Saturday, May 31, 2008
This song is called "Diablo Rojo" (Red Devil).
Friday, May 30, 2008
A message of peace and love from Mr. James Hendrix. After Expatbrian mentioned so many great sixties heroes passing in his comments (all coincidentally with names starting with the letter "J") I had to play some Jimi, and this bluesy exploration from the historic Woodstock performance fits the bill. Imagine plenty of mud, and people for miles on Max Yasgur's farm. The New York State Thruway is closed. It's 1969, and you leave Nixon and Vietnam and the Moon Landing behind for "three days of peace and music." It doesn't get any better than this blues improvisation from Jimi Hendrix.
"With the power of soul anything is possible."
Thursday, May 29, 2008
The Doors road the dark side of the hippie experience, and while the love generation was joyously trip-toeing through the flower power tulips, Jim Morrison was channeling Dionysus and stirring up primeval gods with lysergic calliopes and shaman drums. In 1971, death cast a silver wing over Jim Mojo Risin', who is now buried with other poets maudits in the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Strange days have found us, he whispered. We'll meet again, we'll meet again.
Set the Wayback Machine for the last day of school! You cleaned your locker, the bell rang, and you walked into three months of root beer Popsicles, riding bikes, playing paddle pool at Indian Park, listening to transistor radios ("home of the KISN Good Guys!"), and going to the movies! You'd pay your money (fifty cents for under twelve) , buy Flicks at the candy counter (a metallic cylinder of Hershey's-type kisses) and slip through heavy velvet drapes for a cheap-o kid exploitation Hollywood crapola movie like this. With any luck, the girl you had a crush on from school (remember her?) would be there with her girlfriends and you'd sit behind them and throw peanuts at them. Then you'd try to act cool. Your senses were wide open. You were lucky to be alive in the Golden Age of the Great American Experiment. Anyway, this movie would be playing.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Keith Olbermann covers the Scott McClellan revelations on MSNBC.
Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan writes in a new memoir that the Iraq war was sold to the American people with a sophisticated "political propaganda campaign" led by President Bush and aimed at "manipulating sources of public opinion" and "downplaying the major reason for going to war." - Washington Post, May 28, '08
"Over that summer of 2002," he writes, "top Bush aides had outlined a strategy for carefully orchestrating the coming campaign to aggressively sell the war. . . . In the permanent campaign era, it was all about manipulating sources of public opinion to the president's advantage." - Ibid.
Mars Lander Beams Back Video
Monday, May 26, 2008
No marching music today, no rattling sabers, no war drums, no flatulent military brass. This is Marvin Gaye, in a long out-of-print film, "Save the Children" (1973). This is our Memorial Day Music.
There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
"We honor our war dead this Memorial Day weekend. The greatest respect we could pay them would be to pledge no more wars for erroneous and misleading reasons; no more killing and wounding except for the defense of our country and our freedoms."
Sunday, May 25, 2008
From the Washington Post:
"Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign accused Sen. Barack Obama's campaign of fanning a controversy over her describing the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy late in the 1968 Democratic primary as one reason she is continuing to run for the presidency.
"The Obama campaign tried to take these words out of context," Clinton campaign chairman Terence R. McAuliffe said on "Fox News Sunday." "She was making a point merely about the time line."Hillary, please. Mathematically, the game is nearly over. Try keeping a shred of dignity. Say goodnight, Hillary.
We're sorry to hear this old tramp passed on. Utah Phillips was a union organizer, storyteller, anarchist, folksinger, and a hobo rider on the rails. He was a living folk hero, maybe not as big as Paul Bunyan but just a doll hair shy. Utah was a proud member of the International Workers of the World, popularly known as "the Wobblies," and he fought for better conditions for working people all his life.
Phillips was a combat vet who returned from Korea badly shaken by his experiences, and like so many returning soldiers, he had a hard time fitting back in. Utah drank and hopped freights. Drunk and destitute, he wound up in Salt Lake City, at Joe Hill House, a homeless shelter operated by anarchist Ammon Hennacy, a member of the Catholic Worker movement. It turned him around. He sobered up and started working there himself.
An avid researcher, he served a stint as an archivist for the State of Utah, and developed an understanding of the history most folks never learn in school. His folk songs and stories reflected that untold history, and laced up tales he'd heard riding the rails as a hobo. He recorded albums and sang on picket lines and in concert halls. He sang with many folks, but his longtime singing partner was Rosalie Sorrels:
"He was like an alchemist," says Sorrels, "He took the stories of working people and railroad bums and he built them into work that was influenced by writers like Thomas Wolfe, but then he gave it back, he put it in language so the people whom the songs and stories were about still had them, still owned them. He didn't believe in stealing culture from the people it was about."
Joe Hill - "Don't mourn, organize!"
Utah Phillips is gone, but don't think he's in heaven. There is no pie in the sky for this tramp. He had no place for religion, and loved to sing "The Preacher and the Slave" by organizer and songwriter Joe Hill, a fellow Wobbly who was later executed on trumped up charges by the state of Utah. The song chastises preachers, "holy rollers and humpers," who tell their congregation
- You will eat, bye and bye,
- In that glorious land above the sky;
- Work and pray, live on hay,
- You'll get pie in the sky when you die
- If you fight hard for children and wife-
- Try to get something good in this life-
- You're a sinner and bad man, they tell,
- When you die you will sure go to hell.
- Workingmen of all countries, unite
- Side by side we for freedom will fight
- When the world and its wealth we have gained
- To the grafters we'll sing this refrain
- You will eat, bye and bye,
- When you've learned how to cook and how to fry;
- Chop some wood, 'twill do you good
- Then you'll eat in the sweet bye and bye
Utah Phillips performs at the Strawberry Music Festival in 2007
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Speaking of popcorn, here's another great American hero of yesteryear who's a little worse for wear, but still willing to pull on a ludicrous costume and fight the good fight. Close calls and tight scrapes are bread and butter for this guy. Here he is, from the world of the old serials that inspired Indiana Jones in the first place, "The Return of Captain America!" It's hilarious!
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Lenny Bruce riffing on the Lone Ranger and Tonto in one of his nightclub gigs provided the audio track for this animated short by John Magnuson released in 1968.
Depending who you ask, Bruce was a sick comic, a junkie hipster, or a prophet healing a sick society. He was hounded for saying "dirty words" on stage, words you hear every day, and spent his later years fighting in the courts. Call it free speech. Bruce was ahead of his time, and maybe he was punished for it by a hypocritical puritanical society. So it goes.
Oh, and he was funny.
Lenny Bruce gets frisked
Drum solos may be out of fashion (I think of the drunk yelling out "Caravan with a drum solo!") but here are two great drummers from the old school, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, battling it out like the wizards in Lord of the Rings. These guys have been practicing their rudiments and paraddidles, as our school bandleader Mr. Fitzimmons used to say.
Go, man, Go!
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
If you've read any sociology at all, you've probably read David Riesman. In his important book The Lonely Crowd, he wrote of 'inner-directed' and 'other-directed' personalities. Riesman made a case that the character of post WWII American society pushed individuals to "other-directedness", the classic example being modern suburbia "where individuals seek their neighbors approval and fear being outcast from their community." Conformity was key, and the individual was being homogenized.
The Beatles in Germany, 1966
As a non-conformist of sorts, I always liked Riesman. Still, I think the good doctor missed the boat on Beatlemania. Riesman himself would admit he's the product of his own cultural time and place, his own social conditioning, his zeitgeist. In this 1964 interview he took the Fab Four for a passing fad. Of course, at the time of the interview the Beatles were a recent phenomenon, and we can't expect Riesman to enjoy our 20-20 hindsight. Still, it makes a fascinating read.
"Compared to the Elvis Presley craze, it is a very minor one. Presley created a definitely 'antiparent' outlook. His music—and he, himself—appeared somewhat insolent, slightly hoodlum."
Read the entire 1964 interview in the US News and World Report by clicking HERE.
Songwriter Victor Jara
When dictator Augusto Pinochet staged a coup in 1973, with the help of the CIA and the Nixon administration, many Chileans that were considered a threat by the new regime -- students, teachers, playwrights, activists, union organizers, so-called "subversivos," and many who weren't political at all, but rounded up by mistake -- were arrested and detained at the country's largest football stadium. The locker rooms became torture chambers, and many were killed and "disappeared" by the military police and the army.
Dictator Augusto Pinochet
Victor Jara was arrested at the university where he worked, and dragged to the stadium. He was kept in a group of "special interest" prisoners. Jara was a popular singer, the Bob Dylan of Chile, it has been said, and he sang openly of justice and freedom. He knew he would never survive, given his special status.
The military tortured Victor Jara for three days. They broke both his hands, mocking him to play guitar now. He did an amazing thing. Even with broken fingers and hands, he defied his captors and sang. Witnesses have said his voice could be heard from deep in the locker rooms that were now torture chambers. They heard him in the crowded stadium, and they joined the singer. Jara was machine-gunned shortly afterward, and dropped into a mass grave, but he remains a hero to Chileans, and people around the world who believe in peace and justice.
Victor Jara sings "Te Recuerdo Amanda" (I Remember You, Amanda)
A rough translation of the lyrics shows you the power of his words:
I remember you, Amanda
the wet street
running to the factory
where Manuel worked.
Your wide smile,
the rain in your hair
nothing else mattered,
you were going to meet him.
Only five minutes
life is eternal
in five minutes
the siren sounds
to go back to work
and as you walk
you light up everything
those five minutes
have made you flower.
he took to the mountains to fight
he who had never hurt anyone
he took to the mountains to fight
and in five minutes
it was all destroyed
the siren sounds
time to go back to work
many will not return
I remember you Amanda
the wet street
running to the factory
where Manuel worked.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Leo Kottke is a master of the acoustic guitar who plays a unique, idiosyncratic, syncopated, finger-picking style that boggles the mind. John Fahey signed him to his label, Takoma Records, and there is a similarity in their styles, which some call American Primitivism. Primitive, perhaps, but bright as a new penny.
An affable, self-deprecating man who once compared his voice to the sound of a gaseous goose, Kottke can knock a buzzard off a shitwagon with the sheer beauty of his playing. His voice is a foghorn, but helpful in a storm. Listen. Play this song early in the morning or late at night. Learn it by heart. Sing it to yourself some cloudy day. Hear the wind howl.
For extra credit, listen to Greenhouse (1972) or 6- and 12- String Guitar (1969).
I can grill a decent cheeseburger. It's a simple thing, really, not "fine dining" by any means. Even so, it has to be done right. I bet my burgers are nearly as good as those at the Wall Street Burger Shoppe in New York City. The difference is, they charge $175 for their cheeseburger. I kid you not. The price just went up from $150.
Chef Kevin O'Connel says the burgers are worth it because they include a , black truffles, seared foie gras, aged Gruyere cheese, wild mushrooms and flecks of gold leaf on a brioche bun. He says they sell 20 or 25 a month.
When the revolution comes, and the hungry masses storm the Bastille, somebody will probably have to answer for this hamburger. Until then, let them eat cake!
More of the story here.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Yesterday, over 75,000 people jammed Tom McCall's Waterfront Park in Portland to support Barrack Obama. This was his largest rally of the campaign, and a record turnout for my home state of Oregon.
The Obama momentum is obvious. Finally, we're moving beyond squabbling within the Democratic party, and we're preparing to battle Republican John McCain -- and the bankrupt policies of George W. Bush. It's about time.
Obama in Portland
Tuesday is the Oregon primary. Hey ho, let's go!
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Gin was invented by Franciscus Sylvius, a doctor in the Netherlands in the 17th century. It was originally sold to treat medical problems such as gout, gallstones, and lumbago. Jenever, Genever, or Dutch Gin, was different than what we drink today. It was made in a single pot, and tasted much stronger. When William of Orange ascended the British throne, he brought along a love of gin. Soon there was six times as much gin as beer in London. London Dry gin, made from a single column still, gained a wide popularity, especially with the poor, since it was cheap to produce. Soon there would be gin blossoms, gin rummy, and bathtub gin.
London Dry gin bottle, 1800s
As you know, the Brits drank gin and tonics to stave off malaria in their far-flung empire, hence the allusion to Bombay in this drink I'm sipping, though the Bombay Sapphire brand was actually launched in 1987. Even so, it's crisp, cold, and aromatic. I'm not complaining.
As for the martini, the New York Times says it was invented in 1912 by Signor Martini di Arma di Taggia, bartender at New York's Knickerbocker Hotel. Some say there are earlier published reports of the drink.
According to Wikipedia, real martini drinkers drank it dry. The drier the better. The classic drink calls for a five-to-one ratio of gin to dry vermouth, but for some that wasn't dry enough. Winston Churchill chose to skip the vermouth completely, saying that the perfect martini involved pouring a glass full of cold gin and looking at a bottle of vermouth. General George Patton suggested pointing the gin bottle in the general direction of Italy. Alfred Hitchcock called for five parts gin and "a quick glance at a bottle of vermouth." Hemingway liked to order a "Montgomery", which was a martini mixed at a 15:1 gin-to-vermouth ratio (these supposedly being the odds Field Marshall Montgomery wanted to have before going into battle). That's dry.
With the advent of lounge culture nostalgia, martinis are big again. Maybe it's the cool glass. Maybe it's Shagg. In the 1990s, vodka martinis surpassed gin martinis in popularity. Nowadays you can order martinis -- or concoctions masquerading as martinis -- made with everything from chocolate to apples to bananas. Tini Bigs, a martini bar in Seattle, serves a "Smore," which is a chocolate martini with crushed graham cracker on the rim. I kid you not. That's no longer a martini. That is something vile and pernicious.
Anyway, for a cool summer drink when you're tired of beer and gin and tonics, try a martini. Or a Montgomery! Salute!
These vintage cigarette ads crack me up! Smoke if you want, I don't care. It's a personal choice. Adults should be free to inhale exorbitantly expensive carcinogens if they want to, but children shouldn't urge their parents to do so. Especially infants, who may not understand the subtleties of the argument.
Adults, on the other hand, are critical thinkers. They're smart enough to make conscious choices, such as whether or not to inhale flaming leaves, or to pay trillion dollar drug corporations to compromise their health. But kids should stay out of it!
Click button for Tex Williams performing "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (that Cigarette)"
Saturday, May 17, 2008
After singing for punk band, Stiffed, Brooklyn girl Santi White made a brilliant album as Santogold. She somehow combines Karen O and M.I.A., tribal, electro, and eighties dance music, and each track could come from a totally different album. This catchy cut makes me want to dance while it lambastes hipster art fakers on the Lower East Side, L.E.S. Artistes.
What I'm searching for
to tell it straight, I'm trying to build a wall
Walking by myself
down avenues that reek of time to kill
If you see me keep going
be a pass by waver
Build me up, bring me down
just leave me out you name dropper
Stop trying to catch my eye
I see you good you forced faker
Just make it easy
You're my enemy you fast talker
I can say I hope it will be worth what I give up
If I could stand up mean for the things that I believe
Friday, May 16, 2008
Strange story. Roxanna Brown, director of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum at Bangkok University in Thailand, was scheduled to speak in a symposium at the Univeristy of Washington. She was arrested in Seattle on wire-fraud charges for jacking up prices of Asian antiquities. While in police custody, she complained of stomach problems, but no medical help was available. She died in jail at about 2:30 Wednesday morning.
I'm sure we'll learn more about this strange tale. It sounds like a bad movie-of-the-week, and I bet people are scrambling for the rights.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Bill O'Reilly is an ass. That's not exactly a secret. The right wing blowhard has a total meltdown, and rants and raves like a tiny dictator. Who could possibly defend this guy?
Stephen Colbert, that's who. Colbert defends his hero in this hilarious segment of the Colbert Report.
I did some concept drawings for an indie film, "Love in the Year 2000." It's a strange, sci-fi story about love in a future world. It is currently in production -- in spite of the ironic date in the title -- and I'll have more about it soon.
Here is the trailer for the film that includes some of my artwork. For more about the movie and my concept art, click HERE.
-from "Robert Rauschenberg: Man at Work"
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Cream stormed the reality studios with heavy blues and psychedelic rock, killer guitar playing and a crack rhythm section. Jack Bruce played bass and sang, Ginger Baker pounded the skins, and of course Eric Clapton did his best on Fender Stratocaster. He also sang. This is well before Clapton looked like a respectable accountant, back when an Afghan vest and a paisley shirt were practically de rigueur. (Don't worry, youngsters, the styles of today will also look weird after a few years). The year is 1968. Clapton has been recording with the Beatles , who were putting together the White Album. That lead guitar on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is Clapton. This is "Crossroads," by Robert Johnson.
One of only two surviving photographs of the great Robert Johnson.
Indulge me. It's raining out, a heavy rain all across the Pacific Northwest, the kind of downpour that looks like it may never stop. Something moody is in order. Echoes... Pink Floyd at Pompeii, 1971. A Roman wilderness of pain. Make some tea and have a listen...
By the way, this little fresco of the Sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis is from the House of the Vettii in Pompeii.
A 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked southwestern China on Monday afternoon (12 May), killing more than 12, 000 people (so far) and burying tens of thousands more. Survivors need food, shelter, and clean water, and relief workers are scrambling to help.
Saturday, May 3, a cyclone tore through Myanmar (formerly Burma) leaving a death toll of 30,000 (so far) and another 1 million displaced. To make matters worse, the repressive junta has tightly restricted aid. The public health of 1.5 million is now at stake.
It's impossible. We can't comprehend it, feel it, especially while sitting in a nice warm home in the Comfort Zone. A flash on the TV, a sound bite, and we're suddenly on to something else.
Oxfam International, the world relief organization, stays behind after the news cycle has moved on. Oxfam has allocated $1.55 million for emergency relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction for China. They've allocated $1.8 million for Myanmar. According to their website, "Oxfam currently does not run operational programs in Myanmar. Our aid effort will be channeled through partner organizations with a mixture of cash funding, technical expertise and equipment where required."
Along with their humanitarian efforts, Oxfam also offers us a way to help: OXFAM INTERNATIONAL To make a contribution to your nearest Oxfam affiliate, click HERE.
Monday, May 12, 2008
Brian Wilson, leader of the Beach Boys, in a 1966 rehearsal of "Surf's Up" from the aborted "Smile." album. The album was put on hold for decades, as the troubled songwriter battled mental illness, combined with drugs, and lived as a recluse.
"Smile" was intended to be a follow-up to the brilliant "Pet Sounds" but Wilson didn't finally piece it together until 2004, 37 years after its inception. During the break, the album became a mythical to fans, the great lost album, the teenage symphony to God. Pieces emerged, in truncated form, on "Smiley Smile" (a bunt instead of a slam) which included the huge hit "Good Vibrations," and various bootlegs circulated with a reconstructed "Smile." Finally, in 2004, "Smile" received an official release (with new takes) was issued. After decades away, Brian returned from the past like Rip van Wilson, a little shaky, but finally facing the music.
In 1976, SNL stars Belushi and Ackyrod take Brian Wilson surfing.
The Beach Boys on "Ready, Steady, Go!" in 1964.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
To help celebrate, we've got "The Mothers of Invention," a seminal group that blew the minds of kids and censors back in the 1960s. Their fearless leader, musician and composer Frank Zappa, fought against mindless censorship and the PMRC ratings code until his dying day in 1993.
Here's Zappa on "Crossfire," arguing with screwheads about censorship. The exchange between Zappa and smug Conservative gasbag Robert Novak is priceless.
The follow-up show in 1987, with Zappa on CNN's "Crossfire" guest-hosted by Michael Kinsley. Here, Zappa disagrees with suits from the PMRC about censorship and the ratings system of music. The Mothers of Invention
Saturday, May 10, 2008
How often have we wished to be more clever, to send stinging insults to someone who has disrespected us instead of standing dumbstruck like a dullard? Sometimes the perfect rejoinder arrives too late, while one is running errands or trying to sleep, which only makes the sting worse. Still, we savor the perfect insult! From scrappy corner boys playing the dozens, to men in leotards exchanging volleys of theatrical repartee -- and every strata in between -- wit is met with delight. Unless, of course, one is its object. Or subject. Whatever.
One of the greatest wits to ever wound with an insult was the French duelist, Hector Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, made immortal in the play by Rostand. A popular poet with a gentle soul, he also was a fine swordsman when push came to shove. I saw the play performed last summer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It was brilliant and moving. There are many versions of the story on film, including the Steve Martin film, "Roxanne."
In this film clip, Cyrano is played by Jose Ferrer in the 1950 film. Here he instructs an effete aristocrat on the fine art of insults, and does a glorious job.
Friday, May 9, 2008
Bob Dylan has worked with a wide range of artists, and one of my favorites is Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the sixteenth century Flemish Renaissance painter. The two collaborate in this amusing film by Roderick Smith, an interpretation of Dylan's "Desolation Row." And if that's not enough, there are also marionettes!
Thursday, May 8, 2008
So far, Hillary has ignored calls to leave the race gracefully. She is demanding that the votes be counted in Florida and Michigan, where Obama wasn't even on the ballot. She is busy spinning recent events her way, and tossing a few questionable remarks at Obama:
" 'I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on,' she said in an interview with USA Today. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article 'that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states (those voting in Tuesday's Indiana and North Carolina primaries) who had not completed college were supporting me.' " - quoted from the LA Times
For more on Hillary's dwindling options, click HERE. And HERE.
Just a couple years after "Blowup!" the entire world changed drastically. The glacier cool of mod London is replaced by full-out sex, drugs and ecstatic abandon. The same summer man lands on the moon, another small step for mankind is taken in the muddy fields of Bethel, New York. Here, on Max Yasgur's farm, The Woodstock Music and Art Fair provides three days of fun and music to half a million peaceful people.
Here, Santana performs Soul Sacrifice!
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
This is a cool clip of the swinging London go-go scene of the mid-60s from Antonioni's "Blow-up." Carnaby Street fashions, mod birds in mini-skirts, cool rock music, and Thomas, played by David Hemmings, loosely based on mod photographer David Bailey, racing around London in a sports car convertible trying to solve a murder he thinks he's accidentally photographed in a park.
What more could you ask for? How about The Yardbirds, featuring Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page? They're the uncredited pop group in this scene. Groovy, baby. By the way, I love the chick with the striped pants. Meet you at the discotheque.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Monday, May 5, 2008
Tom Waits just announced plans to hit the road this summer for the Glitter and Doom Tour. Click HERE for more information and tour dates. Here he performs "All The World is Green" on David Letterman, and sticks around to chat.
People still read, of course, and scholars continue to debate gnat-size points of narrative theory and structure and so on, so books are safe from the dustbin for a while, but they seem more like artifacts from another time, and we fear literature has lost the power to body-slam the culture, grab our lapels, challenge our calcified views, make us weep over poor Nell. I don't want to sound cynical and elitist to boot, but I bet there are more people who saw "Iron Man" this weekend than all the people who have read all these books put together... Oh, skip that. Anyway, here are some writers. Since this will be a regular feature, I won't lament those I haven't included, or the fact that these writers all happen to be male, and white. We'll get to others.
Ken Kesey. This Oregonian had some misfires, sure, but he delivered at least one classic -- the story of a lone individual who fights the Combine. Not your typical writer, whatever that means, this former wrestling champ and Merry Prankster painted the first psychedelic school bus and hit the road with Neal Cassidy, the man who inspired Kerouac to write "On The Road." Here is a news magazine story on Kesey and his post-lit life in Pleasant Hill, Oregon. Kesey wrote "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Sometimes a Great Notion."
Cormac McCarthy. An ornery old coot who writes dark neo-westerns in sometimes spare, sometime ornate language. Without him, no "Deadwood." Part of a rare interview with McCarthy (interviewed poorly by Oprah). McCarthy is known for the Border Trilogy, "Blood Meridian," and "The Road" -- and "No Country for Old Men."
Jonathan Lethem often returns to his Brooklyn childhood in his work, and his love of music permeates his writing. Here he discusses his latest book, "You Don't Love Me Yet." Lethem also wrote "Motherless Brooklyn" and "Fortress of Solitude."
Jonathan Franzen on Charlie Rose. Writing novels is useless..." More famous for fighting Oprah (Oprah again) for not wanting to have Oprah book club stickers on his novel "The Corrections," a novel exploring relationships in a contemporary American family that owes much to Victorian novels. "The Corrections" won the National Book Award.
I saw a brand new comedy this weekend. My girlfriend Wendy and I sat in the darkness, waiting for laughs. We sat there like Vladimir and Estragon, albeit with Diet Coke. Time slowed down to a near standstill. The movie was "Baby Mama" starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, two very funny people. What happened? Hollywood has recently discovered the hilarity of pregnancy -- wanted, unwanted, too old, too young, with surrogate mothers -- and this is the latest in a half dozen. What ever happened to originality?
Preston Sturges was original -- and funny. If you want a good laugh, skip all the formulaic, market-tested comedies out there, and rent "Sullivan's Travels." It tells the story of a Hollywood director who is sick and tired of making mindless fluff. He dreams of moving among the real people, and making a great film of social significance -- and it's hilarious. By the way, the film he dreams of making is called "Oh, Brother Where Art Thou." Years later, the Coen Brothers honored Sturges in a film of this name. With a little sex in it.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is mostly a regional holiday celebrated in Puebla, but in the United States it's a day of Mexican pride, and an excuse to push Margaritas and guacamole to gringos. As for Margaritas -- the original was supposedly created in Acapulco in 1948. The recipe is pretty basic, but man can people screw it up:
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 dash of salt
1 oz Cointreau (or Triple Sec)
2 oz Tequila
Forget those frothy green Slurpees in Americanized Mexican restaurants. You know the places -- where the food is a bland soupy brown for American tastes, and the walls are festooned with all the Mexican cliches, sombreros and bullfight posters, and maybe Speedy Gonzalez. A real Margarita is not blended, and certainly not made from those horrible lime mixes. Not surprisingly, the best Margaritas I've tasted were in Mexico. The worst -- by far -- were in Vancouver, British Columbia, and looked and tasted like anti-freeze. They also had the worst Nachos, which consisted of old corn chips, canned beans, a few shreds of yellow cheese, and the bad parts of a withered tomato. I should have ordered Canadian food, I guess.
In this age of xenophobia and anti-immigrant "speechifying" by politicians hungry for votes, it's good to look at Mexico as more than a theme park, a vacationland, and a source of cheap labor. Mexico is so much more, especially away from the border towns and resorts and the slab tourist hotels on the coasts. The clash of Europeans and native peoples has created a deep and varied culture. The clash between the rich and poor continues, as exemplified by the Zapatista movement.
Here is a clip from Lonely Planet, where a traveler speaks with some Zapatistas (members of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, or ESLN), an armed indigenous group based in Chiapas, one of the poorest states in Mexico. The traveler and the revolutionaries have an interesting meeting.
For more on the Zapatistas, click here.
Friday, May 2, 2008
Robert Mitchum in "Thunder Road," as an outlaw running bootleg whiskey in a fast '57 Ford Fairlane. Mitchum also wrote and sang the song. I've always been a fan of Mitchum and his sleepy anti-heroes that were doomed from the start. He managed to live outside the law, and still be honest. Unless, of course, he was playing the villain, which he did so well in "Night of the Hunter" and the original "Cape Fear." (Speaking of prohibition, Mitchum was also busted for pot in 1948 and served time in jail. Pot prohibition still hasn't been repealed, but that's another story.) I've painted Robert Mitchum several times, and here he contemplates a ring, as well as his own uncertain future.
In 1932, the Democratic Party platform included a plank to repeal Prohibition, and Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for president promising a repeal. In 1933, the state conventions ratified the Twenty-first Amendment, and liquor was legal once again. Suddenly bootleggers were out, and whiskey was back in business. Big business. Nowadays giant corporations make and market the vast majority of booze, but you can still find good, small-batch, artisan distilled whiskeys. And you no longer have to hide it from the cops.
You've got to hand it to moonshiners who tended stills during our stupid governmental ban on liquor. While creepy Christian moralists like Carrie Nation and the teetotalers in the Temperance Union railed against demon rum, these bootleggers made whiskey and sold it to people who felt like having a drink. One of those small-batch, artisan distillers was my own grandfather. It was a stupid law, and my grandpa was anything but stupid. Of course, we've still got creepy Christian fundamentalists telling people what to do, but they lost this battle once and for all. I'll drink to that.
Here's a short history of whiskey making in America:
Here the Grateful Dead perform "Brown-Eyed Women," a bootlegging song, in March of 1986:
Sometimes punk rock is the only possible response. This is "Little Boy Soldiers" by the Jam, dedicated to the 2008 presidential campaign.
Its funny how you never knew what my name was,
Our only contact was a form for the election.
These days I find that you don't listen,
These days I find that we're out of touch,
These days I find that I'm too busy,
So why the attention now you want my assistance -
What have you done for me?
You've gone and got yourself in trouble,
No you want me to help you out.
These days I find that I can't be bothered,
These days I find that its all too much,
To pick up a gun and shoot a stranger,
But I've got no choice so here I come -
A strange band, without an obvious niche, named after a sex toy in a William Burroughs novel -- who would think they'd make it big? At first glance jazzy, with decidedly weird lyrics, backed by a crack team of studio musicians, that's Steely Dan. Here they tell the tale of a certain infamous outlaw chemist of the 1960s, loosely based on reality (as were many things back then), one Augustus Owsley Stanley, III, otherwise known simply as Owsley.
For a 2007 interview with Owsley, click here.
Betty Boop and Koko the Clown get stoned on nitrous oxide (laughing gas) in this 1934 cartoon from Max Fleischer. The depiction of drug use, even justified by excruciating dental pain, got this classic cartoon banned by puritanical censors. This amazing cartoon is a highlight of early animation.
For more on the great Max Fleischer, click here.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
On International Workers' Day, we salute West Coast dockworkers protesting the Iraq war. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union said more than 25,000 members in 29 ports stayed off the job today.
“Longshore workers are standing down on the job and standing up for America,” Bob McEllrath, the union’s president, was quoted in the New York Times. “We’re supporting the troops and telling politicians in Washington that it’s time to end the war in Iraq.”
Little Steven Van Zandt sings "I Am a Patriot!"
A great song, a snippet of the lyric was used out of context on the PBS television show "Carrier," a ten part series focusing on the shipmates and their deployment aboard the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier. They only used the first part, "I am a patriot, and I love my country..." Yes, that's part of the song. Here's the rest, along with an incendiary introduction from Little Steven.
Like "Born in the USA," by bandmate Bruce Springsteen, this song was misunderstood by the simple minded. It should be obvious, but it bears repeating that there is more to patriotism than blind obedience and waving flags. You can love your country and still believe in peace and justice, and still speak out against the war, and still oppose a president who after all is not a king but an elected official.