Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Robert Crumb, American Artist

People have mixed feelings about Crumb. Some call him an asshole, a jerk, a purveyor of pornography and juvenile crap, a sexist pig, a curmudgeon, a nape, a loon, a gelatinous lifeform with an unbridled id, a sicko, a creep, and a con artist. He may be all those things. Still, he's the best cartoonist of the last century, perhaps forever. He is our Daumier, and he works with an unflinching eye, a steady hand and gently flowing nib. Crumb spills his unconscious directly to the page without regard for puritan mores, or even common decency, yet art critic Robert Hughes called him "the Breughel of the 20th century."

Q: When was the last time a work of art made you cry?

A: I don't cry too easily. It must have been a long, long time ago because I really don't remember. Aline, on the other hand -- she cries at almost every movie. They manipulate her very easily.

Q: Where do you feel most at home?

A: In my room. With my stuff. My record collection. My artwork. My desk. My letter files. My photo files. My photocopy machine. When we moved to France, I basically just moved my room to France. Wherever I am, I just want to be in my room. If we had to live in Peking, China, I'd still be in my room.

Q: When are you most happy?

A: When I'm fulfilling my sex fantasies. When I listen to music that makes me ecstatic. I won't go into details, but my old '78 records give me musical ecstasy. There are also moments I've had with loved ones, with Aline and my daughter, that make me very happy.

Here is a documentary called "The Confessions of Robert Crumb" that might give you some clues about the artist. This is not the Terry Zwigoff doc, "Crumb," but an earlier film. Warning: this contains language as it is spoken, and viewpoints some will find offensive. Be forewarned.


Recently, Crumb finished illustrating Genesis, the first book of the Bible. According to his website, Genesis comes in at 201 pages. He also finished the cover, an introduction, the commentary (for the back sleeve) and a Map, which will be in the beginning of the book. The book is going to production and it's planned to be released this fall.

a sketch from the Genesis project

And what are his plans now that Genesis is complete? Catching up on his correspondence, he says, which has been building up for some time now. And then take a little break—a trip to the States. He and Aline are talking about collaborating on a book upon his return, but that's later this summer. For now, enjoy these clips. Heaven will have to wait.

Interview from March 2007, SF Gate. To read the complete chat click here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


When I arrived, it was dead-on winter. The cold was brutal and every artery of the city was snowpacked, but I'd started out from the frostbitten North Country, a little corner of the earth where the dark frozen woods and icy roads didn't faze me. I could transcend the limitations. It wasn't money or love that I was looking for. I had a heightened sense of awareness, was set in my ways, impractical and a visionary to boot. My mind was strong like a trap and I didn't need any guarantee of validity. I didn't know a single soul in this dark freezing metropolis but that was all about to change -- and quick.

The Café Wha? was a club on MacDougal Street in the heart of Greenwich Village. The place was a subterranean cavern, liquorless, ill lit, low ceiling, like a wide dining hall with chairs and tables -- opened at noon, closed at four in the morning. Somebody had told me to go there and ask for a singer named Freddy Neil who ran the daytime show at the Wha?

New York City, midwinter, 1961. Whatever I was doing was working out okay and I intended to stay with it, felt like I was closing in on something. I was playing on the regular bill at the Village Gaslight, the premier club on the carnivalesque MacDougal Street. When I began working there, the Gaslight was owned by John Mitchell, a renegade and raconteur, a Brooklynite. I only saw him a few times. He was ornery and combatant, had an exotic looking girlfriend who Jack Kerouac had based a novel on. Mitchell was already legendary. The Village was heavily Italian, and Mitchell hadn’t taken even one step back from the local mafiosos. It was a known fact that he didn’t make payoffs out of principle. The fire marshals, the police and the health inspectors were routinely invading the place. Mitchell, though, had lawyers and he took his battles to city hall and somehow the place stayed open. Mitchell carried a pistol and a knife.

Lou Levy, top man of Leeds Music Publishing company, took me up in a taxi to the Pythian Temple on West 70th Street to show me the pocket sized recording studio where Bill Haley and His Comets had recorded "Rock Around the Clock" -- then down to Jack Dempsey's restaurant on 58th and Broadway, where we sat down in a red leather upholstered booth facing the front window.

Lou introduced me to Jack Dempsey, the great boxer. Jack shook his fist at me.

"You look too light for a heavyweight kid, you'll have to put on a few pounds. You're gonna have to dress a little finer, look a little sharper -- not that you'll need much in the way of clothes when you're in the ring -- don't be afraid of hitting somebody too hard."

"He's not a boxer, Jack, he's a songwriter and we'll be publishing his songs."

"Oh, yeah, well I hope to hear 'em some of these days. Good luck to you, kid."

Outside the wind was blowing, straggling cloud wisps, snow whirling in the red lanterned streets, city types scuffling around, bundled up -- salesmen in rabbit fur earmuffs hawking gimmicks, chestnut vendors, steam rising out of manholes.

My perspective on all that was about to change. The air would soon shoot up in intensity and become more potent. My little shack in the universe was about to expand into some glorious cathedral, at least in songwriting terms. Suze had been working behind the scenes in a musical production at the Theatre de Lys on Christopher Street. It was a presentation of songs written by Bertolt Brecht, the antifascist Marxist German poet-playwright whose works were banned in Germany, and Kurt Weill, whose melodies were like a combination of both opera and jazz. Previously they had had a big hit with a ballad called “Mack the Knife” that Bobby Darin had made popular. You couldn’t call this a play, it was more like a stream of songs by actors who sang. I went there to wait for Suze and was aroused straight away by the raw intensity of the songs . . . “Morning Anthem,” “Wedding Song,” “The World Is Mean,” “Polly’s Song,” “Tango Ballad,” “Ballad of the Easy Life.” Songs with tough language. They were erratic, unrhythmical and herky-jerky-weird visions. The singers were thieves, scavengers or scallywags and they all roared and snarled. The entire world was narrowly confined between four streets. On the small stage, objects were barely discernible-lampposts, tables, stoops, windows, corners of buildings, moon shining through roofed-in courtyards-grim surroundings, creepy sensations. Every song seemed to come from some obscure tradition, seemed to have a pistol in its hip pocket, a club or a brickbat and they came at you in crutches, braces and wheelchairs. They were like folk songs in nature, but unlike folk songs, too, because they were sophisticated.

This is a wild song. Big medicine in the lyrics. Heavy action spread out. Each phrase comes at you from a ten-foot drop, scuttles across the road and then another one comes like a punch on the chin. And then there’s always that ghost chorus about the black ship that steps in, fences it all off and locks it up tighter than a drum.

(excerpts from Chronicles,Vol. 1, by Bob Dylan)
to be continued...


The new Dylan album, Together Through Life, will be released April 28th. Beyond Here Lies Nothin' is the first single, a bluesy track with an old Chess Records feel. In case you missed the free download at bobdylan.com (it was up for one day only. That's right, 24 hours) here is a sneak preview:

Beyond Here Lies Nothin'

Thursday, March 26, 2009


David Lynch is a strange cat. Some worship him as a macabre genius while others hiss as he passes. Lynch's best work, offbeat mysteries like Blue Velvet, Eraserhead, Mullholland Drive, and the TV series Twin Peaks, are waking nightmares. They couldn't get any stranger. Well, they couldn't...until now.

First, here's an interview with Lynch from Film Threat in which he talks about inspiration, sex and death. The current issue of Stop Smiling also includes an interview with Lynch--as well as chats with Robert Crumb and Roberto Bolaño. Lynch is obviously busy with film but he just started a website dedicated to "consciousness-based education and world peace." The kick-off party included two surviving Beatles. He also films a daily blog at his old website. (Links below)

Anyway...Could Lynch get any stranger? What if you crossed him with Michael Jackson? You'd have to agree, anything is stranger with Jacko. That's like infinity plus one. Now I'm not a huge fan of "mash-ups." Most of these remixes are tedious exercises and barely listenable as music, but the music geeks over at "Mashed in Plastic" have come up with an album's worth of interesting graftings based on the Lynch oeuvre. Like Dr. Frankenstein, they've sewn parts together to make a monstrous unholy beast.

Listen to "I'll Be There in Twin Peaks" and visit the spooky crossroads where Angelo Badalamenti meets the boy/man from Neverland. Have a nice day.

Visit David Lynch's new meditation website here. The old David Lynch website is here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Richard Nixon, the Archie Bunker of Presidents

The Nixon Tapes provide a rare glimpse into the mind of a small, sweating "unindicted co-conspirator" whose paranoia proved his undoing. Some of the tapes are chilling, with Nixon railing like Captain Queeg in "The Caine Mutiny," while others yield unintentional humor.

In this clip, Nixon discusses homosexuality and the liberal bias of "All in the Family" with his henchmen John Erlichman and Bob Haldeman.

"All in the Family" was a situation comedy that was originally broadcast on CBS from January 12, 1971 to April 8, 1979. Produced by Norman Lear, the show broke ground depicting issues of class, race, politics, religion, homosexuality, rape and feminism. Carrol O'Conner played Archie Bunker, a conservative working stiff who despised the hippies and liberals and adored President Nixon.

a scene from the liberal situation comedy "All in the Family"


Spring is here, and travel is in the air. In spite of a troubled economy people are planning vacations. Last Saturday night, we drank beer with some friends. In our small group, one was leaving for Paris the next morning, another to London, and two were flying to the East Coast. We're planning a trip to Italy.

Travel is exciting and eye-opening, and the anticipation is half the fun. Everyone was in a great mood, comparing notes. One friend at the pub was Harriet Baskas, a travel writer who regularly reports on airports around the world. She was leaving for London early the next morning. You can read her weekly column on MSNBC.com (The Well-Mannered Traveler), her monthly column on USATODAY.com (At The Airport), and her daily blog, Stuck at the Airport.

I sent Harriet this travel warning about the Franz Kafka Airport. She joked that she was so jet-lagged she didn't realize it was a spoof at first. Let's hope it's a spoof!

Some other Travel Links:
Air Travel Consolidators
Affordable Tours - comparisons
Rick Steves' ETTBD

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


"Pull My Daisy" (1959) is truly beat cinema. The film is based on the third act of a Jack Kerouac play, Beat Generation, and features an all-star lineup of 1950s hipsters, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, and artists Larry Rivers and Alice Neel. The film was directed by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie. Kerouac narrates.

The Beats put their stock in spontaneity and distrusted post-inspiration tampering. They believed art and poetry should spring from the mind fully-formed like Athena from the head of Zeus. Sometimes this method delivered inspired work, and other times it produced a half-baked shambling mess. This falls somewhere between the two, but is worth a look.

The story originally came from Neil Cassady, and is supposedly based on an actual event though it sounds more like an episode of a situation comedy. A railway brakemen entertains a respectable bishop. The brakeman's weirdo friends come spilling in the door, ruining everything. You know the type--mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, never saying a commonplace thing. In other words, trouble. I keep expecting Fred and Ethel to drop by with a jug of wine and some bongos. Go, man, go!

quiet on the set: orlovsky, corso, and ginsberg

Monday, March 23, 2009


So what's the deal with Krugman? He came out swinging at the Obama administration and the bill that passed the House taxing bonuses given to executives of bailed-out companies. "It's not the way you should make policy," Krugman said, "it's clumsy, and it will punish some innocent parties while letting the most guilty off scot-free."

Krugman added, "But -- there wasn't much alternative at this point. And for that I blame the Obama people." He goes on to call the Obama administration's handling of the American International Group scandal "bad analysis, bad policy, and terrible politics" that makes it seem as if the White House is "owned by the wheeler-dealers."

So...what's the deal with Krugman? I guess he's entitled to his opinion. So is this internet songsmith, who believes Paul should be part of the process. To paraphrase LBJ, "I'd rather have him inside the tent pissing outward than the other way around."


Don Delillo

Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals. - Don Delillo

"Craft," says Norman Mailer, in The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing, "is a grab bag of procedures, tricks, lore, formal gymnastics, symbolic superstructures—methodology, in short." Craft is not in the same league as "a vision of experience," which is what the great writers all have, and can't be borrowed, mimicked, or faked. Craft is more like "a Saint Bernard with that little bottle of brandy under his neck. Whenever you get into trouble, craft can keep you warm long enough to be rescued."

Amy Hempel

"I have stood a story on its head and started at the end. Galliano is shown putting a leather biker jacket on a pale blond Ukrainian bride. I have dressed a delicate subject in hard, tough prose. And the reverse: described in lyrical language something ugly, something bad. Used a genteel voice to describe violence, an angry voice to take on the harmless. I mix leather and lace on the page." - Amy Hempel

Tim O'Brien in Vietnam, 1969

"A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil. " - Tim O'Brien

"Postmodern irony and cynicism's become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy. Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what's wrong, because they'll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists. Irony's gone from liberating to enslaving. There's some great essay somewhere that has a line about irony being the song of the prisoner who's come to love his cage… The postmodern founders' patricidal work was great, but patricide produces orphans, and no amount of revelry can make up for the fact that writers my age have been literary orphans throughout our formative years."
-David Foster Wallace

"When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away even if it's only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time." - Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut

“We read five words on the first page of a really good novel and we begin to forget that we are reading printed words on a page; we being to see images—a dog hunting through garbage cans, a plan circling above Alaskan mountains, an old lady furtively licking her napkin at a party. We slip into a dream, forgetting the room we’re sitting in, forgetting it’s lunchtime or time to go to work. We recreate, with minor and for the most part unimportant changes, the vivid and continuous dream the writer worked out in his mind (revising and revising until he got it right) and captured in language so that other human beings, whenever they feel like it, may open his book and dream that dream again. If the dream is to be vivid the writer’s ‘language signals’—his words, rhythms, metaphors, and so on—must be sharp and sufficient: if they’re vague, careless, blurry, or if there aren’t enough of them to let us see clearly what is being presented, then the dream as we dream it will be cloudy, confusing, ultimately annoying and boring. And if the dream is to be continuous, we must not be roughly jerked from the dream back to the words on the page by language that’s distracting. Thus, for example, if the writer makes some grammatical mistake, the reader stops thinking about the old lady at the party and looks, instead, at the words on the page, seeing if the sentence really is, as it seems, ungrammatical. If it is, the reader thinks about the writer, or possibly about the editor—’How come they let him get away with a thing like that?’—not about the lady whose story has been interrupted.” - John Gardner


Barack Obama slams Dick Cheney on Sunday's 60 Minutes. Recently, Cheney said we are less safe without torture. In the clip, Obama remains the perfect gentlemen and makes his point without resorting to violence. Still, I'd love to see him punch Cheney in the nose. Cheney's face is just so punchable.

A singularly punchable face

In related news:

Newsweek (March 21, 09) reports that more "torture memos" from the Bush Administration are soon to be released. "Over objections from the U.S. intelligence community, the White House is moving to declassify—and publicly release—three internal memos that will lay out, for the first time, details of the "enhanced" interrogation techniques..."

locked in coffin-size boxes; swung by towels around their necks into plywood walls; and forced to stand naked for days

Newsweek continues: "The debate about torture ramped up again last week with an account in the New York Review of Books about a secret International Red Cross report that was delivered to the CIA in February 2007. The report, according to journalist Mark Danner, quotes detainees describing, often in gruesome detail, how they were locked in coffin-size boxes; swung by towels around their necks into plywood walls; and forced to stand naked for days while their arms were shackled above their heads."

Cheney would have loved these guys: Nazis practicing "enhanced" techniques for a "safer" Germany

Saturday, March 21, 2009


"Rip it Up!" by Little Richard:
"When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake." - Plato

Hell with easy listening, in the sleepy days of yore something strange and dangerous and downright insane crawled out of the dark swampy south, a devil brew of blues, country, and rhythm and blues, a crawling King snake moving through the night on radiowaves nationwide. Call it rock and roll. Where did it come from?

"Hell Hound on my Trail" by Robert Johnson:

They say Robert Johnson met the devil at the crossroads, shook his hand and an eerie light came across the sky. Nobody knows what transpired, but afterward he could play like nobody's business. Slide guitar. This wasn't church music, but something that made your skin crawl. Robert would have played forever but whiskey can be poisoned. They sang Danny Boy at his funeral and the Lord's Prayer, and the preacher talked about Christ betrayed. They say he loved a women named Dee or Miss Delilah who did wondrous works with his fate, fed him coconut bread and spice buns in bed, but a panderer named Red wasn't crazy about the arrangement and brought the curtain down with a fixed drink.

Murder and whiskey. Rock and roll came to town in a black Caddie with no plates. Birds fell silent when it passed. They carried the casket to the cemetery and were surprised when it turned up empty. Get a mojo hand. Light a candle. Turn the radio up.

"Come On" by Chuck Berry:

What was the first rock 'n' roll record? A leading contender is "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (in fact, Ike Turner and his band The Kings of Rhythm), recorded by Sam Phillips for Sun Records in 1951. That was four years before Bill Haley recorded "Rock Around the Clock." Listen to Rocket 88:

Grand and vulgar, powerful and absurdly simple, before pills pills and cream pies and Hollywood and untold power slogged him down, this Tupelo truckdriver named Elvis became the King of Rock and Roll--or at least a King, along with Chuck and Richard and Buddy and Jerry Lee and those early rockers who slammed pianos and guitars and tore a hole in the fabric of the universe.

"Mystery Train" by Elvis Presley:

Okay, this is part one and three of rock and roll renegades. I know, I know, but part two has sound problems and until it's fixed I suggest you get non-linear and enjoy these two spots. Now let's get real gone.

Part 4 of the documentary is here.
Part 5 is here.
Part 6 is here.


After years of writing such great guides as "Europe Through the Back Door," and producing great videos for public television, Rick Steves has become a people-to-people diplomat. Lately, he's been lecturing about "Travel as a Political Act." It's no surprise he was just awarded the Citizen Diplomat Award from a huge gathering of the National Council for International Visitors.

Steves recently traveled to Iran "to build understanding between Iran and the U.S. and to defuse the tension that could be leading to war."

In case you missed his Iran travelogue, watch it now. Steves has a knack for connecting with people, and he sidesteps preconceptions (his and theirs) to explore Iran's rich and glorious past, as well as it's perplexing (to us) present. Will these prejudices lead us into a war with this nation? Let's hope Steves--and the new administration in Washington--are ushering in a new age of diplomacy, where we don't bomb first and ask questions later.

Rick Steves in Iran:

Visit Rick Steves' excellent travel site, Europe Through the Back Door," here
Bread for the World, is located here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Sheriff John Brown always hated me,
For what, I dont know!
Every time I plant a seed,
He said kill it before it grow -
He said kill them before they grow.
I shot the sheriff
But I didn't shoot no deputy

Feel that music? Can you feel that? The tiny island country of Jamaica is more than a playground for beachgoing Americans. Jamaica is the birthplace of reggae, ska, rocksteady, mento, dub, dancehall, ragga, toasting, and various other musical mutations. Jamaica also brought us the Rastafari movement--a group that reveres Haile Selassie as the black Messiah coming to take the Twelve Lost Tribes of Israel back to Mount Zion on the Black Star Liner.

Haile Selassie

One of the biggest reggae stars, Bob Marley, was a rasta who brought the philosophy of peace, love, justice, and ganja smoking to the rest of the world. He started with The Wailers, and soon his music was a cultural force. It urged people to get up and dance--and also to but get up, and stand up for their rights.

The Wailers--Marley in the middle

Reggae didn't catch on right away with the lumbering American public until Eric Clapton covered Marley's classic, "I Shot the Sheriff." Before that, you had to order reggae from Island Records. I did, anyway, since my local "hip" record store was still pushing Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles, and the wildest thing available was Tom Petty. Once Slowhand Clapton cleaned up the Kingston sound reggae started appearing in the racks. It took a white guy in a white suit to bring Trenchtown to the yacht rock crowd. Marley became a superstar.

Them belly full but we hungry

A hungry mob is an angry mob
The music was danceable and political. The groove got you moving and the lyrics got you thinking about justice and peace and struggle and getting high. Each song was a communique from the Third World, a message in a bottle.

Before the reggae dam broke completely, I was working for a small newspaper in the wilds of Portland, an underground paper that followed offbeat music and lifestyles of what remained of "the counter-culture." Nobody was much interested in reggae, so I snatched up the assignment when I heard Bob Marley was coming to town. I made arrangements and scheduled an interview months in advance. To prepare, I played his records, took notes, watched "The Harder They Come," and even conducted some ganja research to catch the vibe. Total immersion. You rarely see this kind of investigative journalism. I was psyched. They put me on the guest list and arranged for a backstage pass. More important, we would talk. Me and Bob Marley.

Anyway, Marley injured his foot playing soccer and that leg of the tour was canceled. Ahhh!

I'm still a fan of the island music. Listen. Feel it. Move your feet. This is roots, rock, reggae.

Watch Part 1 of The Story of Jamaican Music: From Ska to Reggae (Part 2 coming soon!):


You know about St. Patrick's Day, but do you know about St. Joseph's Day?

This feast day is as important to Italians as St. Paddy's is to the Irish. In Italy, and in neighborhoods with a population of Italian Americans, people celebrate the patron saint of Sicily. There won't be any green beer, but there are special pastas, fish, sweets, baked breads, and fava beans. Some Italian Catholics will prepare a St. Joseph's table, or Tavole di San Giuseppe, and provide a feast spread that is open to all. Special groups such as orphans, the elderly and the homeless are invited to attend. This is a day to remember the poor, so there will be no meat, and instead of cheese breadcrumbs are sprinkled over pasta. These traditions go back to the middle ages, when much of Sicily was wiped out by a famine. It is said that the humble fava bean helped them survive, and to this day favas will be included in the feast of St. Joseph.


And of course zeppole. Don't forget the zeppole. A zeppola (plural zeppole, in southern dialects zeppoli) or St. Joseph's Day cake, also called sfinge and in Rome Bigne di San Giuseppe, is a delicious little fried pastry. They sell them on the streets of Rome, Naples, and Sicily. Sometimes they're filled with crema or custard. (Read about them here)

Italians in New Orleans celebrate St. Joseph's Day:

Like the Irish and St. Patrick's Day, this is a day for Italians to take pride in their culture and heritage. Even if you're not Italian, have something Italian today. Have a slice of pizza (invented in Naples) or some pasta (invented by the Romans) with a nice glass of chianti, or have a caffe latte (you guessed it) or maybe an ice cream (gelato was first created by the Sicilian-born Procopio dei Coltelli back to the 16th century). Won't you join me?

The Holy Trinity: Italian bread, Italian wine, and some extra virgin olive oil.

Oh, and use a fork. Knives go back to prehistoric times, but Catherine di Medici brought the first fork to France in 1533 when she married the future King Henry II. The French were slow to warm to the idea. She also influenced their cooking to a great degree by bringing a sophisticated palate and cuisine from Italy.

An Englishman named Thomas Coryate brought the first forks back to England after seeing them in Italy during his travels in 1608. The English ridiculed the forks as effeminate and unnecessary, and explained that they had two good hands to eat with. Gradually, they came around.

Finally, on a lighter note, everyone's favorite Italian American, Paulie Walnuts, comments on the Italian contribution to world cuisine. Ethnic pride? Fuggedaboudit.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


British actress Natasha Richardson is reportedly brain dead after a skiing accident at the Mont Tremblant resort just outside Montreal. Initially the actress appeared unharmed, and walked away from the fall, but an hour later she began complaining of headaches and was rushed into intensive care at the Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur in Montreal. Husband Liam Neeson immediately left the Toronto set of his latest film to be with his wife.

Richardson is best known for her performances on stage and film. She comes from the famous Redgrave family, and is the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave.

Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson talk about playwright Eugene O'Neill


Happy St. Patrick's Day! Here's a song from those venerable Irish punks, The Pogues:

"Dirty Old Town"

Monday, March 16, 2009


"Hermano Dame tu Mano" (Brother Give Me Your Hand)

Los Guaraguao means a lot to many Salvadorans because its music became a symbol of resistance during the violent years of US backed right-wing dictatorships. Anyone caught listening to “Las Casas de Carton” (The Cardboard Homes) or “No Basta Rezar” (Praying is Not Enough), could get arrested and face violence from the Salvadoran State police and paramilitary including torture and even death.

Students caught listening to “Que vivan los estudiantes” (Long Live the Students) were accused of terrorism, and it was once used as an excuse for the Salvadoran military to invade the National University in El Salvador.

"For anyone who witnessed the horror show of El Salvador's 12-year civil war, the ballot-box victory of former leftist guerrillas there on Sunday was a stunning development. Though it took another 17 years after the war ended, the country now joins Northern Ireland in demonstrating that it is possible for a rebel group to effect political change and assume power through peaceful means. That's a gratifying development. We are especially pleased that the outgoing National Republican Alliance, or Arena party, chose to respect the results."

--from the Los Angeles Times editorial, 3/17/09. For the rest of the editorial, click here.

We will continue to follow this story as news develops.


Gwyneth Paltrow, or a small brown country of no consequence

In case you missed it, Salvadorans voting in Sunday's election put Mauricio Funes of the FMLN, the former rebel party, in control for the first time, ending two decades of right wing Arena party rule.

The US media didn't highlight the story, and it figures. The U.S. should be ashamed of its history with the tiny Central American country. The U.S. isn't very good at finishing things (Afghanistan, Iraq, V...) but it sure jumps into bed with plenty of nasty people for expediency sake.

Jennifer Anniston, or the CIA secretly torturing prisoners at "black sites"

According to CNN ("Leftists Claim El Salvador Presidency," a nice value-laden header):

"Mauricio Funes, a member of a political party that waged guerrilla war against the government 17 years ago, claimed the presidency of El Salvador on Sunday night." It goes on, almost in passing. "The FMLN, which is the Spanish acronym for the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, was formed in late 1980 as an umbrella group for five leftist guerrilla organizations fighting a U.S.-backed military dictatorship. The guerrillas and the government signed a peace pact in 1992 and the FMLN became a legitimate political party. By some estimates, 75,000 Salvadorans died during the war."

Mauricio Funes, or the cast of "Friends"

Bury that below the fold. A newsreader might stumble upon the phrase "U.S.-backed military dictatorship" in a country where "75,000 Salvadorans died." It's kind of messy and requires explanation, and we Americans (Norteamericanos, that is) are so busy, go, go, go. We don't have time for the follow-up story. Or the backstory, for that matter. Or history in general.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, or thousands of "disappeared" dissidents

Dictatorships are depressing, and our attention span is short. News crews need to cover more important things, such as the ongoing love story of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and poor jilted Jennifer Aniston. Or the woman with octuplets. Or anything that affects our pocketbooks, and jostles our Comfort Zone. Besides, news needs to be flashy to compete with "America's Most Idle" and "Big Fat Loser." A few important stories slide.

Don't get me wrong. The El Salvador story is out there. But not nearly as prominently displayed as one would think considering our history propping up this quasi-fascist police state for so many years. I'm not naive; I don't expect the news to trumpet shameful episodes of our past, but I expect some sense of recognition and historical responsibility, especially regarding conditions we've helped create. We can be a force for great good, or we can continue to support convenient bullies, and we won't know the difference without a truly independent news media asking tough questions.

Julia Roberts or nameless Salvadoran exercising democracy

Jack Kennedy once said that those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable. In this rare instance, the revolution was peaceful and that should be celebrated.

¡El Cambio es Hoy!

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Tullio Pinelli passed away Saturday in Rome at age 100. You probably never heard of him, even if you're a film fanatic. Pinelli was responsible for co-writing several of Federico Fellini’s best films, including I Vitelloni, La Strada, La Dolce Vita, Nights Of Cabiria, Juliet Of The Spirits, and 8 ½.

Federico Fellini, actor Leopoldo Trieste, and Tullio Pinelli

Pinelli didn’t start writing until his late 30s, when he and Fellini met at a newspaper stand, reading two sides of the same newspaper clamped to the kiosk. They loved movies, and had similar ideas about the possibility of infusing life and energy into the grim neo-realism that dominated Italy’s post-war cinema. Drawing upon childhood memory, myth, and a boundless artistic imagination they created a cinema of fantasy, dreams, memory and desire.

Marcello Mastriani in "La Dolce Vita"

In "La Dolce Vita," Marcello is a gossip columnist who chronicles "the sweet life'' of fading aristocrats, second-string film stars, aging Romeos and working girls. Marcello is cynical and exhausted, and he navigates this decadent world in a rumpled suit and shades. He's torn between making something serious of himself, and drifting along in an empty stream of affairs and a profitible--yet meaningless--life as a hack. Sylvia, a giggling American actress, comes to town, and he's enchanted. They drive around Rome at night. In this classic scene, they come upon the Trevi Fountain. Is this his shot at redemption, or complete surrender?

--"La Dolce Vita"

Friday, March 13, 2009


El Salvador will elect a new president this weekend. And it looks like the revolutionaries--who gave up the bullet for the ballot box--will win fair and square. Abrazos all around.

For the first time since the civil war ended in 1992, a left-wing former rebel, Mauricio Funes, is leading in the prediction polls. Funes is a member of the FMLN, a revolutionary organization that became a political party after a ceasefire established by the 1992 Chapultepec Peace Accords.

President George W. Bush used economic strong arm tactics to influence the last election, in 2004. He was promoting a "pro-US business" Arena party. This time around, the Bush Doctrine is out, and with the US remaining neutral it looks like the FMLN will win. After years of struggle, the people of El Salvador will finally be able to vote for the revolution.

Mauricio Funes at May Day rally in 2008

The FMLN (The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) was named after the rebel leader Farabundo Marti, who led workers and peasants in an uprising to transform Salvadoran society after the devastation caused by the eruption of the volcano Izalco in 1932. In response, the military regime led by General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, who had seized power in a 1931 coup, launched "La Matanza," ("The Massacre") killing some 30,000 people under the guise of being supporters of the insurgency. The price of rebellion was clear.

Violent repression in the streets of San Salvador; the weapons came from the USA.

In recent years, the FMLN fought a guerrilla war, going underground like the French Resistance. Ronald Reagan portrayed the rebellion as "communist," meaning Soviet-directed, which simply wasn't true but this pitch garnered the support of conservatives with a Cold War mindset. If not for the Russians, he seemed to say, why would peasants even think of revolting?

George Bush, wrong again

George W. Bush continued this mindset, supporting the right wing, Arena party, because it was pro-business and anti-communist. Arena was started by Roberto D'Aubuisson, the man who brought the term "death squads" into our vocabulary, and the man widely believed to be responsible for the assassination of Archbishop Romero while he served mass. A fascist in the true sense, he admired Hitler for his Final Solution, and once told the Washington Post of "the need to kill 200,000 to 300,000 people to restore peace to El Salvador." D'Aubuisson died of cancer in 1992, but his party has remained in power.

The rape and murder of four American nuns by the military helped cut off US military aid--for a time

The reason for rebellion wasn't a directive from Moscow. People were forced to fight a corrupt government after decades of extreme poverty, repression, military juntas, death squads, and the "disappearance" and torture of dissidents. The Salvadoran oligarchy--the infamous "fourteen families" that ran the country as a private plantation--gutted the poor with the help of the United States government. Their recent attempt to "privatize" water was the last straw.

Viva la revolucion.

Read a good article on the Salvadoran election from Frontline here.


"I clean my gun and dream of Galveston."

What a line. How did I ever miss that? This cornball classic played on the radio all the time--you couldn't avoid it. Now I finally realize it was about Vietnam, and maybe even considered an anti-war song by country pop standards. Imagine that. Some sad sack soldier is cleaning his weapon and dreaming of his girl, and his shitty little Texas town. Sad. Did everyone else really get this? The sentimental song was written by Jimmy Webb, who wrote other cornball Campbell earworms like "Wichita Lineman" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix."

Thursday, March 12, 2009


David Sedaris is a funny man. He writes hilarious books. Read his books and send him gifts. (read one of his stories here)

Humor, of course, is relative. You might not like Sedaris. Some people prefer jokes, puns, pratfalls, put-downs, and the same old familiar shtick. Some people like humor of the "take my wife, please," variety. I like that, too. But I applaud comics who surprise me. Ricky Gervais is just such a comic. The excruciating everyman of the now defunct television series, "The Office," (British version, of course) is absolutely painful to watch. Gervais makes you cringe. What's so funny about cringing, you ask. Oh, it's funny. I've seen you cringe. Ha.

Part 2 of Ricky Gervais is here.


Cat Power--Chan Marshall. Cette chanson est extraite de son dernier album Jukebox. Seul morceau original de l'album, "Song to Bobby", raconte l'histoire vraie de sa rencontre avec son idole de toujours, oserais-je dire l'homme de sa vie, Bob Dylan : "Giving you my heart was my plan".

And after Chan Marshall's "Song to Bobby," here's a rare clip of the man himself playing with some old friends. Back in 1966, an unwitting Playboy reporter asked Dylan what made him choose the rock and roll life.

Carelessness. I lost my one true love. I started drinking. The first thing I know, I'm in a card game. Then I'm in a crap game. I wake up in a pool hall. Then this big Mexican lady drags me off the table, takes me to Philadelphia. She leaves me alone in her house, and it burns down. I wind up in Phoenix. I get a job as a Chinaman. I start working in a dime store, and move in with a 13-year-old girl. Then this big Mexican lady from Philadelphia comes in and burns the house down. I go down to Dallas. I get a job as a "before" in a Charles Atlas "before and after" ad. I move in with a delivery boy who can cook fantastic chili and hot dogs. Then this 13-year-old girl from Phoenix comes and burns the house down. The delivery boy - he ain't so mild: He gives her the knife, and the next thing I know I'm in Omaha. It's so cold there, by this time I'm robbing my own bicycles and frying my own fish. I stumble onto some luck and get a job as a carburetor out at the hot-rod races every Thursday night. I move in with a high school teacher who also does a little plumbing on the side, who ain't much to look at, but who's built a special kind of refrigerator that can turn newspaper into lettuce. Everything's going good until that delivery boy shows up and tries to knife me. Needless to say, he burned the house down, and I hit the road. The first guy that picked me up asked me if I wanted to be a star. What could I say?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


What's the deal with Burning Man? It's 120 degrees in the shade and you have to pack in water...it's like Road Warrior on the surface of Mercury. What's the deal? Why not have the annual freakout in some mountain meadow with a babbling brook? How about in the dunes on some beautiful coastline? Am I just hopelessly square? What brings out all the freaks, neo-hippies, ravers, artists and strippers to bake in this hellish landscape? Is it the dope? The art? The naked people? Is it the sense of belonging? Are people tripping their brains out? WTF?

The art looks pretty cool...and it looks like people put a lot of work into their projects, so we tip our hat. Maybe this is the last chance for full-out craziness, the last hurrah for non-conformists on our orderly, dying planet. Okay, I can see that. I shouldn't rush to judgment. Who knows? Maybe someday I'll glue some toy dinosaurs on the Mazda and drive down to Death Valley or whatever godforsaken landcape they've chosen for their revels, and have a truly transcendent experience. I could make a hat out of tinfoil. Paint my ass blue. Get some roller skates, you know, and some bottled water, and head out beyond the Thunderdome. And why not?

Burning Man? Check out the official website here.


Tacoma girl Neko Case sings a haunting song about another Northwest celebrity, the Green River Killer.

"That has a lot to do with growing up in Washington state during the time when the Green River Killer was active, when I was in junior high. It's frightening. It has a lot to do with when you're a kid and you see that stuff on TV all the time---the news definitely made the distinction that these women were prostitutes, in fact they didn't talk about them like they were women much at all, which made me feel really bad for the women. Myself and many, many other young women that I knew at the time were very, very scared of the Green River Killer. It was very much a part of our psyche, and it still is, when you grow up with that kind of stuff. Washington had a lot of serial killers---a lot. The whole time I was growing up, there was Ted Bundy, or the guy in Spokane. And when I was in Vancouver, they finally caught the guy---all these prostitutes were disappearing from downtown, and nobody gave a shit about it. Actually, the people of Vancouver gave a shit about it, but the local government didn't, because a lot of them were prostitutes, some of them were drug addicts, so they figured they were lost anyway. I actually think there's a civil suit in Vancouver---you might want to check on the facts on that---because they could have figured out who this guy was a long time ago, and they didn't bother to do it. The government would make up these wild claims---'Well, we might think it might be a white slavery ring,' blamed it on Asian gangs---it was really gross. Same thing with the Green River Killer: they knew who he was for a long time, but they couldn't bring him in on technicalities. I'm sure that it upset the people who had been looking for him that long just as much as the parents of the people he had killed. These women's lives just never seemed that important; they weren't really made that important on the news. It was all about fear. I guess the song is basically me just thinking, 'What are their lives? What would their families do?'"

Neko Case travels between alt country and indie rock, between Patsy Cline and the New Pornographers. Her voice is arresting--equal parts honey and cayenne. She just released Middle Cyclone, which may be her most fearless album yet. This time she brought along her friends M Ward and ex-Band member Garth Hudson, as well as members of Giant Sand, Los Lobos and Calexico.

Read the AV Club review here.
Read the Pitchfork review here.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Who's watching the Watchmen? Everyone, evidently. It smashed attendance records this opening weekend. The comic book adaptation about a team of retired, flawed superheroes took $55.7 million - the biggest opening weekend of 2009 so far. Obviously, more then just drooling fanboys took in the show. Some of them may have actually brought dates.

Anything's possible in an alternative history. That's the case here, another speculative distopia, a what if? This title sequence sets up the backstory, to the tune of Bob Dylan, in which the Vietnam War ends in a US victory and Richard Nixon is elected for a third term. That's just the set-up. The original comic series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons came out in 1986-87 to wide acclaim. Time Magazine ranked it in the top 100 novels of all time. I kid you not.

Is it worth all the fuss? I don't know. Honestly, I'm tired of movies made from comic books and the general dumbing down of film storylines. I haven't read the comic or seen the movie, but I intend to, otherwise my cartoonist buddies will treat me like the Furies treated Orpheus. The comic looks like beautiful work, so maybe I'll start there.

'Nuff said!

A page from the comic--click to enlarge.