deux at Cafe MontMartre in Budapest.

To say it was the perfect metal vacation would not be hyperbole, and I definitely plan on breaking down the trip in a longer post. Not to be forgotten were visits to a Manowar-themed bar on the Pest side of the Danube River; a day spent wandering the streets, then a sleek museum acknowledging Budapest's Nazi and Fascist past, and an evening enjoying the variety of thermal baths and pools as crews remained busy setting up for the even later "Sparty" DJ night. [Budapest photos]

Blow-up DJ booth in the distance at Szechenyi Thermal Baths in Budapest.

The Imperial Crypt in Vienna truly tested my self-control as I love touching things and getting intimately close to art, but didn't want to be the ugly American to set off the touch sensors in what is considered a royal cemetery. We later speed-walked through the streets of Prague, stopping only for me to see David Černý's hanging installation of 'St. Wenceslas Riding a Dead Horse' on our way to catch a bus to the Medieval town of Kutna Hora to visit the world-famous bone church, Sedlec Ossuary, where the bones of 40,000 victims of the black plague are stacked in elaborate configurations. [Vienna & CZ photos]

Dead H.A.P.S.B.U.R.G.S. at the Imperial Crypt.

Chandelier of Bones at Sedlec Ossuary

Dead Horse & St Vitus in Prague
In Berlin, we spent an afternoon at the Stasi Museum in the former secret police headquarters. In no less than two exhibits, Iron Maiden were featured as a negative Western "ideological influence," which, to me, completely vindicated buying a Powerslave T-shirt dress at one of the seven H&M's I passed within a two-block radius earlier on. And on our last day in town, we ventured over to the city's informal Ramones Museum to gawk at some cool artifacts that made us think of our NYC home back when it was still kind of dangerous. [Berlin photos]

Posing with some street art in Berlin.

All that traveling finally did the trick. I'm refreshed, inspired and ready to kick ass.

What's next? Finding a full-time job... so I can save up for more adventures. Think you can help on that front? Holler!