Monday, December 31, 2007

Musical Madness

Yesterday me and Sarah V spent nearly five hours in the theater watching musicals. First there was "Sweeney Todd," which Sarah had already seen, and then "Walk Hard," which I had already seen. Both are most definately multi-view worthy. Some people didn't like the "Walk Hard: Dewey Cox Story," but I'd say it's a classic for the songs alone. Or see it just to watch Jack Black, Paul Rudd and Jason Schwartzman do bastardized impressions of the Beatles.

The best song in "Dewey Cox" was the Bob Dylan-inspired, "Royal Jelly", which can be found in it's entirety on the soundtrack, along with another knock-off called "Farmer Glickstein". John C. Reilly, who plays Dewey Cox, does an incredible Dewey-as-Dylan impersonation. Here are my transcribed lyrics:

Mailboxes drip like lamposts in the twisted birth canal of the coliseum
Rimjob fairy teapots mask the temper tantrum
Oh say can you see ‘em?
Stuffed cabbages the darlin of the laundromat
And the sorority mascot sat with the lumberjack
Present past and stinging half synthetic fabrications of his tie
The mouse with the overbite
Explained how the rabbits were ensnared
In the skinny scanny self-slashed apothecary diplomat
Inside the three-eyed monkey within inches of his toaster oven life

It's really bothering me that I can't identify which Dylan song they're parodying, I think parts of it sound like "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding." Does anyone know?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

This airport accommodates both the holy man and the holy roller (Notice place of worship to the left).


This and other fascinating factoids will amaze and astound you when I get over my jet lag and blog about Xmas vaca. Until then:

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Oh You're So Super, Jens

Last month I caught an amazing show by this fine Swedish fellow Jens Lekman and recently found a music video I had to share. I had seen him on my birthday in London the year prior, and, having nearly landed an interview with him for a music magazine, mentioned casually via email that I would be attending his show on my birthday. His first song was "Happy Birthday, Dear Friend Lisa." I'd like to think it was for me though. My favorite lines from this song go a little something like (ahem):

Oh drinking cheap wine, to Bossanova.
You're a supernova in the sky.
And the Jehovas, in their pullovers.
Are no Casanovas, like you and I.

Alas, I never met him. But I felt very blessed to see his San Francisco show, which was probably the best show I've seen all year. It was a non-stop square dance sing-along fest for the audience (well at least the people I was with). And Jens seemed to be in great spirits, much better than when he was in London (it was a small venue in London, and the management was very rude at trying to usher him out. So he angrily charged the audience and sang "Tram Number Seven To Heaven" in the lobby. It was brilliant). The most memorable song for me was a cover of Paul Simon's "Call Me Al". He announced that he loved the song but refused to sing the chorus. It was a very slow, folksy rendition.

I think I love him because his music is so extraordinarily heartfelt, yet his lyrics so obscure that you can't tell if he's going for humor or not. As he wrote in his blog Smalltalk, "I am comically retarded, when I tell you what hurts inside of me you will laugh, and when I tell you a funny story you will cry". But his pop sensibilities are razor-sharp, and his soundscapes lush in an eclectic, experimental 60s kind of way that maintains its modernity. The Morrissey-inspired lounge-y vocals only add to the humor aspects.

Here's a video he made a few months back, doing a cover of Arthur Russell's "A Little Lost." The Kalimba work is top notch.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Czeslaw Milosz

Of Truth, Trauma, and Remembrance

I've been a little under the weather, so to speak, this week. Without going into needless detail, I've lost a great deal of faith in the decency and honesty of others, and it's worn me down a great deal. All I can do to understand what is happening is to get a grasp on the larger picture; I've been thinking about how cycles of lies and manipulation, in general, manifest themselves and how bystanders allow it to happen. I thought a lot about Holocaust denial, the secret history of California internment camps, and human rights violations being committed daily by this government at detainee camps. I came across a remarkable book by Doctor Judith Herman called Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence--from domestic abuse to political terror. It really shed some light on the psychology of perpetrators and bystanders as they relate to the enabling of lies and manipulation:

To study psychological trauma is to come face to face both with human vulnerability in the natural world and with the capacity for evil in human natures...When the events are natural disasters or "acts of God," those who bear witness sympathize readily with the victim. But when the traumatic events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator...It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the other contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.

The author then goes on to cite psychiatrist Leo Eitinger, who studied Nazi concentration camp survivors. He says, "War and victims are something the community wants to forget."

The next passage identifies the ways that perpetrators silence victims:

In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator's first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization.

The perpetrator's arguments prove irresistible when the bystander faces them in isolation. Without a supportive social environment, the bystander usually succumbs to to the temptation to look the other way...

Soldiers in every war, even those who have been regarded as heroes, complain bitterly that no one wants to know the real truth about war. When the victim is already devalued (a woman, a child), she may find that the most traumatic events of her life take place outside the realm of socially validated reality. Her experience becomes unspeakable.

I'm copying someone else's words right now because my own personal experiences with being lied to seem, at times, unspeakable.

But as for the world at large--in a few months, years, or even decades, will we choose to forget all the Iraqis whose lives our government batted around like bloodthirsty cats with half-dead mice corpses? Will we forget that we tortured innocent, honest men and allowed mercenaries to terrorize legions of civilians for sport? I feel like what Frank Rich said in a recent NYT article is true, that we are "a people in clinical depression." But do we all need to be mindless bystanders to lies, atrocity and evil?

I'd like to believe that there is power in truth, and that people want to tell it. I'd rather think of the words of Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980, who said: "In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot."

I call on a preemptive remembrance of the truth. Starting now.
Masha Masha Masha

Last weekend I finally caught "Mortified", a touring show of comedians and normal folk that read extraordinarily humiliating personal diaries from their teen years before a massive audience. I heard it was funny, I forgot how extreme and dramatic the life of a teenager can be. Crushes are epic; the urge to harm others, and/or kill them, is ever-present, and your emotions run so deep it drives you to extremes--like writing morbid poetry or fan letters to Megadeath.

The stand-out that night was by far a sweet, demure little thing named Masha Tivyan. She read from her Camp Widjiwagon diaries with a sluggish, soft-spoken Lisa Simpson-esque drawl. She prefaced by explaining how they took away her bag of candy at the start of camp, which turned her into a "hungry, bitter, foul-mouthed sailor". She had the whole bar howling. Listen to it here.

I got so excited when I discovered her official website, complete with athletic sports photos from her youth. Here's a video from an appearance she made on the Craig Kilborn show, not entirely hilarious, but there's something about her underwhelming demeanor that makes you just love her:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bobby's Excellent Lasik Adventure

My friend Bobby L. just got laser eye surgery on Friday, and he currently looks like a demon.

Amity: So how was your weekend?

Bobby: Not good. Not good. I had Lasik.

Amity: That's great though, you've been wanting to for a while, is everything okay?

Bobby: No, no not really. It was the most painful, uncomfortable thing I've ever experienced.

Amity: Like how painful? Like having your balls tightened by a really small rubber band? Like being waterboarded?

Bobby: No, no, but I think I would have rather been waterboarded. They tell you "Okay, now we're just gonna do a suction when I say 'suction'". And then they put on this vacuum thing that pops your eyeballs out a bit.

Amity: Woah. So worse than waterboarding.

Bobby: Yeah. They zapped one eye and said, "Okay, we're done with the first one. Are you ready for the other eye now?" And I said, "No. No I think I'm good." It hurt a lot. And then they said, "Are you sure?" And I said, "No, no I'm not." And then they did the same thing to the second one.

Amity: Wow, it would just be better to give terrorists Lasik. "Give me my top secret al Qaida information or we'll do the other eye!"

Bobby: Yeah, basically. So I went to the doctor before the Lasik, and my doctor wanted to know what my expectations were. And I said that I feel like I'm slowly going blind, and I just don't want to be blind. He said, "Wow, those expectations are pretty low...well, we'll see if we can not make you blind, and perfect your vision." My eyes are all red and filled with blood now, I look like a demon.

Amity: Wow. So how have people responded to you? Do people look at you funny?

Bobby: No, I haven't gone out yet, in public. And I'm kind of scared to go to work tomorrow. It could work for me I guess.

(Bobby works with juvenile delinquents).

Bobby: I could look at them and say,"You do your community work!" and just open my eyes real big. Kids would probably go home and be all like, "I'm not sure mom, but I think my probation officer might be Satan, or one of his angels. His eyes are pretty red.

Amity: Are you going to take pictures of yourself?

Bobby: Yeah, that would be good...for a scrapbook. I'll be going over it with my kids one day, "This is the time daddy was really into Satan."

Amity: Hahahaha. Do you feel okay though?

Bobby: I feel like I have sand in my eye, and I can't get the sand out. I feel like I don't know if I'm really seeing things clearly, I have this weird feeling where I'm not sure if anything I'm seeing is real or not.

Amity: Woah, like an acid trip?

Bobby: It's like an acid trip you just don't get out of. It's been trying. I'm just hoping this blood stuff clears, what's new with you?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

R.I.P. Ike

So Ike Turner died yesterday at the age of 76. I don't have much to say about him, but what I can say is that I really enjoyed reading Louis Theroux's (of TV Nation) interview with him in his 2005 book of interviews, "The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures". His account of the cinematically beleaguered musician shed so much light into this complex and troubled man's inner workings. Not to say that the interview makes you want to like him, but I felt like I understood his personality a great deal after reading it.

Theroux explains how he was trying to interview Turner for a documentary, but even a delicate, casual mention of his past with Tina Turner would send the man into a shitfit. But Theroux warily prods on, effectively learning how to manage his interactions with Turner.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

I learned how to be around him, how to maintain eye contact, and be encouraging and supportive...In truth, I began feeling a little like Tina, which may be the fate of everyone who spends time with Ike...A great part of Ike's control of people comes from his excessive sensitivity: that the vulnerability I'd noticed on the first day was also the source of his power, because those around him can feel his sensitivity and they feel protective. I felt it too and wondered if I was falling under his spell.

I could film him but ask no questions; I could travel with him but not film; and then one day in New York word came that he'd had enough...he was a walking spider's web of nerves.

Back in London, a few weeks later, I got a plaintive stammering call of apology. "I don't want you to never feel I mistreated you," he said. "I want you to please forgive me, man. If you can find it in your heart. I wouldn't abuse our relationship for anything in the world. I value it too much. I just had too much pressure, you know? And I just couldn't take no mo'."

The chapter goes on discussing Ike's past "orgying" in the 70s, as well as his claim that he lost his virginity at age six. Ike displays some truly unsavory character traits to be sure, but all in all, you begin to understand the man and despise him just a little less.

R.I.P. buddy.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A Softer World

I couldn't tell if I liked these tragicomic photo strips exploring the quiet moments in life with the uncomfortable, at times deranged, narrative. But they're hauntingly strange. I like that. (Note: these are a little small--click on them to view at normal size. Go here to see more.)

Friday, December 07, 2007

I'm Dreaming of A Bearable Christmas

I hate Christmas. I've worked in retail so no one can deny me this right. When I think of Christmas, all I can imagine are cars with big bows on them waiting for some white suburbanite to discover in his garage, diamond necklaces being put on wealthy women in front of elaborate fireplaces, and overly attractive office executives having the time of their lives to the point of near-orgy at the annual company gathering.

Christmas is a time for dreams to die, and emotional honesty to meet its ugly fate in the name of "season's greetings". Case in point: Christmas songs. All the good ones are depressing as hell. Why? Because they're emotionally honest. The winter is cold, the end of the year is depressing, the expectations for the New Year are too exhausting; sometimes your loved ones are away when it seems like the whole world is snuggling up to a collective blanket of love comprised of family, friends and lovers.

You know what the best holidays songs are about? They're not about decorating a chopped up tree or roasting chestnuts or sleighriding to grandmother's house, that's for goddamn sure. They're about getting AIDS and being doped up on smack.

To wit: the best Christmas song ever, according to myself and backed by a BBC online readers' poll, is The Pogues' "Fairy Tale of New York", which lyrics include:

You're a bum
You're a punk
You're an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God its our last

The video is absolutely gorgeous, and I believe that's Matt Dillon in the beginning. This would be the Pogues' only real hit, and guest vocalist Kristy MacColl's only known work before she died, ironically, on Christmas vacation in Mexico:

The following is my own top 10 list of Christmas and winter-related, holiday-ish tunes to have a listen to over a few bottles of whiskey and some ludes. Enjoy!


The British graffiti artist Bansky has been spreading his own holiday cheer, adding more of his ironic stencil works to the West Bank barrier, which he's used as a canvas since 2005.

Sure he's no Michelangelo, but I can't help but think of a quote from "The Third Man", a 1949 film adaptation of a Graham Greene short story about an American dime novelist led to war-torn Vienna under dubious circumstances:

Harry Lime (as played by Orson Welles):

In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


American broadcast news can be a non-stop 24hr stream of useless information-turned-white noise. We all know this. Brimming with talking head shoutfests, sloganeering politicians, soft-core porn masquerading as "human interest" topics (to catch a predator? please, I have HBO if I want to watch something pervy late night), your standard police blotter story filled with "why-is-this-making-national-news
-oh-yeah-the-woman-kidnapped-was-white-and-wealthier-than-God" news updates, the public shooting or natural disaster du jour, etc etc.

Are we at war? Is hunger in this nation at an all time high? Are we on the brink of a devastating recession? Is global warming serious?

I don't know, I'm just seeing what's on the end of what Burroughs called that "long newspaper spoon” and I'm disgusted. The garbage being spewed from corporate news channels has reached such a base level of uselessness that it's beyond joking about. Although, Stephen Colbert had a real zinger in "I Am America" when he said that good journalists know the five W's: "Who, What, When, Where, and Wolf Blitzer is for hospital patients and old people."

But sometimes, people, sometimes a serious news reporter breaks through the toxic ether and yanks at a listener's ears so hard they have to hold tight and listen to that glassy shield of infotainment shatter. Glazed eyes become clearer if only for a second when mainstream thinking, as perpetuated by pretty corporate mouthpieces, is challenged.

The other day I listened to one of the most influential corporate news anchormen actually held accountable for the hate mongering he's propagated over the years regarding illegal immigration. Not to say that Lou Dobbs will emerge a changed man from his recent appearance on Democracy Now!, but still, to make a media dinosaur like Dobbs stutter and stammer and become uber-defensive is a beautiful thing. Or to hear Naomi Klein hand Alan Greenspan's ass to him on a plate is pretty sweet. Or to see Jon Stewart question the social responsibility of a debate show like Crossfire--as a guest of said program, only to have said program canceled just months later--is a glorious thing indeed.

Here are some of my favorite Dobbs retorts:

--when Juan Gonzalez questions Dobbs on correspondent Glenn Spencer's use of the term "military incursion" when referring to the migration of illegal aliens (Spencer who, by the way, is a noted little helper of the Minute Men and has started his own non-governmental task force to assist the US Border Patrol), Dobbs says:

"My God, don't you have a sense of humor?"

--When Gonzalez compares today's xenophobia to the attitudes towards early Irish settlers, as well as to Chinese immigrants and the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Dobbs blabs:

"You are ethnocentro to the point of absurdity!"

Dobbs throws out counterpunches like an amateur Rush Limbaugh disciple or a lackadaisical Bill O'Reily. You can tell when Amy Goodman's really got his nuts in a bind when she recounts factual errors in his reporting (like when his correspondent claimed that illegal immigrants could be attributed to the 7,000 cases of leprosy in the last three years, when in all reality a correlation cannot be proven and, really, there have been 7,000 cases of leprosy in the past THIRTY years). When Goodman asks him why he would let inaccuracies go uncorrected, he responds with more questions, like, "Well do you know what year that was?" as if that has anything to do with anything.

It's a real shame that Dobbs is so hellbent on his anti-immigrant agenda, because he has some truly admirable things to say. Like when Goodman asked him what the most important issues to Americans are today. Dobbs says:

The most important issue in this country today is representation of the American people in Washington, D.C., which is being denied right now by corporate America, special interest, group and identity politics that are submerging the will of the majority in this country. The fundamental tenet of any democracy is representation of the will of the majority, and that is being denied through elitists in both business and government and politics. And we have to fundamentally examine where we are and where we want to be going over the course of this next century. And that is not happening, not in the presidential campaigns of both parties. It’s not happening in Washington, D.C., even though we have a government in which the Democratic Party is leading the Congress, and the Republican Party, the White House.

Needless to say, I think this interview was refreshing to listen to, and I hope that Dobbs fires his fact-checkers, if he has them, and finds some new ones.

Listen to it here.

Also, the Naomi Klein vs. Alan Greenspan on Democracy Now! was also very heated and refreshing to hear, it can be found here.

Or, watch part five of an 80s Donahue show where Ayn Rand looses her cool when an audience member very politely states that she had outgrown Rand's philosophy: