Thursday, December 23, 2010

The End of Kodachrome, Pt. II: Getting Lunar

Another spectacular day in Bryce. We awoke to snow flurries, and as a bonus, we actually woke up in time for the complimentary breakfast. Yesterday we arrived late and got the dregs. Today, after loading up on eggs, French toast and oatmeal, we hit the road for a walk on The Navajo loop trail, which takes you to the Canyon floor for a walk through the hoodoos. Once again, there was majesty around every bend. The snow turned to rain, the walkways to red mud. Every step resulted in mounds of red mud sticking to your shoes. A light drizzle throughout, but no complaints. Too much beauty in all directions. Actually saw a handful of people on the trail. All wet, but all happy.

After leaving Bryce, we had planned on taking a quick trip to Kodachrome Basin State Park. Kodachrome is the guiding light of this trip, and wouldn’t you know it, just 30 minutes south of Bryce is a state park which honors the beloved film stock in its name. But the rains were coming down hard and we needed to haul butt to Monument Valley. Sad to say, we bailed on Kodachrome Basin.

Arrived at Monument Valley sometime after 8 pm. Our hotel was in the park. No street address, just GPS coordinates. Our room overlooked The Mittens and Merrick Butte. Unbelievable. An excited Mr. Granato was heard to exclaim, “Nature Boner!” We rolled into the hotel a mere two hours before the start of the lunar eclipse, which we could take in from our balcony. At the start of the evening, the buttes of Monument Valley glowed in the muted blue moonlight. By the end of the eclipse, total blackout. Quite a way to experience the heart of the West.

Jim G. is a time-lapse fanatic.We had two super 8s and one hd documenting the proceedings. I’ve attached the hd video, which I shot of the eclipse. The eclipse footage, as well as the footage of the valley floor that features The Mittens and Merrick Butte, were all taken from the balcony. That’s how unsane our view was.

Jim set the alarm for sunrise, which we could also view from our balcony, or in my case, from my bed. Granato manned the sunrise cameras in long johns and socks, taking the occasional nap for good measure. Talk about the life of leisure for a wildlife/nature photographer. Sheesh.

Next up was the 17 mile drive through the buttes. We made it as far as John Ford Point. Fitting for a bunch of film geeks. We probably only covered half the drive. What I’ve found interesting about this trip is that once you decide to spend a tremendous amount of time documenting the most beautiful vantages and uncovering hidden vistas, the distance you travel drops considerably. On every hike or drive we’ve taken, we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on the trail, yet we’ve traded the amount of ground covered for a deeper look at the landscape. Sometimes that’s a trade worth taking.

Below is the attached view of the eclipse.Enjoy.

Lunar Eclipse, Monument Valley, Dec 20/21, 2010 from danny plotnick on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The End of Kodachrome, Pt. I: A Meandering Travelogue

Absolutely spectacular day at Bryce Canyon. Rainy, windy, and slushy, but majestic overlooks none-the-less. Spent three hours in the canyon shooting film and video. Didn’t see one tourist. They were up top at the overlooks, but no one braved the trek down. Only my buddy Jim and I were so foolhardy. Every turn of the trail offered yet another breathtaking, one-of-a-kind view. The light drizzle had me worrying about my camera a little. I must have packed it up 10 times, promising myself no more shooting. Yet at every subsequent turn, I pulled it out again to get some more footage.

This is a funny trip. Only last week did Mr. Granato plant the seed to head to the Southwest to burn through some rolls of Kodachrome, which will no longer be processed as of two weeks from now. My desire to shoot Kodachrome, or super 8, is strangely nil. I guess I’ve shot enough of it over the years. Not really feeling the need for one last hurrah. But what a gloriously brilliant excuse for a trip. I’m excited about playing around with an hd camera. So Jim is shooting super 8, I’m rocking the hd, and we’re having a blast. Not sure what the end result will be. One film? Two films? Zero films? Doesn’t matter. We’re out here shooting stuff, documenting nature, experiencing the winter majesty.

Flew into Vegas. Stopped at the Neon Museum, the bone yard for discarded neon signage. Beautiful. They don’t let you shoot any film or video. Jim tried to sneak in the super 8. The unmistakable rattle of the super 8 motor alerted the hip young vixens that run the joint that mischief was afoot. I don’t think Jim shot more than 5 feet of film before being busted by the man...who was a woman.

Almost didn’t come on this trip. Money and winter were discouraging factors. I would never think of coming to a place like this in the winter. Alison and I once went to the Grand Canyon in November. All I remember is cold, cold, cold. Now that we’re here, I’m ecstatic we pulled the trigger. The snow is beautiful. It’s a whole other look to this area that I’ve never experienced and would likely never have experienced. I can't wait to come back with my son, whose mind will be blown.

The rest of the trip could be cold and miserable, but today’s hike makes the whole trip worth it regardless of what happens from here on out…unless of course we drive over a cliff edge. That would not be cool, nor is it out of the question.

On the way from Vegas to Bryce, we drove over route 14 through The Dixie National Forest. 10,000 feet, near whiteout conditions. Not from snow, but from fog or clouds. Much snow build-up on the road. A little slipping and sliding during the night time drive. But the rental Hyundai handled it sans chains. I have to imagine those were the worst of the conditions we’ll face…other than Jim’s snoring…which hasn’t been as bad as advertised.

Right now, I’m hanging in the lobby of our Best Western. Hundreds of rooms. Ten cars in the parking lot. It has some Shining potential.

Tomorrow, off to Kodachrome Basin State Park and Monument Valley. Lunar Eclipse on Tuesday night.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Magic of Radio II: With The Radio On

I never much listen to the radio anymore, but there is something inherently exciting about driving around in your car with the radio on. You may be alone, but if you’re listening to the radio, you’re having a shared experience. It’s exciting to think that while you’re singing along with the Temptations, at the top of your lungs, somebody else is doing the same. You’ll never meet them, you’ll never know them, but at that moment, you’re sharing the same mental space. I was reminded of that recently when I got a text from my wife to put on 103.7. Classic rock radio. Ah yeah. Burning For You by B.O.C. Awesome. She was listening, I was listening. We were both rocking. I was reminded of that again this past Saturday night when listening to my fave radio show, JJ On The Radio. KPOO. Saturday Night. Vintage soul sounds off of the original 45 rpm records. Scratches and all. JJ has been doing it for years. It’s always good. One of my favorite things about SF. Outta site.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen it, but that feeling of the radio connecting us all lies at the heart of American Graffiti. Maybe it’s time to watch that again. I always did love Cindy Williams.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Guided By Voices-The Club Was Open & Elves Were Kicked. Live at the Warfield.

Totally blown away by GBV last night at the Warfield. Unfrikkinbelievable. I could talk about what a kick ass live band they are. I could talk about Bob Pollard’s scissor kicks, mic twirls, and his various rock school moves. I could talk about the bad ass set list, almost exclusively culled from my 3 fave GBV records (Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, and Propeller). I could talk about the cavalcade of hits, starting with A Salty Salute, wrapping up almost two hour later with Weed King. But I won’t.

What I will say is that the crowd was going nuts. As my buddy Jimmy G said, “The club was indeed open and on fucking fire.” The balcony (usually pretty staid) was up in full-force. Everyone was singing every lyric to every song. I remember seeing the Blues Explosion, circa Orange, and being blown away by how the crowd erupted into a dance party, the whole audience shaking their tail feathers. In the “too-cool-for-school”, indie hipster rock universe, that outburst of emotion was something rarely witnessed. Last night’s GBV show transcended in a similar way. People unabashedly singing along at top volume, strangers hugging and high-fiving. It was like being a teen again, being supercharged by rock and roll, wanting to hear it loud, needing to share it with your friends, jumping around like fools and lunatics, fists pumping in the air. Wanting to shout to the world, “This is our music, man!” The club was open and the place was indeed on fire. GBV! GBV! GBV!

The photo is Jimmy Gs. I might have stolen his line about strangers hugging as well. The movie I pulled from youtube. It's a mess, but that probably makes it perfect!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Detroit Noir

Detroit is very much in the news lately. Marginalized. A joke on late night television. It’s constantly viewed as a symbol of all that has gone wrong in the country. Its history and its present state can be read as cautionary tale. Detroit Noir is a collection of seemingly dark short stories by folks who have lived in this former boomtown.

Interestingly, even though it's a noir collection and death and decay are ever present, Detroit Noir reads like a melancholy love story. In so many stories, we see a once vibrant city; characters holding on to memories of the places they grew up, of friends and family that inhabited the city streets; characters playing out the string, because there are no other options. The stories harken back to a time of possibility. It’s a portrait of a city that is home. It may not be an idealized home, but it is home none-the-less.

There are some really great stories here. Gotta make a comment about Megan Abbott, my fave crime writer. She delivers an awesome coming of age story, about the fascination with the wrong side of the tracks.

For what it's worth, Detroit is my hometown. I haven't lived there for over 20 years, but people still ask me what I think of it. In a way, it's not for me to say, but the last couple of times I've been back, there seems to be a lot of energy around revitalizing the city. It seems like a city that is in a "now or never" situation and folks are waking up to the possibilites. There seems to be a lot of exciting and/or radical proposals on the table. Shrinking the city, creating urban farms and the like. Some bold proposals. Will the city have the money to pull any of these ideas off? Will politics as usual spoil what hope remains? Who knows? But my gut says that a vibrancy is ever present. A vibrancy that the outside world does not see or report on in all the ghost town stories told about Detroit in the media at large.

Detroit Noir serves as a more homespun view into the world of a city that has meaning to those who live there.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Week At The Movies--Inception vs. Exit Through The Gift Shop

Inception by Christopher Nolan
I can’t begin to express how much I disliked this movie. Unnecessarily confusing, incomprehensible, and ultimately boring. Two and a half hours of monotone acting. Every line uttered with an air of hushed-tone importance. 30-40 minutes of tedious explanatory sequences, meticulously detailing the rules of the dream world, all of which I couldn’t follow. The one rule I picked up, ‘If you die in the dream, you wake up,’ gets abandoned as soon as that rule hampers the plot. Oh well, I guess rules are made to be broken…if they become inconvenient. I felt pretty bad for all the poor souls on date nights, trying to make sense of this mess on the way out of the theater. If the writing, the direction, and the acting weren’t bad enough, I was pretty bothered by Leonardo DiCaprio’s mustache. I’ve seen 16 year olds with better upper lip coverage. And how come all the actors looked like they were in a neo-noir movie while Ellen Page looked like she was in a romantic comedy? Come on people. Yuck.

Exit Through The Gift Shop by Banksy
Just saw this last night and I’m still digesting it, but what an awesome movie. Exit Through The Gift Shop is a doc by street art hotshot Banksy detailing the street art scene from its roots in the 90s through its rise and acceptance by the fine art world in the 2000s. The movie is in parts fun, irreverent, insightful, and at the end of the day, perhaps a big hoax. The film follows the scene through the eyes of filmmaker Thierry Guetta, an affable Frenchman who tirelessly documents the likes of Banksy, Shepard Fairey (of Andre The Giant stickerdom fame), and other street art luminaries. Over the course of the film, we see Banksy and his cohorts move from quasi-legal artists playing cat and mouse with the fuzz while trying to avoid anti-graffiti laws, to highly sought after artists, selling their pieces for huge coin.

Over the course of the film Thierry moves from someone documenting the scene to someone who becomes a major artist (aka Mr. Brainwash) within the scene, much to the mystification of his peers. The film ultimately critiques the fine art world. Banksy seems to suggest that the curators snapping up street art at exorbitant prices don’t really understand the art, its value, and the quality of what they’re bidding on.

The success of the highly derivative Mr. Brainwash is at the core of this critique. But is Mr. Brainwash even real? He could be real. He could be a fabrication for viewers of the film. He could be an elaborate hoax played on the Los Angeles art world. I couldn’t figure it out, but regardless, it's brilliant.

Best film I saw this week!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Ladies Are Bringing It!

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Can’t rave enough about the Joan Rivers doc, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. It’s a truly revealing portrait of an artist at work. Honest, riveting, enervating, hysterical, and brutal, Rivers gives us a behind-the-scenes look at her life during a trying year. She’s 75, her career is on the downside, yet she keeps hustling. Why can’t she slow down? Why doesn’t she rest on her laurels? Why does she continue to subject herself to the trials and tribulations of the artist’s life when she’s 75? The film does a great job getting to the core of what makes Joan tick and why she’s so driven. The film deftly mixes the modern day neurosis with a look back at her seminal career, so those looking for a historical overview will not be disappointed. What’s most rewarding are the bits from her current show. Rivers is still side-splittingly hysterical. Sharp tongued, she remains current. She’s not hauling out material from 1979. She keeps it fresh and au courant. Go see this now.

Just Kids by Patti Smith
This book is awesome. It's inspiring and romantic. This is the kind of book you read when you’re fourteen that makes you want to be an artist. Smith beautifully recounts her years with Robert Mapplethorpe. Smith and Mapplethorpe are each other’s muses. They commit to a life of art and to each other. The book traces their time together, from nobodies who intensely believe in each other and what they each have to offer the world, to recognized artists. Mapplethorpe moves from collage to photography, looking to enter the Factory world and move beyond it. Smith does an amazing job tracing Mapplethorpe’s development as an artist and as a person grappling with his sexuality. She brings keen observations to his work and process and shines light on the beauty of Mapplethorpe’s “challenging” oeuvre. For her part, Smith has her beloved poetry. Watching her find a way to meld her love of Rimbaud with her love of rock and roll is truly fascinating. Over the course of the book you see the two find themselves, find their voice, and find a direction. Through it all, they have an unwavering commitment to each other, to push each other, to prod each other, to make sure their gifts find a place in the world. A beautiful story, beautifully written. Go Patti Smith.

Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings live at The Warfield, June 2010
It’s a party. It’s a throw down. Sharon Jones is on fire. The hardest working woman in showbiz. A non-stop, soul-shaking juggernaut. The band bills it as a soul revue, and they are not wrong. This is the second time I’ve seen Jones and she delivers full marks. Jones is a dynamo, bringing it full on for nearly two hours. Just goes to show, you don’t need to be young to know how to rock.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Books On My Nightstand

I haven't posted much in the last couple of months. Life has a way of kicking your butt sometimes. So here are some quick takes on the books I've been reading.

Striptease by Carl Hiaasen
Maybe I'm all Hiaasen-ed out, but Striptease is definitely not my fave by Hiaasen. I love this guy, but all the books have the same vague story lines and vaguely the same characters. Also, Erin, the leading lady/stripper, just seemed to be spouting Hiaasen's world view, rather than being a fully fleshed out character. Kind of reminded me of the ladies in Death Proof who, for the first 50 minutes of that movie, seemed nothing more than vehicles for Tarantino's witticism and world views.

More thoughts on Hiaasen can be found here. I hear the movie starring Demi Moore was a bit of a trainwreck. I may have to watch it anyway.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Maybe it will surprise you, or maybe it won’t, but I’ve never read High Fidelity (even though my beloved Motrobooty made a magazine rack cameo in the film). I must say I’m thoroughly enjoying it, though I’m finding it quite depressing. The stunning revelation for me is that Rob, the lead guy in the book, is the prototype for the Mark character in Peep Show. Take out the rock and pop culture references and what your left with is a deeply flawed character, both sanctimonious and smug, yet someone who is a totally unfulfilled basket case teeming with neurosis and plagued by doubts, especially when it comes to the ladies. In other words, MARK. I’m sure no one can back me up on this since you all probably read this book years before ever seeing Peep Show. But go to a bookstore, pick up High Fidelity, go to any section from the middle of the book and tell me you don’t hear Mark’s voice. And for that matter, I suppose you could pencil Jez in as the Barry character.

The Last Picture Show & Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
I have a new favorite author and he is Larry McMurtry. I loved the movie of The Last Picture Show, and I can not begin to tell you how blown away I was by the book. Simply unbelievable. Simultaneously so sad, angsty, moody and full of life. Every character so fully realized. An incredible portrait of a place and a group of people aching for something more out of life. One of the greatest coming of age novels ever. And there's a lot of mid-life crisis happening as well. So it's a great read for the whole family. Interestingly, I watched the movie again after reading the book, and you know what, the book blows it out of the water. The movie is faithful, perhaps to a fault. It's just like the book, but with sections cut out. Read this book.

I was so energized, I decided to tackle the epic Lonesome Dove. A couple of Texas Rangers no longer needed as the West has already been settled. They head off on one last adventure--a brutal cattle drive from Texas to Montana. It's so cliched at it's core, yet unbelievable as it plays out. Captain Call and Augustus Mcrae are two fantastic characters. So different, yet totally co-dependent. 900+ pages, but page turners, all of them. Death comes quickly on the plains, so be prepared. Can't wait to watch the 6 hour mini-series.

The Sound & The Fury by William Faulkner
After Lonesome Dove, I wanted something classic and satisfying. A good piece of writing with epic scope and grandeur. I decided to revisit Faulkner whom I hadn't read since high school--with mixed feelings, I might add. Here's my facebook status update that was inspired by my feeble attempt at reading this classic. "Could someone explain The Sound and the Fury to me. Why do people like that thing? It's insufferable and seems needlessly confusing. Am I wrong? When it does make sense, I find the characters irritating. I bailed after 100 pages. Is that so wrong? Help me, people. I wanted to sink my teeth into a classic, but yukkie poo poo." Well there you have it. A modern American classic dismissed so callously on Facebook. I've sunk to new lows.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Magic of Radio: RIP Ernie Harwell

I never really listen to the radio anymore. As a kid I listened to it all the time. The AM oldies stations, the FM top 40 stations, the Canadian stations floating in from north of the boarder and, of course, Tigers’ baseball on WJR. If you were a sports fan in the 70s, you listened to the radio. Sports didn’t dominate tv like it does today. Maybe there were 1 or 2 games on tv a week, but if you were a fan, you got the skinny from the radio. And was there ever a better radio broadcaster than the great Ernie Harwell? I doubt it. Harwell passed away yesterday after a year-long battle with cancer.

Harwell’s southern tinged drawl was part of the fabric of childhood. Graceful and engaging, Harwell brought life to one of the most moribund teams in the 70s. The Tigers were perennial losers, but Harwell breathed life into guys like Tom Veryzer, Gary Sutherland, Ron Leflore, and Joe Coleman. And he made great calls. When watching a game today, if someone takes a called 3rd strike, I still hear Harwell’s classic call, “He stood there like a house by the side of the road and watched that one go by.” Whenever a fan would catch a foul ball, Harwell would offer up, “A young man from Muskegon takes home a souvenir.” Every foul ball featured a fan from a different city. As a 10 year old, I couldn’t wait for someone from Southfield (my town) to catch one. I was fascinated and wondered how Harwell could know where everyone was from. The 12 year old in me knew that he couldn’t know where everyone was from and that he had to be making it up. But to this day there’s that sliver of doubt. Maybe he did know. He had that magical voice coming out of the radio. He was at every Tiger game, the place you wanted to be as a kid. He was such a commanding and compassionate presence, someone who all fans were connected to, that perhaps he could know something so unknowable.

I never listen to the radio anymore. But were there any better childhood moments than being tucked into bed, listening to the West Coast games on my clock radio? Ten-thirty pm start times. Hiding under the covers. Trying to stay awake as long as possible. The crackle of the AM lulling you to sleep sometime in the 3rd or 4th inning.

When Jonathan Richman sings “With the radio on!” in Roadrunner, I think of the AM, I think of the lazy Midwest summertime, I think of listening to Tiger baseball on the radio. I hear the hum of the radio as the signal fades and then gets stronger.

RIP Ernie Harwell.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Confessions Of A Teenage Jesus Jerk by Tony Dushane

Just finished my friend Tony Dushane’s Confessions Of A Teenage Jesus Jerk. What a great read. Funny, heartfelt, and pre-pubescently painful. The book immerses you into the teen years of a horny Jehovah Witness. If you think being a teen is tough, try being a teen as a Witness where every prurient thought, let alone action, is considered a sin. Armageddon is on the horizon and masturbating can get you disfellowed. Mine fields all around. The first half of the book is a real eye opener to the ways of the Jehovah’s, which I knew next to nothing about prior to this read. The second half gets painful as Gabe, DuShane’s main character, loses contact with his lifelong friends and begins to discover the world around him. Poetry and punk rock become Gabe’s salvation, but the need to return to the fold is strong. The tension between lusting after worldly desires, yet being true to your religious upbringing is at the heart of this book. The resultant inner-turmoil feels real, honest, and raw. If you’re a sucker for coming of age stories, check it out.

Dushane reads at Phoenix Books in SF on Thursday April 15, 6-8 pm, 3957 24th St., SF, CA 94114

Friday, February 26, 2010

RIP Andrew Koenig

For the past week I’ve been following the story of the disappearance of Andrew J. Koenig. The story came to a tragic end, Koenig being found dead in Vancouver yesterday. His father, Walter Koenig (Chekov of Star Trek fame), reported that his son’s death was a suicide. Most people knew Andrew for his role as Boner on Growing Pains. I never watched that show and couldn’t pick Andrew out of line up based on that role. But for the past several years I’ve been an avid listener of the Never Not Funny Podcast, a great comedy podcast for which Andrew tweaked the knobs. Andrew often appeared on mic, sharing stories about his life. Given that his sister Danielle often appears on the show, and the show is hosted by his brother-in-law, Jimmy Pardo, I feel like I know a lot about the Koenig family.

Interestingly, Andrew also serves as the inspiration of one of my all-time favorite short stories, Jeffty Is Five by Harlan Ellison. Jeffty is a beautiful and tragic story about the loss of innocence and childish wonderment. Ellison is a great writer and for most of his short stories he writes evocative forwards talking about the given story’s inspiration. Jeffty is largely inspired by a brief chat Ellison had with the five year old Andrew at a party thrown by his parents. I’ve posted that intro here. In the light of this week’s events, Ellison’s words serve as a touching tribute to Andrew. Please note that Ellison refers to the child as Josh, which is Andrew’s given name. Also, if I've misinterpreted any of this, my apologies.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

189 pages of boredom followed by 314 pages of page-turning excitement. What’s up with that? Stieg Larsson appears to be quite the international writing sensation for his Millenium trilogy of crime books. At some level, I don’t entirely get it. On the one hand, I love certain aspects of his books, but on the other hand, some aspects of his books leave me cold. Punk rock, lesbian, Satanist, computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and publishing bad-boy Mikael Blomqvist are back in The Girl Who Played With Fire. This time they’re trying to get to the bottom of an international prostitution ring. But I swear, almost nothing of interest happens for 189 pages. I’ll give Larsson the benefit of the doubt and suggest that over the first third of the book he has effectively laid down the groundwork for the final acts, because on page 190 things turn on a dime and get damned exciting. I really hard a hard time putting the book down. Conversely, I had a pretty hard time picking it up until that point. I imagine I’ll read the third installment, but I’ll definitely be hoping that he has finally written a book that is scintillating throughout.

Here's what I had to say about the first installment.

Childhood, The Marx Brothers & Dick Cavett

I loved the Marx Bros as a kid. I had a Duck Soup t-shirt (creamsicle orange, sporting the movie poster) and a Horse Feathers t-shirt (bright yellow, also sporting the movie poster). They were my favorite shirts. I wore them ragged. I religiously watched You Bet Your Life in syndication. I dragged my parents to whatever theaters would play their movies, and I believe I once made my dad drive me and friend through a snowstorm to a community center playing Animal Crackers. We were the only people in the audience and they played the film for us anyway. The show must go on, don’t you know. I even read a Groucho bio when I was in middle school. In all likelihood, it was the first celebrity bio I ever read.

Like many things from my childhood, it’s been ages since I’ve seen a Marx Bros. film. I showed my son Horse Feathers several years back, but he wasn’t biting. Too much language play for even a really verbal 5 year old. Several weeks back, Animal Crackers played at the Clay Theater as part of Sketchfest. The film was followed by a round table featuring Dick Cavett and Harpo’s son, Bill Marx. Cavett and Marx were fantastic, sharing 45 minutes of raunchy stories about the Marx Brothers, as well as providing some great insights into their careers. What a fun night. This time, my son, now 8, dug the proceedings. I think he really liked the absurd, strange interludes that fill the film. Harpo was his favorite--not surprising for a kid weaned on Buster Keaton. And I was laughing throughout. All the reasons why I loved these guys came flowing back. Sitting in the theater, I could see how much their brand of comedy has influenced me. And if that wasn’t enough, the soothing sound of Dick Cavett’s voice was a pleasant trip down memory lane as well.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gimme Something Better

Just finished devouring Jack Boulware & Silke Tudor’s Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk. It’s a major tome and a great read. File it right next to Please Kill Me and Our Band Could Be Your Life as another great history of a seminal rock scene. Interestingly, even though I’ve lived in the Bay Area for over 20 years, I’m not steeped in the early punk rock lore of this town (Nuns/Avengers/Crime), nor was I ever invested in the Gilman scene (Green Day/Jawbreaker/Rancid/Operation Ivy). That said, I loved how this book was put together, the stories it told, and how it approached the music scene in a comprehensive way.

What sets Gimme Something Better apart from Please Kill Me or Our Band, is that the book moves beyond just the antics and the history of the bands involved. Yes, there are whole chapters devoted to The DKs, Green Day, Rancid, and plenty others. But much like the Bay Area scene itself, Gimme Something Better, focuses on the totality of the scene and the networks of people that brought us from the Mabuhay Gardens to world domination by Green Day. Gimme Something Better shines equal amounts of light on the mags and the zines; on the bars, clubs, warehouses, and house parties; on the roadies, the promoters, and the punk houses; on the radio shows, the labels, and the poster artists; on the politics, the politics, and the politics. All take center stage. As the scene moves deep into the East Bay, the scene itself becomes it’s own entity, as important as any one band. And Gimme Something Better does a great job reflecting that spirit. The book is very cool in that way. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rockin' The Car Stereo in 2009

Not particularly enthusiastic about a best of list for 2009. I didn’t feel like I heard all that much great new stuff this year. It’s funny, because last year was stacked with great releases, or at least great songs.

My friend Andy always asks me to put together a list and I oblige, since he often gives me lots of music. So here ya go. In a vague order.

If your reading this on Facebook, be sure to check out the post in the actual blog, so you can see all the embedded video!

Dinosaur Jr.—Farm
For real. It’s 1989 all over again. This record is awesome. If it had been released right after Bug, we’d all be calling it a classic. Not really any new ground covered. Perhaps less angsty. Perhaps more fun. Regardless, the licks are sweet. Like an awesome time machine rolling you back to your younger days.

White Magic—Dark Stars
Ok, I fully realize that this record didn't come out this year. I don't think it even came out last year. So apparently I'm breaking the rules for a "Best Of" list. But frak it. It's my list and I'm gonna do what I want to. I first heard it this year and I probably listened to this e.p. more than any other record on this list, so it's staying. I caught White Magic at an early show at the Hemlock earlier this year. Maybe I was riding a Chai high from my pre-show meal at Shalimar, but I swear it was a great show. I picked up the Dark Stars e.p. Constant rotation on the iPod. Winds might be the song I listened to more than any other this year. A bit Cat Powerish, a bit Sea and Cakey, a bit Damon and Naomi, a bit trippy, a bit spooky. All good. You can sample a bit here.

Dave Rawlings Machine— A Friend of A Friend
Sick of waiting for a new Gillian Welch record? Forget it. Just pick up this one by her guitarist Dave Rawlings. Great songs. Great guitar playing. And, if you still care, Welch sings on a couple of tracks. A really great record. You know those moments on Time (The Revelator) where Rawlings appears to be channeling an acoustic version of Crazy Horse? Well, you get to hear an awesome cover of Cortez on this one.

Flaming Lips—Emrybonic
I already wrote about this one when it came out. I don’t listen to it a ton. But as a refreshing blast, you can’t lose.

Dan Auerbach—Keep It Hid
I dig the Black Keys. This solo record strips it down and channels the ragged blues in just the right way.

Wooden Shjips—Dos
Looking for a Suicide/Spacemen fix? Look no further. The stoned, cold groove is on.

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros—Up From Below
Just came across this one. Dusty, 70’s, LA hippies. Not cloying, irritating or, pretentious. Good music for a weekend at Joshua Tree.

Just picked this up last week. Not sure that it will have staying power, but I'm gonna put it on the list because I'm digging it right now. Poppy, girl-groupy, catchy. At times like The Raveonettes without the squalor. The Raveonettes unChained.

Chuck Prophet—Let Freedom Ring
Prophet goes to Mexico, records in a very old studio, doesn't die of the swine flu, and plays some rock and roll. What could be bad? I Just picked this up last week as well and it's sounding good. Love the production.

Califone—All My Friends Are Funeral Singers
Neko Case—Middle Cyclone

I like these people. Good records. Not their best. But I’ll pull these records on now and again and am glad when they crop up in the shuffle.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Time For Leaving

Here’s the music video I just finished up for No Depression style rockers McCabe & Mrs. Miller. The bulk of the video was shot in and around Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley. Each year the band plays at the Camper/Cracker Campout the first week of September. We’ve always stayed at the Yucca Valley Inn, a quaint and comfortable old school desert motel. This year, however, things were far from quaint or comfortable. The hotel was in foreclosure or bankruptcy status and we were greeted with the option of a room with no air conditioning or a room with no hot water. We opted for the air over the hot water. We had to switch rooms after finding an army of dead frogs in our bathtub. The pool was drained, caution tape was everywhere, and a generally desolate vibe was in the air. In other words, what a perfect spot for a video shoot! Especially a melancholy song about life on the road.

We hadn’t really planned on a shooting a video that weekend, and given that Alison and Victor were playing in about 6 bands between the two of them, I wasn’t sure that they would have anytime to shoot anything as a band. But since we were all going to be in the same place at the same time for two days, I brought a camera with me, just in case. While others drank beer, slept, or watched college football, I was wandering around shooting. We actually found two hours to shoot the band performing in the hotel room. Unfortunately that footage was unusable. I didn’t bring any lights and the room was just too dark and dank to look good.

When we got back to the Bay Area, we set a new shoot date for the band footage for November. Alison and I desperately started scouring the Bay Area for a hotel with a seedy, worn down interior. And let me tell you, that is no easy task in this day and age. Green shag carpeting and wood paneling are a tough order to fill. Off-white porcelain and neutral colors are the order of the day. Even in the cheap hotels. If it’s been remodeled after 1985, there’s little sense of style. Things were looking grim but on our last day of scouting we came across the perfect spot in San Mateo, California. We couldn’t have set designed it better ourselves. It had the shag. It had the wood panel. And the furniture was so flimsy we could move stuff around at will. Always a plus on a film shoot. The beds were even on wheels. An added bonus was this hotel had clearly bought its furniture from the same hotel supply store that the Yucca had bought their furniture from. It was a perfect match. Check out the opening shot of the lobby of the Yucca. Then take a look at the interior shots of the hotel with the band playing. Same carpeting. Same patterns on bedspreads and couches. What luck.

Special thanks to Chris Xefos for helping out on all the shooting in Joshua Tree and KC Smith for doing the great job lighting the hotel interiors.

In any event, I hope you enjoy the video. It’s a great song.

I wrote about their album a few months back. You can read that post here and download a couple of songs from the album there as well.