Thursday, December 31, 2009
Something new and different for the new year. The Dirty Projectors. This experimental band from Brooklyn has been around since 2002, but this year's Bitte Orca is their first album to really grab me. I'm not alone; the album topped many Best of 2009 lists (including the list in Time, a magazine not famous for rewarding artistic risk-takers). This may be the Projectors' most accessible album yet, but don't think this is easy indie pop--or music from any preexisting genre. This is music you might hear in a dream and forget by morning.
The Dirty Projectors are the brainchild of visionary David Longstreth. He writes the music and guides the band with an angular electric ju ju guitar, mixing Afropop with ethereal folk, post-punk with R and B, big beat with the strange, abstract vocals of Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian and Haley Dakle. This isn't for the average listener. These aren't radio friendly dance tunes. This is soulfilling wonderment. Don't believe me, just give them a listen with an open mind. This is something new.
On this tune, the band trades vocals with Talking Head David Byrne. This comes from a compilation called "Dark is the Ground," which you probably have never heard of. Too bad for you.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
Vic Chesnutt, a gnarled little man in a wheelchair, wrote and sang beautiful songs. He died Christmas day, at the age of 45.
He played a special gig on the roof of Urania in Vienna, October 2008
Wheelchair-bound since a car accident in 1983, Chesnutt became known in indie folk circles as a brilliant and melancholy songwriter. After several suicide attempts over the years, Vic Chesnutt took too many muscle relaxants and ended his life on Christmas. He should have been as famous as Brittney and Lady Ga Ga and all the other overproduced pop tarts jamming our frequencies. In a just world, he would have been able to pay his medical bills, too, which threatened to rob him of his house. This isn't a happy story. It won't get much airplay on the "infotainment" channels (neither would Van Gogh's accidents, for that matter, had "infotainment" reared its ugly screen a century ago) but we want to note his particular genius and encourage people to move beyond their mainstream musical tastes and look up Vic, a poet.
An interview with Vic Chesnutt in Paradiso, Amsterdam, 2008
Like many people, I first saw Vic Chesnutt when he opened for Bob Mould's acoustic shows in the 1980s. He wheeled himself out onto a Portland stage, played a few harrowing songs, and I became a fan. His latest record, "At The Cut," was one of his very best. I stuck one of the new songs ("Flirted With You All My Life") on my Best of 2009 Mixtape a week before he died. (Listen to it below.)
Vic Chesnutt live November 21st, 2009
An excerpt from an interview in Pop & Hiss in early December, 2009:
"I'm not too eloquent talking about these things," Chesnutt said. "I was making payments, but I can't anymore and I really have no idea what I'm going to do. It seems absurd they can charge this much. When I think about all this, it gets me so furious. I could die tomorrow because of other operations I need that I can't afford. I could die any day now, but I don't want to pay them another nickel."
Those feelings are deeply ingrained in "At the Cut," where almost every song offers at least a sideways glance at creeping mortality. Take, for instance, "Flirted With You All My Life," an incandescent country tune that's a kind of a breakup letter to Chesnutt's own thoughts of ending his life.
"I've been a suicidal person all my life, and that song is me finally being 'Screw you, death,' " Chesnutt said.
"Flirted With You All My Life," by Vic Chesnutt, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Christmas Eve is here again. Bloody hell. You know it in your bones. Yuletide carols being sung by a drunk, and folks dressed up like Eskimos. Last minute shoppers sipping from flasks, paying full price, dodging traffic. Cooks filling houses with wonderful smells. The egg nog is a-flowing, and the lights twinkle and candles flicker, but it's not Christmas yet. Not really.
It's not really Christmas unless you hear Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl singing "Fairytale of New York." It's a beautifully sad song, the sweet wrecked couple tear at their hearts--and ours. It's not the rarest tune, and any mix-tape enthusiast worth his salt has included this gem long ago, but we still love it. Rumors of MacGowan's death have been greatly exaggerated, but lovely Kirsty died in a boating accident in Mexico in 2000. More sorrow to an already sad song. Poor me a whiskey and we'll sing along.
"It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won't see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you..."
The rest of the words are here, if you can bear it.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Dear [insert name here],
Just thinking of you! I can't believe it's Christmas again. Let's catch up soon [do not specify]. As you may have heard, we are [ extremely happy; separating; seeing other people; fabulously wealthy after the Bail-out]. Our [ kids or pets] are [doing well in school; honor students; Eagle Scouts; off the heroin; finally house-trained]. We hope you get a chance to see them [this year; before they move away for good; when they get out of jail; when they are semi-conscious; to teach them some manners] and tell them [Merry Christmas!; Happy Hanuka !; Listen to your parents!] in person as you look into their [twinkling; bloodshot; dilated] eyes, and see [how much better they are than your kids; what we've had to put up with all these years].
The Christmas tree is up and the house is decorated, and as usual we're full of [holiday cheer; peppermint schnapps; bullshit]. As you can imagine, [insert name] has been busy [baking cookies; making fruitcake; Christmas shopping; guzzling Monarch vodka; putting tinsel on the wrong way]. I have been looking forward to [having the whole family together; singing carols; indulging in maudlin nostalgia; calling up old girlfriends] because the holiday really isn't about [gifts; money; covering the outside faucets; obscene displays of our wealth] at all, it's really about [love; peace; getting things; drinking heavily; overeating; relapsing].
We've had quite a year [insert gloating] but we were sorry to hear about your [loss; misfortune; bankruptcy; prison term; selfishness] and we'll be thinking of you [once in a blue moon; when we need a good laugh; when you drink and dial our number] so please enjoy [the holidays; rehab; your divorce; all the money you still owe us].
It's a wonderful time of the year, but let's remember that on this day long ago [Jesus was born; I weighed half this much; the oyster stuffing made everyone deathly ill; your obnoxious boyfriend had his third turkey dinner in one day; the liquor store was closed] because those kinds of warm golden memories will make you [wet the bed; experience the joys of Christmas; become a sentimental old fool] and isn't that what it's all about? Here's wishing you and yours a happy holiday!
One Christmas morning long ago, Little Bobby Rini found a brand new electric train in a figure eight around the tree. Good job, Santa!
Saturday, December 19, 2009
At the finale of the Christmas show last year in Eugene, Oregon, I came out as a skid-row Santa, complete with rubber nose, plastic sack full of beer cans, and a pint of peppermint schnapps to fortify the holiday spirit. I also borrowed my wife Faye's blue egg bucket and labeled it "Homeless." I'd jangle the cans like a bagful of aluminum sleigh bells while I worked the main-floor aisle seats: "Hey, come on , buddy. Put something in the bucket, for Chrissakes. Don't you know it's Christmastime? Hey, that's better. God bless you. You're beautiful."
for the rest of Ken Kesey's Christmas story, Skid-Row Santa, please click here.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
It was a joy and a delight to see Al Franken slapping down Joe Lieberman on the Senate floor. The obstinate Lieberman looked stunned, and Cranky McCain (remember him?) rose to defend his buddy. Who cares?
These human roadblocks will always be with us, and we need to hurdle over them or push them aside. It's time we stopped placating Lieberman and all the other turncoats. Kudos to Senator Al.
Here's the Joe Lieberman Story as told by The Muppets. Very funny...and accurate.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Dean Martin slinks into the holidays with a drink and a smoke, and then another drink, until finally he's in "a marshmallow world." This louche lounge lizard loves the drinking season. Watching him sing is a kick in the head. Later on, he's joined by fellow Rat Pack pal Frank Sinatra, who also knows how to party. Here they get together with some friends for some festive entertaining. This is old school horseplay that no longer exists in this Digital Age, so drink it up while you still can. Cheers!
Thursday, December 10, 2009
"Christmas in the Heart" is "ragged, cagey, wry and inscrutable" according to John Pareles in the New York Times. He goes on to call the new Bob Dylan holiday album a head-scratcher, too. Maybe it is, but I like it. The old man sounds like Howlin' Wolf, and this take on "Drummer Boy" isn't a put on, a freakshow, or a cynical joke. He sounds sincere to me. Sure, his voice is scratchy as a woolen mitten, and nothing that would ooze from the silver throats of Andy Williams or Perry Como, but it sounds cool. The animation by Jeff Scher, painter and filmmaker, reminds me of old home movies and puts me in the holiday spirit. Try something new. Give this a listen.
Drummer boy, Civil War
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
"Christmas Tears" by Eric Clapton
There is a tradition of underground Christmas blues and country from the other side of the tracks. This isn't the crap you hear from old Andy Williams. This is the real deal. Some might be upbeat, and some is low and slow as molasses in December, but it's all rings true. It decks the halls, and just might deck you, too.
"Blues for Christmas" by John Lee Hooker
Christmas brings out high emotions and lowdown feelings. It's hard not to feel it. Instead of denying the Christmas blues, these performers tell it like it is. The sweet stuff is good, too, for dessert, but this is the real red meat sizzling on the grill. Listen up.
"Santa Came Home Drunk" by Clyde Lasley and the Cadillac Baby Specials
Oh, man, drinking and the holidays? I hadn't noticed. My Uncle Dick and Molly (not their real names) used to get so plastered they'd end up fighting every holiday, and their kids would drift over to our place like orphans out of Charles Dickens. Drink was a good part of the holiday, and people love getting all warm and cozy--and maudlin and self-absorbed and melancholy and nostalgic. It's a Christmas tradition.
"Merry Christmas Baby" by Charles Brown
A Christmas classic, if you ask me, right up there with "O Come All Ye Faithful." Remember the Christmas pageants at school? We'd drill for weeks with our music teacher, and then finally the glorious day would come that we'd all pile into the gymnasium in front of all the parents. Grade by grade we'd all sing basically the same songs, while parents shifted in their folding chairs. We never sang any Lightnin' Hopkins, to my recollection, but maybe we should have thrown in this one:
"Santa" by Lightnin' Hopkins
Times are hard. The worst depression, er, recession in ninety years has left people jobless and looking hard at Christmas. People have been laid off, or had their hours cut (like me) and there are no bonuses this year. Bonuses, hell, there are no cost of living raises. Now go buy presents for everyone. This tune might touch a nerve in you working class heroes. Here's an "up" tune.
"Kamikaze Economy Christmas" by Jeremy Fisher
Joni Mitchell was everyone's sweetheart, and back in the day every girl with a guitar copied her style and looks the way they now imitate Lady Ga Ga. Here she sings a sweet sad song about the holiday season.
"River" by Joni Mitchell
Joni ain't got nothin' on Del Reeves. Reeves sings about Santa in deep do do, like this department store Santa.
"Santa Got Lost" by Del Reeves
You wouldn't really have a Christmas without the King. Yeah, that guy too, but I'm talking about Elvis. Here he gets all loosey goosey on whatever pills the doctor prescribed and let's loose with some holiday cheer. Go with it. Don't just sit their, let that music get into your soul and tap your feet. Feel that?
"Santa Claus is Back in Town/Blue Christmas" by Elvis Presley
Like that? Of course you did. Now let's get down. Commander Cody has long been known for his killer band and arrangements. Here they hit full holiday mode, Cody style. Another sad one, but hey, this is Christmas barbecue not penny candy. Listen up, kids.
"Daddy's Drinking Up Our Christmas" by Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen
Santa's in trouble. Nobody knows trouble like Andre Williams, that's for sure. He could kick Andy Williams' ass in a heartbeat. When Andre talks about "Christmas Wish" he knows what he's talking about. Give the man some respect.
"Christmas Wish" by Andre Williams
Country music has its own outlaws, and the blues infuse the best of it from Hank Williams to Steve Earle. The Everly Brothers come up with the absolutely bluest Christmas song anytime, anywhere. Loosen your necktie, gulp down some courage, and give this tearjerker a good listen.
"Christmas Eve Can Kill You" by the Everly Brothers
Tom Waits has a new album, and he's still alive and kicking even though he sounds like those homeless guys sleeping outside under the bridge. Those guys must be tough, and it's good to remember them this time of year. Here is Tom Waits' beautiful rendition of a classic to sing us home. Merry Christmas.
"Silent Night" by Tom Waits
Thursday, December 3, 2009
The Friends of the Nib show opened tonight at Howard House, a beautiful downtown gallery. This is First Thursday, when art lovers stroll between galleries examining paintings and drawings and scupltures, and this time they got an eyeful, crowding around our strange, eye-popping artwork. The place was buzzing as soon as they opened the doors. We were there, drawing live. Above it all, like a nightmare angel, the FOTN mascot flew, a stylized squid holding two dip pens (a "nib" is the metal point of such a pen) designed by Nibster Jim Woodring. The banner flew proudly this evening!
First Thursday at Howard House
Who--or what--is the Friends of the Nib? We're a weird crew. Our work isn't traditional mainstream art by any means--our various backgrounds include cartooning and illustration as well as fine art, so the work isn't tepid wallflower material but more sanguine, offbeat, punk, underground, hard to pin down. Here we are, hung salon style on the pristine white walls of a prestigious downtown gallery.
Jen Graves, art critic for the Stranger, gave us the coveted "Stranger Suggests" pick. She pitched the show this way:
"This recessionary year, almost nobody is going to Art Basel Miami, meaning December's First Thursday should be at full strength all over Pioneer Square. Howard House hosts furious live cartooning by Friends of the Nib, the Seattle cartooning cabal founded by Bob Rini and Jim Woodring, along with a three-day-only show of their work, paired with a regular-fancy-art show—The Figure—full of bodies of all kinds made by other bodies, from the late Philip Guston to contemporary L.A. artist Ruby Osorio. (Howard House, 604 Second Ave, 256-6399. 6–8 pm, free.)"
The show also includes dazzling new work by Ellen Forney, Max Clotfelter, David Lasky, Tom Dougherty, Scott Faulkner, Heidi Estey, Calamity Jon, the amazing animator Bruce Bickford, and more.
"Cu cu, Cu cu, Cantaba la Ranita" by Bob Rini --A stuffed Mexican frog sings a corrida
Stop by and see the show, mingle with the artists, eat some cheese, buy some art. This is a chance to beat the curve and get something from Edge City before the world catches up. We'll be there, drawing live most of the time. Come by Saturday, December 5th at noon for our cartoon workshop.
The Friends of the Nib
More of my artwork can be seen at Bob Rini Makes Art
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Here's something off the musical mainstream, an old winter classic performed by Leon Redbone and Dr. John. Many people have performed this song over the years, including me at my kindergarten Christmas pageant. I wore a costume and sang my own rendition, but since no recording contracts were presented I decided to stay put and finish school. Some say I was pretty good, but in the dog-eat-dog world of show business moms don't count. Anyway, here's Leon and the good doctor with a song about an ill-fated snowman named "Frosty."
Sorry to have two dope stories in a row, but I can't help it. Portland is going to pot. The town is the home of the first cannabis cafe in the country where medical marijuana users can smoke their weed in a social setting. You know, a social setting like the countless bars and taverns and restaurants on nearly every corner where people consume beer, wine, and hard liquor.
I grew up in the Portland area, and my girlfriend and I just returned from a wonderful couple days celebrating Thanksgiving with my family and friends in the City of Roses. Don't worry, nobody smoked pot. I could be a smart aleck and say that a few of them should have, but I won't, because if you can't say something nice about your in-laws, then you shouldn't say anything at all. Anyway, when our antiquated drug laws finally reflect the current scientific data and people have a choice between a Bud light and a bud in the garden, I might have a few suggestions for the next family gathering. Until then, I'll insist everyone abides by the law. You know, like back in the good old days (not counting the Prohibition Years, when grandpa made whiskey). Okay, everyone chill out or we're getting you a prescription for the cannabis cafe.
Oregon NORML is opening a cannabis cafe for medical marijuana patients in the former site of Rumspankers Restaurant at 700 N.E. Dekum Street. (Photo courtesy of the Portland Observer)
In the clip above, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! speaks with Madeline Martinez, executive-Director of the Oregon chapter of NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), the group that runs the café.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
This is a great little cartoon based on the legendary no-hitter Dock Ellis pitched in a major league baseball game while tripping on LSD. I can't resist posting this wild animation. It has a very cool retro look, very 1970s, with kind of a Superfly, blaxploitation vibe. Can ya dig it?
Warning. I should probably include a note about not condoning the use of illegal drugs and so forth, and I should probably warn kids not to imitate the bad behavior of their sports heroes, and I should probably remind impressionable young athletes that dropping a tab of acid before the big game won't necessarily improve their performance. You know all that, but it's better to be safe. So stay in school, kids, brush between meals, and wear white when you ride your bike at night. Especially this time of year, when Santa is watching.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Ten years ago today, Seattle was filled with protesters opposing a meeting of the World Trade Organization. Seattle was also filled with teargas, rubber bullets, and broken glass.
They called it "N30," and "the Battle in Seattle." Did you protest and get teargassed? Did you support the WTO? Were you woefully ignorant of the issues like most startled television viewers?
Why were so many people willing to risk life and limb to protest the WTO? Why did the city become a war zone? Why did the mayor outlaw protest downtown? What's the big deal with the WTO?
American intellectual and longtime dissident Noam Chomsky explains the WTO. Watch the clip.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Sarah Palin, dumb as a mud fence, has been touring with her ghost-written blame-ography, "Going Rogue." At a recent book-signing stop, the clueless former governor was punked by a Canadian comedian. Palin told the fake newsperson that Canada should do away with its health care system, and she reached out to the imaginary prisoners of universal health care in the Great White North.
"Keep the faith," she said, "because common sense conservatism can be plugged in there in Canada too. In fact, Canada needs to reform its health care system and let the private sector take over some of what the government has absorbed."
What a dumb ass.
Trouble is, Palin got it all wrong. Ninety percent of Canadians support universal, single-payer health care, and in spite of some complaints about the wait, polls show 82 % believe their health care system is preferable to the US system.
Who punked Palin? Mary Walsh, the star of This Hour Has 22 Minutes, a Daily Show type news parody program in Canada. In Sarah's defense, we should mention that parody is a fairly sophisticated form of humor that requires at least a modicum of intelligence to appreciate. Less intelligence, however, than running the most powerful nation on earth.
Sarah has been punked by Canadians before. A year ago, a Montreal comedian convinced the former governor of Alaska that she was speaking with French President Sarkozy, with equally hilarious--and revealing--results.
Palin, unofficial ambassador of dumb
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Thanksgiving is a wonderful feast, and anticipation makes it even tastier. All that time waiting for the turkey the smells in the kitchen waft through the house. Then finally the stuffing and mashed potatoes and candied yams are placed in the table, and then finally the star of the show, as the golden bird appears! It's a feast to satisfy anybody!
Well, almost. Vegetarians will huddle around a gelatinous tofurkey. Yawn. Sure, it beats the hell out of tofu dogs, but that's not saying much. And there's another renegade group, a certain breed of Southern American that embraces the other extreme, adding even more meat! Here's an old favorite film clip:
Paula Deen, the Queen of Carnage, "builds" a turducken. Wild turduckens used to roam freely but nowadays they must be assembled like Frankenstein's monster. A chicken is put inside a duck, which in turn is stuffed into a turkey. Vegetarians may want to leave out an animal or two.
Forget the tofurkey!
If the turducken seems gross and extreme, remember that the ancient Romans might look at this unholy beast as just the beginning, and stuff it inside a sheep, then a pig, and finally a cow. They would call it a Turduckasheeporkow, and slice it like a jellyroll. Some say it brought down the empire.
Ancient Romans killing time while awaiting the arrival of the Turduckasheeporkow
One more Paula Deen moment, and a warning to us all. Even cooking professionals must be alert and aware in the kitchen:
Paula Deen being hit in the face by a ham. Evidently, she didn't know it was being thrown.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
"30 Rock" creator and star Tina Fey hosted the Ad Council Annual Dinner Wednesday night, and brought back her famous impersonation of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. We prefer Tina Fey,"the fake Palin," to the real and equally fake Sarah Palin. The original clip above was "removed by user," so here is Tina speaking about "the Palin persona."
"One more thing!"
Meanwhile, Palin's ghostwritten autobiography, "Going Rogue," has struck readers as self-serving poop that plays the blame game for all her failings and shortcomings. In the book, Palin blamed McCain and his people for holding her back and ruining her shot at Vice President. She blamed Katie Couric for asking her tough questions. She blamed the liberal media, and all the usual bugaboos. She blamed Obama for his "socialist policies." In an Oprah interview this week, she rated Obama a "4" on a scale of 1 to 10. Too bad we can't use negative numbers, or we could rate Sarah Palin.
Palin's book, with minor changes. It could use a few more.
At a November 18th book-signing in Noblesville, Illinois, Palin walked away from signing books for an estimated 300 families that had waited more than three hours to see their hero. The crowd grew angry and booed Palin.
"We gave up our entire workday, stayed in the cold, my kids were crying," one man was quoted saying. "They went home with my wife. She was out here in the freezing cold all day. I feel like I don't want to support Sarah."
Angry crowd boos Palin at book-signing
Recently, her report of the Exxon Valdez disaster was called into question by David Oesting, the lead plaintiff attorney in the private litigant's civil case against Exxon. "This is the most cockamamie bullshit," said Oesting. "She didn't have a damn thing to do with it, and she didn't know what it was about."
For more of the story, click here.
Since it's nearly Thanksgiving, we thought it would be appropriate to show this clip of mindless Sarah Palin pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey while turkeys all around her are being slaughtered. Oops!
Friday, November 20, 2009
We love Thanksgiving. Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, the whole nine yards. We gorge ourselves to celebrate the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, and surviving the winter with the help of God--and a few Native Americans. They had a feast, and being English they probably boiled the hell out of it.
Today, we all celebrate a golden-glowing Norman Rockwell holiday. Or do we? My guess is that every ethnic group puts a little local spin on it. In our household, we had an Italian American take on the feast.
As you know, Italians in Italy don't celebrate Thanksgiving. They celebrate La Festa del Ringraziamento (Festival of Thanks) which is similar in spirit, and also includes food and drink, but no pilgrims. They also celebrate many autumn harvest festivals, as they have since well before the time of Christ. In this country, Italian Americans celebrate their own Thanksgiving traditions, and the food is very good. Unlike those austere, pinched-mouthed, black-wearing pilgrims, Italians love life--and food is a major part of life. The feast might start with an antipasto, jump into a lasagna for a first course (prima piatta), and get around to the turkey and stuffing as the main course.
Thomas Craughwell, in an article entitled, "If Only the Pilgrims Had Been Italian," had this to say:
"I would be willing to bet serious money that right now in your kitchen you have olive oil, garlic, pasta, Parmesan cheese, and dried basil (maybe even fresh basil!). Nothing exotic there, right? They're ingredients we take for granted. But their appearance in our kitchens is a relatively recent phenomenon. Believe me, those big-flavor items did not come over on the Mayflower. It took generations, even centuries, for Americans to expand their culinary horizons to the point where just about everybody cooks Italian and orders Chinese take-out."
Read the rest of the story here.
On the Sicilian Culture website, an Italian American Thanksgiving is decribed in detail:
"In the fine pilgrim tradition, my ancestors (grandparents) came over here to the New World, America, and they celebrated and gave thanks for their new fortune, freedom and prosperiety. However, they were very reluctant to give up the traditions of their own, that is why they still serve manicotti, lasagna or stuffed shells prior to the turkey. If you are ever invited to a real Italian Thanksgiving Dinner, do not eat beforehand, and bring your appetite, and plan on staying for a while or even sleeping over. You see, they start off with the antipasto: salami, pepperoni, tomatoes, olives, anchovies, sweet roasted peppers, assorted cheeses like mozzarella, provolone, and even the American cheddar, etc. Then comes the salad, next the pasta, and of course nexts comes the turkey, complete with stuffing, yams, mashed potatoes, gravy and anything else you might expect. Afterward, you of course have the fine Italian pastries, and that is always the hightlight, the conversation then consists of where you got them, how long you waited on line, and who has the best. This final course includes black coffee done in the double boiler, better known as demitasse or espresso, with the usual cordials, amaretto, sambuca and/or anisette."
This Thanksgiving, try an Italian stuffing with the help of Giada De Laurenteiis
Sounds good to me. In case you get lucky, and get invited to Thanksgiving with Italians, these words may be helpful:
- l'Amerindio—American Indian
- il corteo—parade
- il granturco—Indian corn
- il Nuovo Mondo—New World
- i Padri Pellegrini—Pilgrim Fathers
- il raccolto—harvest
- il tacchino—turkey
- la tradizione—tradition
- la zucca—pumpkin
Comedian Joe DeVito talks about an Italian American Thanksgiving in his stand-up routine. Here he was filmed at Stress Factory, on October 16, 2008
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
This is some crazy stuff...if this doesn't put you in the holiday spirit you're hopeless.
Maybe you heard Bob Dylan has a Christmas album. I'll give you a moment to make a joke. Okay, ready? It shouldn't be a surprise, really. Dylan's last few albums have reflected an abiding love of American music going back to the Civil War, and he's obviously a student of that great tradition of folk, blues, and oldtime music. Hell, he helped make a few traditions of his own. Anyway, the new album digs back to classic holiday music, and it's a fundraiser for the United Nations World Food Program.
A Christmas album? Don't be a Santa Hater.
Anyway, never one to fall into a rut, Dylan is constantly reinventing himself. The man behind "Blonde on Blonde" and "Blood on the Tracks" never sounded more sentimental and sincere. I love this clip, in which Dylan wears a wig that balances on his head like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine. It looks like a great party from the days before everyone got so damn serious. Give it a listen. It's good music for a good cause, and it looks like more fun than anyone's had since he toured England with the Hawks. Enjoy!!!
We love Isabella Rossellini. The daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Isabella is not only a great beauty (she was the Lancôme model for years), she is also a wonderful actress. Maybe you saw her in "Blue Velvet," "Fearless," "Immortal Beloved," or "Big Night." She has wonderful comic timing, as you've seen in a couple episodes of "30 Rock," where she plays Alec Baldwin's ex-wife.
Now, Isabella Rossellini is acting and co-directing (with Jody Shapiro) a series of short two minute films called "Green Porno." You heard right. In the films, she humorously enacts the mating rituals of various animals.
Here, she shows the mating rituals of a praying mantis. Other favorites include the life of anchovies (which begins with a pizza) and the common house fly. Everyone would agree, there is nothing common about Isabella.
See more of the "green porno" series on The Sundance Channel and IFC.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Chicha is a corn liquor the Incas drank before Columbus. Chicha is also the name of a South American music craze which started out in the early 70's in the Peruvian Amazon.
Chicha Libre, originally called Cumbias Amazonicas, is a musical group that is inspired by Colombian accordion-driven cumbias but incorporates "the distinctive pentatonic scales of Andean melodies, some Cuban son, and the psychedelic sounds of surf guitars, farfisa organs and moog synthesizers." They might be cousins to Os Mutantes, and the bands that play "a post-modern combination of western psychedelia, Cuban and Colombian rhythms, national melodies and idiosyncratic inventions."
Got that? In other words, you won't hear this on the radio.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
I moved to Seattle in the the late summer of 1991 just when the town exploded and changed the world for one brief shining moment. I hit the Emerald City just a few weeks before Nirvana released "Nevermind" and the sounds that had been brewing for years in the Pacific Northwest finally cracked the mainstream. It was an exciting time to head to Seattle, and a million kids did the same thing. They swarmed the city, especially Capitol Hill, in a flurry of green hair and tattoos and guitar cases. They sprawled on Broadwat, ate burgers at Dick's, spare-changed shoppers leaving the QFC, and tried to squeeze into shows at the Crocodile. Right on their tail, breathing down their necks. were a thousand scouts from record companies all over trying to repeat the success of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains, 7 Year Bitch...not to mention Bikini Kill and those riot girrrls from Olympia. Sub Pop Records, which first signed Nirvana, Mudhoney, and Soundgarden back in the 80s, was suddenly cooler than any record company in New York or Los Angeles.
You know these guys
Before long, Paris runway models were sporting "le Grunge," Matt Dillon was wearing a longhaired wig in a Hollywood movie about Seattle grunge, sit-coms popped up with Seattle this and that--and this western outpost--long scorned by New York and LA--was suddenly cool and those trendsetting cities hopelessly outre.
Matt Dillon and Bridget Fonda play "Grunge" in a Hollywood version of Seattle in the early 90s: Seattle was suddenly "in" and there was money in it.
"Touch Me I'm Sick" by Mudhoney
Fine. Anything great from the Northwest--microbrews, the coffee revolution, music--came about when people ignored the so-called capitols of taste (and their grip on distribution and production) and did it for themselves. This was real--sludgy and loud and not compromising to commercial tastes of the time. This was indie noise that somehow broke through the radio stations that had been playing Journey and Foghat way longer than they should have. People were suddenly "sleepless in Seattle" scurrying after contracts.
"Le Grunge" on the Paris runway. Tres chic!
Before long, the Northwest uniform of Pendleton flannel, blue jeans, and big knobby boots (which we'd been wearing in the NW forever) became the cool outfit around the world. As I mentioned, haute couture tried to cash in, and expensive designers were copying "le Grunge," the look that originally came out of thrift stores and the Goodwill.
"Alive" by Pearl Jam.
Some people hated Pearl Jam right off the bat, or felt they were in competition with the more truly "punk" Nirvana, but Pearl Jam were definitely part of the Seattle scene. I saw them for free at the park. See if you can spot me in the crowd.
And comics...an often overlooked trashy artform was reborn in the creative stewpot of Seattle in the 1990s. Fantagraphics spearheaded a movement of new, intelligent alternative comics with a crew of genre-stretching artists that included Xaime and Gilbert Hernandez, Peter Bagge, Jim Woodring and Dan Clowes, producing such notable comics as Ghost World, Hate, Frank, Eightball, and Love and Rockets.
Larry Reid, instrumental in spreading the Seattle comix revolution, reads a Peter Bagge comic, "Buddy Does Seattle," in his Fantagraphics Bookstore.
The music was the thing that hit everyone, though. And like all subcultures, the mainstream had its fun with its stereotypes and jokes--the tattoos and hair providing an easy target for square America. Copycat bands like "Stone Temple Pilots" sprung up, pretending to be from Seattle, and hardcore bands on the Lower East Side sported "Sonics" sweats and "Seattle's Best" T-shirts. And of course, some bands with good pedigrees thought they'd cater to the mainstream copying the hits, and some of the music suffered. Still, it was an exciting place for a while when even the warm-up bands were making cool, creative, formerly non-mainstream music. People knew they were in on something. And when the New York Times called Megan Jasper at Sub Pop Records for inside information on the phenomenon, Megan gave them an entirely bogus dictionary of "grunge terms" that they ran as gospel truth. She went on and on, and The Times ate it up with a spoon. The journal of record thought they had cracked the code, and they ran the piece in its entirety as "The Lexicon of Grunge."
MTV frequently visited Seattle, Here an all-star show at the pier on New Year's Eve started with The Breeders. Here they perform "Divine Hammer" and "Cannonball," two alternative hits, as they warm up the crowd for Nirvana.
The "Behind the Music" obligatory moral. Okay. Scenes come and go. Heroin and success took its toll on some of the bands, and that murky dead-eyed look became pretty common. Of course, everyone knows that kid from Aberdeen, Kurt took his final shot of smack and blew his brains out with a shotgun one rainy day in his house on Lake Washington. People come from all over to pay their respects. The end of an era.
Nirvana in concert.
Now it's all ancient history. The trend is toward fey ironic pop (listen to the popular "Juno" soundtrack and retch) and "indie" has devolved to nothing more than a marketing strategy for major corporations and dull mainstream music. Oh, there is still an underground music scene, some really creative stuff exists in a subterranean world outside the MTV spotlight, but you have to seek it out. Once again. Trade your mixtapes. Keep an eye open.
Still, after all is said and done, watching these clips makes me nostalgic. You couldn't beat these kids from the muddy banks of the Wishkaw. Under their wall of ragged noise is sheer heart and melody. Here we are now. Entertain us. Something stupid and contagious.
Friday, November 13, 2009
John Prine is a hell of a songwriter. He can write a simple country folk song that will knock you out. Prine is a poet, really, and a short story writer, and a singer all rolled up in one. Listen to the words, and unless you're a hopelessly hard-hearted bastard you'll feel something. That's truth.
John Prine wasn't an overnight success. He joined the army, and then worked as a postman. He wrote songs at night, and he played them on open mikes in clubs. That's when he caught the attention of Kris Kristofferson, who was completely blown away. He quipped that Prine was so good "we'll have to break his thumbs."
Kris helped him get a recording contract, and the eponymous 1971 album that followed was a huge hit. The cover showed him sitting on a couple bales of hay like some farmboy. This was 1971, mind you, and way out of step with the fashion of the day, but the hippest songwriters payed close attention. Like any great new songwriter, he was called "the next Bob Dylan," but the old, original Dylan himself was a big fan, and even showed up to a gig to play harmonica with John.
Here's a younger John Prine slinking around in his old hometown of Maywood, Illinois. He sings "Paradise," a song about returning to his old Kentucky home to find it stripped away by Peabody Coal Company.
In 2009, Bob Dylan told the Huffington Post that Prine was one of his favorite writers, stating "Prine's stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs. I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about "Sam Stone," the soldier junkie daddy, and "Donald and Lydia," where people make love from ten miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that."
Prine is still making music, but maybe he doesn't quite fit into the standard radio format--he's not really country, not really folk--you rarely hear him in the box. I guess he sounds pretty laid back to contemporary listeners, so maybe they think he's old fashioned, but they're missing some radical songwriting. His songs have a gentle power, and he doesn't shout and scream to get your attention, and he doesn't use drum machines and synthesisers and Auto-Tune, and he doesn't try to anticipate the Next Big Thing. He just writes songs, pure and simple.
In 2005, John Prine received the Artist of the Year award at the Americana Music Awards. In 2006, he won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. That was Fair and Square, an album that gave us "Safety Joe," about a man who never took any risks in his life, and "Some Humans Ain't Human," a song that laments the sorry state of humanity and even takes a potshot at President George W. Bush. I'll say it again, Listen to the words.
"Hello in There."
John's older now--who isn't? He's had his ups and downs. It's fitting to end with his song about old age, a sweet heartrending favorite off his first album so many years ago.
post inspired by Bill Craig Jones, who posted some Prine clips on Facebook. Bill is a bay area musician and old friend who used to jam with us up on Cooper Mountain back in the day.