"Undermining my electoral viability since 2001."

We Must Love

My friend Sarah is on her way to India. She's among the finest of the people I've gotten to know fairly well since moving up to these parts, and an amazingly talented artist. We have a few of her pieces around the house, really great paintings, and honestly one of the main things that set the mood and made me really want to live here.

Now she has some of her work online too:

Paintings By Sarah Finestone.

I really love Sarah's art. It strikes such a great balance between portrait and pastiche, symbols and subjects. That you can see my friends and roommates in some of them probably makes it more exciting for me personally, but I feel that she's really in a good spot stylistically, and hopefully will go places with her creative endeavors.

If I were a rich man I would be a patron. Maybe someday I will!

Reading for the Revolution

I've been reading more lately, which is good. In addition to dumping my Netflix subscription in favor of The New Yorker and Harper's, I've digested a few books, which I'll talk about briefly and (ahah!) interconnectedly.

Air Guitar
A collection of short pieces by Dave Hickey, subtitled "Essays on Art & Democracy," this book is just fantastic reading if you like $5 and even $10 words, distrust academia and other elite discourses, and enjoy thinking about art and culture with a political bent. The text occasionally diverges into minutia of fine art that lost me (I don't know from painting) but in almost all cases the thread returned to terra firma, and I didn't really feel like I missed out on the true meaning of Hickey's prose because I have no idea what Cézanne was really all about.

Harper's recently had a great excerpt from an upcoming book by Slavoj Zizek in which the Slovenian guru (who I encountered because a really pretty girl making a documentary wanted to talk to me about Music For America once) chides various leftist tactics around the world, in particular the "retreat into criticism" and the "politics of infinite demands." It made me wonder if Zizek has ever read Hickey, who's an art critic and not a "Critical Theorist," but whose writings as such contain, to me, some of the most insightful and generalizable observations about politics I've ever read.

Another Rec

Oh man, for my drive up to Oregon I downloaded this Radio Open Source interview with Ken Burns by Chris Lydon, one of the great and stately warhorses of public-interest radio. I love listening to Chris do his crazy intellectual thing, and he consistently gets really interesting people to open up in interesting ways. His show is cool.

Anyway, Ken Burns talks about his WWII documentary "The War," which I haven't seen, and it's really an insanely great conversation. They spend minimal time talking about process and other stuff, as Lydon being pushing him on the dangers of nostalgia and sentimentality regarding the horrors of war. In response Burns goes on an improvisational 3-minute solliloquy about the higher emotional states which defy explanation or logic, the necessity of such transcendent forces in art, and the fact that if you want to receive this blessing, you have to risk both abject failure as well as collapse into sentimentality and simple nostalgia. He also has a great -- and vicious! -- attack on the corrosive nature of irony, and calls the History Channel the Hitler Channel. Bravo.

The listening experience left me with my head buzzing about Art with a capital A, and a new respect for Mr. Burns. Worthy.

Preaching

So Saturday night I got back up on that art horse (which I've only been talking about for eight or nine months, so that's pretty good), and did a nice little talking piece at our christmas party talent show. [[T.S.L.|Text is here]]. It was very well received, and even though it was far from my best work, it was up to my own standards and I was pleased. I haven't shown off that side of myself too much since I moved out here, so it was nice to be able to let the artist out, to do something worthwhile with people's attention.

It turned out to be a more preachin' thing than I'd originally intended. That reading was latent in the verse and I'd just chosen not to rehearse it with that in mind, but the crowd responded on that wavelength, and our home in Westhaven was the original community church, so it seemed appropriate. It also made me realize the last time I did something performative I was officiating Frank and Laura's wedding.

Maybe I should just go with it, create myself a guru preacher character. I like being coy and vulnerable too much to go full out Reverend with it, but at the same time the form doesn't have to be so didactic, and it could really work for a lot of things.

To be honest, as an adult I've always equated art with religion. My training tended towards the ritual and having come up without a conventional religious framework, the process of creativity and the divinity of Really Good Performance/Product are what underpin any personal notions I have of mysticism and magic. It's a human and social thing for me, the moments the acts evoke. It's old-time; clap hands and all.

Anyway, it left me more exhausted than ever, but feeling high and mighty in my soul.

Inspired by TV? Why not...

One of the shows I've been enjoying over the past couple months (thanks eztv!) is AMC's Mad Men, a stylish serial drama full of moral ambiguity set in the NYC advertising industry (Madison Avenue, hence the title) circa 1960. Aside from just generally being smart and well-executed, I'm occasionally actually inspired by the marketing presentations that the protagonist Don Draper gives.

They remind me of the best of Larry Lessig's powerpoints, but because the whole point is that Draper is being brutally emotionally manipulative -- both in the context of presenting a modern marketing strategy, and also in the sense that he's closing the deal with a client -- they resonate with my artistic side even more. Truly the greatest performance work I've done has been essentially along the same lines: stacking up rhetoric with music and stage-imagery to seduce the audience in one way or another.

There's something you can definitely feel as a performer when this is working, when the crowd is in your pocket. I've felt the same thing in business meetings and selling vacuum cleaners door to door, the energy of control when another human will folds itself into your own. It's probably the rawest power I've ever experienced, and mostly since I've used it for good, it's been a good thing. Lot of responsibility though.

Anyway, the season finale of the show had a particularly great sequence like this, and it's got me mentally cutting up the music I listen to, looking for theme-clips, thinking of images, ways of explaining. Explaining what exactly is an open question. Hopefully we'll find out.

Radiohead Pioneers

Score one for the revolution:

bq.. I didn’t pay anything to download Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” last Wednesday. When the checkout page on the band’s Web site allowed me to type in whatever price I wanted, I put 0.00, the lowest I could go. My economist friends say this makes me a rational being.

Apparently not everybody is this lucid, at least not in matters related to their favorite British rock band. After Radiohead announced it would allow fans to download its album for whatever price they chose, about a third of the first million or so downloads paid nothing, according to a British survey. But many paid more than $20. The average price was about $8. That is, people paid for something they could get for free.

p. That's $8M that the band just pocketed. Very nice. Considering most artists make between $1 and $2 per CD sold (and that's after the label recoups their contracted recording costs), it's a safe bet that this will shake up the industry. You can download yours here.

I paid for mine, the first time I've paid for recreational music in close to a decade. In the above-linked article, much is devoted to the "crazyness" of this notion, although the author seems to grasp the reasons why fans respond generously:

bq. Some economists suspect that what is going on is that people get a kick from the act of giving the band money for the album rather than taking it for free. It could take many forms, like pleasure at being able to bypass the record labels, which many see as only slightly worse than the military-industrial complex. It could come from the notion that the $8 helps keep Radiohead in business. Or it could make fans feel that they are helping create a new art form — or a new economy.

Catch The Show

My old buddy Robin Jacksaphone is blowing through with his traveling band, the Vagabond Opera. They've been doing a west-coast circuit for the past couple years, and are getting really tight. There's some great musical virtuosity and showmanship on display. Highlights include Skip the judo master of the Cello and the opera battles (really!) between Eric and Leslie. Everyone's got zazz.

Watching their show last night reminded me what talent really means, and how performance can be a transcendent act. You look at someone differently after seeing that kind of thing transpire; the rockstar effect. There were parts in this show where I would involuntarily/incredulously drop my jaw, that made the top of my head tingle. And now I have a teenage schoolgirl band crush on Leslie, of course. She sings some songs in French!

Anyway, this was the opening night of their tour, so things just get better. The rest of the dates are:

  • September 27th: Petaluma, CA
  • September 28th: Sutter Creek, CA
  • September 29th: Santa Cruz, CA
  • October 1st: Monterey, CA
  • October 2nd: Los Angeles, CA
  • October 4th: Alta Dena, CA (Los Angeles)
  • October 5th: Santa Monica, CA
  • October 6th: San Diego, CA
  • October 7th: San Francisco, CA
  • October 9th: Berkeley, CA
  • October 10th: Ashland, OR
  • October 12th: Portland, OR

Details on their website. I strongly recommend the SF show, which will be at Amnesia, which will be a great venue for them.

At a higher level, as my friends and cohorts move on through their paths in life -- careers, PhDs, families, etc -- it's really amazing to see the wonderful things people get into. It makes me want to step my own scene up a notch.

Threads of Opportunity

As a follow up to the previous post declaring my new tag -- The New Cultural Movement -- I'd like to outline some of the specific threads of opportunity that I see as being germane here. This is kind of internally remedial for me, but seems like a good exercise anyway, and probably helpful for others to get a sense of the scope of things.

We Are All Outlaws In The Eyes Of America

I've been noodling around with this script concept for the past couple weeks, the first purely creative writing in quite a while. The gist of it is a disillusioned political operative raising cash money from black-market sources and carrying on an outlaw lobby campaign in DC. Thinly-veiled autobiographical content abounds, but they say you write what you know. My goal here is to start with that, and fill the rest in with what I dream.

The general concept can be exciting and sexy I think, and the rough plot arc I have sketched out should be a satisfying narrative, but I need to fill in some details before I can really finish a treatment. I need to learn more about the specifics of lobbyist culture, find out where and how Republican operatives party, and maybe investigate the rampant rumors about how the Humbold County DA raises money. I want as much authentic texture in the surroundings as possible; I think it will free me up to be more fantastical with the plot.

One of the big questions is "what's the outlaw lobbyist's agenda?" I think getting into the wonk zone would probably kill the writing, so the idea here is to sketch out something in broad strokes that has mass appeal, and then find something really specific that can be part of the primary dramatic conflict (e.g. what are the good and bad guys/gals facing off over?).

I'm not sure about this yet, but kicking the whole idea around with Franz, he gave me his wish-list, which actually seemed to be pretty decent:

Various and Sundry

Gonna hit up the legitimate theatre tonight:

For the past four weeks, Dell’Arte teachers have guided the actors through the Melodramatic territory, a style normally associated with twirling mustaches and maidens tied to railway lines. Six, student-devised, 15-minute plays explore moral dilemmas, neurosis, obsession and the struggle against repressive forces.

Sounds like my kind of thing. I like watching people perform stuff they create, and the fact that it's at bunch of 15-minute vignettes means that if any one is kinda awful -- which with student work is virtually guaranteed, and as it should be -- it will be over soon and the next one will be better. I think it'll be nice.

In nerd news, comment spam has reared its ugly head. I'll be tweaking things to try and change that so my apologies if that prevents you, my beloved readers, from yakking back at me.

And now, a grab-bag of thoughts with spring in the air.

For starters, here's a pointless 20-second video of my man Mark's "outdoor bike garage":

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