Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cab Calloway - Reefer Man

Yes, I'm writing about another dead black pop star.

Cab Calloway was crazy awesome. He was just one of those performers that instantly grabbed your attention and wouldn't let go. He bounced around, gesticulated like a mad man, and could make undeserving phrases like "Hi De Ho " sound so damn cool.



Not only is the above video a great example of Calloway's fast-paced ditties, but it's also interesting to see the perception of marijuana in the 1930's. I guess drugs and musicians have been linked since the dawn of time. Here, weed puts the upright bass player into a frenzied slapping-trance. He's a "funny reefer man," just doing his thing.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Dear Tim Burton,

You're great. I really think that.

When I was in third grade, I went to see Nightmare Before Christmas at least five times in theaters. While all my other peers squirmed at all the dark spookiness, I ate that shit up. Everything from the concept to the design of that film, I obsessed over it. I filled pages and pages with doodles of the characters. At the risk of sounding cliche, my imagination was captured.

I went on to watch more of your films, with adequate delight. I like your noir-infused take on Batman. I don't think there's a single soul of my generation who doesn't love Beetlejuice. And, as has been said many time before, Edward Scissorhands stands as your shining masterpiece. That film typifies everything you're about: scrawny outsiders with deep-set eyes, tragically misunderstood by the world. How could a scrawny adolescent with deep-set eyes not be into that?

But let's be honest: things haven't been going great recently. True, you stylishly nailed the tone for Sweeney Todd, that's what you do best. But did you really think it was a good idea to give the most difficult roles in musical history to un-trained singers? Johnny Depp is undeniably awesome, but he kinda barked his way through that movie. You can't rely on him to make your films great, that's too much pressure. After all, there weren't exactly rave reviews for his interpretation of Willy Wonka. In fact, that whole film was one big sugary, flashy mess.

Needless to say, I'm extremely wary of this image from your forthcoming Alice in Wonderland:



As the saying goes, "casting Depp and adding your signature curly twists/gothic accessories does not great cinema make." Or something like that.

I think it's time to step back and do some reflecting. Why don't you go check out the MOMA exhibit dedicated to your work. Maybe you'll reconnect with your kick-ass roots, maybe you'll feel refreshed. Then maybe you'll put all my misgivings to rest and turn Alice into a solid, heartfelt film, where the visuals add to the substance instead of replace it entirely. You know, like the good ol' days.

Thanks,

-David

P.S. Surely you're not gonna let Mrs. Carter look like an illy-photoshoped balloon in the actual film, right? Come on dude, who does that to their girlfriend?

Okay, I'm done.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Harlem Shakes



This will be a better year. Make a little money, take a lot of shit, feel real bad and get over it.

Harlem Shakes, like lots of bands who catch instant buzz, are indeed taking a lot of shit. But if they truly practice what they preach, these guys can take it. Their lyrics are filled to the brim with optimism, so all you Pitchfork snobs can rain on their parade as much as you want. I don't think it's gonna phase them.

I'd liken them to Los Campesinos! in their unbridled dancey-rock energy. But while Los Campesinos! fill their lyrics with dark irony, Harlem Shakes are sincere about being upbeat. While I certainly enjoy listening to my fair share of the brooding and ominous, it's nice to have such a warm reprieve. Giving the Shakes a closer listen, you realize that the optimism isn't born out of naivete, but from surviving the rough patches and asserting a "half full" attitude. As they sing: "Somehow pop just feels so fair/ in this tangled, injured air."

But sheer positivity isn't enough to make good indie pop. Luckily, these guys can really craft a tune: folk influences, synth blares, plucky pianos, Afro-Caribbean drumming, all poised and ready to attack. Technicolor Health doesn't feel like a first-effort full-length album, it's polished and impressive, and has a brightness that perfectly suits the impending summer.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pogs

You remember pogs, right? Those tiny cardboard discs with images on them (anything from flaming skulls to Doug Funnie), won after flipping a stack with an even heavier disc known as a "slammer?" Sounds pretty lame in hindsight, but pogs were so hot back in the day they were banned from school yards across the country.

But now we're adults, damnit, and we can take part in adorable forms of gambling as much as we see fit! I'm bringing them back; this will be the summer of pogs.

However, apparently I'm not the first to revamp the pog frenzy. The game was first conceived back in the 1930's, using the cardboard found in the caps of a Hawaiian juice known as POG (anachronism for Passion fruit, Orange, and Guava). Then in the 90's, along comes the Canadian Games Company, and they're all like "let's take this thing invented by impoverished Hawaiian kids and use it to become millionaires, eh?"

So I got these Popeye Pogs on eBay for two bucks, not realizing that a cartoon character from the 1930's is way more authentic than Doug Funnie. Jackpot!

More on "the summer of two thousand and nineties" coming soon...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Coming Out Of The Box

My body gives off a heady scent that only appeals to the most brainsick souls.  Or I am the reincarnation of Margaret of Cortona, a patron saint of orphans, hoboes and the insane.  These are some theories that could explain why lunatics zero in on me like heat-seeking missiles.  But here’s a more honest and likely explanation:  I encourage people to vomit their crazy-talk all over me.

A couple of nights ago I walked into The People’s Café on Haight Street hoping to catch happy hour and wait for a friend to get off work.  After an hour I left the café full of beer as well as a new life direction. 

Basically, this story is a perfect example of me bringing the psychotic rapture down on my own goddamn head:  at a table next to the bar where I was sitting, there was a man.  He sat with his arms stretched out in front of him, palms down, head down and tucked into his chest.  I could have glanced at him, surmised that he was having a moment with himself and gone back to my drink, but no.  I had to get up.  I had to walk over to him.  I had to ask,

            “Are you ok?” 

            He lifted his face up. 

            “Oh, I’m fine, I’m just praying.”

            “Oh, sorry.”

            “Don’t worry about it darling.  Don’t be shy.  Are you an artist?”

            “What?”

            “You’re an artist.”

            “Uh, kind of?”

            “Would you like to know your destiny?”

Who could say no to that question?  I feel like my life is floating around somewhere above my head at bird-level.  I’ve been waiting for someone to come along and lasso it for me, drag it down out of the sky and show me what it really is and maybe tell me what the hell I’m supposed to do with it.  So yes, I sat down with the praying man.  Madness ensued. 

This whole séance with Jesus and friends, or whatever it was, went on for about forty-five minutes and every moment of it was beautifully absurd. 

The praying man told me that everyone has a destiny, and it was his personal charge to tell other human beings what they are meant to do and be on earth. 

            “Can I touch you?”

            “Yeah, sure.” He was clearly a flaming queen, if this helps justify my willingness to let a strange man grope me at will.

He took my hand.  He began to pray over it in a language that sounded like a mixture of Spanish and Pig Latin.  While he jabbered, his partner returned  from the bathroom and sat down.  He smiled at me.  Praying man stopped praying, turned to his man-friend and said,

            “She has a tenderness about her.”

            “Of course she does, she’s an artist.”

They looked at me. 

I have no idea what my face revealed.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  There was a prolonged silence while both men attempted to look into my eyes—it’s tricky when two people try to do that at the same time.  I didn't know who to focus on.  

            “You’re meant to teach.”  The first man said.

            “And write.”  The second man said.

            More silence.

            “Do you write?” 

            “Sometimes.”

            “Do you sing?”

            “No.”

            “You need to sing.  The singing will open your box.”

            “…”

Then, three Latina women walked over to our table.  One of them was enormously pregnant. 

            “Ah, the prophetesses are here!”

I am tempted to continue with full dialogue, but I’m not ready to write an epically long blog post at the moment.  Maybe I’ll turn this into a short story later.  For now, here’s my destiny in a nutshell:

            “Your hands are meant to bring joy.”

            And,

            “You will make… t-shirts.  Like Jerry Garcia, did you know he made ties?  And whether or not people liked his music, they liked his ties.  It doesn’t matter if people like your writing or not, they’ll buy your t-shirts.  And your shirts will have writing on them. And awesome graphics.”

            Also,

            “People will see you.  Like, really see you.  Right now, they don’t see.  But you will be seen.  Don’t all of you feel that, that she’ll be seen?”

At which point four of the prophets put their hands on my arms, hands, and knees while the fifth pregnant woman put one hand on her belly and the other on my heart.  She started chanting, “You will be seen!” and everyone joined in.

Then they called down God from heaven and told him to fill me up with love.

Finally, one guy took what looked like a large business card out of his backpack and wrote this on the back of it:

RENNIE,
ARTIST – BOX IS BEING OPENED
TEACHER – WRITER
YOU ARE COMING OUT OF THE BOX
MUSIC – SONG/GUITAR
YOUR TENDERNESS WILL BE SEEN
LOVELY

I have to admit, they seemed able to sense certain truths about me (maybe my wardrobe just screams "liberal arts college grad, hipster-ish, probably makes shitty art of some kind and feels insecure about quality of said shitty art")

I don't believe in God.  I don't believe in Destiny.  And these café-prophets wanted to sell me both. Yes, I was both amused and bemused by their cultish chanting and glossolalia.  But I still appreciated the gesture,  the "laying on of hands," the idea that physical contact combined with verbal encouragement can be healing.  

Thanks for the good vibes, zealous strangers.  

White Rabbits @ the Troubadour


So, my prediction wasn't exactly accurate. White Rabbits didn't "blow up" to the degree that I'd anticipated. Although the Troubadour is an awesome place, it's pretty small. For all of the positive buzz surrounding this band, they don't have the pull that a larger venue requires.

And that might be what made last night one of the best concerts I've been to in a while.

It didn't start out that way. It was packed and we were squashed towards the back bar, surrounded by people who were way too tall. But once the band started playing, it didn't matter anymore. They're such energetic and passionate performers you can't help but get caught up in it. It's invigorating. Translation: they rock the fuck out.

And you can't help but rock out with them. It's beyond your control, which I guess should be expected from a band with two drummers. One of them was completely out of his box: when he wasn't throwing his entire body into every drum beat, he was either jumping around with his tambourine (with a bandanna covering the lower portion of his face like a bandit) or throwing maracas across the stage.

Even though I love their noisy, jangly, rhythmic craziness, I'm also a big fan of when they cool things down, like their song "Company I Keep." It's a slick, low-key, romantic tune, but when performed live there's a certain degree of rock kick added to the mix. Simply put: there are some bands that just sound better live. At the end of the night, my friends and I all agreed that this is the most we've ever enjoyed White Rabbits' music. The band puts on an exceptional show, suited perfectly for smaller venues.

Stream their entire album, then go buy it and/or see this band before they "blow up."

UPDATE: I just read that White Rabbits refers to their music as "honky tonk calypso." Awesome.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

And another thing...

Can we all just take a moment to appreciate David Kantrowitz and the art that he makes:

I know he has a separate website where he shows off his drawing/painting/animating/design skills, but I'm feeling like Proud Mom tonight.  Sorry.  Gross.  But seriously.  

The End of My Stay In The East Bay Is Nigh

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks pursuing the elusive “affordable, yet not a total shit-hole” apartment in San Francisco, and as Jesus once said:  It is finished.  I am soon to be living with people I found on Craigslist who may or may not be cannibals—I don’t care.  My room is beautiful: high ceilings and big windows.  My roommates can go ahead and feast on the appendages of the naked people they keep chained in their closets; as long as I can sleep through the screaming, what they do in the privacy of their bedrooms doesn’t concern me.[1] 

Just to give you an idea of my new hood, here’s a picture of some houses that are a five second walk from where I’ll be living:

For the past nine months I’ve inhabited a mint green cube of a building in the East Bay.  Picture a classic suburban California apartment complex with a mini van-sized pool in the courtyard and fake flowers in ceramic pots by the door.  Not my aesthetic jam.  I’m ready for funky, dusty, moldy Victorian townhouse living in San Francisco proper.

Another reason that I’m relieved to be done with the apartment hunt is that trying to explain who you are to complete strangers in under half an hour is both tiring and impossible.  Luckily, I am skilled in rapidly establishing inappropriate levels of intimacy with random people.  But, I still don’t have a satisfactory answer to the question “What’s your favorite book?” 


[1] The Road: still messing with my psyche three weeks post-read.  Now that’s what a book should do:  freak the fucking shit out of you!

 

Animated Shorts!


I've been fighting the inevitable, but it's no use anymore. Today I cave; I've created an "animation" category. Because I'm an enormous nerd.

Seriously though, how kick-ass is this short film? I'm pretty sure it's all hand drawn, or maybe this guy is exceptional at masking his CG work. Either way, it's awesome. Via Drawn.


Also worth checking out is this equally kick-ass short, a beautifully designed sci-fi-noir misadventure.

There's nothing worse than seeing something animated that might as well have been shot live action. Both of these films are doing exactly what animation should be doing.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fanfarlo


For a limited time, you can buy Fanfarlo's new album "Reservoir" for only a dollar. From what I've heard so far, it's pretty damn great.

So if you've ever appreciated bands like Beirut, Arcade Fire, or Belle & Sebastian, then I'm willing to bet you'll enjoy this album. In fact, I'll bet you a dollar.

I don't really want to bet you a dollar, go bet it yourself.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Parachute Ending

BIRDY NAM NAM - THE PARACHUTE ENDING from Steve Scott on Vimeo.


This music video is superb. It's like an 8o's cartoon of a 70's rock album cover that I can't get enough of.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Maurice Sendak


Since posting about We Love You So, I've been reading it pretty religiously, which is why I know Maurice Sendak turns 81 today.

Sendak is the ultimate bad ass of children's picture book authors. His smart, dark, and inventive work has been banned by some, celebrated by most. I remember reading Into The Night Kitchen over and over again when I was younger, reveling in the vivid dream world Sendak created. I still enjoy the book today, as an homage to Windsor McKay, Oliver Hardy, and even as an unsettling nightmare influenced by the Holocaust.

From an NPR interview:

I think all children are in jeopardy. I think it is unnatural to think that there is such a thing as blue sky, white-clouded happy childhood for anybody. Childhood is a very, very tricky business of surviving it.

Sendak lets his fictional children be audacious, angry, and vulnerable. They transgress, they confront their horrifying surroundings, and sometimes they turn their fear upside-down into something positive and jubilant.

I've heard Sendak speak about how ludicrious the idea of a legacy feels to him, and how all he cares about is "contributing to the importance of being here."

So far so good, Mr. Sendak.



An Excerpt From an Overheard Conversation With The Perfect Girlfriend

Walking out of of a movie theater with her boyfriend, looking bummed out:

"I mean, Gambit just needs his own movie."

Monday, June 8, 2009

An Excerpt From and Overheard New York Conversation

I met Tristan in NY to see "Up" again.  I overheard this snipit during the opening montage of the film.  See how it differs!

Daughter: (Who, thus far, has been cracking up non-stop) Why can't she have a baby, Dad?
Father: Sometimes people just can't.
Daughter: But isn't that sad?
A pause.
Father: Yes.  It's very sad.
Daughter: She looks sad.
Father: She is.
Daughter: Oh!  She's gonna go on an adventure instead!
Father: (Laughs) Well, a different kind.

Way to go, Dad.  Way to go, Pixar.  

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Brainstormer

Slaying of Loved One. Overgrown. Bowling Alley.

Pursuit. Arctic. Cheerleader.

Unconditional Love. Byzanitne. Airplane/Airship.

Prey of Misfortune. Disco. Throne Room.

Welcome, my friends, to The Brainstormer.

An Excerpt From an Overheard North Jersey Conversation

The credits, which are designed as pages of Ellie's Adventure Book, Roll.

Woman 1: Well.  That was just...terrible.
Woman 2: Really, you thought it was that bad?
Woman 1: Well it was no Shrek, that's for sure!
Woman 2: Oh obviously, obviously...but terrible?
Woman 1: Who wants to see things about real life in kiddie movies?!
Woman 2: True, true.  Okay let's go Sammy.
Woman 1: Come on, Paul.

The two children don't budge.  They're mesmerized by the remaining moments of "Up".

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Let The Wild Rumpus Start

This is where I go when I want to read something intelligent and damn entertaining on the internet.  The Rumpus, based in SF, is an online magazine focused on "culture" as opposed to "pop culture," which is vague, I know.  Just browse the site and its many sections devoted to books, music, art, media, film, politics, sex, and Studs Terkel-style oral histories--they pretty much hit everything in the world that I'm interested in.  I'm really impressed, and they've only been in operation for about five months.

Also, Morning Coffee is addictive.  And they've already told me all about Haruki Murakami's new novel, which just came out in Japan this week.  They win.


20x200


Are you an impoverished post-grad who wants to decorate your room with something other than your leftover college posters?  That black and white photo of Bob Marley getting high doesn't exactly feel suitable out here in the real world, does it?

20x200 brings fresh and cheap art prints to the interweb masses, with an ever-growing (yet limited-edition) collection.  They offer something new twice a week, one photo and one "other" (be it painting, drawing, collage, etc.)  You're then given different size and price options, starting as low as $20 and going up to $200.  There's a diverse range of stuff, some I desperately desire and some I think you'd be crazy to spend any money on.  But that's art.
(I'm really digging on the ones that involve text.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Eating My Words: "Up"


This man is so sad, kids will love it.

As I openly stated in RSF's premier post, I've been bracing myself for "Up" to be an enormous disappointment.  I predicted it would be a step backwards from the ground-breaking subject matter and storytelling of "Wall-E."  The trailers for "Up" seemed to shout "Fat kid!  Talking dog!  Farting?"  Put simply: it looked stupid.

I was terribly wrong.  Somehow, Pixar managed to push the envelope even more.  Yeah, making a cautionary tale about the environment in a post-apocalyptic world was cute and all, but how about a kid-friendly film about something real heavy, like death?  Done.  Done well.

Pixar's secret to success might lie in their refusal to ever dumb things down.  They'll never insult the intelligence of their audience (aside from that slip-up known as "Cars," but we don't need to get into that.)  They admit that children are indeed their main demographic; that's just what happens when you make cartoons.  But that doesn't stop them from making films that all ages can enjoy.

Case in point: I went to see this film with a group of my "varying degrees of sardonic" dude friends.  After the opening ten minutes, all of us had shed tears.  Some of us more than others (I had to take off my 3D glasses to wipe my eyes,) but it still hit all of us.  We were also at a matinee screening that was overflowing with children, so we got to see their response.   Maybe there were a few perplexed tugs on parental sleeves (I heard one little girl inquisitively repeat the word "dead" a few times), but for the most part the kids got the picture, and went with it.

Coming to terms with the death of a loved one and confronting the many regrets that make up a lifetime aren't the most appealing plot points, but they provide a crucial weight to the madcap misadventures that make up the bulk of the film.  Without that weight, I think I'd be less willing to accept the talking/flying dogs, or the quirky bird, or even the floating house.  Somehow all these elements are able to co-exist, creating a film that's moving, entertaining, and pretty damn adorable.  Yes, this is the most adorable film about death I've ever seen.

Once you've seen the film, be sure to read this enlightening interview with director Pete Docter over at the AVClub, and check out the incredible concept art by Lou Romano (some of which I stole to put in this post.)