Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Award-winning playwright and tough guy David Mamet has written a no-bullshit directive to the writers on his TV show, The Unit, in which he breaks down the rules of dramatic writing. The leaked memo should be required reading for anyone writing fiction. Thanks to John Defresne.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Martin Scorsese has often been called our greatest living director. Surprisingly enough, he didn't receive an Oscar until "The Departed" (2006)--not nearly his greatest film. This year he's back with Leonardo DiCaprio in a creepy mystery set in an old insane asylum, "Shutter Island." Scorsese is a master whether the Academy recognizes it or not, and while many people associate him with crime movies he has directed landmark films in other areas as well, such as "Raging Bull," the best film of the 1980s, and "The Last Waltz" (1978), perhaps the greatest concert movie ever made. Recently, baby boomers were treated to two excellent film biographies, "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan" (2005) and "Shine a Light" (2008) about the Rolling Stones. Scorsese continues to be a fan as well as filmmaker, and has made two documentaries about film, "A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese The American Movies" (1995) and "My Voyage to Italy" (1999), and worked to restore classic American films on celluloid for the American Film Institute.

The work of Martin Scorsese is discussed by cast and crew, as well as Marty himself, in this interesting documentary. (This is part one; the rest can be found here)

Quentin Tarantino, the video store wunderkind who shot his way into out psyche with his encyclopedic knowledge of film--and his special love for cheesy, grindhouse popcorn flicks--first grabbed us with two nearly perfect crime movies that remixed everything up to that point, "Reservoir Dogs" (1992) and "Pulp Fiction" (1994). The incendiary mixture of violence and black humor was nothing knew (see Arthur Penn's 1967 film "Bonnie and Clyde" ) but this cheeky remix of elements and chronology made us check our preconceptions at the door. Tarantino recently directed, "Inglourious Basterds," a goofy violent flick that owes plenty to the drive-in war movies of my youth such as "The Dirty Dozen" and "Kelly's Heroes." Too soon to play fast and loose with WWII history? This cartoony adventure story will test the patience of people expecting "Schindler's List" or some other somber evocation, but those willing to go along for the ride will find much to admire about the storytelling, including a masterful set piece at the beginning when a farmer suspected of harboring Jews is questioned by SS Colonel Hans Landa, played with snakelike authority by Christoff Waltz, who won an Oscar for his trouble. By the way, the film received eight Oscar nominations. Love it or hate it, it's pure Tarantino.

Tarantino picks his top twenty films since 1992, the year he started directing. He loves some cheesy movies, all right, and some great ones. How many of Quentin's picks have you seen?

Kathryn Bigelow won the Best Director Oscar this year for "The Hurt Locker," a war film about a team of men who defuse bombs in Iraq. Like Scorsese and Tarantino, Bigelow directs violent, fast-cut films with lots of explosions. She directed "Point Break" and "Blue Steel" before directing the new film, which is a thrill ride with the tension expertly ratcheted up, but ultimately unsatisfying, another explosion-filled war movie that lacks context and politics. Even so, it allowed Academy voters to vote for an Iraq movie, and they gave it six Oscars. Not to be a party pooper, we'll admit the film succeeds at building suspense, but those looking for the final word on this war will need to look elsewhere. Remember it wasn't until the Vietnam war had ended that films began dealing with the unpleasant reality of that conflict (albeit a stylized reality) with films such as "Coming Home" (1978), "The Deer Hunter" (1978), "Apocalypse Now" (1979) and "Platoon" (1986). Before that, Vietnam was represented by John Wayne in the gung-ho "The Green Berets" (1968), in which the sun famously sets in the east and the politics were equally out of kilter. Just like the Pentagon, the filmmakers basically superimposed a World War II movie onto the new conflict, and fought the last war over again with equally disastrous results.

Kathryn Bigelow discusses "The Hurt Locker."

Sunday, March 28, 2010


The lunatic fringe is having a tea party! Oh, joy! Lewis Carroll would recognize these deranged, erratic, ill-informed, Republican right-wingers as they wave guns and threaten violence, and then deny they said anything of the sort. They're mad as hatters! Sarah Palin, the Mad Queen of the Nutballs, says her tea party pals should "reload" and "target" lawmakers and then hands out maps with cross-hairs for easy shooting. Her white-haired bunkmate, Cranky McCain (together again! all is forgiven!) says this sort of crazy, incendiary language is a good old American tradition and all hunky dory! These perpetual candidates wink and nudge and fan the flames of seething Heartland rage, and then stand back smiling when the actual bombs are planted and elected officials are threatened in their homes. Nice. The so-called "Christian" militia-types they inspire are fueled on something--maybe that hillbilly heroin (also an old American tradition)-- but whatever makes them so stupid and pissed off these politicians sure wish they could bottle.

Too bad history books have been outlawed in most states by conservative school boards, or the uneducated public might recognize these inklings of fascism, the historic parallels with Germany in the 1930s when people were shaken by a depression and felt they'd been stabbed in the back, and the shrill barking opportunists of the day fanned the flames of hatred to rise to power. The Sturmabteilung, usually translated as Stormtroopers, were crucial to Hitler's success in the early days, and were intially informal and ad hoc groups that were fired up at mass rallies and then unleashed to "gash heads" or otherwise threaten and rough up the opposition. Evidently, incendiary talk was also a good old fashioned German tradition, so the fiery beerhall speeches that fueled the rage of these "brown shirts" were all hunky dory. The cross-hairs on their maps were also merely informational, and the rhetoric of patriotism and betrayal and scapegoating--however shrill and baiting--was mere oratory. Right? Hooray for the angry mob!

You've got to laugh. Here to help us find humor in this grim scenario is Jon Stewart, who is probably on the top of any right-wing hit list out there. Here he looks at the Tea Bagger Movement.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
On Topic: Scandal-List - Tea Bagging
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorHealth Care Reform

Saturday, March 27, 2010


In this episode of "Food Revolution," Jamie Oliver shows children how chicken nuggets are actually made. Can he transform them?

Unless you're some wiry gym rat with the metabolism of a hummingbird, you may struggle with keeping your weight down. Eating healthily can be difficult when you're on the go, racing to work, and don't have a personal chef. Jamie Oliver, the personable English chef, premiered a new show Friday called "Food Revolution," where he tries to change the eating habits of the residents of Huntington, West Virginia, the most unhealthy city in America. He meets some resistance, and a snarky radio interviewer scoffs, "We don't want to sit around and eat lettuce all day." Jamie should have slapped that guy, but he's a polite lad from Essex where his parents taught him some civility--unlike the ill-mannered radio host who was obviously raised in a barn.

Jamie Oliver, a decent chap, in the school cafeteria in Huntington, West Virginia

"On his first day in Huntington, W. Va.," writes Alex Witchel in the New York Times, "Jamie Oliver spent the afternoon at Hillbilly Hot Dogs, pitching in to cook its signature 15-pound burger. That’s 10 pounds of meat, 5 pounds of custom-made bun, American cheese, tomatoes, onions, pickles, ketchup, mustard and mayo. Then he learned how to perfect the Home Wrecker, the eatery’s famous 15-inch, one-pound hot dog (boil first, then grill in butter). For the Home Wrecker Challenge, the dog gets 11 toppings, including chili sauce, jalapeños, liquid nacho cheese and coleslaw. Finish it in 12 minutes or less and you get a T-shirt."

In the parlance of Huntington, "Kinda gross, huh?" No wonder over half the adults here are obese, and the area leads the nation in heart disease and diabetes.

Check out Jamie Oliver's website--along with more info about "Food Revolution" (there's also a video of Genarro making porchetta that looks delicious).

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Sure, we love jazz, blues, rock, indie, pop, classical, hip hop, electro, folk, house, hardcore, punk, glam, ambient, country and bluegrass, but once in a while you need to listen to some good old fashioned music from The Band. We've posted them before, but now there is a cool little documentary about the boys--formerly "The Hawks," Dylan's back-up band--so that's our excuse. Holed up n a basement in Woodstock (West Saugerties, actually) they forged timeless Americana that looked backward at a time when everyone else seemed lost in a purple haze of fuzz-toned psychedelia. It was the Summer of Love, after all, but this sounded more like Civil War music, old-timey, out of time, echoing a bygone era. This was The Band.

Man, these cats could play! Some people remember the exact moment they heard their first album, Music from Big Pink, and probably everyone remembers when they heard their second, that eponymously titled record that looked like it was made out of wood, or tooled leather, commonly referred to as The Brown Album. Maybe you were up late listening to an underground FM radio station, after lights out, when in between the heavy groups came some music as old as the hills and twice as dusty. The lyrics were great short stories, with a plaintive feeling to make a grown man weep. Mandolins, fiddles, some brass...Tears of Rage, Long Black Veil, The Weight, King Harvest and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Who was that? That was The Band.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Oscar Romero was a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church who became the archbishop of San Salvador. In a country where the leaders of the Church traditionally sided with the repressive military dictatorship (supported by the United States), Romero bravely spoke out. A courageous soul living under Nazi-style tyranny, he sided with the poor and the oppressed. Thirty years ago today, he was assassinated by the death squads while serving mass.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and the United States government gave millions of dollars of military support, weapons, training and soldiers to the brutally repressive government of El Salvador, and tried to convince the American people this was a war against communism. Reagan and George Bush senior, and many of the cronies who turned up again during the Iraq debacle, designed and directed a government that used death squads to torture and silence dissent, murdered church workers and students and labor leaders, and wiped its bloody hands on the American flag. Tens of thousands were murdered and mutilated and "disappeared."

Excerpts from Oscar Romero's last sermon:

"We have lived through a tremendously tragic week. I could not give you the facts before, but a week ago last Saturday, on 15 March, one of the largest and most distressing military operations was carried out in the countryside. The villages affected were La Laguna, Plan de Ocotes and El Rosario. The operation brought tragedy: a lot of ranches were burned, there was looting, and-inevitably-people were killed. In La Laguna, the attackers killed a married couple, Ernesto Navas and Audelia Mejia de Navas, their little children, Martin and Hilda, thirteen and seven years old, and eleven more peasants."

"Amnesty International issued a press release in which it described the repression of the peasants, especially in the area of Chalatenango. The week's events confirm this report in spite of the fact the government denies it. As I entered the church, I was given a cable that says, "Amnesty International confirmed today [that was yesterday] that in El Salvador human rights are violated to extremes that have not been seen in other countries." That is what Patricio Fuentes (spokesman for the urgent action section for Central America in Swedish Amnesty International) said at a press conference in Managua, Nicaragua...He pointed out that Amnesty International recently condemned the government of El Salvador, alleging that it was responsible for six hundred political assassinations. The Salvadorean government defended itself against the charges, arguing that Amnesty International based its condemnation on unproved assumptions."

"Fuentes said that Amnesty had established that in El Salvador human rights are violated to a worse degree than the repression in Chile after the coupe d'etat. The Salvadorean government also said that the six hundred dead were the result of armed confrontations between army troops and guerrillas. Fuentes said that during his stay u l El Salvador, he could see that the victims had been tortured before their deaths and mutilated afterward."

"I would like to make a special appeal to the men of the army, and specifically to the ranks of the National Guard, the police and the military. Brothers, you come from our own people. You are killing your own brother peasants when any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God which says, "Thou shalt not kill." No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order. The church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such an abomination. We want the government to face the fact that reforms are valueless if they are to be carried out at the cost of so much blood. In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression."

Read the complete text of Archbishop Romero's last sermon, click HERE.

At Romero's funeral, the largest demonstration in Salvador's history, peaceful followers were fired upon by army snipers from rooftops. The snipers killed thirty people and wounded hundreds. This was typical of the Gestapo tactics of a dictatorship out to repress dissent at all costs--a government supported by your tax dollars.

From the Gallery of 20th century martyrs at Westminster Abbey-Mother Elizabeth of Russia, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Archbishop Óscar Romero and Pastor Dietrick Bonhoeffer.

Embedded with Romero's killers: Reporters Craig Pyes, left, and Laurie Becklund with death squad leader Roberto D'Aubuisson in 1982.

The Neiman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard published an excellent article in the Nieman Watchdog by Craig Pyes, entitled, "(Un) Covering The Death Squads in El Salvador."

"For those of us who covered El Salvador during the vicious civil war," says Pyes, "the archbishop’s killing was not only a tragic event for the people of that country, but it gave rise to a very personal anger that such actions could go uninvestigated and unpunished."

Read the Craig Pyes article HERE.

It wasn't until four American nuns were beaten, raped and killed by the Salvadoran death squads in 1982 that most Americans started to question the official story. Briefly. Bullets and thumbscrews and helicopters were stopped in the pipeline while the US Congress was assured that our mission was going well, we were winning against the commies, and besides these hothead Latinos are violent by nature. The public was having misgivings, however. TV images of the nuns' mutilated corpses being exhumed from hastily dug graves on the road between the airport and the city of San Salvador spoke louder than the government spin.

Even with such an obvious atrocity on his hands, Reagan's Secretary of State Al Haig said “the nuns may have run through a roadblock or may have accidentally been perceived to have been doing so, and there may have been an exchange of fire." Haig was putting out the talking points. "Maybe they were pistol packing nuns," he quipped.

The bodies of the nuns were exhumed from a shallow grave, and US military aid stopped...briefly. There were direct links to death squads working for the government, but nothing happened. Reagan wanted to hold control of this part of the world, which for so long had been run by surrogate thugs as our own private plantation.


While nearly everyone I know is happy about the baby steps Obama has taken (yes, there is a long way to go, but he's going in the right direction) some people are just plain furious. Not about the $2 trillion dollar Bush war, or the shambles he left us in, but the liberal, mixed race, commie pinko direction. They rant and cry (like Beck) and threaten to leave the country (like go) and maybe wave a gun around in public, and one of my favorites is John Boehner, the house minority leader from Ohio. Boehner (pronounced BAY-ner, sorry) has a burr in his britches. We put it there. It drives him and his hateful friends to distraction that the insurance companies will be regulated, and that they won't be able to exclude a patient for a pre-existing condition. It eats him up inside that an old lady might get a free pair of teeth she doesn't deserve, or that a child won't miss an examination due to lack of funds. We say to Boehner--and his mouth-breathing, moronic tea-baggers--sorry guys, you lost. Ha ha ha. This is what change looks like.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


When you say James Brown, most people think of hard funk, a killer horn section, and the beat on the ONE, but Soul Brother Number One could also sing the hell out of a ballad. Here JB serves up a double shot of soul with "Prisoner of Love" from the Ed Sullivan Show.

If you need a reason for this clip, we're marking the DVD release (finally! this week!) of the famous T.A.M.I. Show from 1964. After years of worn-out video tapes and bootleg copies, the legendary concert finally gets the treatment it deserves. The show features an unforgettable set by James Brown, along with tunes from the Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, The Supremes and others. Needless to say, James steals the show. If you weren't one of the lucky kids who went to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on October 28 and 29, 1964, now is your chance to see one of the great moments in Rock 'n' Soul history.

Here's "Out of Sight" from James Brown on the T.A.M.I. show:

Monday, March 22, 2010


In spite of unanimous Republican opposition (and opposition from the lunatic fringe) the House passed an historic health care bill last night. We're a step closer to health care as a right and not a luxury. Expect the tea party mob to rave and weep about socialism and taxes--their standard emotional response--and expect more veiled threats tinged with racism and red-baiting (and maybe more gun-waving) but progressive people can celebrate. This is an historic moment.

You will undoubtedly hear misinformed bellyaching--ideology masquerading as fiscal responsibility--from family members or co-workers. Of course they want health care for themselves, and wouldn't want to turn away a sick child because she lacks insurance or money, but by golly this is going to cost a lot. They may have been quiet when Bush started a $2 trillion war or trashed the economy, since he was a good God-fearing Republican, but God forbid a child gets surgery without paying or an old lady gets a free pair of teeth--that's socialism, isn't it?

Tea Party Nuts--sorry, you lose.

Paul Waldman wrote an article in The American Prospect, entitled "The 10 Dumbest Arguments Against Health-Care Reform" that comments on the arguments circulating among conservatives.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Watched a good film by John Cassavetes last night, "Husbands: A Comedy About Life, Death and Freedom" (1970). The film follows three men behaving badly after a friend's funeral. Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara, and Peter Falk. Before "indie film" meant "Juno" and its ilk, Cassavetes directed and independently financed small, personal films that were truly independent, films that used improv and a cinema verite style, and "real" people more ethnic and offbeat than standard Hollywood actors.

These people are drunk and passionate and obsessed with authenticity and expression. They rail and weep, they sing and philosophize, they get swept away by anger, love, self pity, depression, arrogance. They make bad decisions. In essence, they are human. It's refreshing--and jarring--to watch a film so free from artifice, and so much closer to reality than your standard Hollywood entertainment. Scenes go where they want, and don't have that snappy written feeling or the predictability of a traditional three-act plot structure. Cassavetes' film is like a wedding party where people have had too much to drink. Undercurrents surface, tempers flare, and people might say anything. Raw emotion trumps decorum. Something is at stake.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Just because it's brilliant. Miles Davis on trumpet and John Coltrane on sax, with Wynton Kelly on piano, Jimmy Cobb on drums and some of the Gil Evans Orchestra, recorded live in New York City, April 2, 1959.

"So What," one of the best known examples of modal jazz, was released on Miles' landmark album "Kind of Blue" on August 17, 1959. The album remains the bestselling jazz album of all time.

John Coltrane, legendary saxophonist and composer, in a quiet mood, listening while Miles Davis plays in the background. These two musical geniuses created some of the most influential music in the twentieth century.


"The Letter"

We were sorry to hear of the passing of Alex Chilton, a great rock singer, songwriter, guitar player and leader of The Box Tops and Big Star. Chilton's gravelly soulful voice far exceeded his years, and he recorded the international hits "The Letter" and "Soul Deep" when he was only sixteen years old. He later went on to become a pop cult favorite who influenced a wide range of bands from REM to the Simpletones. The Replacements even wrote a song about him.

"Children by the million / Sing for Alex Chilton / When he comes 'round / They sing, 'I'm in love / What's that song? / I'm in love with that song.'"

So long, Alex.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


It's March 17th, St. Patrick's Day, which means you should be wearing green and preparing for St. Joseph's Day. There are only two more days so you'd better get started! A good place to start is with traditional St. Joseph's Day Zeppoli. Here's a recipe.

Don't worry if you're not Italian--you can pretend for one day. If you've never heard of St. Joseph's Day, here are my posts from the past two years. Click here: St Joseph's Day

Buona Festa d'San Giuseppe! (And Happy St. Patrick's Day!)

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Members of the Texas Board of Education just proved what a bunch of dumb rednecks they are by removing founding father Thomas Jefferson from the Texas curriculum. The man who coined the term "separation of church and state" and encouraged dissent irked these God-fearing cretins and was purged, Soviet-style, from history. In Texas, ignorance is safe.

As the second largest textbook market, the decision will have a tremendous impact on book publishers. Referring to this decision, the Washington Monthly says, "What happens in Texas rarely stays in Texas."

"Now where is that Jefferson feller?"

With all due respect, most Texans are too dumb to pour piss out of their own boots. With the exception of barbecue and a fascinating Mexican American culture they had nothing to do with, most white Christian Texans only know football and oil, and maybe Jesus--not the Jewish one, but a blond Aryan version who protects the gridiron. They don't know shit about politics and now they will know even less, as Jefferson gets the axe. As close-minded idiots, they have reasons for despising Jefferson, who was a freethinker and revolutionary who encouraged dissent and ongoing revolution, and once removed all references to the divinity of Jesus from his personal bible, preferring Christ's humanitarian teachings over his miracles. No surprise that the Texans would run him out of town--just like they did that fancy-talking English faggot, Charles Darwin.

According to the New York Times, the Board insisted upon "stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light."

Texas school kids will go into school dumb and come out dumb, too, thanks to the Texas Board of Education.

Why not just burn the books? In this photograph from 1933, the Germans protect the Fatherland from dissenting opinions and radical thoughts by setting fire to books that didn't conform to Nazi ideology. They'd get along great with the Texas School Board.

For more information, read the New York Times story here, or a more detailed report in the TFN insider, a publication of the Texas Freedom Network, "a mainstream voice to counter the religious right" here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


"Telephone" by Lady Ga Ga & Beyonce: for mature audiences only. Language warning.

Since her meteroic rise to dominate pop hyper-kinetic reality, recording artist and provocateur Lady Ga Ga (born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta on March 28, 1986) has fueled mad rumors and a love/hate relationship with contemporary music fans. "She's an hermaphrodite," said some, in spite of the fact that many of her skimpy outfits leave little doubt that she's genetically female, while others howled that she was just an attention whore, a media manipulator and self-promoter that would make Madonna look like a shy shut-in. Whatever the case is, she has taken the pop world by storm with her glossy, glammy excess and obsessively choreographed dance moves, her over-the-top production values and her mind-numbingly hooky music. Parents hate her, but the kids love her. She's shocking, sexy, and energetic--qualities that have worked since the days of Jurassic Pop.

Thursday night, March 11th, Lady Ga Ga released her most extravagant creation yet, a team effort with superstar Beyonce Knowles entitled "Telephone." Don't let the simple title fool you, this is anything but simple. An exhilarating joyride through a billion pop references, in one fell swoop the supergirls manage to reference the women in prison movie "Caged Heat," the 1960's television series Batman, Michael Jackson, "Thelma and Louise,"Diet Coke, Bettie Page, "Natural Born Killers," "Pulp Fiction," Wonder Woman and of course Madonna. And plenty more, I'm sure.

Terrible and tacky, crazy and slick, but kind of fun. Sure, she goes too far. That's what they said about the Beatles, Elvis and probably even Frank Sinatra when they were fresh out of the chute. Things change. Get used to it. Back in the 5th Century BC, Heraclitus of Ephesus told us we'd never step into the same river twice, but we never listened. Like Gatsby, we believe in the green light of the past, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eludes us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . .we will beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Okay, boaters. Here's the orgiastic future wrapped in a bow. Old folks might be forewarned: take a couple Dramamine with your usual meds before pushing the "play" buttom. This is a pop roller-coaster, and you might feel giddy or scared or even slightly nauseous as you climb that rickety first hill over this seedy amusement park...but then you're suddenly over the top.

Gaudy? Tacky? Fun?

Thursday, March 11, 2010


"Hear My Train a Coming" on a 12-string acoustic guitar

Jimi Hendrix has a new record. You heard right. Valley of Neptune was released March 9th, 2010--some forty years after the artist's death. This isn't the first time old recordings have surfaced--some hastily packaged jobs were terrible, filled with unfinished studio jams and overdubs, but some unreleased recordings were truly revelatory, such as the 1997 set, First Rays of the New Rising Sun. The Hendrix fan has a right to be wary of "new" material, but from what we've heard, the new music is well worth hearing. Hendrix lives.

Valleys of Neptune is drawn from two recording sessions in 1969, immediately following the recording of Electric Ladyland (a double album that included such masterpieces as "Voodoo Chile" and "All Along the Watchtower"). Hendrix plays brilliantly, passing through funk and jazz and of course the blues. There is a studio version of "Hear My Train a-Coming," a favorite blues song we present here in two versions: a beautiful acoustic rendition on a 12-string guitar, and a killer live version from a concert on Maui in 1970 (released in the concert film "Rainbow Bridge").

Some people may wonder why Hendrix is still revered so long after his death--people born too late may think of him more as a T-shirt image, a psychedelic space gypsy flying his freak flag, a 60s icon long past taking seriously--but listening to his music sets the record straight. Always exploring, always seeking, a spiritual man in the sense of John Coltrane, he believed in his music and pushed it to the limit. If he'd lived, who knows where he'd be? Forty years after his death, this slight troubadour from Seattle left a trail of recordings that serve as a journal of his long, strange trip from Garfield High to the planet Neptune. Somehow, Jimi's still ahead of his time.

"Hear My Train a Coming," electric, Jimi Hendrix on Maui, 1970

Saturday, March 6, 2010


the 1967 Oscars--a pivotal year

Sunday, it's the Academy Awards. Generally a dull, glitzy Tinseltown deathwatch that requires Herculean stamina (and maybe NoDoz), this year the Academy is attempting to win an audience by providing more nominees for Best Picture (ten! so you can root for your own favorite, whatever it is) and speeding up the traditionally glacial pace. We hope. In the past few years, the TV audience has dwindled to next to nothing. Other than criminal dullness, part of the problem may be that these days many people watch their movies at home (Viva Netflix!) and may not have seen the nominated films by Oscar time. Without a horse in the race, people don't give a shit. Money is a factor (as usual, commerce trumps art) so there will be heavy pressure on the Academy to include box office blockbusters among the critically acclaimed pictures. When popular favorites are skipped, people change the channel, and that means less people watching those valuable commercials. And of course there are battles being fought on the artistic front.

"The Graduate," a Best Picture nominee from 1967

These battles are nothing new. I'm currently reading "Pictures at a Revolution" by Mark Harris, a lively, well-researched book about the five Best Picture nominees of 1967. Harris says this was a pivotal year where some directors made a decisive break from creaky Old Hollywood and reflected new mores and attitudes, and films of a new sensibility were suddenly in the Oscar line-up; European-influenced films tweaking the Establishment ("Bonnie and Clyde" and "The Graduate") and more traditional social issue melodramas tackling race ("In The Heat of the Night" and the tepid "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner") battled with an old school "sure thing," a musical warhorse from the studios (the execrable "Dr. Dolittle"). Battle lines were drawn, and the good guys won. Well, sort of.

"Bonnie and Clyde" trailer, a 1967 Best Picture nominee

Like any entrenched institution, Hollywood resisted change, and feared movies about race would insult Southerners (meaning "Southern Whites," and yes, many southern theaters refused to screen those films) and worried that films reflecting more open attitudes about sex ("The Graduate" and "Bonnie and Clyde") would offend filmgoers in Middle America. "Bonnie and Clyde," with it's slam-bam mix of violence and laughs presaged "Pulp Fiction" and the Tarantino aesthetic by a long shot, and seemed shocking at the time, and many were outraged that it "glorified" criminal behavior. Sure they got killed in the last reel, but it was hardly a Hollywood ending. The cigar-chomping old guards like Zanuck and Co thought the films coming out of Italy and France were crap, and they didn't think the American public would go for these new, non-traditional American films (non-traditional for their time, now they seem quite tame) that they had inspired. Old Hollywood was crumbling and they knew it. This was a battle for a new kind of film, and it happened at the Oscars.

In any case, despite the odds being stacked against an interesting awards ceremony, once in a while the glossy world of Oscar becomes interesting.

Marlon Brando refuses the Best Actor award in 1972. John Wayne nearly had a cardiac.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


"BARCELONA, Spain – Monstrous waves that smashed into a Mediterranean cruise ship flooded people's cabins, broke windows in a restaurant and sent terrified travelers screaming for doctors, passengers said Thursday."

The Associated Press reports that freak waves--over 33 feet high--took two lives and left fourteen injured. The cruise ship, the Louis Majesty, was 24 miles off the coast of Cabo de San Sebastian near the Spanish town of Palafrugell, when the wave hit.

How would you handle disaster? How would you behave if the ship was going down? A recent study analyzing survivors' behavior on sinking ships says it all depends.

The Titanic and the Lusitania sank just three years apart, and in many ways they are thought of as sister tragedies--both gargantuan ships with roughly the same amount of people on board ending in disaster--but the differences end there. The Lusitania was torpedoed and went down 18 minutes after being hit, and the Titanic remained afloat after hitting an iceberg for over two and a half hours--enough time, according to a recent study, for social rules to come back into play. People behaved differently on the two ships.

"Precisely how long it takes before decorum reappears is impossible to say," says an article in Time about the study by Bruno Frey of the University of Zurich and David Savage and Benno Torgler of Queensland University, "but simple biology would put it somewhere between the 18-min. and 2-hr. 40-min. windows that the two ships were accorded. 'Biologically, fight-or-flight behavior has two distinct stages,' the researchers wrote. 'The short-term response [is] a surge in adrenaline production. This response is limited to a few minutes, because adrenaline degrades rapidly. Only after returning to homeostasis do the higher-order brain functions of the neocortex begin to override instinctual responses.'"

In a ship wreck, it takes time to be civilized. What about the high-stress, alienating culture we live in? Are we too rattled to get beyond "fight or flight" and use our higher-order brain functions?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


A few jazzy numbers from Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Bill Harris, Buddy Rich, Ella Fitzgerald and others from a short movie filmed in New York City, 1950. What a stellar group of musicians! Stop, look and listen.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Get out there and read. It frees the mind from the moronic barrage of advertisement-driven entertainment and sound byte reductions of reality. It's the long form, the extended meditation, the architecture of intellection. It helps clarify our own thoughts and feelings. It reminds us how to think for ourselves.
If you can't find a good book, read a magazine. Here are some of our favorite stories from the newsstand in the past few months:

Looking for life lessons? Paste magazine chronicles "signs of life in music, film & culture." They've given us some life lessons from Martin Scorsese. Read "Salute Your Shorts" HERE.

"Life Lessons," directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Nick Nolte and Roseanne Arquette; the only good thing about the trilogy "New York Stories." A cranky old painter with a beard who argues with his Muse may seem too close to home for sheer escapist entertainment, but that's not what Marty does anyway. He does more than just entertain. You might call this short "Mean Streaks."

Trying to write? Trying to write a novel? Trying to write a decent sentence? The Guardian UK asked writers Elmore Leonard, Zadie Smith, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen and more for some fiction-writing rules. The resulting collection of lists, "Ten Rules for Writing Fiction," is loaded with tips. Read it HERE.

We all know about pedophiles in the priesthood. The New York Review of Books has a fascinating story about pedophiles who go into law enforcement, specifically the Texas Youth Commission, the state's juvenile detention agency in the godforsaken West Texas town of Pyote. Read "The Rape of American Prisoners" HERE.

Roger Ebert fought cancer for years and underwent disfiguring surgery that left him unable to speak. He still writes prolifically. His story is sad and inspiring. Read the Esquire portrait, "Roger Ebert: The Essential Man," HERE.

In case you missed this in 2009, here is "Tent City, USA," in which George Saunders spends a week in a homeless camp outside of Fresno. Saunders, a brilliant short story writer, documents the comedy, tragedy and grisly details of life in the tents in this moving piece from (surprisingly enough) GQ. Read it HERE.

Another favorite from 2009: Joshua Wolf Shenk, writing in The Atlantic, followed a study at Harvard that followed 268 undergraduates throughout their lives that resulted in "the broadest longitudinal study we have on lives and happiness." Read "What Makes us Happy," HERE.

One more thing: Walter Kirn, author of "Up in the Air," contributed this review of Sam Shepard's new short story collection, "Day Out of Days," to the New York Times Book Review. As usual, Kirn is whipsmart and colorful, shell-gaming us with jazzy connections and painterly descriptions and just the right degree of snark, and the review stands as a great piece sui generis. Read it HERE.