Monday, March 31, 2008
Remember books? They're like television, in a way, but they require more work. Full of stories and factual information, but no advertisements -- as of yet -- these portable paper objects are less popular than ever. No wonder. They're crammed with words, and you have to read every one. Or nearly.
People are reading less than ever, and understandably so. Maybe it's the times. It's hard to read when you're bracing for impact. Still, I admit there are certain pleasures peculiar to reading and only reading. Book clubs, for example. I discovered long ago that I was too selfish for such a thing, after being part of a highly successful club for several years. I actually enjoy choosing books on my own, at random, or nearly so, making choices on a whim and often reading several at once. With a book club, not only are you required by law (and civility) to read the suggestions of others -- a book about the history of a sandwich, say, going back to the growing of the lettuce, the threshing of the wheat, the stirring of tremendous copper vats of mustard -- when you would rather read something else (anything else), but you are required to read "book club books."
By that I mean books that provoke interesting discussion. Some books may be great but are exactly what you expected starting out, and result in a simple retelling of the story in book club. Better club books are open-ended, provoking surprise and disagreement about even the simple "facts." A book like "Kafka on the Shore" by Haruki Murakami was not only a fantastic reading experience but provoked a great discussion in book club. People discussed the book at the level of meaning, with questions relating to the story as well as the choices made by the writer concerning craft, structure, culture, and myth. Other successful club books have included "Middlesex," "The Corrections," "Cloud Atlas," "War Music," "Lolita," and "Kavalier and Clay," and I highly recommend them all.
Like movies, some books are entertaining but don't provide much to discuss afterward, while some lead to deep, passionate discussions well into the night. Currently, I'm reading "The Savage Detectives" by Roberto Bolano (which I've blogged about previously here) and "Lush Life," the new book by Richard Price, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last weekend at a screening of "Clockers," a film of his novel of the same name. I'm also reading non-fiction, mostly refreshing certain questions I have about the craft of fiction, since I'm currently working on a novel. As a result, I'm rereading John Gardner, Jane Burroway, David Madden, Sol Stein, and Frederick Karl. Writers on writing, craft, and the critical history of the novel. These texts would fail miserably in a book club, yet they enrich the reading experience immensely. For me, anyway. To others, this kind of scrutiny spoils the fun and is tantamount to taking a beautiful Swiss watch apart. Me? I like seeing the tiny cogs and gears.
I admit, reading isn't for everyone. For passive entertainment, stick with television. Reading has too many variables, and not enough guidance -- how are you supposed to feel without leading music, or a laugh track? TV is full of familiar friends who do the same thing over and over. We return to "our favorite shows" because we know what to expect. It's better that way. Writing, and particularly good literary fiction, is full of the unpredictable, the complex, even the unpleasant. People do things we don't expect, things we may not even understand, or even detest. Good writing doesn't merely entertain, it challenges us, and we must struggle to understand, empathize, see beyond ourselves. There is not always a character to identify with, a cathartic ending, familiar stock stereotypes, or the comforting reassurance that in the end all is right, and order has been restored by the final commercial. Stick with TV. Stay away from books.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
According to John Hodgman, in The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes, authors and books are funny "because they are sad. They are as sad as zeppelins are -- they wish to soar, but they are using a technology that is old, largely forgotten, highly flammable."
Hodgman triggers a synaptic linkage, bringing a huge, old, largely forgotten, highly flammable rock band to mind. Unlike cartoonist Ellen Forney, who wrote and illustrated the comic "I [heart] Led Zeppelin," my feelings are complicated. I don't [heart] them uncritically. It's more of a love/hate relationship. They are overwrought, lumbering, reactionary, and personify all the rockist wretched excess of stadium groups punk came along to destroy. Zep stocks the "classic rock" stations like rack-jobbers, providing tired old warhorses for button-down nostalgics, and false memories for kids who weren't even there in the first place. Honestly, I could do without hearing "Stairway to Heaven" ever again.
On the other hand, once in a while, the behemoth lifts off. Those moments rattle me with cognitive dissonance; I know I shouldn't like it, but I do. The earth moves, and Led Zep, that improbable wasp trapped in fossilized amber, somehow takes wing. Watch this clip of "Kashmir." You wonder, will this thing ever fly? It does.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Okay, this is cool and fun because it's the weekend! How about the amazing Gene Vincent singing "Rip It Up!" Ooh, baby, you know what I like. This crazy cat will knock the sleepy 1950s suburban Eisenhower flotilla out of the bubble bath, if you catch my draft. Crazy, Daddy-o!
Here's an article from PopMatters about the subversive rocker. Click here.
Of course, at the time of the murder, the "liberal" (when did that become such a dirty word) Serling had written many scripts dealing with social justice issues. That was part of the fabric and weave of the Twilight Zone. But this was simply too controversial, and the network was flooded with protest letters from the white supremacist group, The White Citizen's Council. Executives caved to the racists in a cowardly manner. They gutted the script, insisted on changing it drastically, and wouldn't even allow the word "lynching." They wouldn't let the central figure be "a negro," and changed him to Mexican. Finally, after the evisceration, the episode was banned altogether. All those advertisers selling sheets and other fashion accessories were satisfied. The "conservatives" (when will that become a dirty word?) throughout America, and especially the South, were triumphant. They could avoid unpleasant reality once again, while continuing to bemoan the bias of the so-called "Liberal Media."
Read more about the story here in the Washington Post.
Here is a clip from a PBS documentary about Rod Serling and the Twilight Zone that refers to the incident.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
An interesting report from NBC about new forensic evidence suggesting Sirhan Sirhan didn't act alone in the Robert Kennedy assassination. What do you think? Does this make any difference? For more of the story from ABC news, click here.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Word just reached us that Richard Widmark passed away. Fans of film noir will remember the actor from roles in Panic in the Streets, Night in the City, Don't Bother to Knock, and Pickup on South Street, shown in the clip below. No role is more memorable, however, than his first as Tommy Udo, the giggling psycho in 1947's Kiss of Death who pushes an old lady in a wheelchair down the stairs to her death. He was a good bad guy.
For a list of my all-time favorite Films Noir, click here.
Read the article in the Guardian here.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Monday, March 24, 2008
The Fugs formed back in 1964, when Ed Sanders rented the former Kosher meat store on East 10th, and transformed it into the Peace Eye Bookstore. He met poet Tuli Kupferberg. They named themselves after a Norman Mailer-coined euphemism from "The Naked and the Dead," a wartime novel written when soldiers were free to kill but not say the word "fuck," at least in print. They played in cafes and theaters in the Village, and headlined a cross-country tour opposing the Vietnam war in its early days, playing folk and rock and basically blowing minds in the Heartland.
We drew inspiration for the Fugs from a long and varied tradition, going all the way back to the dances of Dionysus in the ancient Greek plays and the "Theory of the Spectacle" in Aristotle's Poetics, and moving forward to the famous premier performance of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi in 1896, to the poèmes simultanés of the Dadaists in Zurich's Cabaret Voltaire in 1916, to the jazz-poetry of the Beats, to Charlie Parker's seething sax, to the silence of John Cage, to the calm pushiness of the Happening movement, the songs of the Civil Rights movement, and to our concept that there was oddles of freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution that was not being used.
- Ed Sanders
They first recorded in 1965, and put their show on vinyl to the delight of far flung fans and connoisseurs of beatnik irreverence. This wasn't the frail, anemic poetry of your timid schoolbooks, but some rough beast vexed to nightmare, it's hour come at last, playing electric guitars and invoking the gods. They freaked the squares out. The grey flannel Chamber of Commerce types didn't dig this crazy pagan humor, and the crewcut cops were notified, but the children -- at least, some of them -- thought it was great to spit in Goliath's eye.
The Fugs became a cult favorite, secretly traded among fans like contraband, passed like a joint between outstretched fingers, popping up all over this great land. Yes, soon the Feds would be pounding at the door, and the FBI would try to crush this communist conspiracy of "free thought," but the damage had been done. Songs like "Kill for Peace" had already gotten out to undermine the war effort and corrupt the youth of Athens, er, I mean America.
You will enjoy this, I'm sure. For those who think the 1960s were all Austin Powers and the Monkees, this is a good antidote. Just don't take it and operate heavy machinery, okay kids?
For more information, check out the official History of the Fugs here. An interview with Ed Sanders is here. For more tales of beatnik glory, check out Ed Sanders' Woodstock Journal here.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
This Silly Symphony cartoon from the Disney Studios was made in 1934. These funny bunnies are busy decorating eggs. You get the idea.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
These photographs are part of a series honoring Hitchcock's films by Norman Jean Roy in Vanity Fair. At the top, is a reenactment of Dial M for Murder, with Charlize Theron. In the bottom photo, you have a scene from Rear Window played by Scarlett Johansson and Javier Bardem.
For more of the series, and their inspirations, click here.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Here's a segment from "Late Night with David Letterman" featuring Bill O'Reilly.
It's been five years since the start of the war in Iraq. At this moment, 4,297 US troops have died (not counting soldiers-for-hire, a sizable group) and more than a million Iraqis. More than $500 Billion has been spent so far, with estimates as high as three trillion for the region before this is over. There is nothing clever to say about it. Still, I thought it shouldn't pass unremarked in these posts.
THE FUNERAL OF A SOLDIER
The funeral of Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, killed in Iraq, disrupted by fundamentalists from the Westboro Baptist Church. The "church" is a hate group run by Fred Phelps, of Topeka, Kansas, who believes "God Hates Fags" as well as Catholics, Jews, Irish, Swedes, and Mexicans. Their gripe with the army is the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. This proves you don't have to go half way around the world to find crazy religious extremists. Meet the American Taliban.
To make the numbers more real, check out the "Faces of the Fallen" in the Washington Post by clicking HERE.
A casualty counter is located HERE.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Botticelli gives us "Primavera" (Spring), and George Harrison sings "Here Comes the Sun" at the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. Since this benefit, one of the earliest concerts of it's kind, we've managed to eradicate war and famine.*
*That's not true, but don't you wish we could say that?
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Science fiction legend Arthur C. Clarke died today at the age of 90. Clarke wrote over 100 books, but is probably most famous for creating "2001: a Space Odyssey" with Stanley Kubrick, based on a short story Clarke wrote, "The Sentinel." I saw the movie when it first came out, in a huge Cinerama theater on a freezing winter day, with ice and snow on the ground outside. On the way home, with me and my cousins in the back, the van spun 360 degrees on the ice. It somehow fit.
A Rutles reunion? Amazing but true! It's hard to convey the thrill of the first Rutles performance on the Ed Sullivan Show back in 1964. They tore the roof off the place. If you were a kid in that era, you know what I mean. Now, it's very possible these four lovable moptops are getting back together again. You heard it here first.
Click here for an interview with Eric Idle.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Here are the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem singing "The Wild Rover." It doesn't get more Irish than this. Dedicated to old friend Shane Riley. 'Beannachtam na Feile Padraig! Happy St. Patrick's Day!
A great Guinness advert.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
A long time ago, some idiot (probably a male comedian) said women just aren't funny. Maybe he was right back then, when female comedians like Phylis Diller and Joan Rivers still roamed the earth, trying to claw their way into the primordial boy's club. Yes, they were horrible. Diller did one joke over and over, and Rivers was about as funny as a root canal with a brutal hangover. Of course, most of the other Jurassic Borscht Belt comics weren't all that funny, either, if the truth be told. With a few shining exceptions, that shtick got old fast.
Amy Poehler, funny girl on Saturday Night Live.
Nowadays, there are plenty of hilarious women out there. And cute. Funny and cute is a deadly combination, and I'll admit a certain weakness for it. My girlfriend is funny and cute. Commanding such twin superpowers, a woman can destroy all that is wrong with the world with a fast one-two combination. It seems so, anyway. On a bad day, it's just a sucker punch to the kidneys.
Tina Fey is a riot. In my opinion, the star and creator of the NBC sitcom 30 Rock can do no wrong. She leads a cute and funny pack that includes Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Amy Sedaris, Wanda Sykes, and Kristen Wiig. Who am I forgetting?
There is a good article about these new funny women in this month's Vanity Fair, and the advantage of reading it online is you don't have to hoist all those slick pages and smell the perfume ads. Then again, you might like that. You're sick. Anyway, the article is here.
There are some great interviews with hot female comics here.
Friday, March 14, 2008
Say what you want about violence in Hip Hop -- those "gangstas" got nothing on the King of Western Swing, Spade Cooley. Spade was a big star, appearing in 38 Hollywood westerns, and had a string of top ten singles. But he was crazy as a bed bug, paranoid, and jealous of his young strawberry blond wife, Ella Mae. So much, in fact, that he literally stomped her to death after suspecting she was having an affair with another singing cowboy, Roy Rogers.
Born dirt poor, at the peak of his fame Cooley had amassed over fifteen million bucks capitalizing on the Western Swing craze. He owned a huge mansion on Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles, a ranch in the Mojave Desert, and a 56-foot yacht for sailing the seas. They say his closets were lined with 100 custom cowboy suits, 50 hats and three dozen pairs of pointy-toed boots. But the vicious murder of his beautiful younger wife Ella Mae shocked the nation, and brought his kingdom crashing down.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on "Gilligan's Island," was sentenced to five days in jail and six months' probation after allegedly being caught with marijuana in her car in Driggs, Idaho. On October 18th, Dawn was stopped by the police on her way home from her own surprise birthday party, and allegedly the policeman found the grass. The cop said he found a couple half-smoked joints, and a container "used to store marijuana."
The stoners, in better days.
In 1998, Bob Denver, the actor who played Gilligan, was arrested after receiving a marijuana delivery. At the time, numerous reports suggested that Wells had sent the package, but she was never charged.
Now it makes sense why the castaways could make a radio out of coconuts but couldn't build a raft.
Song dedication: To Mary Ann. "Grazing in the Grass," by Hugh Masekela. Click button.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Jim Woodring at the KBOO studio
When we were in Portland last month for a Friends of the Nib art show at Floating World, artist Jim Woodring and I were interviewed by radio station KBOO. SW Conser and Bill Dodge have a regular show about comics and art called "Words and Pictures." Anyway, our interview airs Tuesday, March 11th at 9:30.
LISTEN to the interview here it on the home page, http://www.kboo.fm/node/6276
Bob Rini, a face for radio
Check out more of Jim Woodring's visionary artwork here. To see more of my artwork, look here. For more archives from the "Words and Pictures" radio show, click here.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Scientists at Leeds University are asking people to recall their Beatles memories as part of a study to better understand how musical memories help shape a person's identity. If you're like me, you've got plenty of Beatles memories, and memories linked to Beatles music. They're part of the soundtrack of growing up in the 1960s and 70s for all of us, but if you were a fan, they were even more important. I can remember getting the albums as they were released, one by one, and learning them by heart, while my uncles said they looked like girls with those crazy haircuts, and they just made noise. "Yeah, yeah, yeah!" This was well before Sinatra covered "Something," and won over the so-called Greatest Generation with a Beatles tune.
For those of you who missed it, either being born too early or too late, it's hard to convey the doors these Liverpudlians opened for us kids to jump through. There were other groups, of course, some really great, but these guys set the standard. Hell, they created the standard as far as pop combos are concerned. The rock and roll of the fifties had died out, and there were hordes of phony teen idols, Fabians and the like, filling the void after Elvis went into the Army and emerged reconditioned like McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. No hope there. Television was full of squares and blandos like Pat Boone in his white bucks, snoozers like Andy Williams, old crooners from Vegas, and the champagne music of Lawrence Welk, which was piped into living rooms and filling retirement home dancefloors with processed cheese. In that cultural gridlock, the Beatles sprang from nowhere (England?) loud and exciting and obviously having a good time doing it! They were clever lads who wrote and played great music, and the kids got it immediately.
Watching this clip from August of 1965, of the Beatles playing Shea Stadium, will undoubtedly bring back memories for some of you. For more about the Leeds University study of the music memory, click here.
One is a huge Nazi gasbag.
The other is a dirigible.
Okay, this is an update on a story we ran a while back about Rush urging Republicans in Texas to cross over and vote for Hillary in the primary, thereby stopping the Obama momentum and insuring the Democratic Punch and Judy Show continues. The New York Times political blog gives us this report here.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Today is International Women's Day, a holiday celebrated worldwide. It began when women in the clothing and textiles industry in the Lower East Side of New York City marched for decent pay on this day, in 1857. The women were attacked and dispersed by police on horseback. On the same day in 1908, 15,000 female garment workers marched in New York for shorter hours, decent pay, and the right to vote.
To celebrate women's day, here are two performers from different generations: Adele, singing "Hometown Glory," in 2007, and Aretha Franklin singing "Respect" live in 1967.
Friday, March 7, 2008
"Way Down in the Hole" is the theme song of the HBO television series "The Wire." Each season has a different version of the song during the opening credits, but here is the songwriter himself, Tom Waits.
We just finished watching season four of The Wire, and I must say it's the best thing on television. By far. A show that covers the disintegration of an American city, Baltimore, may sound like a bore, but it somehow swoops into all the angles -- from the corner kids slinging dope, to the police detectives, to the community organizers, to the teacher in the crowded ghetto school, to the mayor. It's brilliant.
Omar, a killer who follows a code
That should be no surprise. The writing staff includes David Simon, who wrote "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets" (which inspired the TV show "Homicide"), and Ed Burns, a former Baltimore police detective and public school teacher. Frequent contributors include novelists Dennis Lehane ('Mystic River'), George Pelecanos ('Right as Rain') and Richard Price ('Lush Life,' 'Clockers', "The Wanderers"). They have created some of most complex and interesting characters ever to fill your TV screen. Put it in your Netflix queue. Go on.
"It's weird," says Plucky Frenesi, of Beaverton, Oregon, "I mean, it can't be a coincidence...with a shape like that. It's a sign."
"Lookit," says Mary Margaret Day, of Shreveport, LA. "This is real. He's sweating cheese. This is no random accident. God doesn't roll dice. This is intelligent designer pizza."
"I've got irritable bowel syndrome," says Owen Evora, of Hoboken, NJ. "I drove all night in an uncomfortable car wearing astronaut pants and I'm desperate. I need a miracle. I want a slice of that pie."
Sorry, believers. This pizza is real -- but it's not a sign, although it probably tastes like one. The pizza was baked in the test labs of the Disney Corporation, always busy finding new ways to spend your money. It will soon be available in your finer food shops. So next time you want some real Eyetalian pizza, Disney style, just grab a box! Tell 'em Walt sent you!
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Do you like good music?
That sweet soul music?
Just as long as it's swingin'
Oh yeah, oh yeah...
- Arthur Conley, Jr.
THE BIRTH OF SOUL, PART ONE
The first part of a very good series about the history of Soul Music.
THE BIRTH OF SOUL, PART TWO
The History of Soul continues...
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Conservative Republican ad for Richard Nixon from the 1968 campaign. Here, Tricky Dick tries to get "psychedelic" to reach youth. Notice the shot of a young, beardless Jerry Garcia near the beginning, when Nixon mentions "American youth today has it's fringes..."
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, "Limbaugh spent much of his show Monday exhorting Republican listeners to cross over and vote in the Democratic primary for Hillary Clinton to prevent Democrats from unifying around Barack Obama as Republicans have done around John McCain.
'What we did, if we did anything, is to create a bunch of chaos in the Democrat Party and it worked,' Limbaugh said."
For more, see the Sun-Times article here.