Tuesday, August 31, 2010


From the muddy banks of the Wishkah in flat broke Aberdeen it came crawling like a swamp creature through Olympia and up the Interstate--what was this rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouching toward Seattle to be born? Heavy, uncompromising and despising corporate rock with a defiantly punk spirit, Nirvana bum-rushed the stage. Anarchy was loosed upon the world. These scraggly misfits who didn't play the game ended up changing the game. Maybe it's ancient history to you now, or maybe you missed it completely, but back in the day this band let out a roar that shattered windows, a primal scream of angst and rebellion that made the A and R men scramble for pens to sign contracts, a blast that blew away the quotation marks of an ironic age.

For a while, anyway. For a moment, it was perfect. The witch was dead and Oz was finally safe. Then--Jesus Christ!--here come the flying monkeys and the commercial dorks with their Velveeta machines, and before you knew it "Le Grunge" was draped across Paris runway models and diluted like a beautiful rainbow puddle of oil in a Pacific Northwest drizzle. Suddenly, everyone recalibrated, slapped on wigs and grabbed kazoos, and even your square brother-in-law was suddenly sporting expensive Doc Marten knock-offs and nodding his big fat head to cheesy imitations like the Stone Temple Pablum. Then Kurt blew his brains out.

Nevermind. For one brief shining moment these bastards created something genuine, something painfully real and not just another boring pop commodity, but don't read too much into it--it was only rock and roll, after all. Leave it to the critics to bandy about theories. I've still got my records. How long has it been? Why give a damn?

Currently, a high profile art show is running at the Seattle Art Museum based on Nirvana. All the artists got to come out and play rockstars. A little late, I guess. There is plenty of wall-text rhapsodizing, mini-dissertations written in cool hindsight contextualizing this howling punk aesthetic within the boundaries of society and subculture, missing the point entirely since it was really all about personal risk-taking and refusing to cooperate with the bullshit, about liberating yourself from the conditioning of a bankrupt culture that eats its young. Did you love it? Did you hate it? Buy the T-shirt. Now go home.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Timothy Egan just wrote an interesting piece in the New York Times ("Building a Nation of Know-Nothings," August 25, 2010) about the deliberate misinformation campaign led by the right wing punditocracy and the tea party crowd regarding President Obama's birth certificate, and the surprising amount of ill-informed yokels who actually believe Obama is a Muslim. The sub-text, of course, is that Muslims are evil and Obama is working for them to sabotage America (meaning, we must assume, white Christian America). It's simply not true, of course, but that doesn't stop these cretins. The lie has already done its job. That's how propaganda works.

Rush Limbaugh, chortling like a sewage-fed hog, gleefully spreads the lies. “Tomorrow is Obama’s birthday," he said on August 3, "not that we’ve seen any proof of that. They tell us Aug. 4 is the birthday; we haven’t seen any proof of that.” Limbaugh, looking more like Hermann Goering every time we see him, uses innuendos and outright lies that are painfully obvious and insulting to anyone who values truth and intelligence, but that doesn't weed out his constituency of "ditto-heads." Truth? Not a value for these corn-fed Machiavellians. The end justifies the means, and they're on a righteous crusade. Intelligence? A trick performed by crafty intellectuals, eggheads, perhaps even Jews. Not good Germans, er, I mean Americans!

Dumb (note the Minutemen tag--a good old-fashioned right-wing hate group)

The woefully and willfully ignorant, a seemingly inexhaustible American resource, jump on such misinformation without daring to think critically (they make no bones about choosing "faith" over fact-checking), ever eager to play the classic role of the mark on the carnival midway. Gullible, wide-eyed and dumb as mud-fences, they walk right into every con game ever invented. The savvy snake-oil salesmen play with their fears and promise them the world--frighten them with outsiders and city slickers and colored (gulp!) people--and the yokels step all over themselves to pay the well-fed charlatans.


A quick glance at propaganda through the ages (such as the above clip from Nazi Germany) shows that this set-up is nothing new, but the victims of the con--who proudly shun history books--will always be the last to know. (Of course, the real victims are the targets of the propaganda, the outsiders and scapegoats who will pay dearly). The dupes are easy to stir up with fear and threat, with half-baked, unchecked theories, with faith. Always have been. (To hear author Chris Hedges equate the Christian Right with fascism, click HERE)

The modern world hasn't changed much. Hustlers no longer need to set up tents on the edge of town--hell, we pay for the privilege of having them speak in our living rooms! What are your fears, America? We'll play 'em for ya! Muslims want to build a shrine at Ground Zero? The Mexicans are running over the borders like vermin? The blacks are welfare cheaters and lazy shiftless bums? The socialists want to give us socialized medicine? The Italians, the Irish, the dirty rotten Poles, the Serbs? The Jews...Ah, the Jews control Hollywood, the newspapers, the college campuses--anything intellectual whatsoever. For our own safety let's round them all up, right? Let's protect our lilywhite skin privilege and our right to hurl "non-PC" insults and let's burn some books while we're at it! Books are bad! Books encourage thinking! Jesus--not the Jew Jesus, but the blond Jesus on suburban wall calenders--Jesus is backing us up a hundred percent. It's a damn crusade!

Dumb and Dumber

Sadly, understanding the modern world requires homework. You can't just get your info from biased radio talk show hosts or pundits with a political axe to grind--Limbaugh, Beck, O'Reilly, Palin and Company. Sure, it's easier when things are simple, and prejudice and stereotypes are simple as can be, but truth--dare I say the word?--truth isn't simple. Read a book. Expand your consciousness. Challenge your beliefs. No matter what the hustlers may say, it's really not patriotic to be stupid.


Obersturmführer Beck says he also has a dream

Timothy Egan says, "It would be nice to dismiss the stupid things that Americans believe as harmless, the price of having such a large, messy democracy. Plenty of hate-filled partisans swore that Abraham Lincoln was a Catholic and Franklin Roosevelt was a Jew. So what if one-in-five believe the sun revolves around the earth, or aren’t sure from which country the United States gained its independence?

"But false belief in weapons of mass-destruction led the United States to a trillion-dollar war. And trust in rising home value as a truism as reliable as a sunrise was a major contributor to the catastrophic collapse of the economy. At its worst extreme, a culture of misinformation can produce something like Iran, which is run by a Holocaust denier.

"It’s one thing to forget the past, with predictable consequences, as the favorite aphorism goes. But what about those who refuse to comprehend the present?"

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Robert McKee is the screenwriting guru, the undisputed king of screenplay workshops and the drill instructor at Hollywood basic training. He's written books (the highly influential "Story") and conducted expensive workshops all around the world extolling the virtues of his method--a deep analysis of film structure and application of craft to storytelling. McKee has a parade of successful followers extolling his virtues and throwing rose petals in his path. If movies are just a popcorn conveyance system for you, this may not be interesting, but if you've ever thought you could write a movie better than the one you just sat through you could do worse than listening to Coach McKee. He'll tolerate no fools. With a stern bearing, he'll run you through a rigorous obstacle course that includes serious study of successful films, and breaking down story structure like a cheap watch--so if you don't want movies "demystified" or are afraid to lose the magic that sweeps you away (i.e., the plot points that play you like a flute) than you might want to skip McKee. However, if you truly love movies and want to know more about the process of creating a moving story, than listen up. Don't be a rube on the midway. Learn some of the tricks. This is interesting stuff.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Dick Dale is the King of Surf Guitar. Born in Boston, May 4, 1937, of Lebanese and Polish / White Russian descent, Richard Anthony Monsour combined musical elements of his European background (think balalaikas and mandolins) with the California beach scene (his family moved to LA when he was young) to create Surf Rock. He may have been forever linked to the sixties surf scene, just another track on a mixtape, if Quentin Tarantino hadn't used his edgy instrumental "Misirlou" in the film "Pulp Fiction." Suddenly, his music hit an entirely new generation of listeners, including folks who didn't know surf from turf. This is summer music. Picture yourself shooting the curl or just sitting on the beach enjoying an ice cold Corona. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Jean-Luc Goddard was a firebrand of the Nouvelle Vague--the New Wave--of french cinema, a movement of the late fifties and early sixties that also included Francois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette. Perhaps the most experimental director of the bunch, Goddard made films that were discussed like revolutionary tracts and high art by cafe intellectuals and students in the early sixties. Some of his films made it across the pond to US art house theaters and college campuses. Edgy, playful, occasionally breaking down the fourth wall and winking at the camera (literally), his films influenced many directors worldwide. Probably most famous for "Breathless" (À bout de souffle, 1960), in which a sleepy-eyed Jean-Paul Belmondo played out film noir fantasies with an easy coolness--with a slouched hat and a perpetual cigarette dangling from his giblet lips--and became the Bogart of the New Wave.

Belmondo and Jean Seberg in "Breathless"

Godard was political, and used film for art as well as agit-prop, especially later. He sided with students and workers in the 1968 May uprising, and chronicled the cultural revolution as well. Film had a new language, he seemed to say, and can--and should--be more than merely entertaining--it can aspire to art. It can be humane and urgent and challenging. It can abandon the old conventions.

Jean-Luc Goddard

The film clip is from Bande à part ("Band of Outsiders," 1964), a film about a heist, ostensibly (more like a film about film, you might say), in which a trio of young people hang out, flirt, smoke, ride around Paris, and plan a robbery. This scene comes in the middle of the film, a set piece that Godard toys with, removing the sound, adding a voiceover, allowing it to go on for a long time, commenting on itself--but these couple minutes capture the louche life of these wannabe criminals. Cool, young and in love. Daring. Taking risks. Smoking. No wonder other directors were influenced by Godard. Watch the dance sequence in "Pulp Fiction" (1994) and you'll see Goddard all over it. (Tarantino makes no bones about it, and named his production company after this film.) Look at the films of Jim Jarmusch, particularly "Stranger Than Paradise" (1984), and see Goddard. Look around you.

A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end... but not necessarily in that order. -- Jean-Luc Goddard

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Chris Hedges is a war correspondent, a journalist and the author of some very good books. If you haven't read "War is a Force That Gives us Meaning" run out and pick up a copy. In this interview, Hedges argues that the Christian Right is a fascist movement--and he doesn't use the term lightly.

Monday, August 16, 2010


This is one of the greatest summer songs of all time, "Heatwave" by Martha and the Vandellas. What exactly is a Vandella? The announcer finally gets to the bottom of it. Relieved to have some kind of answer, this starched shirt finally gets out of the way and lets them sing. The song sizzles like Georgia pavement. School's out, summer's here, and you feel like dancing. As far as heatwaves go, we're getting tired of the one we're stuck in. Our fans are working overtime. Last night it was too hot to sleep. Today you'd better steer clear or be ready for a wall of crankiness. Consider yourself warned.

A totally different song for a heatwave. Instead of a dance beat, this song has the sluggish tempo of an overhead fan when it's too hot to sleep. Dylan captures that long dark night of the soul. His sense of humanity has gone down the drain. Time has worn him out. You get the feeling he hasn't failed to write a pop song--the world has failed him. This is his testimony concerning a sickness. More Camus than Motown, this tune comes on the radio when you're laid up with a fever in Algiers wrestling with meaning and nothingness.

Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day
It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal
There’s not even room enough to be anywhere
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Saturday, August 14, 2010


An overplayed staple of classic rock radio, loved and loathed in equal measure for its overwrought theatrics and pseudo-Tolkien lyrics, "A Stairway to Heaven" is now impossible to hear objectively without conjuring up the drug-addled excesses of the 1970s, the TV-tossing antics of royally rich rockstars, the queasy stream-of-consciousness juvenelia-filled notebooks of adolescence, the metal spandex ratted-hair spawn the song inspired, and the loyal legions of hollow-eyed fans higher than paper kites weeping laughing flashing weirdly playing air guitar and pondering the inscrutable lyrics as the drugs kick in.

"If there's a bustle in your hedgerow don't be alarmed now..."

does that mean? Nobody really knows. Bearing that in mind, and anticipating some initial resistance, let's revisit this swaybacked warhorse once again and try to ride it to greener pastures with the help of an unlikely rocker, Dolly Parton. Dolly is cool, and she does a cool version of the song (along with every cover band in every bar in America). Listen, children, as if for the first time, to this classic performed by a simple country gal from Sevierville, Tennessee, and then by the big bad band that made it famous in the first place. Dedicated to Wendy, with love.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Kurt Vonnegut offers some sage advice--ostensibly about writing, but really about life--in a lecture entitled, "How to Get a Job Like Mine." Vonnegut was a tricky writer, a conjurer of worlds and a secret sharer. He was a lifelong pessimist who somehow offered hope. And he knew about semicolons. Don't use them.

And so it goes.

For the rest of this great speech, look here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Here are two old geezers time has ravaged but not defeated. Something about Keith Richards and Willie Nelson playing together, two outlaws from different worlds, that ignites a feeling of hope. With any luck Willie will live forever, and Keith--he's harder to kill than Rasputin. If drugs, booze and falling out of a coconut tree and landing on his head couldn't do it, I doubt something as mundane as old age will kill this Stone. Anyway, these old-timers can sure play a sad song. They had it all, all right. I just hope they left a little for the rest of us. Now pass me that jug.

Keith and Willie

These guys obviously have a lot of fun--maybe too much fun--but the fun continues, and for the grand finale they're joined by a couple youngsters carrying on the tradition, rocker Ryan Adams (doing his best Keith impersonation) and Hank Williams' grandkid. Together, as the "lost highwaymen" (a nod to grandpa Hank), they sing an old Stones' song, Dead Flowers. Ragged company, indeed. Can you imagine the wrap party?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


A showdown between bible thumpers and drag queens? You'd think we were talking about San Francisco, but we're talking about sleepy little Silverton, Oregon. Here's the story about the ruckus surrounding Stu Rasmussen, the small-town, cross-dressing, transgender TV repairman who became mayor of this conservative rural town. How did that happen? And what happened when hatemongers from the Westboro Baptist Church showed up to hassle "sinner" Stu? You might be surprised. This story goes beyond simple red state/blue state dichotomies.

Here's an excellent radio story about the Silverton clash from WNYC's Radio Lab:

The Westboro Baptist Church is infamous for intolerance. The church, run by Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kansas, first gained national attention for showing up at funerals of US servicemen with "God Hates Fags" signs, proclaiming to the grieving family--and to the media--that this soldier's death was God's punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality. So is 9-11 and AIDs, they said. Yup, they're crazier than shithouse rats. Still, this cult--and that's what it is--represents a dangerous strain of homegrown American fascism that feeds on ignorance and hatred. They are a strange breed, both fearful and enraged, the shock troops you might see at teabag rallies and anti-immigration marches--or in old newsreels of Nazi Germany. Christians? Hardly. I have a feeling if Christ showed up teaching peace and love they would be among the ones that would crucify him all over again.

Here's some local television coverage of Silverton, before the hatemongers showed up:

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Howard Zinn, Historian (1922-2010)

On July 30, the FBI released the 423-page file they had kept over the years on left-wing historian Howard Zinn. Zinn died in January, and as a final example of their dickishness, the Bureau--still clinging to the ideological apron-strings of cross-dressing Hoover--waited until Howard was dead and gone before letting the file out. Nice. In a free society--truly free, not just free for platitudes--a national police force might not have the power to harass and intimidate dissidents and keep dissenters under surveillance.

Zinn in the forties

Yes, sometimes surveillance may protect the public good, but all too often it is used as an arm of the status quo to protect state power. From the Gestapo to the KGB, from Stasi to SAVAK, from Dina in Chile to the death squads of El Salvador, secret police forces (and not so secret ones) have been used to silence, harass and "dissapear" dissenters and critics of the state--all in the name of security. Abu Ghraib ring a bell? CIA black sites? Operation Phoenix in Vietnam? How about Cointelpro? Look into the Chilean coup in 1973, the Guatemalan coup in 1954, the assassination of Diem, and so on. We don't just export Coca Cola and Hollywood movies, but also thumbscrews and misinformation, torture technicians and spies and military "advisors." But you know that.

Back in 2008, Howard was asked how he'd like to be remembered.

Shocking as it may sound, America has its own secret police, its own dungeons, its own gulags. Maybe that's inevitable in a super power. Why would we think others are capable of such things, and not us? Are we that pure? Of course not. There are "black ops" we never hear about, secrets kept from the people on a daily basis. It would be naive to think otherwise. As usual, might is used to protect the rich and powerful, and massive military-industrial interests trump the common good so frequently it's not even newsworthy. It's a case of dog bites man.

Zinn in the sixties

Howard Zinn wasn't a bomb-throwing anarchist or a devious spy, but a white-haired teacher, a former bombardier in World War II, who was struck by his conscience and who wasn't afraid to speak up. He was smart, and very politely, quietly, he noted that the emperor had no clothes. His book, "A People's History of the United States," awakened many Americans to the real history, the secret history of our country. Only in a society quaking in its boots would that be a radical act, but it was. Too bad he's dead--I bet he'd have liked to see what the feds wrote about him.

Why do the feds fear thinkers like Howard Zinn? Chris Hedges, war correspondent and author of "War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning," asks that very question in his column in TruthDig.

"We are amassing unprecedented volumes of secret files," Hedges says, "and carrying out extensive surveillance and harassment, as stupid and useless as those that were directed against Zinn. And a few decades from now maybe we will be able to examine the work of the latest generation of dimwitted investigators who have been unleashed upon us in secret by the tens of thousands. Did any of the agents who followed Zinn ever realize how they wasted their time?"

Read the rest of Hedges' column here.

Friday, August 6, 2010


Summer fun: "The Wild Angels" (1966) existed somewhere between "The Wild One" (1953) and "Easy Rider"(1969) and not only by the year of it's release. The first had a brooding Brando, a tough outlaw biker with a heart of gold, and the latter was a hippie horse opera with choppers instead of horses--a western, basically--with two drifters looking for America.

Well, Roger Corman's "Angels" wasn't as good as either of them. It was a cheesy "bikesploitation" flick mostly suitable for the summer drive-in, but it featured some cool bikes and a great "Blues Theme" by Davie Allen and the Arrows (which is featured in this opening sequence). Present day Harley owners--mostly middle-aged accountants wearing weekend headbands and expensive leather--take note. It's about freedom, man.

Johnny (Marlon Brando) and Chino (Lee Marvin), two rival motorcycle gangleaders, face off in "The Wild One." Chino has just stolen Johnny's trophy (which Johnny stole from someone else earlier in the film). A great scene from a classic. (Trivia fact: Chino's striped shirt was later worn in real life by Sonny Barger, leader of the Oakland Hell's Angels.)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Louis Armstrong (August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971)


Will success spoil Kieron Williamson? Kieron is only seven years old. He didn't start painting until he was five. Now he's a huge success.

According to the Huffington-Post, "All 33 works in the Norfolk, U.K. native's most recent collection of oil and watercolor paintings sold for $236,850 to customers as far away as South Africa in a record-breaking 33 minutes."

Yes, the art world is a fickle mistress. Weep, weep, underachievers.