May 2003 Archives

Alaskan padding

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Last night, as Lisa and I were heading home from the NAJP farewell party, we saw a city bus going at normal bus speed up Broadway--passengers sitting down, driver in the normal driver position, everything as usual, except that the electronic marquee on the front of the bus, which would normally have the number of the bus and the name of the route, read "EMERGENCY / CALL POLICE." The little display on the back of the bus, instead of the bus number, read "CALL / COPS / 911."

Unnerved, we called 911; the operator seemed perplexed by things that weren't the things perplexing us. ("It was heading which way on Broadway? And you're at what street? 118th? Is that West 118th or East 118th? I'm not showing that on my map... Is it still there?")

In other news: Liz Phair's new record is a lot more enjoyable, I've discovered, if I pretend that it's a really clever gag that she put together for an appearance on SNL in 1993.

stammerer in the jailhouse

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Saw Spellbound, a documentary about eight kids going to the national Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee, last night. (Here's the trailer.) It's wonderful, both on its own very modest scale (it's got really beautiful pacing and editing) and as a picture (from an odd angle) of class & status in America. And, as a friend of mine noted, you're not going to see a more suspenseful movie this year. The 10 PM show on Monday night at Film Forum was sold out; I hope it gets to play between the coasts, and I can easily see that happening. I also loved the headline of A.O. Scott's review in the Times: "Tense. The Children Are Tense. Tense."

New mix CD exists: Letta Mbulu, the Bangles, Lora Logic, !!!, Inner Circle, Fanny, the Congos, the Flying Lizards, the Roots, Jaga Jazzist, the Beach Boys, Sprout Head Uprising, Friend, the Velvet Underground, Gétatchèw Mèkurya, the White Stripes, Nobukazu Takemura, Cobra Killer, Queen, and Love, Execution Style. Who wants to trade me something non-musical for a copy?

love, the universal melody

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So Lisa and I went last night (with a handful of friends) to see The Apple, Menachem Golan's 1980 film, at Sunshine Cinema on Houston St. Oh. My. God. Everyone who's in NYC tonight needs to see it (it's showing for the last time tonight at midnight). Everyone who's in L.A. on May 30 needs to see it at the Egyptian Theater that night (I will actually be in L.A. then, and may try to organize a field trip).

The Apple goes beyond so-bad-it's-good to so-bad-it's-a-luminous-masterpiece. It's a disco-musical variation on the basic theme of Rocky Horror, if you can imagine Rocky Horror starring Fischerspooner and their entourage, as art-directed by Matthew Barney, recast as an allegorical representation of Messaianic Judaism, which seems to have been inspired by exploitation-flick producer Golan (as in Golan & Globus) getting a crate of several thousand triangular holographic glitter stickers that said "BIM" on them and figuring out how to make a movie that would let him use them all. There are... remarkable... production numbers. There are costumes from which my eyes are still recovering. Wow.

shop strap

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The final official meeting of NAJP was Friday (there's also a farewell party in a week or so), and, as I halfway expected, I'm finding myself sort of at loose ends: catching up on the mountains of unanswered emails I had around, writing some overdue notes, cleaning the apartment a little, trying to put myself in a position where I can make some actual plans or think about what I want to do next that's bigger than my next deadline. I actually have been working on the James Brown book a bit, mostly researching who I can talk to and what newspapers I might want to look at. But I'm also batting around ideas for a couple of completely different things, and thinking about how I might want to treat them/chase after the chance to do them.

I've also been listening to some records that have been bulding up unlistened-to for the last couple of months. At the moment, it's a single that somebody traded me for something in my trade box at the record fair: Sprout Head Uprising's "Throw Some Water In," a bluegrass cover of a Lee Perry song sung by a woman with a ridiculous German-accented soprano/falsetto. Um, odd.

fair habitat

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No more pencils, no more books, etc. On Monday, I went to a panel discussion down in Union Square about artistic freedom, featuring Anna Deveare Smith, Margo Jefferson, James Schamus and a couple of others. Margo asked ADS at one point what sorts of freedoms she'd noticed changing in her own practice in the last few years, and got a great answer: something to the effect of "well, since I've gotten to be fairly well-known over the last few years, one thing I really regret losing is the freedom to fail--to do something ambitious that probably won't really work, but that I can learn a lot from." Exactly, I thought, that's what I've gotten from working on Contes de Fées--it's a mess, and I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm getting a lot out of the process, both its successes and its failures.

So then last night was the final meeting of Sound/Image, and the presentation of everybody's final projects, which meant I finally got to show CdF to a bunch of people at once (people who'd been drinking beer for a couple of hours, even better). The sound was awful; the projector was set to "widescreen," so it cut off the top and bottom of the image. And what do you know: it went over great. People laughed when I'd wanted them to laugh; they clapped at the end; they came up to me afterwards and told me they'd liked it. Still kind of a mess, but a much more entertaining mess than I'd thought it'd be, and all the frantic ultra-terse editing I'd been insisting on to squeeze 4+ hours' worth of footage down to the length of a "Merrie Melodies" cartoon kept it from getting dull. Actually, everybody's projects were very good-to-better than very good, I thought.

And now I've got Leela Corman's mix CD of favorite Middle Eastern pop on the stereo, a giant vat of black bean chili molé in the fridge (it came out really well, based on first-night eating; if it stays as good as leftovers, I'll post the recipe), and a great big work-void stretching out in front of me (well, I have five definite assignments already, but for the first time since I started doing this I'm columnless--that's going to have to change pronto). Time to start typing.

motor matted

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And a week later... I seriously thought I'd be done with everything by now. But Final Cut Pro is a cunning and ruthless enemy.

Technically, I am done with my classes at this point--at least the class I took for credit, the digital-media workshop. But the video I was working on for that class was my collaboration with Maja, which is one of her final projects for a different class that she's taking for credit. When I showed it in my final class on Thursday, the consensus was that it was a really ambitious failure. Actually, more like a really ambitious trainwreck. (Somehow, for instance, the juxtaposition of Arthur Danto talking about Joseph Cornell's assemblages and a handpuppet identified only as "Professor Fuzzy" talking about Cornell's authorship of Moby Dick was not quite as funny as it'd seemed in the editing room.) I'd gotten so obsessive about fitting in little pieces of everything we'd shot (and we'd shot something like 4 1/2 hours' worth of material for a 7-minute video) that I'd totally lost track of the big picture.

As much as I've been enjoying the collegiate opportunity to create some ambitious failures with no particular consequences, I also really wanted to get it right, and I wanted to put together something really good for Maja's sake. So: back to the drawing board, or rather the one desk in the editing room that looks like it has a mini-DV player attached to it but actually doesn't. At first I thought "hey, there's actually another, much more interesting movie in this footage, and it only overlaps with about 30 seconds' worth of what's in this edit." I still think that's the case, and I may yet try to put it together, but at the moment there is the deadline of Tuesday night. So I'm trying to fix what we've got: trying to give it some kind of conceptual flow, trying to deal with the "this thinks it's four different movies and you have to convince it what it is" problem, and getting rid of the damn puppet.

Normal life resumes Wednesday or so.

Big cartoonists' party last night: Lisa and I chatted with a bunch we knew or semi-knew (hooray for Ron Rege, the friendliest guy around), as well as a couple of other non-cartoonists of our acquaintance who turned up, & I made something of an idiot of myself trying to say hi to Ariel Schrag.

California timbales

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Happy 33 1/3 birthday to me! Appropriately, I've spent a reasonable portion of it shopping for LPs. Every time there's a WFMU record fair, I go there with a particular semi-impossible record I want to buy in mind, partly in hope that looking for my desideratum will keep me from being distracted by too many other shiny things. Didn't sell all that much at this particular fair, but I did find the thing I was looking for: Letta Mbulu's glorious GLORIOUS 1970 Afro-soul album Letta, to which I am listening right now. (Her voice reminds me of certain athletes' command of their own bodies and their obvious delight in it: the joy of just singing.) And I got to spend some time with Jess and Robin, and met Bruno of the Homosexuals, a band so mysterious and wonderful that I occasionally wondered if I had simply hallucinated their existence.

And then I came home and, for some pleasure-deferring reason I don't quite understand, put on the new Lilys album instead of my purchases. Actually, I didn't realize it'd be pleasure-deferring--I liked the last few actual Lilys albums plenty--but this one, on first listen, just seems to be Kurt Heasley playing his sailor's-knot games with the individual elements of his compositions, without the candy that baited e.g. Eccsame the Photon Band and Better Can't Make Your Life Better. I want candy.

Spent a while yesterday listening to the slush pile of CDs, with the goal of diverting as many of them as possible into the sell bins. Two things that escaped the latter: Jaga Jazzist's Animal Chin on GSL (basically the record I was hoping Tortoise was going to make after Millions Now Living...), and Rahsaan Roland Kirk's The Man who Cried Fire on Hyena (a reissue of an odd early-'80s collection of old live tapes, including a sensational if shrieky version of "You Did It, You Did It").

Typical Girls party last night = fab and friend-filled. I think I made a couple of new friends, too.

imitation baked goods

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T minus five to the end of the semester--today's Duplicating Rebuilding the Bridge Day, tomorrow's WFMU Record Fair Day a.k.a. Douglas's 33 1/3 Birthday, Monday is Two Art Classes and a Hell of a Lot of Editing Day, Tuesday is A Genuinely Overwhelming Amount of Editing Plus Drinks With Finns Plus Meeting With Dean Wolff Day, Wednesday is Frantically Editing Plus RTAII Meeting Plus, Actually, One More Class Day, Thursday is Final Actual Classes Plus Last Minute Technological Desperation Day, Friday is NAJP Meeting Plus Music Trivia Competition to Unwind a Little Day. So if I'm not posting here much over the next week, forgive me, do.

Today's also Free Comic Book Day, but since it's DRtBD too, I don't know if I'm going to be able to take advantage of that. In any case, it's not like I have so few comic books that I'm scraping for more. (Although I did go to Jim Hanley's Universe a couple of days ago and indulge in some Brian Michael Bendis stuff, specifically Daredevil, which I think I have to start buying monthly again, and Alias. And the new Cerebus, which is scary-creepy in a way that I think is mostly intentional--Dave hints that next issue is going to explain a lot, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he means by that.) (But what I'm looking forward to most in all of comics is the next Amy Unbounded, closely followed by the two Alan Moore festschrifts due this year and, after that, curiously enough, Lost Girls.)

tactful oceans

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In 1988, I thought De La Soul were one of the most amazing things I'd ever heard. Their first few singles blew away everyone in WHRB's R&B department--"Plug Tunin'," "Jenifa (Taught Me)," "Me Myself & I," "Say No Go," "Tread Water," "Buddy"... This, I thought, was the first real fulfillment of the promise of rap: they actually had invented a "new style of speak," the music brought a pulse out of places where it'd been deep below the skin before, and they kept trying to top themselves over and over and over.

Tonight I saw them play at the Diesel U-Music show, and it was one massive horrible bummer: 45 seconds or so of hooks from one of their early hits ("Buddy" recast to eliminate references to the Native Tongues), then 2 or 3 minutes of "put your hands up--everybody on this side put your hands up," repeat a few times. Jess and I left after about the fifth iteration of the pattern, though I decided I had to leave when they blithely turned "Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)" into an audience call-and-response. "Ring Ring Ring," for those who haven't heard it, is possibly the nastiest hit ever written by a major artist about dealing with the audience; when it came out, it was the lead single from De La Soul is Dead, which I thought at the time was the best hip-hop album made up to that point (and actually still do), but "Ring Ring Ring" also sort of sounded like the beginning of the end for De La, and it was. They no longer seem at all happy to be doing what they do: it's a job. Ucch. (They were preceded by the Rapture, whose songs I'd probably have liked a lot better if the kick drum hadn't been loud enough to obliterate the rest of the mix.)

Turned in my 24-hour comic/final project for my drawing class yesterday: Technicians of the Sacred, a series of interpretations of texts from Jerome Rothenberg's amazing poetry anthology of the same name. I actually made copies of it for everyone in the class, which they seemed to like. I couldn't actually do it as a legit 24-hour comic--that is, 24 pages in 24 continuous hours--so instead I gave myself one hour per page for 24 pages. I also gave myself some additional restrictions: all pages had to be drawn exclusively with a Pigma Micron 005 ultra-ultra-fine-line marker (I cheated and used a brush-type marker for a panel on the fourth page I drew; Jesse said "don't cheat again!" so, of course, I had to, and used it extensively on one of the final pages); no straight-edges or other tools for keeping things neat--I had to rely entirely on my hand; no preparatory drawing permitted--all marks I made for the project had to be made on the page; and no erasures or do-overs permitted--if I made a bad mark, I had to live with it.

As a product, it's got a couple of fun bits and a lot of fairly slack parts. (I can't actually draw-draw, especially when working without something to draw from, and while I worked around that as far as I could, there's only so much I could do.) As a process project, though, I think it worked out really nicely--I'm happy with the result in that way, and it pulled me at least partly out of the "but I need to create!" panic I've been in lately.