Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ghost of a chance

This is a pretty incisive quote from Roy
Now is a good to remind ourselves that things can go horribly wrong. I've seen good times, I've seen bad, and the latter tend to be more prevalent and more lasting. So I suggest we savor every drop of the Arlen Specter thing. It's true, as The Poor Man and Glenn Greenwald have pointed out, that Specter isn't much of a get, and will likely take a 2010 nomination that should go to a more progressive candidate.

Well, Obama isn't much of a progressive, either. I don't care. In these few years I have left, I just want to capture some enjoyable memories of wingnut anguish that may bring some comfort to my charity hospital bed.

Specter undoubtedly made the right choice, self-preservation-wise. The Republican base would smell blood as soon as they realized Specter's primary opponent was a Christian and hated taxes. No, there wouldn't be a lot of hand-wringing over what "Christian" really meant. No, the fact that Specter carries a higher tax penalty than just about any Allegheny tea partier wouldn't help him. It's not pretty.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lascaux for alcohol

Then he realized that his cave was really a folded sheet of cardboard. This made him less sad and more philosophical.

Cave painting leads into something I've been meaning to talk about here. Soon, I'm hoping.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cleveland rocks some more

I'd just like to take a few moments and devote them to my trusty and patient blog here. And to recommend the movie American Splendor. It came out in 2003, but I had never gotten around to seeing it until this past weekend. It's an odd mix that works: partly a biopic about autobiographical comics writer Harvey Pekar, and partly a documentary based on interviews with Pekar and his wife Joyce Brabner. Pekar narrates his life as acted out by Paul Giamatti, and provides answers in on-set interviews. His voice is so high-pitched and scratchy that listening to him made me want a lozenge, but he is necessary to the story, provides the soul for it.

Performances are outstanding throughout. Giamatti as well as Hope Davis--an actress whom I don't know that well--as comics dealer turned wife and collaborator Brabner. (It's a good thing these two found each other, and that's all I'm gonna say.) In the supporting role of coworker Toby Radloff, Judah Friedlander has the mannerisms of a high-functioning autistic down. And James Urbaniak--who I mostly knew as the voice of Thaddeus Venture--is one sexy Robert Crumb. Weird as that may sound, especially with his reluctance to make eye contact, but there it is.

Doubly recommended if you like fifties jazz.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Capping off a lame blogging week with the Friday Random Ten

Ah well, sometimes you have slow weeks. This time out I wasn't able to get my thoughts in order in a readable way, at least not for the blog. Ah well, at least you don't have to subscribe.

1. Tom Waits--Ain't Goin' Down to the Well
2. Harry Nilsson--Miss Butler's Lament
3. Nellie McKay--Zombie
4. Heidi Brühl--Was der Wind Erzahlt*
5. Louis Armstrong--Save It, Pretty Mama
6. The Sonics--The Witch
7. Broadcast--Goodbye Girls
8. John Buzon Trio--Mr. Ghost Goes to Town
9. Nat King Cole--Almost Like Being in Love
10. Yo La Tengo--Gentle Hours

* Basically Brenda Lee's "All Alone Am I" in German.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fidget, fidget, can't keep still

I love this.

Capped by the turning out of the light.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Just think of Bob and Judy, they're happy as can be, Inventing situations, putting them on TV.

Ah, I have some things I've been thinking about, but are too convoluted to go into just now. So I'm procrastinating with a glimpse of the golden age of live TV. They're a good comic pairing. Maybe you don't have to be... that special sort of man to appreciate Judy.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Random Ten neat

There are people who know everything, and others who know they know nothing. Tonight I lean more to the latter. Which is cool.

1. The Sonics--Boss Hoss
2. The New Pornographers--Hey, Snow White
3. Beck--Rental Car
4. Bonzo Dog Band--Bad Blood
5. Harry Nilsson--Think About Your Troubles
6. David Bowie--It's No Game (Part 1)
7. Nancy Wilson--But Beautiful
8. Luscious Jackson--Faith
9. Brian Eno--The Fat Lady of Limbourg
10. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross--Cloudburst

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I need a reminder when hay fever season rolls around. No Benadryl. It doesn't agree with me. Just try doing clerical/administrative work when the elf in your head is mashing the SLEEP button. No, no, sneezing is actually preferable, at least for daytime.

Now I hate to get into a whole thang with Matt Taibbi, but I have to disagree with this.

It’s been strange and kind of depressing to watch the conservative drift in this direction. In a way, actually, the Glenn Beck show has been drearily fascinating of late. It’s not often that we get to watch someone go insane on national television; trapped in an echo chamber of his own spiraling egomania, with apparently no one at his network willing to pull the plug and put him out of his misery, Beck has lately gone from being a mildly annoying media dingbat to a self-imagined messiah who looks like he’s shouldering more and more of the burdens of Christ with each passing day. And because he’s stepping into a vacuum of conservative leadership — there’s no one else out there who is offering real red meat to the winger crowd — he’s begun to attract not professional help but apostles, in the form of Chuck Norris (who believes we have to prepare for armed revolution and may prepare a run for “president of Texas”) and pinhead Midwestern congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, a woman who is looking more and more like George Foreman to Sarah Palin’s Joe Frazier in the Heavyweight Championship of Stupid. Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!

Going insane? No. I've seen Glenn Beck off and on for a few years now, when the TV at a laundromat or Dunkin' Donuts has insisted on showing him. There hasn't been much change. As far as I can tell he never had a mind to lose. Tailored suits, yes. Massive xenophobia? Check. (Did he lose some kind of Muslim-Mormon not-drinking contest that left him bitter?) So I'm not worried that Beck is talking crazy, as that's one of the constants of the universe, and it's only sad that he can't land on a more entertaining madness. Like his new buddy Chuck Norris, whoin his mind never really left the Walker Texas Ranger set.

Now as for Michelle Bachmann being in some sort of position of power, well, that's where the night terrors start.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Don't sweat, well, any stuff

I like to think that I have fewer opinions now than I have since infancy. That may or may not be true, but thinking so pleases me. The need to weigh in on each and every topic for fear of being seen as/actually being wishy washy only leads you to cast your snap judgments in bronze. Most often these judgments turn out to be inconsequential at best.

One opinion I do still carry is that aesthetic discernment is largely useless. Further, it may actually be counterproductive for someone who wants to be an artist.

To be sure, I don't mean that one should remain ignorant of artistic history and practice. Meaning I may have to whet my point here a little.

First off, formal aesthetics are just that--formal. Not a few philosophers and artists have come up with actual mathematical formulae, such as the golden ratio. And the artists have applied this principle to great works. But a large number of artists in the twentieth century have shed the golden mean, at least from everyday practice, and still managed to survive. You could name Picasso, but someone like Max Ernst would be an even better example. Surrealism tends to place objects according to their instinctual meaning more than mathematical worth.

Then there's the prejudice for things that have stood the test of time. To know literature, read Shakespeare, not Zane Grey or science fiction. To understand music, listen to Bach, not the Killers. And there is something to be said for things that stand the test of time. But modeling your own work on Renaissance masters exclusively basically means ignoring everything that happened between then and now. It may be healthier to see the classics as part of a network rather than the beginning of a straight line.

If you like something that the critics--or your teachers, if you have any--don't think is worthy, there's no need to assume something is wrong with you. Examine what you're getting that everyone else is missing. It could just be hormones and alcohol working on you. But if that's the case, they'll run their course.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday Random Ten

It's Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion of Christ, and not the whacking of Bob Hoskins. Of course the week seemed long enough so that any Friday is good. Ah yes, the FRT.

1. The Kinks--King Kong
2. Beck--Missing
3. Sly & the Family Stone--Dance to the Music
4. The White Stripes--Rag and Bone
5. Nancy Wilson--Easy Living
6. Martin Denny--Song of the Bayou
7. Sons of the Pioneers w/ Roy Rogers--Song of the Bandit
8. Ben Folds Five--Where's Summer B?
9. Dressy Bessy--Electrified
10. Duke Ellington--The Girl In My Dreams Tries to Look Like You

Thursday, April 9, 2009

No, seriously, bat-diapering

Life has developed in some offbeat ways, as it tends to do. Of course we being us think of ourselves as the norm. To the extent that bats--seen below--have been objects of fear and revulsion, I think that's largely why. The hanging like dead banana leaves, the membranous wings, the solid walls of bats in some underground nooks. It just doesn't square with what mammals are supposed to be.

Being able to observe the young 'uns close up may change that. Baby bats are quite kittenish, and very warm. It's hard to keep that aloof attitude toward creatures of the night when you see them drinking out of a mini baby bottle.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Chinatown Swings

Even among people who like Hollywood musicals, Flower Drum Song has fallen into a degree of obscurity. Not forgotten, exactly, but considered gauche, embarassing. That's a shame.

Part of the reason--as a slate of talking heads who include David Henry Hwang say on the DVD commentary--is the fact of it being a story of the Asian community in San Francisco, and of Rodgers and Hammerstein being two definite non-Asians. It is certainly a stylized view of Chinese-Americans. But of course, musicals are flights of fancy by definition. You have to adjust your expectations going in.

The surprising thing is the amount of real stuff that the film touches on. Not to rub the audience's nose in it, but to acknowledge it at least. The premise involves a near-elderly man and his daughter arriving in America five years early and needing to find the daughter a husband. Five years early? you say. Yes, as Chinese, they are kept on a waiting list for ten. The evocation of racist laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act is subtle, but stinging. It should also be noted that the character Wang Chi Yang is robbed in broad daylight early on after changing a large bill. The mugger is white, and apparently feels confident that he'll get away with robbing a foreigner.

Beyond whatever consciousness-raising one may get, the film boasts many other pleasures. The songs, definitely. The faux-Asian motifs pushed Dick Rodgers a little out there, and he thrived. The first vocal number, "A Hundred Million Miracles", establishes an almost fairyland feel, a touchstone for later songs.

Which brings us to the performances. There's really not a weak one. But two actors who later had too-brief successes on television stand out. Miyoshi Umeki is an amazing charmer as picture bride Mei Li. She interacts with Chinese-Americans who have distanced themselves from the Old World ways she and her father represent, yet it's no surprise more than one falls in love with her. Umeki may be best remembered now as housekeeper Mrs Livingston on The Courtship of Eddie's Father, after which she retired from acting.

Then there's Jack Soo as Sammy Fong. He plays a Dean Martin kind of role here, a carefree bachelor who barely realizes he might want to change. But his Dino act has more of a scent of clammy desperation, and yes that is a compliment. Soo later found an artistic home as Nick Yemana on Barney Miller, unfortunately dying of cancer after only a few seasons. Here he's locked in a push-pull romantic battle with Nancy Kwan, who smells like trouble even to a liberal Westerner. Meaning that they're perfect for each other.

Mention might also be made of the older characters played by Kam Tong, Benson Fong, and Juanita Hall (the latter actually a light-skinned black woman) the latter two of whom have constant good-natured battles.

Does Flower Drum Song hold up? I think yes. Or no, it was always silly. Depends on how you look at it, but it is timeless and joyful.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday Random Ten all wet edition

Two words, my friends. Torrential. Downpours. Coming and going, but when they came they came hard. (Get your mind out of the gutter.)

Luckily a guy from work was nice enough to give me a lift, so I didn't get home in my drowned rat guise.

The tunes:

1. Jimi Hendrix Experience--Crosstown Traffic
2. The Ernie Freeman Combo--Fever/Comin' Home Baby
3. David Bowie--Scream Like a Baby
4. Talking Heads--Tentative Decisions
5. Luscious Jackson--Naked Eye
6. Dressy Bessy--She Likes It
7. Beck--Farewell Ride
8. Elvis Costello & the Attractions--Girls Talk
9. Electric Six--Synthesizer
10. TV on the Radio--Crying

And now, as Tom often provides, a bonus video.

This seems to be the club version, as distinguished from the Fever In, Fever Out version on my list. Cool either way. I'm sure Max Perlich is having a good time there.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

One fish, two fish...

Now yesterday--yesterday evening to be precise--I was sitting in a well-known coffee shop, drinking something chocolatey, reading a book. A guy sat next to me, carrying a FedEx package. He opens the box and takes out this fish tank. Since he was carrying it by himself, you might correctly guess that it was a small tank.

Small, but with water in it. On the outside was a stitched-baseball pattern and the New York Yankees' insignia, with which you may be familiar. On the inside was a fish. A blue fish with sharp nose and tail.

When he saw me looking, the guy told me it was a fighting fish. He was planning to get a red one to go with it, for Bombers-Sox games. That way the blue fish could kick the red fish's ass just like the Yankees would to the Red Sox. Interesting, but after a few minutes of this discussion (his speech was noticeably slurred) I put on my headphones. Note that the iPod's battery had run down earlier in the day. It got me thinking, though. Suppose the blue fish fights the red fish and wins, but Boston still goes to town on the Yankees. Could that be grounds for a refund?

Anyway, you can see why I didn't post this last night. Everyone would have assumed it was an elaborate April Fool on my part.