Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Tom Courtenay is a British actor who was particularly brilliant in "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" (1962), "Billy Liar" (1963) and "Dr. Zhivago" (1965), the latter two with Christie.
Yo La Tengo is an indie rock band from New Jersey that played here last night. Unfortunately, I missed them. They wrote a song called "Tom Courtenay." They perform it here at the Fuji Rock Festival in 2003.
"Julie Christie, the rumors are true..."
The candle sputters out, the wig sits by the door, the last trick or treater left an hour ago. Candy wrappers tell the tale. I doze off and I'm dreaming, floating over dirty, landlocked Manchester. There's the Free Trade Hall down there, where Dylan was branded "Judas!" in 1966.
The Sex Pistols played here ten years later, in 1976, and only about thirty people showed up. Every one of them formed a band. This is the best of the lot. Joy Division. Not exactly punk, but inspired by the energy. Dark, mechanical. Countless bands copied them, too, most recently Interpol, and the Editors. Depressed metronomic lead singer Ian Curtis eventually hung himself, providing the perfect Hollywood ending for some crap bio-pic, of which TWO are currently being released. I don't know; maybe the movies will be okay and I'm just a cynical bastard. Here is the real band in a crude video from 1980. A truly sad, brilliant song.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
We made it, kids! Happy Halloween!
Here's a song about the greatest monster of all time by a rock group who thought it was Halloween every day. That's right, the New York Dolls! These gals wore tons of makeup and loved to dress up, played punk rock before it had a name, and, like Ginger Rogers, did it all backward and in heels.
Here's a treat for all you tricksters, a rare gem from back in the stacks: "Frankenstein" by the New York Dolls.
Click the button, if you dare!
Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. In Mexico, and many parts of Latin America, people visit the graves of their loved ones, bringing toys for the dead children (los angelitos, the little angels) and bottles of tequila or mescal for the older dead. People place toys or special candies on the graves, and honor dead relatives by donning skull masks called calacas. The skulls are also placed on altars dedicated to the dead. Skulls made of sugar, with the names of the dead on the forehead, are eaten by relatives and friends.
When the Conquistadors first hit Mexico 500 years ago, they believed "the Indians" were mocking death -- so of course they tried to eradicate the ritual. Fortunately, the Spaniards didn't succeed, but they did manage to change the date. The celebration originally fell on the ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar (the beginning of our August) and was presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the queen of the underworld. To give it a more Christian feel, the Spaniards moved the celebration to All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, November 1 and 2, when it is celebrated today.
Malcolm Lowry set "Under the Volcano" in Mexico, on the Day of the Dead. The book portrays the last twelve hours of Firmin, a former British Consul, living and dying in the shadow of the volcano Popocatepetl. The book, now regarded as a masterpiece, was initially rejected for publication, and Lowry wrote back a desperate, brilliant, and maddening letter defending the book.
"It can be regarded as a kind of symphony, or in another way as a kind of opera--or even a horse opera. It is hot music, a poem, a song, a comedy, a farce, and so forth. It is superficial, profound, entertaining, and boring, according to taste. It is a prophecy, a political warning, a cryptogram, a preposterous movie."
Lowry could have been describing the country itself.
I painted Se Aproxima el Fin del Mundo as a tribute to Mexico and the Dia de los Muertos. The kitchen sink approach was the only way to go, and it's stuffed with all the clash and cliche of this country "so close to America, and so far from God." Enmascarado (the phantom wrestler from Lucha Libre) plays mariachi guitar, as a couple Chihuahuas stand on Mickey Mouse cacti ("You quiero revolucion," says one, "Yo quiero dinero," says the other; NOT "yo quiero taco bell," like the advertisement) all under the thorny heart and the watchful gaze of two ghostly calaveras.
For the sound of modern day Mexico, please click the button to hear The Mexican Institute of Sound performing "A Girl Like You." Viva Mexico!
Sunday, October 28, 2007
The mighty Friends of the Nib had a great Halloween Party/Art Show last night at the Cafe Racer (where the elite meet to eat and drink) and your loyal reporter had a wonderful time (off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush.) What a turnout! All the squares stayed home and the joint was jammed with artists and art fans, hobos, pirates, vampires -- and lots of great artwork. Like reality, the party played out on more than one level. Downstairs, the crowd was lively by the bar, and upstairs, under the black lights, folks were chilled-out and tripping, smiling and dabbling in Day-glo paint provided by the FOTN. Some had their fortunes read by the mysterious prodigy Ruby. Fortune came to friend Tom DeGraff, who became a grandfather that very hour and celebrated his brand new grandbaby Mia Marie with a tumbler of Knob Creek. Knob or Nib, a good time was had by all, and the age of cynical irony is now officially over. Hooray!
What now? Get out there and make some art!
Sincere apologies to the Friends of the Nib who missed the group photo, but getting you folks together is like herding cats.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
The Creature Feature! Let's say your parents were smoking cigarettes and drinking vodka with their friends in the living room on a Saturday night, maybe listening to a Herb Alpert record, and you were in the back room watching television with a big bowl of barbecue potato chips and some clam dip from Reser's Fine Foods. You're eight years old, and it's just midnight.
There were only four channels back then, so luck played a major part. You changed the channel, and it's the creature feature! All right! Some guy at the local network affiliate would dress as a monster and introduce old scary movies. Where we lived, in the Portland area, it was called "Sinister Cinema." This guy is out of Raleigh, and he's pretty good. He introduces a movie called "Day of the Triffids," which is about these walking plants that looked like asparagus and killed people until they were hosed down with Hollandaise sauce at the end of the movie. Dumb, yes, but full of good scares for a kid alone on a Saturday night, especially one not crazy about vegetables.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Halloween was thrilling. If it landed on a school day, and it mostly did, you were so distracted and filled with such adrenal anticipation you could hardly concentrate on your teacher's droning monotone. At home, you had a costume waiting. The costume was magic and mythic. It warded off evil by assuming evil, an aspect of what Levi-Strauss (Claude, not the jeans manufacturer) referred to as "totemization." A lion hunter, say, dressing as a lion. Anyway, we dressed as what we feared after gulping down dinner, and racing out into the cold. No adult chaperones. We went alone into that fearsome night.
Some kids had fancy costumes with sharp die-cut plastic masks you could barely see through, and flimsy, flammable plastic suits that tied like bibs around the neck. Great for a dark, rainy night dodging traffic. On the other hand, we were pros. Me and my cousins generally dressed in old clothes and passed for hoboes and pirates. Some kids -- newcomers -- carried little plastic pumpkins for candy that filled up after a few fun-size Snickers and were useless, but we carried big brown paper bags or pillowcases for our loot. The night was magical. We roamed until the porchlights went out, miles from home. We entered an altered state as powerful as any drug, our minds swimming with jack-o-lanterns, black cats, and toxic levels of blood sugar. We'd hit a line of houses, then sit on corners eating little Hersheys, Baby Ruths, rolls of Sweet Tarts, always on guard for the proverbial apple with the razor blade.
"You must be the Lost Patrol," one old timer said, after we'd rousted him to the porch long after curfew. "That's us," said my cousin Mike, a hobo. Late nighters had it harder getting home. By then, high school kids were driving around looking for trouble, trying to steal loot, get you with squirt-guns -- or worse, firecrackers. You stumbled upon some hoods soaping windows or smashing pumpkins (not the musical group, the activity), and they'd give you a good chase. You'd run screaming, they'd be right behind, flying through yards and over hedges until they got winded and finally stopped for a cigarette, still cursing you as they gulped for air and nicotine. Teenage hoods were scary, but they were no match for hoboes and pirates.
Today, in this fearful age of Homeland Halloween Security, with lockdown rec room parties, and parent chaperones armed with mace and pepper spray, it must be an entirely different experience. Good luck, kids. Don't eat too much candy.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Yes, we're celebrating Halloween Week here at the Hammer. Last night I was talking to some Friends of the Nib, planning our upcoming art show/party for Saturday night (details below) and we were really getting into the Halloween mood. The subject came up: What is the scariest movie you've ever seen?
I've seen plenty, but if I had to pick the movie that freaked me out the most, I'd have to go with Repulsion. This is a cool little film from 1965 that follows the lovely Catherine Deneuve's harrowing descent into madness. It may look cheesy and retro ironic, but I'm serious. This is the real deal, from director Roman Polanski. If you're bored with rubber-head monsters and dumb slasher movies, rent this one for Halloween. But be warned!
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
This guy looks familiar. Driving through the ratlands, trouble in mind. Standing at the crossroads waiting to make a deal. Do you suppose they gave him the car?
It reminds me of an old song by Hank Williams, who happened to die in the back of a Cadillac.
I'm a rollin' stone all alone and lost
For a life of sin I have paid the cost
When I pass by all the people say
Just another guy on the lost highway
In case you think all we listen to is old coal mining songs and baby boomer anthems, here's a great post-modern operetta from our friends, "The Avalanches." This is crazy fun.
Of course, even the so-called "cutting edge" borrows from the past, (remixed, of course), and this piece samples an old Wayne and Shuster comedy sketch. You may have seen them on Ed Sullivan, if you're old enough. In all fairness, Wayne and Shuster often based their "literate" comedy on Shakespeare and the classics, so there you go. Always remixing the past. Here's a shot of them in France, 1944.
These beautiful hand-colored lithographs from 19th century Austria might give you some ideas. You rarely see such fine work in this day and age of lazy Photoshoppers. Here at the hammer, we revere the masters of old illustration. These fanciful "grotesques" are attributed to Rappelais.
See you at the Cafe Racer Halloween art party Saturday, October 27th. (see entry below for details)
Monday, October 22, 2007
In case you missed Bruce Springsteen's appearance on the Today Show, you'll want to watch this clip. The E Street Band is in fine form, and Springsteen gives a great little introduction before kicking into a spirited "Living in the Future."
"Woke up Election Day, skies gunpowder and shades of gray..."
In related news, demonstrators marched on Washington DC, protesting the war and the Bush/Cheney regime. Maybe you'll hear about that on the news, maybe not.
President Bush, predictably, requested more of our money today -- 196 billion dollars, in fact-- to continue his senseless, tragic war. Someday we'll be living in the future...if we can only make it through the present. Keep your fingers crossed.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
As you may have heard, the votes are in and Al Gore has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts surrounding global warming. The Nobel is the most prestigious prize in the world, and the nomination and selection process is rigorous and highly secretive, so Gore himself was stunned by the announcement.
Gore was stunned again this week. In a somewhat surprising reversal of the Nobel Committee, the United States Supreme Court has decided to interpose itself and award the prize to George W. Bush. In a narrowly divided 5-4 decision, amid charges of voter intimidation, ballot rigging, favoritism, and all manner of political shenanigans, the Court ruled in favor of the president. Needless to say, the Bush camp was jubilant.
"It's a beauty," Bush said, holding up the prize for reporters. "I am truly honored." He added, "We will stand by the court's decision."
Turn out the lights! The Friends of the Nib, a creative gang of cartoonists and wiseacres (of which I'm a proud card-carrying member), is having a Halloween Art Show/Party Saturday, October 27th. Come to the Cafe Racer, our cool clubhouse and bar, for art, music, and thrills! And pick up the latest copy of the Monocle today! Or stay home and mope, loser.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Island Records claimed the buying public would be confused by the cover (featuring a U2 spy plane, and the name U2) and think it was buying a U2 record. Kasem felt his rant made him look foolish and unprofessional. To make a long story short, the big boys beat the little guys in court. Perhaps I'm oversimplifying the case. Read the details about Negativeland's clash with corporate rock and copyright law in this report from Deuce of Clubs. http://deuceofclubs.com/write/negativl.htm
For more about Negativland, follow this link: http://www.negativland.com/
To decide for yourself, click the button. Warning: this track contains language only suitable for intelligent adults in a free society. Not for kids.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Some folks asked why the blog is called "The Nine Pound Hammer." The title refers to a traditional American work song, of which various blues and bluegrass and country versions have been floating around for years. Based on older songs, it was officially "written" by the great Merle Travis in 1946 for an album that also included such coal mining originals as "Dark as a Dungeon," and "16 Tons" (which later became a huge hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1955).
"Well this nine pound hammer. it’s a little too heavy,
For my size, baby, for my size...
Well roll on buddy, pull a load of coal,
How can I pull, when my wheels won’t roll?"
Since then, it's been covered by everyone from Johnny Cash to Flatt and Scruggs, Bill Monroe to Townes van Zandt. Bob Dylan referred to the hammer in 1966, in "Tell Me Mama," a howling electric repudiation of the square folk scene he was rapidly outgrowing.
"Got your steam drill built and you're lookin' for some kid
To get it to work for you like your nine-pound hammer did"
The Nine Pound Hammer? It's a symbol of hard work, of struggle, of the burden we bear. And it's a literal hammer, still swung by miners and spike drivers in rotten working conditions throughout the world. And it's a great song. Here's Merle Travis, wearing a miner's helmet with a carbide lamp, singing on a television show in the 1950s. Merle invented his own finger-picking style, called "Travis-picking" to this day, so watch his fingers. This goes out to my grandpa, Frank Albino, who mined coal.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Here is a radio show that first aired in 1950, a science fiction series about "the future," which is basically now, called 2000 Plus. This particular episode tells the age old story of a soldier coming home from war -- in the year 2000 Plus!
Click button to hear "A Veteran Comes Home"
"Deborah Kerr, a versatile actress who long projected the quintessential image of the proper, tea-sipping Englishwoman but who was also indelible in one of the most sexually provocative scenes of the 1950’s, with Burt Lancaster in 'From Here to Eternity,' died on Tuesday in Suffolk, England. She was 86."
-- NYTimes, 10/19/07
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
I loved this movie when I was a kid. The special effects are crude by today's standards, but this was the perfect Saturday matinée. You bought Flicks at the snack bar, and parted those heavy velvet drapes and plunged into the darkness of deep space. You navigated to your seat using the glow-in-the-dark wall clock ("Dean's Rexall Drugs") to get your bearings. The floor was sticky with spilled Cokes and smashed jujubes. People threw Milk Duds as you crossed. Laughter. The show begins! Filmed in Dynamation! In spite of the cheesy ant people costumes, you will never look at the Moon the same way again. Thanks, Ray Harryhausen.
Steven Van Zandt is an actor, a guitar player, and a fantastic rock and roll deejay. His underground garage show makes the rest of rock radio seem canned, corporate, and dull as dishwater. He plays "back-to-basics guitar, bass, and drums, with a little attitude, and a direct connection to the sixties, before the machines took over."
What a mug on this guy. If he looks familiar, you may know him as Little Steven, or Miami Steve, playing guitar in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. Or you may know him as Silvio Dante on The Sopranos, Tony's well-coiffed consigliere.
Born Steven Lento in 1950, he grew up in an Italian American home in New Jersey, and started playing guitar as a teenager in the bar scene on the Jersey Shore. Van Zandt (he took his stepfather's name) was a founding member of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and played in several early Springsteen bands, though he didn't officially join the E Streeters until the mid-1970s. Check out "Hammersmith Odeon 1975" on DVD to see Steven in all his pimped-out glory. Hear him on the new Springsteen album, "Magic." But whatever you do, check out the radio show.
Little Steven's Underground Garage:
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Oscar Wilde famously quipped, "What is the difference between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?"
The snappy comeback, of course, would be that a sunset is perfectly legal in the United States. Until now. (No, they haven't outlawed sunsets -- at least not yet). You could say the "green fairy" is making a comeback of it's own. For the first time in 95 years, it is legal to import absinthe -- genuine absinthe, made with a full measure of Grand Wormwood (Artemesia absinthium).
Absinthe has a sinister reputation, one as cloudy as it's louching effect. It was banned with much hysteria, but well after being championed by such creative artists as Toulouse Lautrec, Arthur Rimbaud, Edgar Allen Poe, and Pablo Picasso.
T.A. Breaux, the man behind the new import, didn't want to piggyback on those myths. Breaux is a sensible guy, a chemist and microbiologist, and he studied old recipes and tested vintage bottles of absinthe with gas chromatography-mass spectrometer machines. He made a detailed analysis of the vintage absinthe and set out to reproduce it, blending grand wormwood, green anise, and sweet fennel from Europe -- herbs employed by his 19th-century predecessors. Breaux's formula was approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade Bureau, a division of the Treasury Department. The absinthe he worked on will be marketed under the name "Lucid," and available in a 750-milliliter bottle for $59.95. Others have also been approved for sale.
For more about T. A. Breaux and his research, here is a great article in WIRED:
For reliable information about Absinthe:
Absinthe segment from the History Channel, featuring T.A. Breaux:
Burroughs captured the logic of the nightmare like no other writer before or since.
To hear him speak, push button:
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Let's flirt with stereotypes and ask America's favorite EYE-talian family about their favorite food.
* * * * * *
A related scene from the Sopranos; Paulie Walnuts and Big Pussy at a Starbucks.
Paulie Walnuts: How did we miss out on this?
Big Pussy: What?
Paulie Walnuts: F****n' expresso, cappuccino. We invented this s**t and all these other c*********s are gettin' rich off it.
Big Pussy: Yeah, isn't it amazing?
Paulie Walnuts: And it's not just the money. It's a pride thing. All our food: pizza, calzone, buffalo moozarell', olive oil. These f***s had nothin'. They ate pootsie before we gave them the gift of our cuisine. But this, this is the worst. This espresso s**t.
Big Pussy: Take it easy.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
You are a sophisticated eater, and you know Italian food is more than just spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, and the occasional lasagna, but you're stymied by a real Italian menu and brutally mispronounce everything past the chicken parmigiana. Sorry, but you make my ears hurt.
Here's something to try. These sublime little potato dumplings are gnocchi, and most well-intentioned Anglo Americans mispronounce them badly. I've heard so-called "foodies" call them everything from "Noshy" to "Ganokey," and even "Gah-NOSH." The correct pronunciation is "NYO-key."
(For audio, click button below*)
People talk about "Comfort Food" and reel off a litany of bland Americana, covered dishes and the like, but for me gnocchi is comfort food. The best I've had, in Italy or America, are made by my mom, who is Calabrese and a first-rate chef. On birthdays, when given a choice of any food for dinner, these were a hands-down winner. The perfect accompaniment would be homemade Italian sausages made by my dad, who is Sicilian. Comfort food? You can have your jello molds and tuna casseroles!
I've made them myself with Mom's guidance, and they're not easy to master. For the basic idea, here's a recipe from Anna Maria Volpe. http://www.annamariavolpi.com/page80.html
Gnocchi come in a wide variety, but these are my favorite, gnocchi di patate -- potato gnocchi. There are also Gnocchi di Semolina, made from Durham wheat, and in Tuscany, there is a beautifully named gnocchi made from spinach and ricotta called Strozzapreti -- or "priest-stranglers." Ricotta, by the way, is NOT pronounced "ree-COTT-uh," but more like "ree-COAT-uh."
While I'm at it, those delicious dipping cookies? They are NOT pronounced "bih-SCOTTIES." Oh, and I'm not an EYE-talian.
*For audio, click the button, and hear a native Italian speaker say: "Gnocco [singular], Gnocchi [plural], Gnocchi di Ricotta."
For a minute.....
......I lost myself....
..................I lost myself..............
The new Radiohead album is causing quite a stir, and possibly a music revolution. Love them or hate them, these guys have done something new. They've offered their new album, "In Rainbows," for whatever you wish to pay. No catch. After all the debate about downloading music, people can finally put their money where their mouth is. For once, the marketplace doesn't decide the value of creative work. For once, you decide.
I downloaded the record yesterday. It's very good. Thom Yorke and the guys have once again provided anthems of angst and soaring beauty. Chilly, elegiac, haunting -- moods for moderns. What's it worth to you?
To buy the album, go here: www.inrainbows.com/ The site might be busy, but be patient. It looks like this.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Monday, October 8, 2007
From ABC News: "An Iraqi investigation has found there is no evidence that US security firm Blackwater was under attack when it opened fire on people in Baghdad last month. The investigation also found that 17 civilians were killed, six more than previously reported."According to BBC News, "An official inquiry found the guards had not been attacked, as they had claimed, calling it a deliberate crime."
President Bush was asked specifically about the laws governing private military contractors in Iraq, April 10th of last year. His response was less than illuminating.
Okay, it's sad and sentimental, but no more than your beloved emo-core and the mega-selling soundtrack to Garden State. Besides, autumn is here, and it's a time for reflection. Too bad I missed this one last month, but here is the great Jimmy Durante singing "September Song." Pour yourself a whiskey and listen up.
The song was written by Kurt Weill, who is best known for writing the "Threepenny Opera" with Bertolt Brecht. The opera "by and for beggars" incorporated harsh reality and sharp politics with 1920s Berlin cabaret, and included "Die Moriat," also known as "Mack the Knife." The play opened in August, 1928, and was a smash hit.
Weill was Jewish, and a communist to boot, and when the Nazis rose to power he was forced to flee Germany. Brecht, a lifelong Marxist, also fled the political thugs but met their counterparts in the United States, where he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) for being communistic, which led to being blacklisted by the movie bosses.
Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494) was a brilliant Florentine artist who produced many finely detailed paintings and frescoes during the Renaissance. His real name, like the art he created, was grand and decorous and very Italian -- Domenico di Tommaso Curradi di Doffo Bigordi; "Ghirlandaio" was a nickname that meant "garland-maker" (his day job). Eventually he apprenticed with Alessio Baldovinetti.
Later, Ghirlandaio had apprentices of his own, including Michelangelo. The garland-maker continues to teach us today.
Sunday, October 7, 2007
To read an excerpt from "Resistance And Subversion in Animated Films of The Nazi Era: the Case of Hans Fischerkoesen," click here :
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Jack White and Bob Dylan have been hanging around a lot lately. Jack sat in last week at a Dylan show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Jack went blues-crazy and took center stage, while Dylan hung back, sly old fox, and let the young man do most of the work.
Here they perform a blistering, bluesy "Meet Me in the Morning."
Click button for the blues.
President George Bush explains that torture is not torture. We don't like that word. Besides, we don't torture people. But if we did, we'd have a good reason to. But we don't. But if we did, we wouldn't have to tell you about it, either. But we don't. Period. Okay?
For more, see NYTimes story below.
Friday, October 5, 2007
Howl. On the website for Pacifica radio the other day you could hear Allen Ginsberg reading the poem "Howl," a landmark in literature of the twentieth century. You may have read it in a battered City Lights edition, or more recently in your Norton Anthology of Poetry in college.
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by"The occasion was the 50th anniversary of a court ruling that found the poem had “redeeming social importance” and was thus not obscene." NYTimes, Oct 4, 07.
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machin-
ery of night,
But they didn't play the poem on the air, fearing the FCC's fines might shut them down. Another step backward for "freedom"? For extra credit, define "free."
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Stolen from a school desk and missing for fifty years, a picture of 17-year old Nigel Walley was recently discovered. In the photo, a smiling Walley wears a heavy camel hair coat while walking down Lime Street in Liverpool, in 1958, with his friend John Lennon, also 17.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Sorry, you aren't free to travel to Cuba.
US State Department prohibits Americans traveling to Cuba, 90 miles off the coast of Florida, because Cuba is not "free."
However, you are "free" to travel to China, Vietnam, El Salvador, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Go figure.
For extra credit, define "free."
Sorry to disturb you, placid American -- these images from Myanmar -- formerly Burma -- show Buddhist monks peacefully protesting a brutal dictatorship. As many as 10,000 risked their lives to make a statement. They were met with teargas, beatings, torture and murder. So look at the pictures. Think. Now back to your normal programming. Have a nice day.