Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Owen Wilson

Monday afternoon I was flipping through Technorati when the Owen Wilson suicide news popped up on my screen. After a moment, I stood up, turned to my co-workers and said "I don't think I can work anymore today. Owen Wilson tried to kill himself."

Two people laughed, and one immediately said "That's not funny." But I wasn't really trying to be funny - Owen Wilson is by far my favorite contemporary movie star, and it will be genuinely sad if he doesn't pass through this period in his life and return to making the sort of fun, whimsical, genuine, and occasionally dark and slightly weird movies that he makes, both as actor and co-writer. So, get better Owen Wilson. That's all I really have to say, that and link to this great essay about Owen Wilson written in the wake of this news. And also, I don't believe Courtney Love for a minute, but Steve Coogan, say it ain't true.

Rave: Bahn Mi, Point Judith Seafood Shacks, Brickley's and Del's

Vietnamese sandwiches, Vietnamese street food. Until this summer, I had no idea that this was a specific thing (which isn't to say that I hadn't eaten them before). What can I say? They are absolutely delicious. I can unequivocally recommend Silent h on North 9th and Berry in Brooklyn and Banh Mi Saigon Bakery at Mott below Grand. Check out this Gridskipper post for more (and this Time Out New York "Cheap Eats" article for a wider variety of cheap sandwiches...)

While we're on the subject of eating, let's not forget Aunt Carrie's in Narragansett, RI, where clam cakes, lobster rolls, clam strip rolls, and chowder were the order of the night on Saturday evening, followed by rich, homemade ice cream at Brickley's on 1A, and preceded by a refreshing Del's on the beach. Who says you can't eat like a king in South County?


Monday, August 27, 2007

Endless Summer: Summer Reading

Back from a lovely weekend on the Narragansett shoreline. Over-worked and under-motivated, it's that endless summer time of year. I'm lazy, so go outside and play. Or read these:

- New Yorker review of a book on whaling, a must read for all New Englanders. Key graf below, once and for all settling the rightful pecking order of Rhode Islanders, Cape Codders, and Nantucketers, Melville be damned. And Vineyarders, well, not worth a mention:
Serious money was at stake. When two shallops of Rhode Islanders towed home a right whale in 1662, a contemporary commented that “they had earned more than a whole farm would bring us in an entire year.” Besides oil, right whales contained baleen, a fibrous and feathery tissue in their mouths, which is probably responsible for the “strange, grassy, cutting sound” that Ishmael hears as he watches them feed. Flexible when heated, baleen, also known as whalebone, kept whatever shape it was cooled into, like plastic. It was used primarily in corsets, fashionable from the sixteenth century to the dawn of the twentieth, but it could be molded into items as various as umbrella ribs, fishing rods, and shoehorns.

The island of Nantucket happened into the business a few years later, when a skinny whale strayed into one of their harbors and wandered there for three days, long enough for the Nantucketers to forge a harpoon, paddle out, and stick it. The island upgraded its whaling in 1690 with the expertise of a Cape Codder named Ichabod Paddock, who was said to have been swallowed by a whale in whose belly he found the Devil and a mermaid playing cards for his soul. No less fabulously, around 1712 a Nantucket captain cruising for right whales near shore was supposedly blown out to the broad Atlantic in his small boat, where he made the most of his predicament by killing a sperm whale, which swims only in deep waters. The logistics of a small boat tugging a sperm whale in from the high seas are doubtful, Dolin points out, but, whatever its origins, offshore whaling was dominated by Nantucket until the early nineteenth century.

- Visit David Lynch's website. Why wouldn't you?

- RM sends a Clive James review of Robert Hughes memoir, which is one of those occasionally surfacing artifacts that makes you curse God that you weren't born another man (specifically, Robert Hughes).

- The PK interview, first in a series, in case you missed it.

- Worthwhile Pitchfork interview of Daryl Hall (of Hall & Oates). My favorite point:
Pitchfork: Have you ever wondered if your career would have gone differently if you were black?

DH: I don't know. I mean, that's a weird question. What I do isn't black music, it's just my music. It's music that I grew up with. It's my music as much as any black person's music. It was the music I heard when I was a kid. I don't know. If you're African American, you are forced into making different choices, in a lot of cases, than you are as a white person. However, I have had my kicks in the butt in the same direction as a lot of black musicians have. That may sound patronizing, but I understand what it's like to be a black musician in a white world.

Pitchfork: Because you were singing soul--

DH: Because of reverse racism, yeah, and people trying to label me, and trying to say, "Why is this white guy singing black?" and "What are you doing, what is this music you do?" You know, it's a funny thing with the rock canon, if you're a white guy, and you sing the blues, you're Mick Jagger. You're Eric Clapton. And if you're a white guy and you sing soul, you're a freak. But it's the same thing. There's no difference.
- Book lovers and web2.0 fans check out Shelfari...

- Photos from a Flickr search for 'Endless Summer'

- Get better, Owen Wilson!


Underappreciated Comedians Series: Tracy Morgan


Alright, so he has blown up. But has he blown up enough? He is pure entertainment. Pure comedy. Pure energy. KP gave me the new GQ at the end of our beach weekend, and before I read the Obama profile, I had to read the Tracy Morgan profile. I can't get enough. I interrupted screenings of Extras at RM's place tonight to watch grainy clips of Morgan on YouTube. See above and below for appearances on a New Mexico morning television program, kicking it with Ben Wallace for ESPN ("The way I dunk on you is going to look unorthodoxed"), and a spoof first aired on Jimmy Kimmel. Thank me later.




Friday, August 24, 2007

Blowing Up! That's My Boy!

Have you watched the show, Beauty and the Geek? You’d be great in the makeover episode.
MM: We’re keeping the geek in the geek. I think the geek himself is beautiful and he should stay that way.
Read the interview. Then read this review. The check out the Distilled site.

If you are a skinny, geeky, fashionable man, pimp yourself out with Distilled gear. I've got a few things, and I swear to god, non-stop ladies. And I'm not skinny, geeky, or fashionable. It is crazy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mumblecore

Mumblecore is apparently the name given to a small current of indie film-making, at least according to the New York Times. While the methods of mumblecore appeal to me - low-budget, DV-filming, independent, almost peer-to-peer distribution - what substantive elements seem to characterize these films, either in terms of style or content, seem less interesting. From the Times article:
More a loose collective or even a state of mind than an actual aesthetic movement, mumblecore concerns itself with the mundane vacillations of postcollegiate existence. It can seem like these movies, which star nonprofessional actors and feature quasi-improvised dialogue, seldom deal with matters more pressing than whether to return a phone call. When the heroine of “Funny Ha Ha” (2002), the film that kicked off the mumblecore wave, writes out a to-do list, the items include “Learn to play chess?” and “Fitness initiative!!”

But what these films understand all too well is that the tentative drift of the in-between years masks quietly seismic shifts that are apparent only in hindsight. Mumblecore narratives hinge less on plot points than on the tipping points in interpersonal relationships. A favorite setting is the party that goes subtly but disastrously astray. Events are often set in motion by an impulsive, ill-judged act of intimacy.

Artists who mine life’s minutiae are by no means new, but mumblecore bespeaks a true 21st-century sensibility, reflective of MySpace-like social networks and the voyeurism and intimacy of YouTube. It also signals a paradigm shift in how movies are made and how they find an audience. “This is the first time, mostly because of technology, that someone like me can go out and make a film with no money and no connections,” said Aaron Katz, whose movies “Dance Party USA” and “Quiet City” will be shown as part of a 10-film mumblecore series at the IFC Center that begins Wednesday and continues through Sept. 4.

Bear Attack

The necessary parties have already been warned about this tragic story:
A 23-year old Serb was found dead and half-eaten in the bear cage of Belgrade Zoo at the weekend during the annual beer festival.

The man was found naked, with his clothes lying intact inside the cage. Two adult bears, Masha and Misha, had dragged the body to their feeding corner and reacted angrily when keepers tried to recover it.

"There's a good chance he was drunk or drugged. Only an idiot would jump into the bear cage," zoo director Vuk Bojovic told Reuters.

Local media reported that police found several mobile phones inside the cage, as well as bricks, stones and beer cans
I believe I have made my position clear.

Love's Limit

A sad and strange story about Arthur Miller's long-denied and developmentally disabled son in Vanity Fair:
Only a handful of people in the theater knew that Miller had a fourth child. Those who did said nothing, out of respect for his wishes, because, for nearly four decades, Miller had never publicly acknowledged the existence of Daniel.

He did not mention him once in the scores of speeches and press interviews he gave over the years. He also never referred to him in his 1987 memoir, Timebends. In 2002, Daniel was left out of the New York Times obituary for Miller's wife, the photographer Inge Morath, who was Daniel's mother. A brief account of his birth appeared in a 2003 biography of Miller by the theater critic Martin Gottfried. But even then Miller maintained his silence. At his death, the only major American newspaper to mention Daniel in its obituary was the Los Angeles Times, which said, "Miller had another son, Daniel, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome shortly after his birth in 1962. It is not known whether he survives his father." Citing the Gottfried biography, the paper reported that Daniel had been put in an institution, where Miller "apparently never visited him."

Miller's friends say they never understood exactly what happened with Daniel, but the few details they heard were disturbing. Miller had not only erased his son from the public record; he had also cut him out of his private life, institutionalizing him at birth, refusing to see him or speak about him, virtually abandoning him. The whole matter was "absolutely appalling," says one of Miller's friends, and yet everyone probably would have kept silent had it not been for the rumor that began to spread earlier this year, passing from Roxbury to New York City and back. Although no one was sure of the facts, the story was that Miller had died without leaving a will. Officials had gone looking for Miller's heirs, and they had found Daniel. Then, the rumor went, the state of Connecticut had made Arthur Miller's estate pay Daniel a full quarter of his father's assets, an amount that was believed to be in the millions of dollars.

For some of Miller's friends, the possibility that Daniel had been given his fair share brought a measure of relief that, finally, a wrong had been righted. Attention had been paid. The feeling was shared by the social workers and disability-rights advocates who have known and cared for Daniel over the years as it became clear that he had indeed gotten a share of the Miller estate. "An extraordinary man," "very beloved by a lot of people," Daniel Miller, they say, is a "guy who's made a difference in a lot of lives." They also say he is someone who, considering the challenges of his life, has in his own way achieved as much as his father did. The way Arthur Miller treated him baffles some people and angers others. But the question asked by friends of the father and of the son is the same: How could a man who, in the words of one close friend of Miller's, "had such a great world reputation for morality and pursuing justice do something like this"?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Lovable Losers

Headed to Chicago for an extended weekend, for the wedding of JJK and EBC. Looking forward to a weekend full of fun, including a Cubs day game on Friday - the way baseball was meant to be played. I likely won't be posting for four or five days, so I leave you with these Flickr images from the most interesting search for "Losers" (in honor of the Cubbies).

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Cute, Spooky, and Petulant?

I don't usually go for cutesy art, but cute spooky, and petulant? Check out the work of Yoshitomo Nara.

Work It Out



I don't necessarily care for the RJD2 track, but the dance sequence is amazing. A little background:
Post hip-hop troubadour RJD2 teamed with dance and media artist Bill Shannon for the 'Work It Out' video. Shannon, born with a degenerative hip condition, developed a way to express himself through dance (and even skateboarding) on crutches. Director Joey Garfield took to the streets of New York and captured one continuous shot of Shannon, injecting RJD2 into random roles throughout the video.

One Night With Doctor Paul

NOTE: This represents the first attempt at a new feature on this blog, one that I hope is long running. I will be publishing interviews with friends, hoping to learn a bit more about where they come from, what they believe in, and what is important to them in their professional and personal lives. I hope you enjoy it.

“One Night With Doctor Paul”

Paul K. and I have been friends for about ten years. As I recall, we were first introduced by Andy B. when Andy recruited me to join the Ovalshow sketch comedy group at Stanford University, in the fall of 1997. At the time, to a smart-alecky sophomore, Paul, along with RM, represented the brooding genius of the show – writing and performing sketches that were arch, literary, and absurd. In those days of Nico and Mr. Eddy, he often sported a dark trench coat and a casual disregard for convention, giving Paul as much of an air of danger as could be claimed by a man who studied moral philosophy, the philosophy of science, and later, medicine.

After college, Paul, well, Paul continued to go to college. Our friendship continued and matured, over the years and across continents, as Paul completed a Master’s at Stanford, spent a year at Cambridge, and then finally settled on a medical career at Yale. Included in this time were a memorable, if ill-advised, weekend of martinis in New Haven, a week-long tour de force in London, Brussels, and Amsterdam, many evenings of dinner and drinks in New York, and two separate, rum-soaked weeks in the Virgin Islands.

Paul, recently married, and even more recently turned 30, agreed to sit down with me for my first experiment in interviewing. During the most recent of our trips to the Virgin Islands, over wine and then whiskey, on the deck of Purt-Ny-Shee, overlooking the Caribbean Sea, we talked about growing up, our friends, Christianity, becoming a doctor, and anything else that crossed our minds from two until six in the morning.

Name: Paul K.
Age: 30
Occupation: Medical student/Neurosurgery resident
Hometown: Bronxville, NY and Kingman, AZ
Family: Paul is the middle brother of three. Paul’s parents immigrated to the US from India. His father is a cardiologist and his mother took care of the family. Paul is married to Lucy G-K.

Kingman Days
Paul spent the first half of his youth in Bronxville, NY, and the second half in Kingman, AZ, two vastly different towns located on opposite sides of the country. In terms of influence, neither town is immediately obvious as heavily molding young Paul, other than his once-ardent support for Senator John McCain, and his continued support for the Phoenix Suns.

RRD: In terms of growing up do you identify more with Bronxville or Kingman or both equally?

PK:
I think when I lived in Kingman, I identified more with Bronxville, but after coming to Stanford, and just to clarify, the way I conceptualize these two places Bronxville is very urbane, wealthy, highly educated, Kingman, very poor, no one goes to college, no one graduates high school, it’s out in the wilderness, and I know it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to say, because my career trajectory is very Bronxville-ian, but, in the end, I think I identify more with Kingman.

RRD:
So what about Kingman is it that you identify with?

PK:
Outdoorsiness, being in the outdoors. I much prefer rural settings to cities. I like the small town, where everyone knows everybody. A little bit of the suburbanite dream where you can go live in this place where its very safe, very nice, but it’s more than that because it’s in the middle of nowhere. I may never get to do this because the kinds of jobs I am headed towards require a high concentration of technological capital, but my fantasy world, I would just move to Wyoming or Montana, just live in the middle of nowhere and just fix broken legs or whatever.

RRD:
So you felt like growing up in Kingman, you, your family was really integrated with the community at large? You felt like you knew people there, you have good relationships now with people there?

PK:
No, none of those things. So, why do I identify with Kingman? None of my good friends now are from high school. There are a couple of people I am still in touch with. My family, I wouldn’t really say, is part of the community, because the community is totally white. I think we were the first non-white family to move in to the community, or one of the very first. There are no Native Americans. no Mexicans, which is weird, given its location. And so, it was a very racist town, with a mixture of the congenial racism of everyday stuff, with the occasional violent, weird, bad stuff. What do I like about that town?

RRD:
What about violent weird stuff? Are there any stories there?

PK:
Well, going from the least bad to the worst. I was definitely called nigger. You know, a couple of times a week.

RRD:
By people in school, by people in town?

PK:
Both, people in school, classmates, weirdly, some of them sort of my friends. Then by more thug-like people, I didn’t know. Then I was in one or two fights, I don’t know if they were really-raced based…

RRD:
Fist fights?

PK:
Yeah.

RRD:
Closed fist, you punched people?

To read the rest of the interview, please click here.


Swear Jar


Do I feel some amount of shame in putting an ad for a beer commercial on my blog? Not when the ad is actually pretty funny. Cheap, sure, but funny.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Elevator

Since I'm being entirely indulgent in my posts today, a word on the elevator in my office building. It doesn't work. It doesn't work well. It will go up, if you are on the 1st floor. It will take you to the 5th floor. It will not come to the 5th floor, however, if you call it. You have to walk down. George, our less than super super has tried to fix it. He has brought in men to try to fix it. It has not been fixed. It should be noted that George has his own, separate elevator, for him, and for shipments. So he does not quite feel the pain acutely.

The elevator is old, small, dingy, and boxy. It is probably an Otis elevator, but it may be another brand. I don't know how many brands of elevators there are in the city.

Everyday, when I get in the elevator, one of two threads play through my mind, equally fun. The first is inspired by the various malfunctions of the elevator. In no particular order, they are (or, rather, they include:) not coming to the 5th floor when called (probably a problem with the button), the door not closing on the first try, but rather shuddering a foot out, and then wearily retracting (probably a problem with the door), the door closing on the second try, but not smoothly, making two-thirds of its trip confidently, then slowly jerking and spasming its way for the final third (again, door), the floor indicator on the ground floor indicating that the elevator has just reached floor 6 before the doors open on floor G (probably a signal problem), the occasional full-day stoppages (probably an elevator problem).

Oddly, among this litany of complaint, I take solace in one small realization: that in each of these failings, the world is still comprised of circuitry and simple machines, of the sort that, individually, a curious child might discover and master the inner workings. That the world has not been reduced, through overwhelming displays of technology, to magic, faith, and superstition.

So that's one good thing.

The second train of thought has entirely to do with trying to figure out, or at least imagine, what would happen to a person if dropped five stories in a six foot-by-six foot-by-eight foot metal box. So far, I have gotten to hitting the floor hard, then hitting the ceiling hard, then hitting the floor hard again. I have not yet settled on a strategy to minimize damage to vertebrae, nor do I feel comfortable broaching such morbid topics with my still new-ish co-workers. So, any informed opinions would be greatly appreciated.

Photos form a surprisingly fruitful Flickr search for "Stuck Elevator"

Indecision / Less Than Zero

I had willfully and successfully avoided Benjamin Kunkel's Indecision since its publication, until a rainy day in late July where I ducked into a Barnes & Noble to avoid getting too wet. Suckered in.

There, having set my alibi, and allowing for a few more swipes, I can say that it wasn't half bad - and a success in that it was entirely recognizable. From its characterization of twenty-something aimlessness in an increasingly forgiving New York City (the unnecessary and aging spectre of 9/11 non-withstanding), to its portraits of the beer and pot, and occasional pharmaceutical indulgent (some self-medicating, some prescribed), to workplace boredom, underemployment, and the legacy of being over-educated, under-employed, with too-high expectations and too-low tolerance for the bill-paying mechanics of life, well, friends were indicted. Some fleetingly, through one telling detail or another, and some completely and damningly. So there it is, well done.

Heavy touches do exist, starting with the overbearing Wittgenstein quote that sets the novel (hopefully a joke in itself), the 9/11 reference, the pathetic father and son scene, and the Westchester-Bennington-Middlebury solipsism of the whole affair - which lays the mostly sympathetic Dwight at the bored and unsympathetic feet of class antipathy. All of this is, of course, entwined the novel itself - as it both succeed at and suffers from being too smart. But Kunkel has the saving grace, neatly referred within the narrative itself, of recognizing that a short book is always better than a long one, that a short, good book is better than a long, good book, and a short, bad one a godsend. So Indecision is slim, and also a quick and compelling read. You might get bored reading about your friends, you might be interested reading about your sons. Having finally paged through the novel, I think it is worth your time.

Bret Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero is another matter. Another author I have been avoiding, another book purchased on the same fateful rainy afternoon. What a moment of weakness.

Less Than Zero has four things going for it. First, Ellis wrote it when he was 21, if the author's note is to be believed. Which is impressive. Second, you can imagine that Rip is James Spader and Julian is Robert Downey, Jr. Which makes the characters more fun and less horrible. Third, I generally give thumbs up to books that start with rock lyrics, certainly over philosopher's quotations. Fourth, the Vintage Contemporaries paperback edition is beautiful. Slim, neatly bound, white with a fading sepia-toned photograph of Los Angeles disappearing into a smoggy haze, and then into the eggshell white of the cover itself, with a barely visible raised-type title.

Beautiful, but vapid. Like the characters in the novel. Dysfunctional and unlikeable. The Michiko Kakatuni quote on the cover is baffling, "One of the most disturbing novels I've read in a long time. It possesses an unnerving air of documentary reality."

Maybe I was just too young, but were people in the Reagan eighties really that awful? That the rich and young in LA were constantly coked-out, alternately rapists and forced into prostitution, dropping out of prestigious colleges to model or deal drugs, bored and boring, vain and stupid, strung out, wrecking cars and lives, with absentee parents, absentee siblings, and absentee friends? If so, I guess that Less Than Zero is successful in documenting that awfulness. But my guess is that the novel is a bit of glam and a bit of fancy, and that the revolting sheen is as much for pleasure as for insight. And if we're not damning the children of Reagan's eighties specifically, but just of Los Angeles, California, and the mythical west, broadly, well, Nathanael West and Joan Didion (among others) did it better, more artfully, more realistically, and more brutally, and Less Than Zero is deeply indebted, in content, structure, and style to both. So while I won't mind putting the beautiful design object that is the paperback version on my shelf, I can't recommend it, and don't plan on diving further into the Ellis body of work.


Wedding Week

Ah, friends, getting married.

Stick Figure Logic


Stick figure drawings are the far bound of my ability to represent reality through pictures. Still, I love them - and somehow, a wobbly frame, an oval with two dots and a line within it, or a squiggle or a black blob, if particularly expressive, perhaps a jagged attempt at a hand allow for as much in terms of humor, acid critique, and maybe even insight than more vivid and fleshy mediums. Case in point: "DNE" from the oddly-named but quite good XKCD - the strip title an in-joke, I'm sure, and one that I haven't bothered to get as yet.

Dave Eggers' Smarter Feller strip in SF Weekly was my first recognition of the enormous potential of stick figures to speak fluently to the modern condition -- with a certain long-lost episode about Smarter Feller's disdain for Journey adorning my freshman dorm room door, the only marker on an otherwise barren cork-board. Since then, I have brandished my weapon of choice, a black Sharpie, in many boring lectures, tiresome meetings, and as a bleary-eyed morning recourse against the foul demon alcohol. I am proud to say that my three-inch-by- three-inch classics "How Did I Become Such a Monster?" and "Why Are My Dreams So Sad" hang on the walls of a famous contemporary art museum, or if they don't, they should. Needless to say, said pieces are not about me, but rather, about the human condition. That is the vista that the stick figure looks out upon, with his two pen-prick eyes.

Not that true genius does not use the stick figure, as well. Visit Toothpaste For Dinner, voted by someone as the best comic on the web. Also, check out Michel Gondry's prep work for Dave Chappelle's Block Party, bottom. Any more questions?

The Arts & Crafts of Politics

The "Department of Homeland Security Blanket" from a charming piece in Slate.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

C'├ętait un rendez-vous


I don't know exactly what fraction of cool of the makers of this film that I would be satisfied with, but rest assured, it would be a very small fraction.

Motion Pictures

I feel like the "Today's Pictures" daily feature co-presented by Magnum and Slate.com is woefully underappreciated. The Magnum archives are an incredibly rich source of some of America's best photography, and the thematic presentation of subject material routinely creates for a thoroughly entertaining viewing. See the original slideshow for credits.

The Hold Steady @ Prospect Park, plus August Reading

The rain held off just enough last Thursday night to allow me to schlep my unfortunately and accidentally hungover self out to Park Slope to see the Hold Steady in Prospect Park. Having taken Boys and Girls in America and Separation Sunday out of regular rotation since packing up my CDs in San Jose in February, my enthusiasm for the Hold Steady has waned slightly. Nevertheless, I still think Craig Finn is one of the most ambitious lyricists working in rock and roll these days, and a couple of tracks from either album still bubble into my consciousness. And following a transcendent show last year at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco last year, where the band turned a three-quarters full and half-excited weeknight crowd into a frenzied, raving mess, I was excited to see the band again.

The legion of Hold Steady fans have grown larger in the intervening year, as evidenced by the many teeny-somethings crowding the bandshell, happily singing along to the sing along parts of the Hold Steady's recent anthems. The show, in all, was quite good, and even OES, who joined me was relatively impressed. While I prefer seeing the band in a slightly smaller setting, where Finn's spastic energy and the band's songs translate a little better, it was another enjoyable, relatively free outdoor performance in Brooklyn. Worth mention, also are the Big Sleep, who opened, and sounded like Led Zeppelin had been forced to listen to a lot of Galaxie 500 (or perhaps, Smog, given the odd, half-cover of "Teenage Spaceship" that kicked off the band's set), and decided they felt like sounding mostly like Zeppelin. A band that I am excited to see in a smaller venue, where their walls of sound and rhythmic interplay will be even better, I'm sure.

Since August isn't made for working, read these if you are bored at work:

- A PitchforkMedia "Guest List" feature with Patton Oswalt. I had a friend out in LA who used to work on the King of Queens TV show and was sort of friends with Patton. OE, my friend, always spoke highly of Patton as being both very funny and a genuinely nice person. Both come across in this guest list, along with an enthusiasm and a sort of outside-in perspective on hipsterism that I enjoy and sort-of share;
- An interesting interview excerpt of Lee Hazlewood by Dean Wareham, over at Dust Congress;
- A couple of dated Craig Finn interviews worth skimming. Given how energetic his stage presence is, it is sort of re-assuring that he comes across as a pretty normal guy in conversation.
Photos from Flickr user ezwal

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Picture New York

The Mayor’s Office of Theater, Film, and Broadcasting, which coordinates film and television production and issues permits around the five boroughs, is considering rules that could potentially severely restrict the ability of even amateur photographers and filmmakers to operate in New York City. The NY Times reports that the city’s tentative rules include requiring any group of two or more people who want to use a camera in a single public location for more than a half hour (including setup and breakdown time) to get a city permit and $1 million in liability insurance. The regulation would also apply to any group of five or more people who would be using a tripod for more than ten minutes, including setup and breakdown time. -(Excerpted from the Gothamist)
For the moment, the city government of New York has taken into reconsideration a set of regulations that would have deeply and adversely impacted the ability of creative people in New York to continue to be creative effectively. You have to applaud good government in reconsidering the proposed rules, which did not seem like good rules under any circumstance. It would have been shameful to make inaccessible the muse of New York city, the city itself, from one of its core constituencies, hungry, resourceful creative people who don't have a million dollars to spare. It appears that the issue may find a more appropriate resolution, but is worth watching still. Keep tabs at the Picture New York website.

El Clasico Volkswagen


I guess VW has a long history of making charming and somewhat bizarre ads. Thanks to somebody on Youtube, they have all been collected for your viewing pleasure.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The July Reading List

Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
The Insanity Defense, Woody Allen
In Persuasion Nation, George Saunders
Sure Signs, Ted Kooser
"Every stranger's tolerance for poetry is compromised by much more important demands on his or her time. Therefore, I try to honor my reader's patience and generosity by presenting what I have to say as clearly and succinctly as possible .... Also, I try not to insult the reader's good sense by talking down; I don't see anything to gain by alluding to intellectual experiences that the reader may not have had. I do what I can to avoid being rude or offensive; most strangers, understandably, have a very low tolerance for displays of pique or anger or hysteria. Being harangued by a poet rarely endears a reader. I am also extremely wary of over cleverness; there is a definite limit to how much intellectual showing off a stranger can tolerate."- Ted Kooser, Midwest Quarterly, 1999 (from Wikipedia)
There are two occasions when I find reading poetry to be particularly pleasurable and useful: when I am living in a quiet suburban or rural home with a patio or porch and time on my hands, and while riding a train on the New York City subway system. In both cases, a good collection of poems, simple, direct, evocative poems are the perfect fodder for a restless mind. The consumption of poems that are lyrical but recognizable, with resonant themes, subjects, and enjoyable turns of phrase is, to me, very gratifying.

The poems in Ted Kooser's Sure Signs describe the weathered highways, airy houses, and fading light of middle America. The collection suffers slightly from the affliction of most American poetry these days: an embrace of a gray-tinted world of melancholy, aimlessness, and disconnection occasionally punctured by clear, sunny rays of truth or starry, crystalline moments of wonder. This sensibility doesn't lack in truth or charm, it just gets a little heavy sometimes.

That said, Kooser's poems are light and plain, and evoke from quiet, creaky farmhouses, diners, old age homes, and straight, gray highways bits of meaning and magic. Occasionally mundane, usually engaging, Sure Signs is a nice, slim volume to stick in your coat pocket or messenger bag and dip in and out of on short rides on the subway. Check out Kooser's website for a sneak preview.

The lasting impressions of Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays are of a once-glamorous woman dissolving into vodka and cigarettes, laying in her bed, in the middle of the afternoon, of a sun-bleached and center-less Hollywood where the mechanics of depravity and despair are as natural as those of creativity and fame, and a fading vision of a long lost Las Vegas, of hopeful losers. Cold and brutal, the novel is a hangover, the inflection between the sweet drift into oblivion and the painful, clarifying climb out. Didion's powerful but easy prose conveys America's loss of innocence (although it seems that , in literature at least, our innocence is constantly being lost) from the heights of promise, and as I've written, is well worth the read.

An article that I read recently claimed that people rarely laugh out loud by themselves, that laughing is a social activity. It is, I suppose, a consequence of their unique literary voices that allow writers like George Saunders and Woody Allen to make you feel like they are with you, telling you their stories, that makes it OK to laugh out loud when reading their stories alone. At least I did. Since I've already spent time on both collections of stories, I will limit my comments to a simple endorsement: if you are looking for stories that are funny, smart, strange, and thoughtful either of In Persuasion Nation or The Insanity Defense will serve you well.

The July Raves List

Music
Fort Nightly, White Rabbits - Brooklyn's own, ragged and rollicking. Other than the fact that I play Biggie's "Juicy" every other morning before going to work, this has been my favorite record of the summer.
Absolutely the Best, Ike & Tina Turner
Woke on a Whaleheart, Bill Callahan
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon
Number 1s, Elton John
Number 1s, Diana Ross & the Supremes

Movies
Rescue Dawn
Ratatouille

Books
Play it as it Lays, Joan Didion
The Insanity Defense, Woody Allen
In Persuasion Nation, George Saunders
Sure Signs, Ted Kooser

Food & Drink
The Good Fork, Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY
Capone's, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY - a decent place to drink
Silenth, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY - excellent Vietnamese sandwiches

Misc.
Sonic Youth at McCarren Pool Park
The Boredoms at Empire State Ferry landing
The Miracle Mile in Chicago (and the buildings there, in general)
BBC's Planet Earth on DVD

Rock and Roll Will Never Die, part 1 of Infinity

Is there any doubt that the American century has come to a close? When a middle-aged Chinese man can rock so very hard on a tinny little keyboard? What do we have left?

Maybe there was hope once. But it looks like that hope turned to jazz...


Under the Sun: This and That

The world becomes strange, increasingly unrecognizable. Landscapes become shiny where they were once dull, or lush. Everywhere there is light. Celebrity divorces reality, but becomes more like us in their excess. Even from above, it seems weird. For the better? Perhaps.

All of this as prelude to your weekly reading list:

- Michael Caine has a blog, which he does not update frequently, but which is oddly entertaining nonetheless. Courtesy of RM, who also informs me that in England, to be caned (Cained?) means among things, to be stoned. Easily my favorite quote from the blog: "Before that I worked on Children of Men which was a short part only two weeks, where I played an ageing Pot smoking Hippy a refugee from the sixties. This part was so different from anything I have ever done."
- Stylus Magazine posts a feature on the Top 50 Rock drummers. 1st and 2nd position are unimpeachable, and, truthfully, undebatable. The rest of the list? Curious.
- The things we keep discovering about monkeys and inventing about robots are both awesome and disconcerting. How we go about discovery is generally bizarre. For example, in this study, where scientists seem to discover that orangutan's have an impressive capacity for communication, understanding of the motivations of others, and some ability to make economic transactions! But then, "[t]o complicate matters for the orangutans, the researchers pretended to either not understand some of the apes' gestures, or none of them at all." Why researchers, why?!
- A review in New Criterion upon the publication of Robert Frost's notebooks.
- The LA Times on how love is like a drug. Chemically.

Photos from a Flickr search for 'solar farm'