Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Not long ago, major league baseball player Dock Ellis passed away. His best season was 1971, when he won 19 games for the World Series champion Pirates and was the starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star Game. Ellis is probably best known for pitching a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD in 1970.

He didn't plan it that way. Ellis had been hanging out with friends in LA and was under the impression he had the day off when he ingested the powerful psychedelic.

"I was in Los Angeles, and the team was playing in San Diego, but I didn't know it. I had taken LSD..... I thought it was an off-day, that's how come I had it in me. I took the LSD at noon." At 1pm, his girlfriend and trip partner looked at the paper and said, "Dock, you're pitching today!"

Ellis boarded a shuttle flight to the ballpark and threw a no-hitter despite not being able to feel the ball or clearly see the batter or catcher.

"I can only remember bits and pieces of the game," Ellis recalled. "I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria. I was zeroed in on the glove, but I didn't hit the glove too much. I remember hitting a couple of batters and the bases were loaded two or three times. The ball was small sometimes, the ball was large sometimes, sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn't. Sometimes I tried to stare the hitter down and throw while I was looking at him. I chewed my gum until it turned to powder. They say I had about three to four fielding chances. I remember diving out of the way of a ball I thought was a line drive. I jumped, but the ball wasn't hit hard and never reached me."

autographed ball: Dock Ellis, No Hitter 6-12-70

The dubious achievement inspired several songs, including "Dock Ellis" by Barbara Manning (performed by SF Seals), "Dock Ellis No-No" by Chuck Brodsky, and "America's Favorite Pastime" by folk singer by Todd Snider.

Listen to "America's Favorite Pastime" by Todd Snider, click the button below:

Listen to "Dock Ellis" by SF Seals, by clicking here:

Dock Ellis, American Hero

Sunday, April 26, 2009


In 1969, 14-year-old Beatles fanatic Jerry Levitan snuck into John Lennon's hotel room in Toronto and convinced him to do an interview. 38 years later, Levitan, director Josh Raskin and illustrator James Braithwaite created an animated film using the original recording as the soundtrack. "I Met the Walrus" was nominated for the 2008 Academy Award for Animated Short.


"Sweet Hitchhiker" by Creedence Clearwater Revival

If you've ever hitchhiked any distance you've done a lot of standing by the road singing songs. Rides are few and far between, so you entertain yourself. Some people live on the road--drifters, hobos, dharma bums and outriders--and they explore the Great American Highway. They've got wanderlust. Maybe they can't make it in straight society, maybe they're modern day gypsies. Road trips were once seen as rites of passage, important coming-of-age experiences like Indian vision quests, but nowadays it seems that most young people forgo the Kerouac bug for the lock-step of security, career, and life in the Comfort Zone. It's all about viewpoint. If you grow up believing what you're told, you have no reason to "go out there and see for myself." On the other hand...

"Hitchin' a Ride" by Vanity Fare

...some people have the bug. I did. Unimpressive by true vagabond standards, I've still got my bonafides, logging some long runs up and down the West Coast several times, and thumbing through Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, California and down into Mexico. I hitched around upstate New York when the leaves were turning. I'm not fooling myself--I'm snug in the Comfort Zone, too, and surprised I was ever foolhardy enough to hitchhike around the country. People say it's too dangerous now, but it was always dangerous. On the road, you surrender to chance, fate, luck, the elements. You have no choice. I got robbed once, got into some bad spots, slept under a bridge when there was snow on the ground. I got thrown into jail in Circleville, Utah, home of the famous Butch Cassady. I like to think we were both in the same jailhouse--at different times, of course. The old bunker jailhouse certainly seemed old enough for the Hole in the Wall Gang.

An old map of the Outlaw Trail

The Wild West is long gone. Nowadays, I want comfort when I travel. I want cozy beds and honey-roasted peanuts and a mini-bar full of expensive Snickers and tiny bottles of good booze. Still, I wouldn't give up my hitching days for anything. Sure it was senseless and foolhardy--you can't put it on a resume, and it doesn't translate well to the status seekers and stay-at-home types, but it provided me with an advanced degree of the spirit. If you want to know your country--your world--you need to get out there and see it firsthand. Hitchhiking is a way to do it on the cheap.

A night in jail in Butch Cassady's hometown. Priceless.

You'll meet some real characters. You might share snacks or travel tips ("If you ever go to Houston..."). Some people never forget their fraternity brothers or army buddies, but I'll never forget Julie with the patchwork jacket from San Diego and Black Bart ("like the outlaw") from Montana, and the crazy Kahlua drinking dude who had just got a divorce and kept singing "Miss You" until we told him to shut the hell up. Or the Navajos in the green Camaro going to the all-Indian rodeo in Tuba City. Or the county sheriff who bought us a stack of pancakes and eggs because the law requires you to feed prisoners. Or "El Cougare," the modern day gunfighter who fought in electronic quick-draws for prize money. Or the country club golfer who bought me a cold beer in the desert outside Page, Arizona, because you had to be a club member to buy a drink at the Pro Shop and it was over a hundred degrees in the shade. Thanks.

"Ridin' Thumb" by King Curtis & the Kingpins

Years later, when you're buried in polite society and you've forgotten most of what you ever learned, you will come across somebody who knows, you can see it in their eyes, and before you know it you're trading old road stories. A song might grab you, too, trigger a memory so it all comes back in a great disorderly rush and you get a flash of the University Avenue onramp in Berkeley, say, or snow falling in the Siskyous and taillights fading in the dusk. You have to laugh. Squeeze your eyes shut and you're back in the wind, bundled up in a pile-lined denim jacket, climbing into a long-haul rig just outside Salt Lake City. Diesel fumes, air brakes, static on the radio.

"How far ya going?"

"Me and Bobby McGee" by Kris Kristofferson

Friday, April 24, 2009


If you're like me, you love zombies. We're talking crazed, hungry undead reanimated corpses that roam the earth in search of human flesh--not the numb dullards you may see on a daily basis. Those are co-workers. We're talking actual zombies with their flesh rotting off. Zombies are the rage. They're hot! There are plenty of zombies movies out there, a zombie survival guide, and --believe it or not--a rewrite of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" replete with zombies. Yawn. For my money, the original zombies are the best. Kudos to George Romero who spent about twelve bucks to produce the definitive zombie classic--the brilliant low budget 1968 masterpiece "Night of the Living Dead."

You can't beat these reanimated corpses, that's for sure. These slow moving creeps amble along after you while you try to escape...but the car won't start, or you break a heel, or you slip in the muddy graveyard. It's excruciating. They keep coming.

Along with the Austen parody, there are plenty of other attempts to breath life into the tired old zombie genre, including "serious literature" such as "World War Z," a tale of surviving an all-out zombie war, and "The Zombie Survival Guide," a how-to book with the same idea. There are new and improved zombies, such as the fast running bloodhounds of "28 Days Later," and the hilariously slow-moving ghouls of "Shaun of the Dead," but for my money the best zombie flick is the black and white gore-fest shown above. This is the bomb. Watch it with the lights down low.

Enough revisionist zombies! Why update, morph, and remix the original unless you can improve it? Zombies are in vogue, and while they may never be as popular and sexy as vampires--witness the "Twilight" phenomenon of teen bloodsuckers--they have a certain dignified stature among the undead. Let's keep it that way. Help the zombies survive the hacks.


Denis Johnson wrote the best book I read last year, Tree of Smoke. Evidently, I wasn't the only one who thought so since it snagged him the National Book Award. He's coming out with a noirish pulp thriller that was serialized in Playboy, Nobody Move. (I just read an advance proof, and it was brisk hardboiled fun). Johnson first caught the public eye with a brilliant collection of stories, Jesus' Son, back in 1992. Dialog, structure, heart--this guy has the chops. He also knows more Dylan lyrics than anyone I've ever played guitars with...but that's just shameless name-dropping, so I'll shut up.

Tree of Smoke, his last book, the big book, has an historical sweep of America in the 1960s, concentrating specifically on US foreign policy in the hearts and minds of a handful of soldiers, drifters, outlanders, true believers. Oh oh, you say, another Vietnam novel? Why do we need another Vietnam book after Robert Stone and Tim O'Brien, after the reportage of Michael Herr? To paraphrase Celine, don't judge it too quickly. The novel rings like a tuning fork with current foreign affairs. It's about then, sure, but it's about now.

It's a big story--an interweaving of several stories, actually--with very real characters and difficult moral questions. After exhibiting his knack for shorter work, this comes as a surprise since most writers are fortunate to master one form, and here Johnson expands his universe to convincingly cover a huge cast of disparate characters across several continents. Don't get me wrong. This is not some simple macho war story or any of that gung ho horseshit, but a masterful display of what we expect from literary fiction at its best. Johnson delivers. Don't believe me. Read the review in the New York Times, here.

Or better yet, read the book.

here's an excerpt:

He kept his vision on the spot where he'd seen it among the branches of a rubber tree, putting his hand out for the rifle without altering the direction of his gaze. It moved again. Now he saw that it was some sort of monkey, not much bigger than a Chihuahua dog. Not precisely a wild boar, but it presented itself as something to be looked at, clinging by its left hand and both feet to the tree's trunk and digging at the thin rind with an air of tiny, exasperated haste. Seaman Houston took the monkey's meager back under the rifle's sight. He raised the barrel a few degrees and took the monkey's head into the sight. Without really thinking about anything at all, he squeezed the trigger.

The monkey flattened itself out against the tree, spreading its arms and legs enthusiastically, and then, reaching around with both hands as if trying to scratch its back, it tumbled down to the ground. Seaman Houston was terrified to witness its convulsions there. It hoisted itself, pushing off the ground with one arm, and sat back against the tree trunk with its legs spread out before it, like somebody resting from a difficult job of labor.

Seaman Houston took himself a few steps nearer, and, from the distance of only a few yards, he saw that the monkey's fur was very shiny and held a henna tint in the shadows and a blond tint in the light, as the leaves moved above it. It looked from side to side, its breath coming in great rapid gulps, its belly expanding tremendously with every breath like a balloon. The shot had been low, exiting from the abdomen.

Seaman Houston felt his own stomach tear itself in two. "Jesus Christ!" he shouted at the monkey, as if it might do something about its embarrassing and hateful condition. He thought his head would explode, if the forenoon kept burning into the jungle all around him and the gulls kept screaming and the monkey kept regarding its surroundings carefully, moving its head and black eyes from side to side like someone following the progress of some kind of conversation, some kind of debate, some kind of struggle that the jungle—the morning—the moment—was having with itself. Seaman Houston walked over to the monkey and laid the rifle down beside it and lifted the animal up in his two hands, holding its buttocks in one and cradling its head with the other. With fascination, then with revulsion, he realized that the monkey was crying. Its breath came out in sobs, and tears welled out of its eyes when it blinked. It looked here and there, appearing no more interested in him than in anything else it might be seeing. "Hey," Houston said, but the monkey didn't seem to hear.

As he held the animal in his hands, its heart stopped beating. He gave it a shake, but he knew it was useless. He felt as if everything was all his fault, and with no one around to know about it, he let himself cry like a child. He was eighteen years old.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


New York City was broke and dirty in the seventies. It begged Washington for help, but Nixon pardoner Ford refused to lend a hand. NYC toughed it out.

The music that came out of 1970s New York embodies that survivor spirit. The city adds grit and soul to anything it touches, including the post-punk sounds that exploded from a grimy little club on the Bowery, CBGBs. For some reason, that dive spat out the Ramones, Television, the Patti Smith Group, the Dead Boys, Talking Heads, The Dictators, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Misfits, and Blondie. There were no rules but one, to play the venue the bands had to write their own songs.

Free-form beat poet and punk godmother, Patti Smith was the first of the CBGBs gang to land a recording contract, even beating the Ramones to the punch. "Horses," her first album, was a powerful combo of poetry and rock that sounded like the Shirelles on acid. Patti cast herself as the missing link between Mick Jagger and Arthur Rimbaud, firing the DIY aesthetic in a million pink bedrooms and garages nationwide, and spitting in the eye of conventional definitions of what it meant to be a female performer. Primitive and sophisticated, she was a contradiction in boots with a Keith Richards' haircut and a volume of William Blake's poetry. Songs of Innocence and Experience. She wrote "Because the Night"--her biggest hit--with Bruce Springsteen. I interviewed her in Portland when this record came out, and up close she was charming and charismatic, not at all the enfant terrible, not the arrogant rock star but more like the girl who scrawls poems in her PeeChee, and I took a couple photographs, too, and she helpfully tossed in a scowl and snarl which seemed to be equal parts art and act. Desire and hunger is the fire I breathe.

Blondie. Guilty pleasures...I confess I liked "Heart of Glass." Sure it was slick and commercial and they ran it into the ground, but as a lad I was powerless to resist the charms of icy robot Debbie Harry, even if I knew better. New Wave meets frozen disco--forget about punk--Sold out? Maybe. But nobody ever listened to her first band, The Stilettos, and this was a number one hit. This is when people who were too cool to dance thought, well, okay, maybe. Let's dance on the left of the dial.

tom verlaine and patti smith

Television was brilliant. They looked like French criminals, Patti Smith said. I can see that. Breathless era crooks, skinny as junkies, with eyes glittering like desert mystics. They were city poets, which in a way is criminal.

Marquee Moon is one of the greatest albums from a great year, 1977. No, from any year! Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd played these intricate guitar figures in perfect counterpoint and created something shimmering & beautiful but with enough NYC grit to keep it real. It was punk or post-punk but it was worlds away from the basic 3-chord variety...these were virtuoso guitars. A guitar solo! And poetry. Before "punk" got narrowed down to a brand name and a rigid set of guidelines (Green Day, anyone?) there was still room for poets and criminals to remix and reinvent rock any way they wanted. They created a new sound.

It's nighttime in the city. You've had a few drinks and you're sweaty from dancing but you're outside in the cool night air and the skyline is twinkling. The band is on break. A yellow cab swooshes by. Someone is yelling in the street. You hear those chiming guitars and you know the band is back onstage and you're surprised to be face to face with a world so alive. That sound.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


People are furious about torture. Sort of. They're actually upset with Obama for releasing the torture memos. It turns out the CIA was torturing like crazy while President George W. Bush was denying it to the American people--so naturally conservatives are angry with Obama. God forbid we learn what our government is doing in our name. That's bad for security, they say. Of course they should be angry with the CIA for turning into the Gestapo when our backs were turned, but apparently that's too logical for these dunderheads.

It's not like we invented it or anything...waterboarding scene from the Spanish Inquisition.

According to the released memos, CIA interrogators were allowed to choke off prisoners' breathing in the simulated drowning technique called waterboarding; slap them and slam them against walls; confine them in small boxes for hours on end, sometimes with insects; and keep them awake for as many as 11 days. One captive was waterboarded 183 times in a month, another 83 times. Aside from the "intelligence" extracted in these conditions, which most agree is unreliable, moral issues arise from torturing a defenseless captive.

Shocking strangers--the Milgram study

You may remember the series of social psychology experiments conducted by Stanley Milgram to measure the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to commits acts--such as inflicting electric shocks on others--acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.

In a 1974 article, "The Perils of Obedience," Stanley Milgram summarized his experiment:

I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.

Playboy journalist Mike Guy bet he could undergo "waterboarding" for 15 seconds. How hard could it be? Maybe these guys are just whining.

The New York Times guide to the torture memos is located HERE. Read the actual memos on the ACLU website HERE.

Here is Jon Stewart's take on torture and the Bush apologists:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
We Don't Torture
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Monday, April 20, 2009


Soyez réalistes, demandez l'impossible!

"Be realistic - demand the impossible!"

"Gizmo," directed by Howard Smith, is a brilliant compilation of oddballs, inventors and strange contraptions from yesteryear. Highly entertaining. You must see this.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Most artists don't know anything about the business side of art. I AM AN ARTIST: Professional Development Weekend for Artists is a workshop designed to fill that void, and provide essential resources, funding opportunities, peer-to peer evaluation, networking and hands-on feedback for artists.

So you make art? Now what? How do you showcase your work? How do you present your portfolio? How do you write a successful grant proposal? How do you most effectively write an artist's statement? Do galleries still require slides or has everything gone digital? How big are your jpegs? How does your resume look? Sure you know Cadmium red and your Cobalt blue, but what about fiscal sponsorship? Taxes? What about money?

Artists are comfortable making art--that's what we do--but less comfortable conducting the business of art which we've often learned by trial and error, willy nilly, haphazardly. "That's left brain stuff," we joke, burrowing into our work. The business of art is rarely touched upon in art school, which many artists don't attend anyway, and once you're "out in the world" you improvise and play catch as catch can, hoping for the best and trying to make art with your fingers crossed. Other professions have vast support networks and encourage (if not require) continuing education, but artists tend to fumble along alone.

I'm just halfway through this workshop but I've already stuffed my brain (both sides) with valuable information about grant writing and portfolio presentation and galleries and resumes and the labyrinth of taxes and 501c3s and fiscal sponsorship. Lots of good tips. All that, and sharing notes with fellow artists from various backgrounds and experiences. I highly recommend I Am an Artist.

The workshop is offered by Artist Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving the needs of the arts community in Washington state. Artist Trust was founded in 1987 by a group of arts patrons and artists who were concerned about the lack of support for individual artists. Artist Trust is guided by the leadership of a Board of Trustees and a professional staff.

"Artist Trust provides artists the time and resources necessary to prosper. We deliver vital professional development information to thousands of artists each year, and have distributed over $3.4 million in direct support to more than 1,675 of Washington State’s most promising and respected artists of all disciplines."

Visit Artist Trust

Friday, April 17, 2009


This is the second installment of Bob on Bob--the man in his own words. The first post included clips of early Dylan, these later clips are also pretty amazing. (Link to the earlier post here)

People who think Bob Dylan's best work is behind him haven't been paying attention. This artist keeps evolving. Right now he's on a winning streak that should continue with the forthcoming album, Together Through Life, due April 23rd. If the new record is anything like the single, Beyond Here Lies Nothin' (link below), we can expect a smoldering bluesy joint reminiscent of the classic Chess records of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.

Dylan performs "Love Sick" at the Grammys when an unexpected idiot jumps onstage to bask in the glow. The man barely fazes Dylan, who has seen it all. This segment was edited strongly for official release. This is the full, unedited version, complete with the "Soy Bomb."

The Interview

Dylan recently spoke with rock critic Bob Flanagan and provided a glimpse into the creative process, the music industry, and his favorite songwriters. Here are a couple excerpts. (Links to the full interview below)

Bill Flanagan: A lot of the acts from your generation seem to be trading on nostalgia. They play the same songs the same way for the last 30 years. Why haven't you ever done that?

Bob Dylan: I couldn't if I tried. Those guys you are talking about all had conspicuous hits. They started out anti-establishment and now they are in charge of the world. Celebratory songs. Music for the grand dinner party. Mainstream stuff that played into the culture on a pervasive level. My stuff is different from those guys. It's more desperate. Daltrey, Townshend, McCartney, the Beach Boys, Elton, Billy Joel. They made perfect records, so they have to play them perfectly ... exactly the way people remember them. My records were never perfect. So there is no point in trying to duplicate them. Anyway, I'm no mainstream artist.

BF: Then what kind of artist are you?

BD: I'm not sure, Byronesque maybe. Look, when I started out, mainstream culture was Sinatra, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Sound of Music. There was no fitting into it then and of course, there's no fitting into it now. Some of my songs have crossed over but they were all done by other singers.

"Cold Irons Bound" on the set of Masked and Anonymous with his loyal band from The Neverending Tour. (full lyrics here)

BF: Who are some of your favorite songwriters?

BD: Buffett I guess. Lightfoot. Warren Zevon. Randy. John Prine. Guy Clark. Those kinds of writers.

BF: What songs do you like of Buffett's?

BD: "Death of an Unpopular Poet." There's another one called "He Went to Paris."

BF: You and Lightfoot go way back.

BD: Oh yeah. Gordo's been around as long as me.

BF: What are your favorite songs of his?

BD: "Shadows," "Sundown," "If You Could Read My Mind." I can't think of any I don't like.

BF: Did you know Zevon?

BD: Not very well.

BF: What did you like about him?

BD: "Lawyers, Guns and Money." "Boom Boom Mancini." Down hard stuff. "Join me in L.A." sort of straddles the line between heartfelt and primeval. His musical patterns are all over the place, probably because he's classically trained. There might be three separate songs within a Zevon song, but they're all effortlessly connected. Zevon was a musician's musician, a tortured one. "Desperado Under the Eaves." It's all in there.

BF: Randy Newman?

BD: Yeah, Randy. What can you say? I like his early songs, "Sail Away," "Burn Down the Cornfield," "Louisiana," where he kept it simple. Bordello songs. I think of him as the Crown Prince, the heir apparent to Jelly Roll Morton. His style is deceiving. He's so laid back that you kind of forget he's saying important things. Randy's sort of tied to a different era like I am.

BF: How about John Prine?

BD: Prine's stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs. I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about "Sam Stone" the soldier junky daddy and "Donald and Lydia," where people make love from ten miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that. If I had to pick one song of his, it might be "Lake Marie." I don't remember what album that's on.

(from Flanagan interview, Part 5)

"One Too Many Mornings," live from the Rolling Thunder Tour, 1976. The last day of the tour, playing in the rain, Dylan sings his heart out. "I gaze back to the street, the sidewalk and the sign..."

The rest of the Dylan interview by Bill Flanagan can be read in its entirety here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 5
Now, the final installment, Part 6

"Beyond Here Lies Nothin'" from the forthcoming Dylan album:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Do you like music?

Do you really like music, or is it just incidental background noise, the audio equivalent of wallpaper? Does music really matter? If you catch yourself singing in the shower, playing an instrument, or just tapping your feet to a tune on the radio you must watch this riveting documentary.

"Before the Music Dies" zeroes in on the current state of American music at a time when fewer and fewer companies control the music industry. Turn on the radio, and you're likely to hear bland, homogeneous Velveeta oozing from your speakers. Overproduced, pitch-corrected, unimaginative product dominates the airwaves--but down the block, just out of earshot, diverse and creative independent music plays its heart out and struggles to survive. What's the deal?

"Before the Music Dies" isn't simply an anti-corporate screed. Filmmakers Andrew Shapter and Joel Rasmussen have made a thoughtful film that asks why mainstream music seems so packaged and repetitive, and whether corporations really have the power to silence creativity. They examined all the angles, and interviewed dozens of musicians, critics, industry insiders and fans to find out. The film that will make you think--especially if you love music.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


When Susan Boyle, a middle-aged volunteer church worker from Blackburn, Scotland, stepped to the stage on "Britain's Got Talent" she seemed destined for the kind of public humiliation we've grown accustomed to seeing in television singing contests. Snarky Simon Cowell was a judge, for godsakes. The frumpy little lady didn't have a chance. She said she'd "never been kissed," there was blood in the water. People tittered and hooted when she told the judges her ambition was to be a professional singer.

Susan Boyle wiped the smirks right off their fat faces when she sang. Nobody knew where that voice came from, but it stunned the audience, the judges, and the 11.4 million who watched her on TV that night. Now she's some kind of star, an unlikely one. Today we celebrate the triumph of the underdog. Nice job, Susan.

The judges pause to consider the smug A-holes they've become...

Monday, April 13, 2009


What a long strange trip, indeed. The New York Times published an article a couple days ago settling things forever and silencing all debate by announcing, once and for all, that the greatest Grateful Dead concert--according to Ben Ratlif, anyway, and others he claims to have spoken with--took place on May 8th, 1978. End of story. The journal of record has spoken. The story barely made a beep, and the world of news quickly returned to its tales of war and collapsing economies, mothers killing children, fathers killing mothers, pirates kidnapping sea captains, and seemingly normal people killing huge numbers of random strangers or loved ones before turning their guns upon themselves. Stories about the ungrateful dead, you might say.

1966: at the old place on Ashbury, just before the party spilled into the streets

Of course, all musical lists are suspect; the value of music is felt in the heart of every listener and should not be left to New York Times, the trainspotting music geeks, or even the Nicks--Hornby and Harcourt. And don't leave it to the Deadheads. They're a funny bunch, whichever vintage, and they've been trading thousands of recordings for decades and are simply too close to the thing to see it clearly. (Like the old joke: what do Deadheads say when the dope runs out? "This music sucks!" Well, it doesn't suck, not all of it, but you get my point) It would be like asking an Eskimo (Inuit, sorry) about snowflakes. No, you don't want to commit your life to the damn thing. You, with your short attention span, want an overview.

Anyway, here are some unusual Grateful Dead clips. The opening segment comes from Playboy After Dark, and listening to the skeezy pajama king Hugh Hefner "rap" with Jerry Garcia brings to mind the writer from the Times dissecting Dead shows for relative merit. You don't need to ingest psychedelic drugs to catch a glimpse of Hef as a lizard of the lounge variety, but I'm sure the bandmembers popped their pills anyway and the entire affair has a surreal quality that Thorazine and orange juice might not bring you down from. In fact, you might not be able to shake this hallucination until you escape the Playboy rabbit hole entirely and get a breath of fresh air.

Further on down the line, truckin' in the 1970s

My point (and yes, I had one...) is that you can't really say which concert is best because it's a matter of taste, but even beyond that the band itself changed so much over the years it would be like comparing apples to orange sunshine. The Playboy mansion clip is from 1969--and by that time the Dead had already evolved from being the house band at the Acid Tests hosted by Kesey and the Pranksters. The band that played the Trips Festival at the Longshoreman's Hall in 1966 had already grown less experimental, more polished and professional. By 1972, they were an altogether different group, and the recordings from that tour were released on "Europe 72" remain favorites. Some would argue this was the "best" Dead period. By 1978, they'd mutated again--the show rocked harder, etc, and if you liked that sort of thing you might like that. To all the kids who staggered after them in the 1980s and 1990s the experience was altogether different. The band played the old favorites for adoring kids who weren't even alive when they put out their first album. (a far cry from my first Dead concert in '70 or so. When someone yelled out "St. Stephen!" Garcia barked back, "That was three X*&$* years ago, man!")

The last clip is from April 17th, 1972, at the Tivoli Theatre in Copenhagen. Their hi-jinx are in high gear as you can see from the clown masks. 1972 was a good year. What do you think?

Grateful Dead Update: According the the Washington Post (April 14th, 2009): "The surviving (and formerly feuding) members of the Grateful Dead had a secret impromptu meeting Monday evening with the man they credit with reuniting them: President Obama."

"The president welcomed all the members of The Dead, who are performing tonight at the Verizon Center in Washington, to the Oval Office just before dinner last night. They didn't talk music as much as they did history - history about the Oval Office, and the president's desk."

To read the rest of the story in the Washington Post, click here.

Still Dead: Phil Lesh and Bob Weir lead the latest incarnation of the Dead shown performing here in NYC, March 30th, 2009

Read annotated Grateful Dead lyrics here.


Acting with President Obama's authorization, Navy SEALs rescued Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates holding him for ransom. Efforts to negotiate had gone nowhere, and by the end of the fifth day it appeared that Captain Phillips would be be shot. The Navy sharpshooters had secretly parachuted to the fantail of the U.S.S. Bainbridge, where they waited for an opportunity, and when a pirate leveled his AK-47 at Captain Phillips they fired upon the pirates, killing three instantly. A fourth surrendered and was taken into custody.


Captain Richard Phillips, rescued

Captain Phillips, who was resting comfortably, shrugged off the hero label. “The real heroes are the Navy, the Seals, those who have brought me home.” He spoke to his wife, Andrea, and two college-aged children in Underhill, Vermont.

“I share the country’s admiration for the bravery of Captain Phillips and his selfless concern for his crew,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “His courage is a model for all Americans.”


Reuters reports that the Somali pirates were quick to vow revenge over the shooting of their comrades, as well as a French military assault to rescue a yacht on Friday.

"The French and the Americans will regret starting this killing. We do not kill, but take only ransom. We shall do something to anyone we see as French or American from now," Hussein, a pirate, told Reuters by satellite phone.

Piracy is nothing new. In a world where the ranks of the desperately poor grow by the day and the wealth of a few is astronomical, we may be in for more of this terrorism on the high seas. Poverty doesn't excuse it, obviously, but it might help to remember the root cause isn't simply "evil." So far, we've mostly been spared the siege mentality that is commonplace is certain parts of the world. In some countries, the wealthy must live behind barbed wire fences, in patrolled "green zones" and walled neighborhoods, constantly on guard against kidnappers.

Even though this rescue turned out well, pirates plague many nations around the world. At this time, pirates are holding a dozen ships with more than 200 crew members, according to the Malaysia-based International Maritime Bureau.

Somali pirates vow revenge


The Navy is a force of 330,000--and out of that only 2000 are SEALs. The SEALs--short for U.S. Navy SEa, Air and Land forces--are an elite fighting group trained in unconventional warfare, special operations--everything from sea rescue to parachuting to demolition. Assignment to BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/Seals) is conditional on passing the Diver/SEAL Physical Screening Test (PST) which is extremely difficult, and then it just gets harder. BUD/S consists of a three-week 'Indoctrination Course', known as INDOC, followed by three phases, covering physical conditioning (seven weeks), diving (eight weeks), and land warfare (nine weeks) respectively.

The following documentary follows a group training to be SEALs:

Part 2 of SEALS documentary here.
Part 3 is here.
Part 4 is here.
Part 5 is here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Coloring Easter eggs is a holiday tradition, and if you haven't already colored your eggs this video will guide you through the process. It's a lot of fun. When we were kids, we'd bring Easter candy and colored eggs to school the entire week following the holiday--but now health authorities discourage eating colored eggs. These are the same people who took away our cigarettes and broken glass. Back then, we thought we'd live forever. We'd bravely munch a couple of these brightly colored bombs and race out to climb the monkey bars or bail out on the swings. The monkey bars were cast iron anchored in concrete, and it was a tough fall if you lost your footing (nowadays monkey bars are probably made of Nerf material and set on mattresses, but I can't verify that). Anyway, we lost a couple kids every recess. We got used to the whack-whack sound of medevac choppers, and watching friends strapped to the skids being flown away, never to be seen again.

After recess, it was worse. By then the sugar had warn off, and since the classrooms were always overheated we had to fight dozing off during the long division drills. This was before pocket calculators, when we actually had to learn math. Inevitably, some kid threw up. The janitor was summoned from his broom closet, and the sour old bastard came ambling down the hall like a mean version of Mr Greenjeans, jingling his massive key ring, pushing a mop the size of Rhode Island, and carrying a can of puke powder. He covered the stain with the puke powder but the stink never went away. It lingered in the warm classroom, drifting on the afternoon thermals. You'd gag every time you passed the spot. You'd get up to sharpen your pencil--a yellow, chewed-up Ticonderoga #2 --and practically get the dry heaves. Sometimes if I catch a faint whiff of sick from an alley it carries me back to Mrs. Vest's fourth grade class. I wonder who survived. I hope everyone made it, with the exception of Mr. Greenjeans.

Anyway, the moral of the story is simple. Don't eat colored eggs unless you're foolhardy and have nothing to live for. Otherwise, play it safe and do as you're told. Happy Easter.

This video will give you another angle on coloring eggs.

"I Want Candy" by the Strangeloves (1965) just push the button below:

The Master Egg Painter colors an egg. More vintage Easter cards below! Check here!

Saturday, April 11, 2009


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Frank Vincent Zappa (1940-1993) combined the sacred and the profane as a musician, songwriter, composer, bandleader, guitar-player, weirdo, and outspoken critic of mindless censorship in a free society.

Frank Zappa was born in Baltimore on December 21, 1940 to Francis Zappa (born in Partinico, Sicily) who was of Greek-Arab descent, and Rose Marie Colimore who was three-quarters Italian and one-quarter French. His father was a chemist and mathematician in the defense industry, and the Zappas moved around the country as the old man worked in various arsenals and chemical warfare facilities, finally skipping around California--Monterey, Claremont, El Cajon, and San Diego--where Frank joined his first band, The Ramblers, at Mission Bay High School.

The Zappa Family

By 1956, the family had moved to Lancaster, in the Mojave Desert near Edwards Air Force Base. Zappa continued devouring music. He soaked up avant-garde composers Stravinsky and Varese, old fashioned R and B, early rock and roll, and pachuco Do Wop bands. He met Don Vliet at Antelope Valley High School and they became friends--Vliet of course later recorded under the name Captain Beefheart, though he wasn't actually a captain and his heart was almost certainly human. Around then, Zappa played drums for The Blackouts, a racially mixed band that played blues and R and B. Zappa graduated from AVHS, and would later thank two of his high school music teachers on "Freak Out!" (1966) the first album recorded with the group that made him famous, The Mothers of Invention.

thanks for letting me sign your yearbook, Frank

Zappa at 22 on the Steve Allen Show: experimental music on a bicycle

To quote the Wicky, "His own heterogeneous ethnic background, and the diverse social and cultural mix in and around greater Los Angeles, were crucial in the formation of Zappa as a practitioner of underground music and of his later distrustful and openly critical attitude towards "mainstream" social, political and musical movements."

Today, we celebrate Frank Zappa--and Easter--with this 1988 performance of his beautiful composition, "Watermelon in Easter Hay."

Thursday, April 9, 2009


An ingenious mind-bender shot for a purported $7,000 in Super 16, Primer is a better science-fiction film than George Lucas could make with all the money in the world. And it's only technically sci-fi. It's difficult to pigeon-hole a film that so successfully mixes science, philosophy, and the nature of reality in such a disarming way, and without resorting to the standard science-fiction tropes.

See, it's all about the story. With little or no money, DIY filmmakers (such as writer/director Shane Carruth) must rely on their wits since they can't dazzle you with expensive special effects and big name stars. Primer begins with four engineers working nights and weekends in a garage building error-checking devices. They spend their free time tinkering with this and that, and accidentally tear a hole in the space-time continuum. To tell you more would spoil the fun.
Primer won Sundance's Grand Jury prize in 2004.

31-year old Shane Carruth wrote, directed, and acted in Primer. Carruth was a math major in college who worked as an engineer before teaching himself filmmaking. He was interviewed by the Village Voice:

How did you come up with the film's principles of time travel?
Richard Feynman has some interesting ideas about time. When you look at Feynman diagrams [which map the interaction of elementary particles], there's really no difference between watching an interaction happen forward and backward in time. That's something I got interested in early on. I always knew what the story was thematically before it turned into science fiction. It would be about trust and how that's linked to what's at risk. I was reading about innovation and that's where I got the setting. Now what is this device? At that point, I'm where a lot of sci-fi writers are—just going through the list of what this thing could be. When I got to the ability to affect time, there was a lot of material to mine that I hadn't seen before—it's usually warpspace or wormholes. In almost any time travel story, people pick themselves up at one point in time and then immediately exist at another—they move from the present day to the 1950s or prehistoric times, and I never liked that because if I were to jump back a day, I'd find myself in a different space because of the orbit of the earth. Whenever you're addressing moving in time you need to talk about space. When you walk to the door you have to walk every moment between here and there, so it seems that, if you're moving through time backwards, you should have to pass through each moment back to get there. That would be the price you pay.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Watch these clips and rent or buy Primer soon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


The closest we'll ever get to a Beatles reunion happened last Saturday night, when Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr rocked the house at David Lynch's "Change Begins Within" concert at Radio City Music Hall. These clips from a fan's video camera capture some of the magic. Sorry we missed that show!

On top of this "Beatles reunion," there is good news about the original recordings. Apple Corps and EMI announced they will be reissuing the Beatles' albums with improved sound. Fans have always complained that the original 1987 CD releases could be vastly improved. While waiting for an official re-release, pirate producers such as "Dr. Ebbetts" and "Purple Chick" released remarkable jobs of their own. We only hope the remasters are as good as these outlaw versions circulating among collectors.

The New York Times reports:

"After watching the Beatles’ company, Apple Corps, devote the last few years to developing a site-specific show in Las Vegas, a video game and a line of pricey memorabilia, Beatles fans are finally getting something they’ve been demanding for at least the last decade: sonically upgraded reissues of the group’s original British albums, in stereo and mono. Apple Corps and EMI announced on Tuesday that the much-postponed remasters would be released on individual stereo CDs and in two boxed sets — one stereo, the other mono — on Sept. 9, the same day the Beatles edition of Rock Band, the music video game, is scheduled for release."

From Rolling Stone:

"On September 9, 2009, after a nearly 22-year wait, digitally remastered versions of all of the Beatles studio albums will be released, a press release has confirmed. Each album will feature the track listings and artwork as it was originally released in the U.K. and come with expanded booklets including original and newly written liner notes and rare photos. For a limited time, each of the Fab Four’s 12 proper albums will be “embedded” with a brief documentary about its making. The re-releases will include the Beatles’ 12 studio albums and Magical Mystery Tour as well as Past Masters Vol. I and II, which will be packaged as one collection. All 14 discs will be available with DVDs of the documentaries in a stereo box set, and a set titled The Beatles in Mono featuring 10 discs will also be released."

And now...Part 2 of Paul and Ringo's show last Saturday night...

Read the rest of the NYT story here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


First off, we hate Toby Keith. The jingoistic country star made a fortune on pro-war lyrics about putting a boot up your ass because "it's the American way." And his music sucks. So we were delighted to hear that an outlaw country singer thirty years his senior gave the stupid putz a schoolin.' That old guy would be Kris Kristofferson, a country boy himself, who also happens to be a Rhodes scholar and a Ranger who flew helicopters for the Army--and a liberal to boot!

Kris Kristofferson, early in his career

Ethan Hawke, a lifelong Kristofferson fan, wrote a great profile of Kristofferson in Rolling Stone which opens with details of a backstage showdown with Toby Keith at Willie Nelson's 2003 birthday concert at Madison Square Garden. Hawke doesn't identify Keith by name, but he makes his identity pretty clear. "At that moment in time, the Star had a monster radio hit about bombing America's enemies back into the Stone Age."

Toby Keith performing "in costume"

"Up from the basement came one of country music's biggest stars (who shall remain nameless)," writes Hawke, who reports the unnamed star told Kristofferson not to perform "any of that lefty shit out there tonight."

"What the (blank) did you say to me?," Kris growled, stepping forward. "Oh, no," groaned Willie under his breath. "Don't get Kris all riled up."

"You heard me," said Keith.

"Don't turn your back on me, boy," Kristofferson shouted. "You ever wear your country's uniform?" Kris asked rhetorically.


"Don't 'what' me, boy! You heard the question. You just don't like the answer." According to Hawke, Kris paused just long enough to get a full chest of air. "I asked, 'Have you ever served your country?' The answer is no, you have not. Have you ever killed another man? Huh? Have you ever taken another man's life and then cashed the check your country gave you for doing it? No, you have not. So shut the (blank) up! You don't know what the (blank) you're talking about!"

Kristofferson in uniform

After studying at Cambridge as a Rhodes scholar, Kristofferson flew helicopters for the army and completed Ranger School. After his tour of duty, he was offered a position as a professor of English Literature at West Point.

Instead of West Point, Kris left the service to pursue songwriting professionally. He went to Nashville and took a lot of odd jobs, and ended up sweeping floors at Columbia Studios where he met Johnny Cash and watched Dylan record Blonde on Blonde. Kristofferson went on to write such classics as "Help Me Make it Through the Night," "Loving Her was Easier," "Sunday Morning Coming Down," and "Me and Bobby McGee," made famous by his sometime girlfriend Janis Joplin. She recorded the song just a few days before her death, and Kris didn't hear her version until after she was gone. It became a number one hit.

Hear Janis Joplin's version of "Me and Bobby McGee" by clicking the button:

Kristofferson became good friends with Johnny Cash, a man who wasn't offended by the scruffy look and long hair, which back then was still rare in country music circles. Johnny had been a wild man in his younger days, too. Here they perform a song Kris wrote, "Sunday Morning Coming Down."

Kris Kristofferson has been an outspoken critic of George W. Bush and the Iraq War from the start. He's an active member of Veterans for Peace, endorsed Obama for president, and described himself in 2009 on the Colbert Report as "left of liberal."

Toby Keith is incensed about the Rolling Stone story. "It was a fictitious (expletive) lie," he says. A Rolling Stone spokeswoman says that the magazine fully stands by the story and Hawke's reporting. Kristofferson claims he doesn't remember the incident.

"That was six years ago," Kristofferson said. "I spoke to Ethan before I put out my statement and thanked him for the beautiful story he wrote for Rolling Stone and I also told him I did not recall the incident at Willie's birthday party. This is the last statement I will put out about this nonsense."

"Don't get Kris all riled up"