Sunday, August 26, 2007

The World's Latest Most Obnoxious Habit

Because I was born in 1968, I can remember when people smoked anywhere they pleased.

People smoked in a car full of kids with the windows up during driving rainstorms. People smoked on airplanes while seated next to mothers holding their sleeping babes. People smoked when they visited your house without bothering to ask if it was OK.

Thankfully, these days smoking in public is a big taboo. But don't fret -- us post-modern folk have a brand-new obnoxious compulsion: Yakking on our cell phones anytime and anyplace we doggone want to.

Freud would probably chalk up this cell phone servitude to our intrinsic sense of discomfit. Alone in the world, cell phones give us the faintest hope that someone actually cares.

"Did Dakota text me yet?", or "I wonder what LaShonda's doing right now." Out in the public square, when we should be shopping, driving, sitting quietly, or interacting with people who are actually present and accounted for, one sees the desperate techno-slaves, fumbling for their Nokias to check a message, or blowing through stop signs while yakking about God knows what. I've seen teenagers on dates sitting opposite one another, with absolutely nothing to say. They're both busy checking their cell phones to see if someone else has "texted" them.

Like smoking, it's a hand/mouth compulsion. Like smoking, it gives someone something to do when we don't want to look vulnerable. Like smoking, it's annoying as hell.

Unlike smoking, it doesn't cause cancer. But wait -- we're hearing early rumblings of brain tumors and other crazy ailments related to cell phone use. And scientists have noticed an alarming shortage of honeybees recently. Some think our cell phone signals have driven them all mad. They refuse to pollinate our flowers.

Oh, we'll read a few more decade's worth of headlines featuring SUV-loads of cheerleaders in head-on collisions because the designated driver was busy on her cell. A few dozen little kids while get flattened by driving talkers in their Ford Expeditions. We'll pause for a moment's reflection before placing our next call.

A St. Louis Cardinals reliever died this summer while driving drunk and talking to his girlfriend. She later said they were on the phone, and suddenly the line went dead. I'll bet there have been 10,000 calls like that, two people talking together while one of them suddenly gets killed. Now THAT'S what I call post-modernism!

Eventually we'll react to cell phone use like we reacted to smoking, and relegate it to fringes of polite society.

Or not. Compulsions are hard to break.

Blair's Flair

During a time when a woman's career choices were (a) secretary, (b) teacher, or (c) unpaid diaper-changer, Mary Blair was cranking out some of the most gorgeously-colored animation ever created.

Born in Oklahoma, Mary wound up at the Chouinard Art Institute in LA, and eventually worked fort Walt Disney (who apparently was a huge fan of her work). She worked on Cinderella, Peter Pan, Song of the South, and many others.

Blair's color sense was preternatural. Her gouache work harnessed an amazingly sophisticated palette, a point not lost on one of her contemporaries, who remembered her this way:

"Mary was very friendly and very artistic. She had a lot of glasses. She used to have a lot of different colored contact lenses as well. She used to wear green or blue or any color to go with the outfit she was wearing that day. I’d watch her put them in and I thought, “I wouldn’t want to wear those.” Maybe that affected her colors. Her colors were always bright. She used theatrical gels and cut them up and put them on top of her artwork."

Check out her Bettie Page 'do -- this gal was clearly a humdinger!

A retrospective book of her life and work is available at Amazon.

Please Explain #2

Can someone explain China vs. Cuba to me? (preferably someone from the FOX News Channel...)

Question: Why is it forbidden for an American to even VISIT Cuba? Or buy one of their see-gars?

Question: Why do Americans do megazillions in business with China? And why are we helping them with the Olympics?

Wait a minute -- I know! It's because Cuba has a communistic political system!

China, on the other hand, has... a... communistic political system...

(SFX: needle scratches across surface of vinyl record)

It's all clear now. I answered my own question.

(Cuba shore looks like a lot more fun, though...)

Please Explain #1

Can someone explain Japan to me?

Unfortunately, I haven't visted (yet), so my knowledge is sketchy.

Here's what I understand:
• Japan is an island
• Before 1900, Japan got all their ideas from China.
• After 1900, Japan got all their ideas from the United States.
• They really, really fell in love with Occidental culture.
• The US boxed Japan into an economic corner
• Japan attacked the US
• US attacked Japan
• US destroyed Japan with the most horrific campaign of violence ever administered to a peoples during war, in the entire history of the human race
• Japan forgave US
• Japan became the #2 economic power in the world, and sells the US most of our cars

Why did Japan so quickly forgive the US for Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the countless other aerial bomb assaults during WWII?

Are the Japanese all about business and progress, as opposed to ideology?

While considering these questions, enjoy some old photos of Japan, when the Land Of The Rising Sun was REALLY rising...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Riddle of the Eighties

Gotta admit, it took me a while to understand fIREHOSE, coming from my Heavy Metal Parking Lot aesthetic. "Too artsy and experimental!" I thought. "Where's the guitar distortion?", I whined. I didn't know about the Minutemen. I didn't know about SST Records, or the whole proto-DIY anti-corporate thing. Back then, corporate rock was the pinnacle to me!

When reconsidering the legacy of the Minutemen and fIREHOSE, you've got to acknowledge the musicianship. In both bands, three dudes play distinctly different riffs with distincly different agendas. Unlike, say, Phil Spector's Wall of Sound™, (where 23 separate instruments pound the same chord into a single sound), the Minutemen/fIREHOSE triumverates open up the aural landscape with an angular, jazzy approach. It's more John Coltrane than John Doe.

Though fIREHOSE never matched the Minutemen's inspired simplicity, they managed to create some of the most interesting music of the late 80's-early 90's, before indie was kool.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Monday, August 20, 2007

It's Not What You Play; It's What You Don't Play

"Day After Day" by Badfinger

Here's a great example of musicians exercising restraint.

To wit:
George Harrison guitar solo: not a single unnecessary note!
Leon Russell piano embellishments: not a single unnecessary note!
Pete Ham guitar solo: not a single unnecessary note!

After the second verse, Russell plays a staccato piano line to lead into a soaring slide solo. It's transcendent!

Too bad The Beatles broke up, but at least it freed up George to produce this standout. (I'll need to write more about George in a later post).

After hearing this three-minute jewel literally a thousand times it still feels new...

You hate to use the word "sublime" (it's more worthy of Bach), but for teenage bubblegum music, this gets pretty close.

Ignore the hippies-in-nature video and turn the song up loud.

Disturbing the Landscape

Mark Jenkins makes guerilla street sculpture designed to provoke and create unease.

He typically works in the very democratic media of packing tape ($3.99 per roll).

Subversive, street smart, and enigmatic (not to mention, hilarious) -- exactly to which an artist should aspire.

(I love the conservative dude in his little business suit getting his mind blown by the Kryptonite® bike lock guarding the walker.)

I think his work is completely brilliant!

Check out some more:

Young Industrial Designers in Love

A very sweet and romantic proposal of marriage from Charles Eames to his girlfriend, Ray.

They would go on to make some really cool furnitures together!

Jim Flora Animation

Not sure what this is exactly, but it involves animation, Jim Flora, and the French.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Possible Titles for the next Bourne flick:

• The Bourne Complacency
• The Bourne Incredulity
• The Bourne Sanctimony
• The Bourne Reflexology
• The Bourne Compulsion
• The Bourne Assassin
• The Bourne Dichotomy
• The Bourne Lobotomy

Let's hear your suggestions, peoples!

“People, We Have a Situation!”

And that situation? Jason Bourne! He's so slippery!

In "The Bourne Ultimatum," David Strathairn's CIA bigshot delivers some variation of the above line in nearly each of his scenes.

The third installment of this smart action/espionage series really plays as an indictment of the Patriot Act. No matter where you go or who you talk to, Big Brother is watching, and He may want to use one His "assets" to "take you out."

But Matt Damon's Bourne is always one step ahead. Whether it's London's Waterloo Station, the streets of Madrid, or the rooftops of Tangier, Damon's always got an exit strategy to foil the CIA types. That's really all you need to know about this movie. Sit back and enjoy the ride. And what a ride it is!

Despite Strathairn's hackneyed dialogue, every character in the movie exudes intelligence and intensity, none more than Damon, who's completely convincing as Bourne. Joan Allen is once again excellent in her role as a CIA investigator (she and Bourne need to "get together" in the next installment); she's one of America's most underappreciated actors.

Sadly, Albert Finney looks like he may have filmed his last role. The once dashing "Tom Jones" now looks like he can barely move. It was painful to watch him attempt to walk down a hallway, and his gin blossomed face looked particularly bad in the flourescent lights of the interrogation room set. It's hard to believe he's a good 6 years younger than Clint Eastwood, who could probably play Jason Bourne convincingly himself.

Comparisons to the James Bond franchise are inevitable. While the Bourne movies are grittier and reflect the way real-world political situations affect espionage efforts, they're utterly devoid of the sly fun of the best Bond films. Let's have a laff or two, Bourne screenwriters!

Despite the somber tone, this is a can't miss action flick.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Architects You Should Know: Bart Prince

New Mexico architect Bart Prince has created an incredible body of work over the last 35 years. The son of an ad agency owner, Prince studied with Bruce Goff (the twentieth-century's primo imagineer of organic dreamscapes). But Prince never copies Goff; he approaches each assignment with a fresh idea, and delivers a knockout work of art with quiet consistency.

Prince doesn't enjoy the jet-setting superstar status of a Frank Gehry, but Gehry's status as architect-du-jour has reduced him to a level of self-caricature that Prince eschews.

He still lives in Albuquerque. The iconoclasts don't live in New York or Los Angeles; they live in the hinterlands and manage to outshine their peers. Prince doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry as of August 2007. Somehow I suspect he doesn't care.

Some people look at this kind of architecture and scratch their heads. Others become downright hostile. That's fine; if your comprehension of architecture ends with standard 90 degree angles and gabled roofs, you won't understand Prince.

But if you've ever dreamed of living inside a sculpture, inside a dream made real, you'd love inhabiting one of Bart Prince's spaces.

Check out some of his work here.

Wow, Here's a Surprise:

According to a Dutch study, (insecure) women who undergo (hideously pathetic) breast augmentation (to desperately appeal to shallow, infantile men) are 3X more likely to commit suicide than their naturally-endowed counterparts.

Note to gals: Sexy can't be bought. It doesn't matter what you look like. It exists within. And the guys who think fake breasts are sexy aren't worth knowing in the first place.

Read the article here.

The Best Freeware EVER

Folks, what's say you just bought a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired house with a fugly backyard.

You wants it to to have a hot tub, a couple of trees, and some hardscaping, but you hate perspective drawing.

Solution? Download Google's FREE SketchUp rendering software, spend a few hours learning the program, and see what you come up with.

The simplicity of the software is amazing. I managed to create a 3D model of my house that serves as a testing ground for all sorts of landscaping ideas.

Just when you wonder how the software can get any more impressive, you discover the "shadows" feature. This feature lets you follow the path of the sun on your property at any time you specify. This way you can see if the tree you wish to plant will actually shade your kitchen when you get home from work (darn, it won't).

If you work in the design biz, and find yourself creating 3D projects (interior design, architecture, set design, product design, you name it), you owe it to yourself to check this out!

Hairpray (Or, A House Divided)

A.O. Scott, The New York Times:
"Mr. Walken’s gallantry in the role of Edna’s devoted husband, Wilbur, is unforced and disarmingly sincere, and their duet, “(You’re) Timeless to Me,” is one of the film’s musical high points."

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly:
"As Edna's husband, a goof who runs a joke shop, Christopher Walken makes his befuddled detachment fun, but when he and Edna have their big romantic moment, ''(You're) Timeless to Me,'' it's so kitschy the two actors don't quite connect. For a brief period, the movie sags."

Most critics have been unanimous in their praise of Hairspray, this summer's big, shiny, happy musical. But they disagree over smaller points (witness the two excerpts above). Conclusion? If you like something about this movie, you're correct. If you don't like something about this movie, you're correct.

John Travolta (playing matronly Edna Turnblad) is often criticized as a example of pure stunt casting (unlike, say, Harvey Fierstein?). My take? He's courageous for lobbying for this role. He's the only actor (out of an extremely talented and accomplished cast) who even attempts to speak with an East Baltimore accent. Though his singing voice is pitched low, and never cuts through the scenery, his physical movement is superb, culminating in a dance scene that caused some teenage girls in our audience to squeal with delight.

Query: why is Edna Turnblad always played by a man in drag? Why can't we cast a real woman in this role? (Essay question: what woman would played the best Edna? (I vote for Darlene Cates of "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?"))

Even though the film was mostly shot in Toronto, as a native Balti-moron, I was delighted in details (especially the necco-wafer colored formstone exteriors). Cameos abound, including an early sighting of John Waters as a flasher, and how wonderful was it to cast the newly-svelte Rikki Lake in a small role as a talent scout? The producers respect Waters, Waters respects the producers, everyone likes everybody. That's the feeling you get from this movie.

The film's hidden star, though is Oklahoma City's own James Marsden. Playing a pencil-trousered proto Dick Clark, he steals every scene with his toothy earnestness. This guy's got talent beyond what's required for the latest Marvel Comics CGI-fest.

Thumb Up!

La Vie En Rose

Saw the incredible French biopic on the life of Edith Piaf last weekend.

Bottom line: Piaf had a rough life. The highlight of her childhood was getting to live in a filthy old brothel. Later, she spent some time with her contortionist father in a second-rate circus, eventually making her way to Montmartre, where she sang on the street for coins. A talent agent heard her singing one day and swept her from the streets to the cabarets. She developed into arguably France's greatest singer, a tiny (four-foot-nine) artist of unbelievable intensity, singing with raw emotion in an unmistakable style.

Liver cancer ravaged her body; when she died at 47 she looked at least 3 decades older. Denied a proper funeral by the pesky Catholic church, tens of thousands of mourners honored her on the streets of Paris.

The film's star, Marion Cottilard, utterly inhabits the soul of Piaf. For over two hours, one forgets that hers is an acting performance that took place over the course of weeks at strange hours of the day with a crew of dozens milling about.

I can't imagine her not receiving at the very least a Best Actress nod at this year's Oscars.

The film follows a non-linear narrative, which confused many of the old farts in the audience, who, throughout the film, asked their withered spouses (in full voice) questions like, "Is that her father?" or , "Is she having a dream?"

Message to people in theatres who are stupid and talk outloud, oblivious to others around them:
You mustn't understand everything you see in a film. Sit back, keep your mouth shut, and let the images wash over you. Life isn't linear: a clock may only move forward, but human beings don't.

For a well-written review by the snarky old queen of the NY fishwraps, click here.

Press Check on the Orient Express

Earlier this summer I headed down to Ft. Worth to do some printing.

The press does high volume web work (picture ginormous rolls of paper traveling through machines at high speed) and frequently hosts out of town art directors. To make us feel more comfortable, the press has provided two authentic Victorian-era railcars, fully furnished with 2 bedrooms, 2 baths (including showers), and sitting room, and a dining area.

The experience was pretty amazing! The cars are unbelievably narrow to 21st century folk. The main hallway seems barely wide enough to navigate, and the beds are tiny by today's standards, but the richly appointed details make you feel like you're living in high style across the old rails of yore. It's all very Agatha Christie. You half expect to hear a woman scream, then find the body of a gentleman with a knife sticking out of his waistcoat.

The best part? When the pressmen are ready for you, you simply walk across the parking lot and into the pressroom, as opposed to getting a call at your downtown hotel, waiting 10 minutes or more for your ride to the press, then going back to the hotel to wait for the next call.

Enjoy the pix of this truly unique piece of history.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Baseball has always been a game of scandal, so the steroid-powered Barry Bonds home run juggernaut of the last 8 years (culminating with a record 756th last night) should come as no shock.

In Bond's defense, he's faced with batting against juiced pitchers, so why shouldn't he 'roid-up himself? It's a vicious cycle.

Instead of giving Bonds the cold shoulder, baseball commisioner Bud Selig should break the wall of secrecy afforded major league players through their powerful union. Enforce zero tolerance for all offenders, so guys like Aaron can keep their hard-earned records.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

There's "Something" About "Layla"

Lots of dudes try to write songs to win a girl's heart. In this case, however, two really talented dudes wrote a couple of classic songs about the same girl, Patti Boyd.

She tells her story here.

Sweet Baltimore

I miss my old Charm City. Some images to remind me of home...

Monday, August 6, 2007

Genre: Upside-Down

Who says sculpture should be right side up?

Can I Get An (Irving) Amen?

"New" artist alert: Irving Amen. Born 1918. Still alive and working in 2007.

He works in many media but his woodcuts make the strongest impression on me. Wonderful expressionist stuff.

Click here to visit his site.

Ignoble in Noble

I don't know much about police sidearm protocol, but I'm pretty sure they're taught to draw their weapons only in the most desperate cases of life or death.

Unfortunately, some real-life Barney Fifes down the road in Noble, Oklahoma decided it would be cool to shoot at a snake in a tree. Well, we all know that what comes up, must come down, and a bullet came down and struck a 5 year old boy fishing on a pier with his grandfather, turning a Norman Rockwell moment into a senseless tragedy.

The hyper-macho gun guy thing in America is really pathetic, and in this case, lethal.

Click here for the sad story.

Don Henley & Lucinda Williams

Caught Lucinda Williams and Don Henley Sunday evening at the Zoo Amphitheatre in OKC.

For me, Lucinda was the big draw on this ticket. Though she's not much younger than Henley, she's really hit her stride the last few years and is making exciting and vital music well into her fifties. Her set was raw and gritty, just like I like her. Unfortunately, most of the polo shirt and Dockers crowd in the audience had never heard of her, so the energy was low. Kudos to Lu for closing her set with spoken props to local hero Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, and then playing their collaboration with Thievery Corporation, "Marching the Hate Machines (Into the Sun)."

Henley's reputation is set. He's just coasting these days, but he's got some great stuff to coast on. The set pretty much flew by, with hit after hit after hit. Despite his age (60), his voice still nailed every high note he attempted. He clearly knew how to sing properly when he was younger (as opposed to say, Robert Plant).

While he's never been considered an indie insider's favorite, you've got to credit the guy's work. With The Eagles, he managed to create one of corporate rock's biggest monoliths, a vinyl-moving juggernaut still paying for record exec's pools in 2007.

His solo career launched during the early 80's, into a radio world dominated by synthetic instruments. It wasn't a good place for an old hippie Eagle to find himself, but he managed to adopt the sound well enough to have a number of hits. His lyrics, always underrated, sharpened and matured, and he even turned out one of the 80's best songs, "Boys of Summer."

No huge surprises in his set, except for one: midway through the show he and the band dusted off an old Tears For Fears number, "Everybody Wants To Rule the World." That one really left me scratching my head. But honestly, it fit in well with all of that mid-eighties, heavily sequenced sythesizer stuff Henley was producing back then.

The only mis-step was failing to bring Lucinda back onstage for a "Leather & Lace" duet. Her earthy voice would have worked perfectly in place of Stevie Nicks... but alas, her tour bus pulled away before Henley's first encore.

Encore: "Hotel California." Henley bows, hits the tour bus, and dreams of all the money he's going to rake in during the next Eagles reunion.

When in Kansas City...

...check out the Retro Inferno. If you're into mid century modern stuff for your house, you won't be disappointed. All the top names are there: Eames, Saarinen, Nelson, Noguchi, you name it. The building is close to downtown, very easy to find.

Bring a rich friend, though. The stuff ain't cheap.

I actually had more fun at the River City Antique Mall, near the Farmer's Market. Five floors of booths, many many many with great no-name mid century modern stuff. That stuff's more exciting because you've probably never seen it before. And it's a lot cheaper.

Visit Retro Inferno