Friday, November 21, 2008

My friend Amber Smith's work was shown as part of the Olympia Film Festival this year, as part of a program that someone reviewed on their blog. I assume it is our mutual friend Joel Brazzel who is made to look like an asshole in said review. I think that Amber's work is amazing. I brought it to the attention of curator Bridget Irish, and more recently showed the work that was shown at the festival to a Baltimore audience that did not appreciate it as much as the reviewer I link to. The Baltimore screening depressed me and make me think said audience was stupid and wrong, and I am happy to post this link to a positive review. I should also give credit where it's due to Kendra for finding this review.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I've written about Dash Shaw's Bodyworld webcomic a few times by this point. But I would just like to link to this animation he did to promote it, now that a pretty big plot point has been revealed in the course of its serialization. Pantheon is putting it out as a book next year, but I would recommend reading it at his site. But that animation is worth noting as its own piece of work, for being really well-done.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I loved Synecdoche, New York, but that's not really surprising by now. Every Charlie Kaufman-written movie (besides Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind) has been increasingly more elaborate and affecting than that which came before it, and this, for all its trickiness, ends up being pretty devastating. I have no insights to it that wouldn't be better off if you had them instead. Really great, very dark, brutally so, and after only a short while I was the only person laughing.

My single complaint is the score, which in trying to emotionally engage, only distracts: The other aspects of the movie's artifice are more integrated, this is plainly a convention that could've been done without. It's by Jon Brion, but it's not as unconventional as his good scores tend to be. It's sap, and most of the time it just serves to obscure dialogue.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

It is late enough in the year for "best-of" lists to start coming into being. I only feel confident talking about records, thanks to leaks serving as an equalizer: There are any number of movies and comics that I have yet so see and judge.

Also, I kind of think it wasn't that great of a year for music. This could just be because of the way the music press works. The three records I am going to say were the "best" are all things that received no real reviews.

Best electronic record: Max Tundra, Parallax Error Beheads You. You know that story about the pottery class that was split into two groups? The one group was told to make a large amount of pots, and the other was told to make one perfect pot. The first group ended up making the better pots as they kept on working and learned from their mistakes. Max Tundra is almost the opposite of that: He has worked for six years making this record in keeping with his weird perfectionist tendencies. I guess he kept his game sharp doing remixes, though, because this album is amazing. Meticulously composed pop music filled with many moving parts, clicking into place.

Best noise record: Black Pus 4, All Aboard The Magic Pus. Only available as a CD-R still, as the vinyl release has not yet come into being. Some noise dude was telling me this isn't a noise record, and that Brian Chippendale refers to it as his pop record. This is in some ways true, songs are clearly distinguishable from each other. But only certain songs really register as pop songs, the whole thing is still pretty abrasive, and certain songs use pop song structures to freak out all over where the chorus would be. It's just restrained enough to constitute a step forward, and that on its own would be really exciting even before getting to the fact that the closing track was one of the songs I listened to obsessively.

Best indie-pop record: Nana Grizol, Love It Love It. This dude Theo was touring with the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise. When the encore came, there was some confusion, and I had to tell him that some of his songs were worthy enough to fit into an encore setting. Which is quite the compliment, when you consider that other people on that tour who had written songs that could be performed for an encore included Julian Koster of The Music Tapes (and Chocolate USA, and while we were probably never going to hear "All Jets Are Gonna Fall Today," "Song For The Death Of Parents" seemed like it should've been a shoo-in), as well as Will Cullen Hart and Bill Doss of The Olivia Tremor Control (and The Circulatory System and The Sunshine Fix respectively). He ended up playing songs, but ones not on the album or the preceding EP. On those records are indie-pop songs of a certain nineties variety, and a youthful openness which you would think would find an audience I would find distasteful. The record certainly has awful twee album art. But, oh shit, "Tambourine-N-Thyme" would be the other song to be incredibly resonant in a way that led to many repeated listens, with its gorgeous horn parts in the place of Black Pus' abrasive keyboards. The other songs keep that strength, and while there's the occasional near-cringe-inducing line, there is still so much openness and positivity on this record that has me holding it close.

There were other records this year but they were just cool records. These include Thee Oh Sees The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending A Night In (garage-punk record of the year, five times better than that No Age album), Evangelista's Hello Voyager, Excepter's Debt Dept., and any number of albums made by bands I like because of albums that came out before this year that their new records pale in comparison to. See: Why?, Gang Gang Dance, The Lexie Mountain Boys, Beach House, Matmos, Silver Jews, etc. Those are the ones that weren't super-bleak disappointments.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My grandfather is dying. He has Parkinson's, and several moves have been made to accommodate him. For a while, he was the sort of old man who walked a great many places: Up to the gas station every day to buy a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer, or to the library further down the street. Or to the lake for fishing. By the time I was in high school he didn't walk around so well, using a walker to support him, not very often going beyond his yard.

Past that point, as I went on to college, my grandparents sold their house, probably for a decent amount of money, considering the neighborhood they lived in: Near that lake, a short walk from a booming downtown. He was in a Rascal scooter, he couldn't climb the stairs, and so they were moving to an apartment complex with elevators. Pretty much any kind of walking was impossible, but I guess the little bit of movement between a bed and the scooter was manageable. Then that was left, as my grandmother couldn't take care of him on her own, so into my aunt's house they went.

According to my grandmother, after each move he deteriorated, partly due to the shock of the new surroundings. The last time I saw him was supposedly a good day. There was another person, from outside the family, who came to take care of him, to carry him into the shower and wash him. He was slumped in a chair, tired, bothered by the wind and cold, and seeming pretty much to have no bones.

Tomorrow he's moving into a hospice. I hope he lives to see Thanksgiving, so I can see him one last time, but I do not expect him to make it to Christmas, and even my grandmother- who is pretty much the salt of the earth, and sort of classically optimistic and not really given to talking about things that are upsetting- halfway doesn't expect him to see me come to visit on Thanksgiving.

My grandfather is like a lot of old people in some sad ways: Afraid of teenagers he saw walking the street and generally politically conservative. These are the sort of things that feel like they fade into dementia, since they're based on sort of inarticulate fears. But that is not what the thing itself is, not what I see on his face or hear in his voice in these final fading moments. What is there instead is this love, for me and my grandmother and his two children, that's huge and deeply sad for him as he has the very real feeling of dying and losing these people. There is this cry he has for my grandmother pretty much every time she walks out of his sightline, which my grandmother explained to me with something almost cynical. "He's calling for you," I said, and she responded "he does that every time I leave the room," in this tone like she had to ignore it in order to even kind of function, to leave the room to order a pizza. The new town she finds herself in is pretty much unknown to her. She doesn't have the autonomy to leave the house to run errands like she did in the apartment. She doesn't leave the house, but every time she leaves his side he says her name as a pleading question.

He is maybe the grandparent I am the least close to. On my mom's side, I have these Jewish grandparents, that are people with great senses of humor and general easygoing natures. My paternal grandmother, as mentioned, is incredibly nice and has been the one most likely to spoil me, in the various meager ways someone like me could be spoiled as a kid: Water ice in the summer and a few bucks for comic books when I was a kid. Fresh fruit brought to me. My grandfather fits into a certain stoic mold, and while it's true I could've gone fishing with him it's true I never really got the appeal of such a thing. And for the fact he is so unemotional it is his unconditional love that bowls me over the most, that freaked me out real hard on the phone in the summer of 2005, when I was living a life that felt like shambles in Olympia, Washington. Talking to him a couple hours ago he said he thought about me all the time, and then put my grandmother back on the phone. He is collapsing, he cannot follow the train of thought that makes up a conversation, and all there is is love.

I hope he is not afraid of death.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Lynda Barry's novel Cruddy is a fine piece of work, some of the same subject matter tread by Charles Burns' Black Hole pitched through a distinctive prose voice that reads like her drawings but used to describe a world darker than her drawings themselves could convey.

Lynda went to the same college as Burns, as well as Matt Groening. Some apocryphal anecdotes have Gary Panter having gone to college with either of the latter men, but those tales never mention the college in question, because Panter didn't attend The Evergreen State College. I don't think the four of them have ever really been brought into loose conflation, but I would like to do that now, and cite how exciting they all were, in their own way, particularly at a not-particularly exciting time for culture, the 1980s, and all work in their own way to articulate a very large sense of anxieties. There are no real commonalities shared by all of them, but certain things each have in common with each other in way or another at one point or another. Taken as a single entity, they pretty much define post-underground comics as a thing infinitely more interesting than what came before. (While Burns is easily the least interesting of them, his work as a variation on some of the same thought processes, in a way more classically refined, presents some food for thought.)

And Cruddy is a novel, a piece of prose, with its illustrations not really particularly of interest, but of a piece with a cartoonist's worldview, the same way that The Simpsons articulates things in a different way than Life In Hell did. I haven't finished it yet, but still, I can't think of a book that draws its characters so vividly and recognizably, but still depicts them fantastically. Her new book, What It Is, has a completely different feeling to it, another set of strengths, but the point stands: What a consciousness that lady has.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The whole idea of an automakers bailout is straight garbage, especially if it comes without a requirement to lower auto-emissions. Obviously, job loss is damaging, but there are reasons why industries collapse in catastrophic times. I believe firmly in the idea that America needs a second New Deal, which means the actual creation of new jobs, to get people through these times: Put the manufacturing industry to work on improved public transit and infrastructure, things that can run on alternative fuels, something to actually move forward from a collapsed automobile industry into a world where streets don't need to be perennially repaved to create larger roads to accommodate larger cars and greater congestion. That this is the first real thing Democrats have pushed since Tuesday's election combines with the fact that gay-marriage-banning initiatives were largely pushed through by the same African-Americans that got Obama elected to really take the edge off a lot of the feelings of progress that led to ecstatic street freak-outs.

Friday, November 07, 2008

This interview with Scott Adsit went up at The AV Club last week, and made me interested in seeing more episodes of the Adult Swim show Moral Orel. This was a show I was excited about when it started, due to Dino Stamatopoulos' comedy-writing history. It ended up not being as good as I would want it to, and watching Adult Swim programming online was always sort of a dicey proposition with how things would go on-and-offline at will. Now, it was being canceled for being bleak, depressing, and not fitting with the rest of the Adult Swim content. Sounds great.

I ended up catching a new episode premiere last night. It was pretty great.

The argument that the show is not anti-religion, but is just a satire of religious hypocrisy, never held any water with me, though. This is clear more than ever now that it is so bleak. It's actively nihilistic, people are horrible to each other. It's not without empathy, but I never get the impression that the character's main problem is their hypocritical approach to religion.

But the episode I saw last night? Great. Here are some insane reference points for this show: Chris Ware comics. Lynda Barry's novel Cruddy. The Wire. Wonder Showzen. Early seasons of The Simpsons. Chris Ware for the way bleakness is being presented passed down from generation to generation. Cruddy for similar reasons, but with the addition of the real threat of violence. The Wire... again, bleakness, but also for being a TV show that really makes you feel empathy. Wonder Showzen for the general presentational parody approach that accentuates the void of its worldview. And The Simpsons for how it takes that and filters it into a more narrative form using the family. I don't know, it really struck me as a piece of work. Watching other episodes from the season online this afternoon were not quite as strong, but still gave me the impression that watching all of it, in order and in big chunks, would really be quite the thing to bring on a dark place.

The way that Mountain Goats songs are used works really well- I have done the thing in the past where I listened to that stuff obsessively, and it's not at all uncommon. This actually feels like it's earning its music choices, and not just using it as indie-culture referents the way that a live-action comedy about teenagers and twenty-somethings would. The songs are used to really devastating effect, because they're actually coming from a real place of identification and empathy. I really hope the third season gets a DVD release.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Tonight has been the opposite of four years ago. Then there was sadness, tonight was this sort of ecstatic joy the likes of which I've never known: Parading through Baltimore, sort of being in front of said parade due to my habit of running up and high-fiving any black people on the street. From the H+H warehouse space across the street from my house, to the Washington Monument, up Charles Street, turning left on North Street and circling down Maryland to the monument again, where this time, there were a great many people, all excited. Two cop cars sat at the ready, but there was no property damage, not even very much drinking.

So happy, so free of cynicism or racial tension. Hope: Sure. I have been on the streets of Baltimore for two hours, chatting intermittently, and just thinking, this is not the end of it. The good guys won, and now I think we can be more idealistic, safely. I feel like cultural transitions like more bike-riding will have more cultural impact now. We can actually move towards the future at high speeds.

America elected a black president, you guys. We will never hear the name Sarah Palin again. We are improving as a culture. And, if you live in a city like I do, with a large black population, as well as a large college-educated one, the mood is one of recognition of these facts in a unanimously positive way. "Yes we can" bleeds into "Yeah we did." Cries of "fuck yes" fill the street. A group of thirty-plus people, applauding a television speech. A larger group at the foot of a monument. And the larger promise exists that we can be a better people still.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Last night I made my stand-up comedy debut in this Baltimore rock club, The Hexagon. I went on first, because I was planning on leaving early to go see Skeletons play in another neighborhood. I stuck around because a few of my friends were also to be telling jokes, and then by that point the appeal of getting paid a few dollar induced me to stay on for longer still.

Most of the comedians were Baltimore locals, that I would largely associate with a music scene. One performer who did pretty well was a playwright. The people who went on last were actual touring comedians from southern Maryland, who received the blankest reactions. It's not even that they were the worst: Most of the people on the bill were doing ironic/conceptual comedy of the "The whole idea of telling a joke or doing a bit seems stupid to me" school. I talked briefly to them afterwards- the headliner, Will Carey, told me I was "out there," and that he usually performed for rednecks. I really wanted to talk to the two of them at length, actually, because I just felt so much empathy for them, but I didn't want it to seem condescending. They probably were used to being in situations where they told jokes that were "too hip for the room," and here they were in a room that was too hip for them- One guy was wearing a Pizza Hut t-shirt, the other was wearing a The Starting Line hoodie. When the dude in the Pizza Hut t-shirt (Brian Preston) told a joke about how he wanted to be a writer for Dane Cook, and the first thing he wanted to write for him was a suicide note, I thought of L.A. comedians I've seen on Youtube doing anti-Dane-Cook material that went over really well, even as it seemed really weird and inside, and here it was playing to a crowd not engaged in that culture to really have processed it and come to conclusions. As someone who is a comedy nerd, but was performing pretty much on a lark, as a dabbler, to see people who are committed to the idea of it doing so poorly where I did pretty well felt pretty bad. I wanted to talk to them about, maybe point out the Louis C.K. interview where the advice was given to have the confidence to not look down ever. Or ask if they heard the Louis C.K. set where he was opening for Yo La Tengo at a Hanukkah show at Maxwell's where he bombed real hard.

I didn't feel like I was performing for my friends, really. I felt like I was performing for acquaintances, because I don't really feel like I have that many close friends here, and even though I was glad that certain people came specifically to see me, it still felt good primarily to get dark and weird in front of that kind of audience, as it afforded me an opportunity to be a real person to some degree or another.

Oh, and after the house took it's cut, the money was split so that my cut was five dollars, which I think is also what the people travelling got. But these headliners also said that this was the best show of their tour- Maybe it was good for them to have an audience that was just laughing at their smart/weird material, and not responding very well at all to the gratuitous/desperate/casual swearing. But at the same time, "don't try so hard" is a lesson I would never want to teach anyone, probably.