Thursday, December 31, 2009
Something new and different for the new year. The Dirty Projectors. This experimental band from Brooklyn has been around since 2002, but this year's Bitte Orca is their first album to really grab me. I'm not alone; the album topped many Best of 2009 lists (including the list in Time, a magazine not famous for rewarding artistic risk-takers). This may be the Projectors' most accessible album yet, but don't think this is easy indie pop--or music from any preexisting genre. This is music you might hear in a dream and forget by morning.
The Dirty Projectors are the brainchild of visionary David Longstreth. He writes the music and guides the band with an angular electric ju ju guitar, mixing Afropop with ethereal folk, post-punk with R and B, big beat with the strange, abstract vocals of Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian and Haley Dakle. This isn't for the average listener. These aren't radio friendly dance tunes. This is soulfilling wonderment. Don't believe me, just give them a listen with an open mind. This is something new.
On this tune, the band trades vocals with Talking Head David Byrne. This comes from a compilation called "Dark is the Ground," which you probably have never heard of. Too bad for you.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
Vic Chesnutt, a gnarled little man in a wheelchair, wrote and sang beautiful songs. He died Christmas day, at the age of 45.
He played a special gig on the roof of Urania in Vienna, October 2008
Wheelchair-bound since a car accident in 1983, Chesnutt became known in indie folk circles as a brilliant and melancholy songwriter. After several suicide attempts over the years, Vic Chesnutt took too many muscle relaxants and ended his life on Christmas. He should have been as famous as Brittney and Lady Ga Ga and all the other overproduced pop tarts jamming our frequencies. In a just world, he would have been able to pay his medical bills, too, which threatened to rob him of his house. This isn't a happy story. It won't get much airplay on the "infotainment" channels (neither would Van Gogh's accidents, for that matter, had "infotainment" reared its ugly screen a century ago) but we want to note his particular genius and encourage people to move beyond their mainstream musical tastes and look up Vic, a poet.
An interview with Vic Chesnutt in Paradiso, Amsterdam, 2008
Like many people, I first saw Vic Chesnutt when he opened for Bob Mould's acoustic shows in the 1980s. He wheeled himself out onto a Portland stage, played a few harrowing songs, and I became a fan. His latest record, "At The Cut," was one of his very best. I stuck one of the new songs ("Flirted With You All My Life") on my Best of 2009 Mixtape a week before he died. (Listen to it below.)
Vic Chesnutt live November 21st, 2009
An excerpt from an interview in Pop & Hiss in early December, 2009:
"I'm not too eloquent talking about these things," Chesnutt said. "I was making payments, but I can't anymore and I really have no idea what I'm going to do. It seems absurd they can charge this much. When I think about all this, it gets me so furious. I could die tomorrow because of other operations I need that I can't afford. I could die any day now, but I don't want to pay them another nickel."
Those feelings are deeply ingrained in "At the Cut," where almost every song offers at least a sideways glance at creeping mortality. Take, for instance, "Flirted With You All My Life," an incandescent country tune that's a kind of a breakup letter to Chesnutt's own thoughts of ending his life.
"I've been a suicidal person all my life, and that song is me finally being 'Screw you, death,' " Chesnutt said.
"Flirted With You All My Life," by Vic Chesnutt, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Christmas Eve is here again. Bloody hell. You know it in your bones. Yuletide carols being sung by a drunk, and folks dressed up like Eskimos. Last minute shoppers sipping from flasks, paying full price, dodging traffic. Cooks filling houses with wonderful smells. The egg nog is a-flowing, and the lights twinkle and candles flicker, but it's not Christmas yet. Not really.
It's not really Christmas unless you hear Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl singing "Fairytale of New York." It's a beautifully sad song, the sweet wrecked couple tear at their hearts--and ours. It's not the rarest tune, and any mix-tape enthusiast worth his salt has included this gem long ago, but we still love it. Rumors of MacGowan's death have been greatly exaggerated, but lovely Kirsty died in a boating accident in Mexico in 2000. More sorrow to an already sad song. Poor me a whiskey and we'll sing along.
"It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won't see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you..."
The rest of the words are here, if you can bear it.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Dear [insert name here],
Just thinking of you! I can't believe it's Christmas again. Let's catch up soon [do not specify]. As you may have heard, we are [ extremely happy; separating; seeing other people; fabulously wealthy after the Bail-out]. Our [ kids or pets] are [doing well in school; honor students; Eagle Scouts; off the heroin; finally house-trained]. We hope you get a chance to see them [this year; before they move away for good; when they get out of jail; when they are semi-conscious; to teach them some manners] and tell them [Merry Christmas!; Happy Hanuka !; Listen to your parents!] in person as you look into their [twinkling; bloodshot; dilated] eyes, and see [how much better they are than your kids; what we've had to put up with all these years].
The Christmas tree is up and the house is decorated, and as usual we're full of [holiday cheer; peppermint schnapps; bullshit]. As you can imagine, [insert name] has been busy [baking cookies; making fruitcake; Christmas shopping; guzzling Monarch vodka; putting tinsel on the wrong way]. I have been looking forward to [having the whole family together; singing carols; indulging in maudlin nostalgia; calling up old girlfriends] because the holiday really isn't about [gifts; money; covering the outside faucets; obscene displays of our wealth] at all, it's really about [love; peace; getting things; drinking heavily; overeating; relapsing].
We've had quite a year [insert gloating] but we were sorry to hear about your [loss; misfortune; bankruptcy; prison term; selfishness] and we'll be thinking of you [once in a blue moon; when we need a good laugh; when you drink and dial our number] so please enjoy [the holidays; rehab; your divorce; all the money you still owe us].
It's a wonderful time of the year, but let's remember that on this day long ago [Jesus was born; I weighed half this much; the oyster stuffing made everyone deathly ill; your obnoxious boyfriend had his third turkey dinner in one day; the liquor store was closed] because those kinds of warm golden memories will make you [wet the bed; experience the joys of Christmas; become a sentimental old fool] and isn't that what it's all about? Here's wishing you and yours a happy holiday!
One Christmas morning long ago, Little Bobby Rini found a brand new electric train in a figure eight around the tree. Good job, Santa!
Saturday, December 19, 2009
At the finale of the Christmas show last year in Eugene, Oregon, I came out as a skid-row Santa, complete with rubber nose, plastic sack full of beer cans, and a pint of peppermint schnapps to fortify the holiday spirit. I also borrowed my wife Faye's blue egg bucket and labeled it "Homeless." I'd jangle the cans like a bagful of aluminum sleigh bells while I worked the main-floor aisle seats: "Hey, come on , buddy. Put something in the bucket, for Chrissakes. Don't you know it's Christmastime? Hey, that's better. God bless you. You're beautiful."
for the rest of Ken Kesey's Christmas story, Skid-Row Santa, please click here.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
It was a joy and a delight to see Al Franken slapping down Joe Lieberman on the Senate floor. The obstinate Lieberman looked stunned, and Cranky McCain (remember him?) rose to defend his buddy. Who cares?
These human roadblocks will always be with us, and we need to hurdle over them or push them aside. It's time we stopped placating Lieberman and all the other turncoats. Kudos to Senator Al.
Here's the Joe Lieberman Story as told by The Muppets. Very funny...and accurate.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Dean Martin slinks into the holidays with a drink and a smoke, and then another drink, until finally he's in "a marshmallow world." This louche lounge lizard loves the drinking season. Watching him sing is a kick in the head. Later on, he's joined by fellow Rat Pack pal Frank Sinatra, who also knows how to party. Here they get together with some friends for some festive entertaining. This is old school horseplay that no longer exists in this Digital Age, so drink it up while you still can. Cheers!
Thursday, December 10, 2009
"Christmas in the Heart" is "ragged, cagey, wry and inscrutable" according to John Pareles in the New York Times. He goes on to call the new Bob Dylan holiday album a head-scratcher, too. Maybe it is, but I like it. The old man sounds like Howlin' Wolf, and this take on "Drummer Boy" isn't a put on, a freakshow, or a cynical joke. He sounds sincere to me. Sure, his voice is scratchy as a woolen mitten, and nothing that would ooze from the silver throats of Andy Williams or Perry Como, but it sounds cool. The animation by Jeff Scher, painter and filmmaker, reminds me of old home movies and puts me in the holiday spirit. Try something new. Give this a listen.
Drummer boy, Civil War
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
"Christmas Tears" by Eric Clapton
There is a tradition of underground Christmas blues and country from the other side of the tracks. This isn't the crap you hear from old Andy Williams. This is the real deal. Some might be upbeat, and some is low and slow as molasses in December, but it's all rings true. It decks the halls, and just might deck you, too.
"Blues for Christmas" by John Lee Hooker
Christmas brings out high emotions and lowdown feelings. It's hard not to feel it. Instead of denying the Christmas blues, these performers tell it like it is. The sweet stuff is good, too, for dessert, but this is the real red meat sizzling on the grill. Listen up.
"Santa Came Home Drunk" by Clyde Lasley and the Cadillac Baby Specials
Oh, man, drinking and the holidays? I hadn't noticed. My Uncle Dick and Molly (not their real names) used to get so plastered they'd end up fighting every holiday, and their kids would drift over to our place like orphans out of Charles Dickens. Drink was a good part of the holiday, and people love getting all warm and cozy--and maudlin and self-absorbed and melancholy and nostalgic. It's a Christmas tradition.
"Merry Christmas Baby" by Charles Brown
A Christmas classic, if you ask me, right up there with "O Come All Ye Faithful." Remember the Christmas pageants at school? We'd drill for weeks with our music teacher, and then finally the glorious day would come that we'd all pile into the gymnasium in front of all the parents. Grade by grade we'd all sing basically the same songs, while parents shifted in their folding chairs. We never sang any Lightnin' Hopkins, to my recollection, but maybe we should have thrown in this one:
"Santa" by Lightnin' Hopkins
Times are hard. The worst depression, er, recession in ninety years has left people jobless and looking hard at Christmas. People have been laid off, or had their hours cut (like me) and there are no bonuses this year. Bonuses, hell, there are no cost of living raises. Now go buy presents for everyone. This tune might touch a nerve in you working class heroes. Here's an "up" tune.
"Kamikaze Economy Christmas" by Jeremy Fisher
Joni Mitchell was everyone's sweetheart, and back in the day every girl with a guitar copied her style and looks the way they now imitate Lady Ga Ga. Here she sings a sweet sad song about the holiday season.
"River" by Joni Mitchell
Joni ain't got nothin' on Del Reeves. Reeves sings about Santa in deep do do, like this department store Santa.
"Santa Got Lost" by Del Reeves
You wouldn't really have a Christmas without the King. Yeah, that guy too, but I'm talking about Elvis. Here he gets all loosey goosey on whatever pills the doctor prescribed and let's loose with some holiday cheer. Go with it. Don't just sit their, let that music get into your soul and tap your feet. Feel that?
"Santa Claus is Back in Town/Blue Christmas" by Elvis Presley
Like that? Of course you did. Now let's get down. Commander Cody has long been known for his killer band and arrangements. Here they hit full holiday mode, Cody style. Another sad one, but hey, this is Christmas barbecue not penny candy. Listen up, kids.
"Daddy's Drinking Up Our Christmas" by Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen
Santa's in trouble. Nobody knows trouble like Andre Williams, that's for sure. He could kick Andy Williams' ass in a heartbeat. When Andre talks about "Christmas Wish" he knows what he's talking about. Give the man some respect.
"Christmas Wish" by Andre Williams
Country music has its own outlaws, and the blues infuse the best of it from Hank Williams to Steve Earle. The Everly Brothers come up with the absolutely bluest Christmas song anytime, anywhere. Loosen your necktie, gulp down some courage, and give this tearjerker a good listen.
"Christmas Eve Can Kill You" by the Everly Brothers
Tom Waits has a new album, and he's still alive and kicking even though he sounds like those homeless guys sleeping outside under the bridge. Those guys must be tough, and it's good to remember them this time of year. Here is Tom Waits' beautiful rendition of a classic to sing us home. Merry Christmas.
"Silent Night" by Tom Waits
Thursday, December 3, 2009
The Friends of the Nib show opened tonight at Howard House, a beautiful downtown gallery. This is First Thursday, when art lovers stroll between galleries examining paintings and drawings and scupltures, and this time they got an eyeful, crowding around our strange, eye-popping artwork. The place was buzzing as soon as they opened the doors. We were there, drawing live. Above it all, like a nightmare angel, the FOTN mascot flew, a stylized squid holding two dip pens (a "nib" is the metal point of such a pen) designed by Nibster Jim Woodring. The banner flew proudly this evening!
First Thursday at Howard House
Who--or what--is the Friends of the Nib? We're a weird crew. Our work isn't traditional mainstream art by any means--our various backgrounds include cartooning and illustration as well as fine art, so the work isn't tepid wallflower material but more sanguine, offbeat, punk, underground, hard to pin down. Here we are, hung salon style on the pristine white walls of a prestigious downtown gallery.
Jen Graves, art critic for the Stranger, gave us the coveted "Stranger Suggests" pick. She pitched the show this way:
"This recessionary year, almost nobody is going to Art Basel Miami, meaning December's First Thursday should be at full strength all over Pioneer Square. Howard House hosts furious live cartooning by Friends of the Nib, the Seattle cartooning cabal founded by Bob Rini and Jim Woodring, along with a three-day-only show of their work, paired with a regular-fancy-art show—The Figure—full of bodies of all kinds made by other bodies, from the late Philip Guston to contemporary L.A. artist Ruby Osorio. (Howard House, 604 Second Ave, 256-6399. 6–8 pm, free.)"
The show also includes dazzling new work by Ellen Forney, Max Clotfelter, David Lasky, Tom Dougherty, Scott Faulkner, Heidi Estey, Calamity Jon, the amazing animator Bruce Bickford, and more.
"Cu cu, Cu cu, Cantaba la Ranita" by Bob Rini --A stuffed Mexican frog sings a corrida
Stop by and see the show, mingle with the artists, eat some cheese, buy some art. This is a chance to beat the curve and get something from Edge City before the world catches up. We'll be there, drawing live most of the time. Come by Saturday, December 5th at noon for our cartoon workshop.
The Friends of the Nib
More of my artwork can be seen at Bob Rini Makes Art
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Here's something off the musical mainstream, an old winter classic performed by Leon Redbone and Dr. John. Many people have performed this song over the years, including me at my kindergarten Christmas pageant. I wore a costume and sang my own rendition, but since no recording contracts were presented I decided to stay put and finish school. Some say I was pretty good, but in the dog-eat-dog world of show business moms don't count. Anyway, here's Leon and the good doctor with a song about an ill-fated snowman named "Frosty."
Sorry to have two dope stories in a row, but I can't help it. Portland is going to pot. The town is the home of the first cannabis cafe in the country where medical marijuana users can smoke their weed in a social setting. You know, a social setting like the countless bars and taverns and restaurants on nearly every corner where people consume beer, wine, and hard liquor.
I grew up in the Portland area, and my girlfriend and I just returned from a wonderful couple days celebrating Thanksgiving with my family and friends in the City of Roses. Don't worry, nobody smoked pot. I could be a smart aleck and say that a few of them should have, but I won't, because if you can't say something nice about your in-laws, then you shouldn't say anything at all. Anyway, when our antiquated drug laws finally reflect the current scientific data and people have a choice between a Bud light and a bud in the garden, I might have a few suggestions for the next family gathering. Until then, I'll insist everyone abides by the law. You know, like back in the good old days (not counting the Prohibition Years, when grandpa made whiskey). Okay, everyone chill out or we're getting you a prescription for the cannabis cafe.
Oregon NORML is opening a cannabis cafe for medical marijuana patients in the former site of Rumspankers Restaurant at 700 N.E. Dekum Street. (Photo courtesy of the Portland Observer)
In the clip above, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! speaks with Madeline Martinez, executive-Director of the Oregon chapter of NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), the group that runs the café.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
This is a great little cartoon based on the legendary no-hitter Dock Ellis pitched in a major league baseball game while tripping on LSD. I can't resist posting this wild animation. It has a very cool retro look, very 1970s, with kind of a Superfly, blaxploitation vibe. Can ya dig it?
Warning. I should probably include a note about not condoning the use of illegal drugs and so forth, and I should probably warn kids not to imitate the bad behavior of their sports heroes, and I should probably remind impressionable young athletes that dropping a tab of acid before the big game won't necessarily improve their performance. You know all that, but it's better to be safe. So stay in school, kids, brush between meals, and wear white when you ride your bike at night. Especially this time of year, when Santa is watching.