Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Learn English

Three sections of YouTube that are enjoyable wastes of time when you are bored.

1. "Banned Commercials"

2. "Real-life Fights"

3. "Pavement Videos"

Gorilla Suit

I caught up with JWW for a brief moment the other night to return the cell phone he left in the back of a cab. Suited up and overworked, I must have been a sight. JWW asked "Why don't you just go into advertising? They pay well, and it's more fun." Why don't I go into advertising?

Expectations of a Kentuckian

Ian Svenonious interviews Will Oldham (and Chan Marshall and Kevin Shields and Mark E. Smith and so on and so on...) on an internet TV channel that I've never heard of before... Ultra-hip gets totally wired.

EDIT: Oh, fuck this. I should read further -- VBS is VICE magazine, dominating the uber-hip landscape for ever and ever... ah, well.

Monday, November 26, 2007

No Country For Old Men

Went down to BAM with ED last weekend to see No Country For Old Men. Having not read the novel and been underwhelmed by the last few Coen brothers' movies, in comparison to my always high standards for them, I didn't have much by way of expectation. I must say that I always admire the dark humor that the Coen brothers use to line their violence, and their return to Texas was welcomed. While they might not be as vital as they were in their earlier films, the Coens have certainly mastered the period piece, at least when the period is the 80s or early 90s. Combined with the strange temporal context in which their films get absorbed, the desolate landscapes of West Texas form an evocative backdrop for the brutality and general weirdness of Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem's cat-and-mouse game. Tommy Lee Jones' weathered face and odd, funny ramblings, adds a third distinctive performance to the film, and the off-tempo philosophical coda ("some things happen for no reason / but obey the same calculus"), while somewhat disappointing in its lack of avenging bloodbath, provided an excellent close to the movie. That's my rambling take: Worth your while.

Something in the Ordinary

Five from Eggleston. Can't say that I'm finding it, but I'm glad someone did.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The White Men and the Indians

It's been a strange few weeks. KS noticed (I'm not sure anyone else did) that I haven't been posting much. Mostly, I've been working -- pretty much (and literally) from 9 am to 11 pm every Monday through Friday, and then stints on the weekends. Why? It's hard to say. At its core, something to do with pride, I guess. That when you make a commitment, you see it through. All in service of a corporate website, so it makes it hard to justify in big picture terms. Put another way, the picture keeps getting smaller.

With that as my maudlin backdrop, a few strange things have unsettled the strain and tumult of the past few weeks. A correspondence renewed over Facebook and email with one of the few friends from high school with whom I shared sensibilities was left hanging when I got word through the small-town grapevine that he had died suddenly in Colombia. RIP, ABS. Very strange to look at the last un-replied to email.

Catching up with BS over Thanksgiving, at the Knitting Factory, to see his band play. A friend of over nine years, and strange that, from the audience, I couldn't recognize him. Over dinner later in the week, we caught up and it was great -- one of the real pleasures in my life are my friends, and the ease with which old friendships can be continued, even after years absence. Long may that run.

Running into two old friends on an over-crowded Amtrak train to New England on Thanksgiving eve, and taking the excuse to get a little more drunk on that long ride home (which then continued on into the night with my father and our friend from Nepal).

Thanksgiving dinner with my family and the Ps, which has turned into quite a wonderful tradition -- truthfully, five generations at the table (three of theirs, two of ours) -- and the accompanying conversation, at which I seem to have to play the fulcrum, but in which everyone plays a role. Food was great, people was great, even if the evenings, as we push on into the years, are draped in the garments of getting older: age-wrought changes in memories and expectations.

Still, a lot to be thankful for, and I'm glad that I can continue to celebrate this particular holiday in New England, where it feels most right.

Zidane et Platini

Why? Because its easy, sure. Certainly not because of the French techno (who the hell scores these videos, anyhow?) But mostly for Platini's goal at the 2:04 mark. Wow.

Are You Lonesome Tonight?

I loved the premise of this article, but didn't like the article itself. I'd buy multiple DVD compilations of great moments in banter -- from the odd, unfortunate breakdowns, to transcendent moments, to the just plain unusual. Of contemporaneous indie rockers (i.e., who I go to see in concert most often), the best performers for on-stage banter would be Malkmus and Craig Finn, of the Hold Steady, in runners-up position, and the legendary Bob Pollard holding the title aloft. That's my opinion.

Another reason for loving this article is this pretty great Elvis clip. Watching a performer who died before I have any context for them is really interesting... and substantively different from watching a performer who just happened to have his prime before my time. I feel like I have a good sense for Bob Dylan or even the Beatles, as performers, but very little for the magnetism of Elvis or, say, Hendrix.

Fat Suit

Why do it? Why fly to San Francisco, on a Friday night, on the last flight out of JFK, for the weekend? Why rent a car, sit in traffic on 101, and then show up at a dingy karaoke bar in the outer Mission at 1 AM in time to join MM for the chorus of "Hound Dog?" Why get open-hand slapped in the face by CC, at 3 AM, and then when you show CC the blood on your face, get slapped again? Why stay up to 4 AM, trying on a hand made fat suit, and then wake up early the next morning to finish making a second one? Was it worth it? Well, JWW has the tapes. We'll soon find out.

One thing I know for sure: when Baby M shows up, I hope it provides more occasion for impromptu and lightly advised cross-country flights, not less. We don't have to stay out all night, but we'll make baby a star.

The San Francisco trip was a success, for all of the reasons mentioned above, including a full day filming in the cold rain in Noe, a little blood spilled, a chance to reprise the great SPR motifs -- me shirtless and full-bellied, CC jogging, JJK's heavily orchestrated set pieces, oddly homosexual (through rarely erotic) reveries, low-fi props, hand-drawn storyboards, and no audio or video coverage shot. And, of course, a lesson learned.

And the trip was no less a success for seeing ready to burst EM, newly-minted SF-er EBC, JT, CC (who is sorting our her man-troubles, nice work!), MF, ES, and the whole crew. It's hard to have your heartstrings tugged just a little... across the country. Ah, well. We'll just have to reprise, once the M's have strengthened their numbers by one.

A quick of-interest note from the Wikipedia page for 'Fat Suits:'
It [a fat suit] is also used in the training of attack dogs.
Could this possibly be a good idea? Is there any way that attack dogs don't have a higher incidence of attacking fat people?


From the back cover:
In 1975 secret police dressed in chemical warfare suits sealed off a zoo in a small Czechoslovakian town and orchestrated the slaying of forty-nine giraffe, the largest captive herd in the world.
Such is the premise for J.M. Ledgard's outstanding first novel, Giraffe. I am completely enamored of the novel, and may have only one quibble -- which is that while exposing the inhumanity and illogic of totalitarian (or, specifically, Communist) regimes has not slipped fully into irrelevance, it also lacks the immediacy that it once had. Beyond that, the novel is a gem: dreamlike in its prose, alternating passages charged with lyrical, political, and personal reflection, quiet desire, and electricity. The elements that I love best about prose writing and novels find a confluence in Giraffe: an elegant and understated style, a narrative that bends and blurs the edges of reality, without ever forcing us into the territory of the incredulous, an intense, indirect engagement with deep questions, and grounding it all, tethers to science, politics, and those utterly human things that drive the world, and provide the framework for those things that drive our hearts forward. Baroque praise, I'm sure, but well-earned. Giraffe is easily one of my favorite novels of the past few years.

Musical Theater

My intention was to see more theater. Actors, treading the boards. Sweat and spittle and human emotions. What I had foolishly imagined, when purchasing tickets for the Civilians' Gone Missing at a little downtown theater and Black Watch at St. Ann's Warehouse, was grit. Stark, raving grit. Maybe something akin to the time when Charlie took the nerds of Head of the Class to see a production of Hamlet, and it was modernized, and vital, and harrowing, and terrible. What I was expecting was something like that, minus the modernized, and the terrible. What I got, instead, were two very engaging and enjoyable performances, but, both, surprisingly musicals!

Eventually, I am going to praise both shows. First, I am going to state my shock and dismay that everything these days, apparently, has to be a musical - with both song and dance, even if the dance is Devo-inspired. I guess it's 2007. I guess, and I think ED laughed as she said it, I should read the reviews. I was trying not to spoil anything.

So, Gone Missing. This show had two non-performance related highlights. First, JWW and JZ, who came down from the slumberbs to join me at the show, well, what's the best way to describe their behavior? Like released prison inmates? Sailors on furlough? They hit the city around 5, I gathered, and by the time I met them for dinner at 7, the were tipsy. Two margaritas and dinner later, when we rolled into the theater, they were ready for naps. And they did not hesitate in taking them. Not even to be disturbed by the second highlight, the gaggle of ladies directly behind us, who put their bodies' alcohol content to the use of loudly commenting on how good a performer their sister was, throughout the show. Now, these two highlights were complemented nicely by the show, itself. Their sister, who I believe played the Puerto Rican junk yard owner, among people, was excellent. And the dream-like qualities of the non-linear narrative arcs allowed my friends to drift in and out of the show with little damage done.

About Gone Missing, in brief. The shows origin, as I understand, comes from a multitude of taped interviews that the troupe conducted with people - family, friends, acquaintances, strangers - asking the question "What have you lost?" The lost thing having to qualify as a thing, not a loved one or a memory. The show then compiled the best of those interviews, with the six players, three men and three women, occupying the roles of multiple characters, intertwining their fragmented narratives with songs, a re-enacted Terry Gross interview, and a few off-kilter dance numbers. Each wearing a nondescript gray suit, all against the backdrop of an empty stage. All in all, I enjoyed the show quite a bit. The character sketches and anecdotes were compelling, sometimes sad, sometimes touching, sometimes funny. The performers were all talented, and inhabited their charges with ease.

Black Watch was also an engaging performance, although quite a different production. ED and I were pleased to see Liam Neeson and a somewhat suspect Tom Wolfe-like character (must every bird-like, white-haired man in a white suit be Tom Wolfe?) in the audience with us. The play, performed by the National Theater of Scotland, recounted the experiences of the Black Watch, one of Scotland's army regiments with a long and illustrious history, through their tours of duty in Iraq, ultimately ending in the disassembling of the regiment.

Told largely from the perspective of the young soldiers comprising a unit in the regiment, both during and after their tours of duty in the war, the play takes its power largely from the pitch-perfect performances of the soldiers -- young, rough, but jaded by and guarded due to their wartime experience, reflective in uneven measures, emboldened and scarred both -- and a riveting climax sequence which relates a scene in which the patrol of the young soldiers, up until now largely spectators in the war, fall victim to a car-bomb attack on their patrol. As the opening lines of the play relate, most people already have their mind made up about this war. I don't know if this play will likely change anyone's mind, but it does a wonderful job of relating the story, theatrically, from the inside. The play is also extremely effective in placing the regiment's role in the war in the context of its proud history, and its changed relationship to the Scottish public, through the overlays of media exposure, political posturing, and a new type of fighting which has changed the nature of armed conflict itself.

A couple of interpretive dance numbers aside (both of which ED found compelling, one of which I found compelling, the other slightly ridiculous), the play was excellent. Liam Neeson did not, however, laugh at any of the lighter moments.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Beard Team USA

1998 was the year I participated in my first (and only) beard growing contest. "Beardenal," it was dubbed, to find out who the grown ass men were. I failed miserably, placing in the scruffy middle of the pack. But it doesn't matter, because that was amateurland. This is for real.

And while we're on the subject, here's a related game for you: Jam Band Fan or Taliban? It is much harder than you might have thought...

Running From Camera

Sometimes genius takes very modest forms:
The rules are simple:
I put the self-timer on 2 seconds,
push the button
and try to get as far from the camera as I can.
Running From Camera

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Steve Martin and the Avant-Garde

I have decided my act is going to go avant-garde.
It is the only way to do what I want.
- Steve Martin, "In the Bird Cage," The New Yorker Magazine
The movies that Steve Martin made from 1979 to 1991 comprise one of the funniest, smartest, and in some respects, touching bodies of work, in any form of popular entertainment. The more distance I get from these movies (and I regularly revisit The Jerk, L.A. Story, Three Amigos, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Roxanne, and Trains, Planes, and Automobiles), the better they hold up. For me, what has made these movies incredibly successful has always been Martin's ability to mix innocence and a knowing acknowledgment of the absurd in service of being funny and emotionally honest. The wide-eyed romanticism of Martin's leads paired with the total embrace of the ridiculousness of their situations have allowed Martin to transcend the wink-wink laughs, and create a resonance in exploring deeper themes. The Jerk and, particularly, L.A. Story have been the exemplars of this. The scene in which Martin and Victoria Tennant sneak out during the dinner party, and, as they make love, turn into children walking through a garden -- well, that's always struck whatever romantic chord is buried inside of me.

It was with great interest that I read the essay in the October 29th issue of the New Yorker (abstract online, although I imagine the essay, "In the Bird Cage" will be archived eventually), in which Martin provided a personal recollection of the very beginnings of his comedy career. While I've never quite had the belief or commitment to make it as a performer, I would characterize the way I think about the world as similar to a comedian's, in a lot of ways. Martin's remembrance of finding his way in comedy, and as a performer, have harmonic overtones for the time I spent actively thinking about comedy in college and my early 20s, and relevance to finding life in general. The quote above, written by a 21 year old Martin in the late 60s, lifted from the article, just about sum it up correctly, although even more accurately when paired with the qualification of that quote by a 60-something year old Martin:
I'm not sure what I meant, but I wanted to use the lingo, and it was seductive to make these pronouncements. Through the years, I have learned that there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.
I suppose my lingering delusion is that I am in a protracted moment of charging up, definitely between moments of valid inspiration. Perhaps time for my act to go avant-garde.

If you have an admiration of Martin or an interest in comedy, the article is a worthwhile read: partly because Martin is such an intelligent and articulate comedian, and a decent writer, partly because Martin's comedy blossomed at that wonderful moment in American pop culture when everything else blossomed, after the Beats (and the Beatles), but just before the Summer of Love. For entertainment, I leave you with a few old Steve Martin clips, which will repay in diversion what they cost you in time, and a Lewis Carroll syllogism that Martin quotes in his essay, as a point of inspiration to a young collegian:
(1) No interesting poems are unpopular among people of real taste.
(2) No modern poetry is free from affectation.
(3) All your poems are on the subject of soap bubbles.
(4) No affected poetry is popular among people of real taste.
(5) Only a modern poem would be on the subject of soap bubbles.
Therefore are your poems are uninteresting.

The October Raves List

Autumn Version, Cold Spring, NY
Night Falls Over Kortedala, Jens Lekman
Let's Stay Friends, Les Savy Fav
Mirrored, Battles

Michael Clayton
An Inconvenient Truth (DVD)
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic (DVD)
The TV Set (DVD)
Match Point (DVD)

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John LeCarre

Food & Drink
Olea, Brooklyn, NY
Flatbush Farm, Brooklyn, NY
Bar Sepia, Brooklyn, NY

Jens Lekman at Webster Hall
Yo La Tengo at Brooklyn Lyceum
Fur Cups For Teeth record release party
Seasons changing

The October Reading List

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John Le Carre
Money, Martin Amis

Well, this will be short, at least. Work got in the way of a lot of reading this month, and while I'm still ploughing through a couple of books with different takes on the condition of the urban poor, all I finished this October are the two British novels above. I've already written about both (Amis' here, Le Carre's here) and I don't have much more to say. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold deserves perhaps another simple statement of praise - it was a really fun read. So there you go.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Money by Amis

I was reading Money by Martin Amis. I saw RM. He said he loved it. Wasn't it so funny. I saw OES. He said he loved it. Wasn't it so funny. I saw NG. He said he loved it. Wasn't it so funny.

I don't have a lot to say about the novel. The first 100 pages were great. Words flew off the page, winning lines dropped coolly and casually, clever ideas crept in, were beat-up, discarded. And the sex, the drugs, the booze, and the money. 100 pages of percussion, beating, popping, slapping.
And then? Nothing much more. A few clever conventions. Not a lot of heart. Does that constitute a review? Probably not. But I don't have much else to say about Money.

Rave: Jens Lekman

Double thumbs up for Jens Lekman. Night Falls Over Kortedala is unabashedly bringing disco back hard. In a way that makes me want to dance, not shoot myself. Man, those Swedes!

But seriously, if you've been dawdling, off put by the sweater-and-glasses set's adoration for Jens, or concerned by the awkward and overly emotional girl loudly sighing "Jens, I Love You" from the back of Webster Hall, well, just walk on past it. Once in a while, a songwriter emerges from the melancholy washes who has a deep and archival command of pop, who writes with such a perfectly arch voice, and whose wit, romantic sensibilities, and sense of fun are just overwhelming. Overwhelming. Think Stephen Merritt. Jonathan Richman. Morrisey. All of the obvious references and, I think, just as good.

It's hard to pick my favorite Jens Lekman line. Some favorites?

Yeah I got busted / so I used my one phone call to dedicate / a song to you on the radio

Nina I can be your boyfriend / so you can stay with your girlfriend
Your father is a sweet old man / but it is hard for him to understand /that you wanna love a woman

People seem to think a shy personality equals gifted / But if they would get to know one I'm sure that idea would have shifted / Most shy people I know are extremely boring

The new album is great, and ED and I went to see Jens Lekman at Webster Hall last Saturday. Also great, lots of fun, ageing and twee hipsters aside. Surrounded by a band of attractive and talented (presumably) Swedish women in what seemed like nurse's uniforms (and one man, manipulating the samples, in what appeared to be scrubs), Jens Lekman had no trouble in getting heads bobbing, feet shuffling, and wry and knowing smiles and stolen sideways glances through and through. A witty and joyful performer, Lekman just projected fun into the audience. Did I say 'fun' again? Well, there you have it. More charming was Lekman's promise, once the set ended (always early at the shitty Webster Hall, so that the B&T crowd can come in and do the club scene), to come down into the audience to "talk to anyone who wanted to talk," and his request that "if somebody knows another place where I can play, I'd be happy to play music all night." I hope someone took him up on it, and got him to a good Halloween party. Alas, I'm an old man, and didn't know one. And didn't think he wanted to entertain me in my studio apartment.


I AM THE CONTROLLER! (A couple of unnecessary but excellent blasts from the past...)