Monday, March 29, 2010


If you're a regular reader, thank you. I'm out of steam lately, and want to take a little vacation from blogging. Perhaps for a month, perhaps for much longer. If I post in the near future, it will be visual work, only.

Photos! Maybe even actual art.

I'm excited. See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Music: Happy St. Patrick's Day with the Pogues and the Dubliners

Ronnie Drew of the Dubliners

I saw the Pogues at the Chicago Metro sometime in the late 80's, at the instigation of my neighbor Jennifer. A lot of neo-traditional Irish music seemed insipid and new-age to me, but these guys threw some punk into the genre. It's a damn good fit. Shane MacGowan was already in a punk band--the Nipple Erectors--when he met Spider Stacy in a London tube station. They named themselves Pogue Mahone, which roughly translates from Gaelic as "Kiss my ass." Performing here with the legendary Ronnie Drew and his Dubliners, MacGowan does OK for someone who appears to be outrageously drunk. Drew, who brought traditional Irish music back into the charts in the 1960's, was also the handsomest man with a white beard since God, Himself. I confess I felt a little crush while watching this clip.

Back to that show at the Metro. It was well before the Hibernian economic revival known as the "Irish Tiger." In short, there were a lot of Irish immigrants in the audience: big, rough men who probably had spent all day working non-union construction. I just remember one moment when they were all chanting in unison, like it was a football match. As we were leaving, one man wanted to hug us, which we somehow deflected.

On the fourth of July eighteen hundred and six
We set sail from the sweet cove of Cork
We were sailing away with a cargo of bricks
For the grand city hall in New York
'Twas a wonderful craft, she was rigged fore-and-aft
And oh, how the wild winds drove her.
She'd got several blasts, she'd twenty-seven masts
And we called her the Irish Rover.

We had one million bales of the best Sligo rags
We had two million barrels of stones
We had three million sides of old blind horses hides,
We had four million barrels of bones.
We had five million hogs, we had six million dogs,
Seven million barrels of porter.
We had eight million bails of old nanny goats' tails,
In the hold of the Irish Rover.

There was awl Mickey Coote who played hard on his flute
When the ladies lined up for his set
He was tootin' with skill for each sparkling quadrille
Though the dancers were fluther'd and bet
With his sparse witty talk he was cock of the walk
As he rolled the dames under and over
They all knew at a glance when he took up his stance
And he sailed in the Irish Rover

There was Barney McGee from the banks of the Lee,
There was Hogan from County Tyrone
There was Jimmy McGurk who was scarred stiff of work
And a man from Westmeath called Malone
There was Slugger O'Toole who was drunk as a rule
And fighting Bill Tracey from Dover
And your man Mick McCann from the banks of the Bann
Was the skipper of the Irish Rover

For a sailor its' always a bother in life
It's so lonesome by night and by day
That he longs for the shore
and a charming young whore
Who will melt all his troubles away
Oh, the noise and the rout
Swillin' poiteen and stout
For him soon the torment's over
Of the love of a maid he is never afraid
An old salt from the Irish Rover

We had sailed seven years
When the measles broke out
And the ship lost its way in the fog
And that whale of a crew
Was reduced down to two
Just myself and the Captain's old dog
Then the ship struck a rock
Oh Lord! what a shock
The bulkhead was turned right over
Turned nine times around
And the poor old dog was drowned
I'm the last of The Irish Rover

Irish Soul: Experiencing Shane MacGowan and the Pogues [Link]
The Pogues, a very drunk interview [Link]
Ronnie Drew (Obituary, Guardian UK) [Link]

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday Music: The Madison

I've been out of music listening mode the last two weeks, but rummaged around in my YouTube favorites for a few long-neglected clips.

The Madison Dance was invented by William "Bubbles" Holloway at the LVA Club in Columbus, Ohio, in 1957. It was picked up by a dance/variety show in Baltimore in 1960, and the craze soon spread across the country. The Madison was lovingly recreated in the 1988 film Hairspray, directed by Baltimore native John Waters. The song which is most associated with the dance today is "The Madison" by the Ray Bryant Combo.

The Madison dance eventually spread to Europe, and beyond. It is apparently still a staple of parties in Cambodia. In 1964, in Jean-Luc Godard's film Bande à Part (Band of Outsiders) The Madison is jazzed up with jumps and hand claps. This sequence is just the apogée of cool.

It's Madison Time! (Columbus Music History) [Link]

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Music: More Merle

Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, shall keep Merle Haggard from his appointed rounds. All the above weather conditions were in effect as we struggled out to the Rosemont Theatre to hear Merle play with his buddy, Kris Kristofferson. It was a good show, although it deserved a better venue. The Rosemont, located in a suburb of Chicago near O'Hare airport, has all of the charm of your average mall cineplex. More relevant, the sound was awful--county fairgrounds quality. The place is a hole and should be razed.

Kristofferson, who never was much of a vocalist, still couldn't sing. When he started in on "Me and Bobby McGee," it was unrecognizable through the first verse. On the other hand, Haggard's voice was still beautiful, especially considering that he's in his 70s and has had part of a lung removed. Also notable was the guitar-picking of 17 year-old son, Benion. The kid is phenomenal!

Merle Haggard had 38 number-one hits on the country charts. Naturally, he couldn't perform every hit in one evening. He skipped this, one of my favorites.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Music: Soul Train

The very best time to enjoy Soul Train was, at least for teenaged me, when my folks were out of the house. Then, I could move furniture to the periphery of the living room and commence to bust some moves. It's a wonder I didn't bust a lamp or my own spinal column while attempting dances like the Electric Boogaloo.

Although Soul Train started in Chicago, the visual appeal of the show really took off after it was syndicated and moved to studios in Los Angeles. And, the early 70s was a golden era for street fashion--people raided their parent's closets for WWII-era platform shoes, zoot suits and uniforms, and combined this nostalgic attire with sports gear and truly outlandish hair. I chose the following clip of the "line dance" of Soul Train in part because of the inclusion of some excellent B-boy moves, and in part because the outfits are brilliant. What a long, hot fun summer it must have been in 1974, some where far, far from rural Ohio.

Chicago Reader. "Soul Train Local" [Link]

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

CTA Stories

The writing on the boxes: "Soul Unpriced" and "Priced Soul." Who knew that Mephistopheles used the Damen bus?

It took me a minute or two to figure out that they were vinyl records, not spirits of the eternally damned.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sunday Music: Sol Hoopii

Sol Hoopii points at a ukulele ("jumping flea" in Hawaiian)

When my father was a child in rural Ohio, some time between 1915 and 1925, he saw a group of Hawaiian musicians perform. I always found that extraordinary, although I had no reason to disbelieve him. As it turns out, native Hawaiian Joseph Kekuku, widely believed to be the inventor of the steel guitar, had been touring the U.S. since 1904. And, he wasn't the only Hawaiian musician or musical style capturing imaginations here in the states. The ukulele, an adaption of a small Portuguese instrument, became all the rage in vaudeville as well as in middle-class parlors. Hawaiian steel lap guitar, ukulele and "slack-key" guitar (tuning the instrument to a slack, un-fingered chord) cross-pollinated the genres of ragtime, jazz and hillbilly music. Some point to Kekuku for his influence on helping turn the latter into modern country, thanks to exposing white musicians to the steel guitar.

Just some delightful postcards of old Hawai'i

Of all the Hawaiian lap steel guitarists, Sol Hoopii was considered to be one of the greatest. Born Solomon Ho'opi'i Ka'ai'ai in Honolulu in 1902, Hoopii came to the United States mainland when still a teenager. Hoopii was accomplished at blending the Hawaiian sound with a sprightly, Hot Club de France-style jazz. In 1938, he became a born-again Christian, and devoted himself to mostly playing gospel standards.

Sol Hoopii and the group The Royal Samoans (which apparently was somewhat pan-Polynesian in makeup) also contributed music to a 1932 Max Fleischer animated short, "Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle." This animation is surprising in so many ways. First, the music is a sneak-attack of wonderful, with an opening sequence live song and hulu dance. Lest you think it's an early multicultural homage, the cartoon itself includes hostile dark-skinned natives with exaggerated lips. Near the end, there are two animated dance sequences which use rotoscoping, or tracing animation directly over filmed sequences. Betty does the hulu while looking eerily naturalistic, with the exception of her giant cartoon head.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Overheard: TMI

Cell phone convo, bench in Jackson station of the Blue Line:

"Sheila? Yeah...I'm on my way to Momma's. I got to tell her something bad. Yeah, something bad happened. I THINK I GOT HERPES! HER-PES. It had to be Corey. [long pause] I don't know for sure...but girl, it LOOKS like herpes."

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Music: Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann

I just got back from seeing my friends Bric-a-Brac, who were opening for the Swedish hip-hop act Movits! Bric-a-Brac is known for covering the kitschy and obscure from 1950s and 1960s pop. One of the songs on tonight's set list was "The Shape of Things to Come,"from 1968's youthsploitation movie Wild in The Streets. I'll transcribe the lobby card above to give you a gist of the plot:

This is the story of Max Frost, 24 years old...President of The United States...who created the world in his own image. To him, 30 is over the hill. 52 percent of the nation is under 25...and they've got the power. That's how he became President. This is perhaps the most unusual motion picture you will ever see!

Part of President Frost's platform is to lower the voting age to 14. After his election, people over 35 are rounded up and forced to take LSD. Wild in The Streets also features appearances by Shelly Winters, Richard Pryor, Peter Tork, Bobby Sherman and a pre-Brady Bunch Barry Williams. [Ed.~ I have to get this movie! Who wants to watch it with me?]

In addition to an embarrassment of cameo wealth, the movie has a good soundtrack. The best song is the apocalyptic-sounding "Nothing Can Change the Shape of Things to Come," by the fictional Max Frost and the Troopers. I guess this is his State of the Union address.

The song was penned by one of the most prolific songwriting teams in pop music, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. For the past 50 years, they've written hits tailored for nearly every genre and fashion in pop music: "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" (The Animals), "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" (The Righteous Brothers, co-written with Phil Spector), "Kicks" (Paul Revere and The Raiders), "Here You Come Again" (Dolly Parton), and a few hundred more. I think their work in the latter half of 1960s was especially good, like "Love is Only Sleeping," performed here by the Monkees.

History of Rock: Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil [Link]

Wild in The Streets trailer [Link]

Bric-a-Brac on Chic-A-Go-Go [Link]

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Music: The Wrens

Last weekend, I saw The Wrens at the legendary indie rock venue The Middle East, in Cambridge, MA. I was in Boston for a conference, and stayed in a hotel in Cambridge--mostly because I nearly always prefer to lodge away from conference territory. There's just something to be said for being able walk through the lobby in sweaty yoga pants or eating a banana or some other vaguely unprofessional-appearing activity and knowing there's minimal risk of running into an acquaintance.

A couple of train things: Boston is rotten with fancy universities, which must explain the astounding number of ads for medical research participants. These are usually posted in the "T" and open their pitches with rather personal questions. "Are you shy?" "Do you have irritable bowel syndrome?" My favorite went something like this: "Do you sometimes mistake noises for voices? Are you antisocial and have few or no friends? If so, and you are a male between 18-65...(etc.)" I wondered who would step up for that one. Also while on the train, we passed a HUGE crowd outside of Northeastern University. It was the Coakley Senate race rally, featuring a very special guest, Barack Obama. A man with a classic Southie accent pointed at a line winding down two city blocks. "They ahhnt gonna get in. It's already ovah capacity!" Unfortunately, Coakley was the one actually representing the Democratic ticket, and we know how that went.

I would like to pretend to be cool enough to have known about The Wrens for...oh, at least six years, since the release of their last album, The Meadowlands (2003). Honestly, I didn't hear about them until very recently, and attended the show on the recommendation of a friend. Founded by four Jersey boys back in 1989, the band was stalled early by label troubles and endless A&R nitpicking. The Wrens are now middle-aged and have day jobs (I've been told that one of them is a sales rep for Pfizer), and appear to be thriving in this new world of indie marketing and social media. Saturday's show was consistent with their reputation for intense live performances, with the audience joining them on stage for the final encore.

The following is fan video, accompanying "She Sends Kisses," from The Meadowlands album. Charles Bissell's lyrics, about the girl who sends mixed messages, are great.

The show ended well after midnight. It was then that I discovered that the trains, unlike in Chicago, do not run all night. Hailing a cab proved futile, so I started to walk back to my hotel, located just south of the MIT campus. It was cold, and the streets of Cambridge were nearly empty. In the darkness, three men were struggling to carry something round and about three feet wide. A tabletop? That seemed an odd errand early on a winter morning. When I was a little closer, I could see that it was actually some sort of complicated puzzle or structure made out of interlocking pieces of brown cardboard. I instantly thought "MIT," but perhaps I'm giving Harvard geeks short shrift. I still wonder why they had to smuggle it across campus at nearly 2 am.

The Wrens Bio (official site) [Link]

Saturday, January 9, 2010

In memory of Red

I took down all the Christmas decorations today. Normally a melancholy task, it was made more solemn by loss of our little cat, Red. He died suddenly this morning of a cardiac arrest. He was only five or six years old, but had a weak heart--probably from earlier malnutrition. He started life as an alley cat, a kitten roaming with his mother and brother. Gradually, his little family disappeared. Alone, he would pace the alley and caterwaul mournfully. "Where are you? Why have you left me?" he seemed to cry. We lured him into the house after noticing that a cut on his foot had become infected. He gradually unwilded, and gave himself up to the imperfect love of humans. Red grew to relish some pleasures of domestication, such as belly rubs and slices of avocado. Still, he would at times pace the darkened house, awakening us with his cries. "It's OK boy, we're right here," we called out, and he would grow quiet.

For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness
he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit
without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he's a good Cat.

An excerpt from Jubilate Agno", Christopher Smart (1722-1771)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Santa, c'est moi

This year, Santa was very, very good to me. Every gift was charming, unique and tailored to my particular sense of aesthetics. That's right: I self-gifted. My family agreed to stop exchanging presents a few years ago. However, a robust strain of Puritan shame and reflexive self-denial kept me from buying anything more extravagant than a pair of mittens for myself. Why was this year different? I mostly blame Etsy, the online store for independent crafters and artisans. I just wanted a little art for my bedroom and bath, both of which are getting a new coat of paint. Etsy is a very dangerous website; it is possible to fall in love with dozens of objects during just one session of browsing. To be fair, I also got into some mischief at the Renegade Handmade store and the Pilsen East Artist's Open House. All three are good places to find affordable art. Allow me to spread the love for these crafters and artists, as well as show off my "gifts."

Vintage Illinois map with a native moth. From Real Butterfly Gifts

"We're all in this together." Porcelain wall hanging by Poodlebreath

"Insider 2" and "Manhunter 2" Acrylic on panel, by Fateyes

"Lovebug" Hand embroidered illustration on vintage textile, by Moxie Doll

I also purchased two prints from Andrew Suprenant, a photographer and documentary filmmaker. The prints, aerial views of landscape around and within a Kentucky strip mine, are not included in his set on Flickr. Andrew's production company, 137 Films, recently released Atom Smashers, about the struggles of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory to stay viable, particularly during the tenure of the notoriously science-hostile Bush administration. It sounds like a good documentary, and my description surely didn't do it justice.

"The U.S. vs. God Particles." Seed Magazine [Link]