Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Ten Songs of 2009

By the end of two-thousand and nine, not just the end of a year, but the end of a decade and literally "an era," music was in a strange and wondrous place. In addition to the myriad "best of" music lists floating through the internets, crammed with the voices of both mainstream and independent audiophiles ad nauseam, I would like to add my own paltry two cents by submitting ten little ditties that had me no less than obsessed in 2009. And as for the past decade and what it's meant for music, I'll let the editors at Rolling Stone sum up that one:
"It was a decade in which we saw our leaders squander the peace and prosperity of the previous decade. We watched as they sold us into an endless war, stomped civil liberties and trashed the economy, all while the icebergs kept melting and the seas kept rising. It was a decade of lost chances, which we can only hope are not last chances. The ’00s really began on December 12th, 2000, the day the Supreme Court blocked Florida from recounting ballots and anointed George W. Bush. Other bad days were to follow — most famously 9/11. But we never recovered from 12/12, spent the rest of the decade trying to forget it and mostly succeeded. Before you knew it, we were at the airport, waiting in line to take off our shoes. Why? Who knew? We just were. Yet music offered shelter from the storm, even if it was just for one three-minute song at a time."

I know that this list may make those with a more sophisticated musical palate contemptuous, but I'm going to go with what hit me the hardest on an emotional/visceral level. Without further ado:

1. Radiohead: "Hearing Damage"
Like me and my "going rogue" top 10 list, Radiohead doesn't care what you and Matthew Friedberger think. Radiohead is gonna rule the world while giving away albums all up in the internets's face, and they're gonna kick out the jams by producing a track for a teenybopper vampire flick. Because you know what? They just don't give a fuck. As a result, their music is always timeless and utterly original. "Hearing Damage" is a powerful salvo of Krautrock with it's 4/4 beat and dark bass-heavy synths. And Yorke's minimal, disaffected lines interrogating themes of alienation and schizophrenia are pitch perfect, appealing to film viewers and beyond.
And okay, I'll be the first to admit it: I really enjoyed Twilight: New Moon. Kristen Stewart is the Keanu Reeves of her generation, and I can't wait for her next move as Joan Jett in that Runaways biopic. The music for Twilight was absolutely amazing, it captured the otherworldliness of the supernatural running amok in a small Pacific Northwest town so well that it seemed to give hints of a Twin Peaks aesthetic. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club deserves an honorable mention here, as does the collaboration between Bon Iver and St. Vincent, and The Killers's "A White Demon Love Song." Also, Lykke Li's song "Possibility" was utterly heartbreaking and haunting, and it really fit well on this soundtrack. All I had as a preteen was the Cocktail and Dirty Dancing soundtracks, just a pile of odd '50s nostalgia crap in the creative void that was post-Reagan America. To the naysayers, I say be glad younger generations are getting turned on to exciting new artists. Perhaps one day we'll live in a world without Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers (a girl can dream).
Anyways, enjoy this clip from the movie. Srsly. The music is incorporated into this badass vampire v. werewolf scene really well.





2. Bat for Lashes: "Daniel"
Considering how well Natasha Khan's last two albums have been received, and her unmistakable imprint on music trends over the last few years, I've really been surprised that her work has been overlooked in many a retrospective. Consider her conceptual trademark: she's dark, mystical, obsessed with the '80s and seems to have risen from Mordor to unleash her siren call. Will you respond? How could anyone not to a song like "Daniel"?
And when the fires came
The smell of cinders and rain
Perfumed almost everything
We laughed and laughed and laughed

...And as my heart ran round
My dreams pulled me from the ground
Forever to search for the flame
For home again
For home again



Khan's powerful pipes, easily fluctuating from deep, Cat Power-esque molasses to soaring soprano heights, easily make her my stand-in when going through Kate Bush withdrawals. "Daniel" really seems to highlight the great leap Khan took from her first album Fur and Gold, whose primary ambient device simply consisted of cold, dark keyboard arrangements that seemed to come straight out of a Dario Argento horror flick.

It should also be noted that Bat for Lashes was a major player in the whole Halloween aesthetic of many emerging bands in '09. The obvious example being actor Ryan Gosling's much-lauded Dead Man's Bones, where dark piano ballads calling upon Edward Gorey-inspired imagery featured a chorus of children, who were of course all wearing Halloween costumes while performing. Other bands creating goth '80s-inspired sounds more on the electro side were Cold Cave and Horror Disco. And then, of course, there's Fever Ray, which I will get to...


3. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes: "Home"
This song came completely out of left field. I thought it was an old country tune drudged up and remastered upon a quick listen, but when I found out it was new I soon became obsessed. My love for this song, and this band, however, is bitter sweet.

When I found out that lead singer Alex Ebert is actually the former lead singer of Ima Robot, a supremely dreadful Los Angeles-based electro punk outfit, I felt a bit cheated. I really wanted Edward Sharpe to be a real person, and for him and his family of musicians to have lived in a Partridge Family bus, scouring the deep south for grubby watering holes to showcase their roots country souls. In fact, about three months ago I bumped into the lead singer on Market Street here in San Francisco, as he was stumbling out of the Four Seasons at three in the morning (disclosure: I, too was stumbling out of the Four Seasons). I ran up to him and screamed "Edward Sharpe" and he, in turn, gave me a big old hug in his white linen '60s cult leader uniform, and Jesus hair pulled into a bun.

Apparently, Edward Sharpe is simply the name of a character in a book Ebert wrote after a meltdown and subsequent rehabilitation program. And after hearing about his motivations for the album, I can't help but respect his vision. When asked by the Onion AV club about recording on a 24-track with 12 musicians, Ebert said:
"We were all experiencing a feeling of stupidity and fragmentation, feeling disjointed in some way and especially fuzzed out by technology and staring at screens. Musically, I was looking for authenticity in my life and I guess that quest spilled over into the actual process of recording it. It made sense to me that we recorded [the album] in a way that was simpatico with the whole concept of the music."
Technically, from a musician's standpoint (disclosure: I am not a musician), this band is not good. I've seen them live, and about four of the band members appear as nothing more than human props, standing around pretending to play instruments that the microphone doesn't seem to pick up. And the trumpet player that belts out the solo halfway through the song is a terrible hack. But despite it all, this band gave one of the best live performances I've ever seen. The way they worked the crowd with call-and-response and foot stomping was magic, pure magic. My hands were so sore from clapping, and my feet so achy from stomping that it was ridiculous. All I can say is, the overwhelming spirit of this band is undeniable, and this song so classic and memorable, that it deserves to be on this list.





4. Cass McCombs: "You Saved My Life"
This waltzy country number snuck in as the closing track on McCombs' Catacombs, the most accessible, pop-friendly album of the singer/songwriter's career. It's one of the most heartwarmingly romantic songs I've ever heard, and I will no doubt play it at my wedding whereby my bridesmaids will all slit their wrists, and the priest will shoot himself in the face upon listening to it. What I'm trying to say is: this is a really sad song. But my gawd I wish all country music sounded like this--so pure and heartfelt, with the only country twang to be heard coming out of a guitar; not someone's obnoxious voice.





5. The Dirty Projectors: "Stillness Is The Move"
This song is on everybody else in the world's list, and rightfully so. The Dirty Projectors made a quantum leap from experimental indie rock, to more mainstream sounds seeped in West African guitar stylings and, as in this song, warped hip-hop beats. Their sound is so original that it's nearly impossible to explain to someone in a few sentences, and I've been grappling with it all year. This song is also, conceptually, beautiful and moving, and the yearning that background vocalist-turned-torch singer Amber Coffman evokes seems both primal and carefully punctuated--you can literally picture her belting it out on a mountaintop. I'd also seen this band live, and it was absolutely mesmerizing. The female vocalists were harmonizing with inhuman precision that made me contemplate the possibility that they were in fact androids from the future.





6. Bill Callahan: "All Thoughts Are Prey to Some Beast"
If you don't find yourself zoning out and contemplating your own existence while gazing out the window and imagining birds taking flight every time the strings in this song set in, you just don't have a soul.



This song makes me want to learn guitar so bad it hurts. The lyrics here are so stunning and gorgeous, that it makes me wonder if Callahan has a book of poetry floating about. If so, I need to steal that shit and read the hell out of it:
The leafless tree looked like a brain
The birds within were all the thoughts and desires within me
Hoppin' around from branch to branch, or snug in their nests listenin' in

An eagle came down over the horizon and shook the branches with its sight
The softer thoughts: starlings, finches and wrens
The softer thoughts, they all took flight
...Sweet desire and soft thoughts, return to me
Sweet desire and soft thoughts, return to me

Sigh.

7. Phoenix: "1901"
I don't know how/why/what could possibly compel a group of Frenchies in the '00s to create such poptastic hits that sound straight out of '80s, but they've done it--really well. I don't think anyone can understand the mangled English they claim to utilize throughout this album, but in "1901," the momentum that builds up to the lines: "It's twenty seconds to the last call/you're going hey hey hey hey hey hey hey" --it hits you real hard from there, and doesn't let up. Before Cadillac stole this ditty for their crappy commercials, this album, Wolfgang Amadeus, for me brought to mind images of neon-tinged aerobics fads and John Hughes films. This summer I spent a few weeks down in LA, and blasted the album in my rental car while heading down Beverly Drive, which has a width of a football field and is lined with palm trees so tall that they must have been planted during the Jurassic period. Cruising by pastoral front yards and palatial, obscene colonial bastardizations made me feel like Axel Foley, and that spirit couldn't be complete without this song. All my fondest memories of being a kid in the '80s seemed to be captured in this album.





8. Fever Ray: "Seven"
If I may, I'd like to paint a picture of walking in on this song as it was being performed in a grand ballroom here in San Francisco a few months back: A synthesized voice sounding akin to Siouxsie Sioux blasted along with a bass line so strong it made my intestines vibrate. Although I couldn't even make out the silhouettes on stage, they seemed to be conjuring spirits with tribal celtic intensity from behind a foggy neon glow on a stage emitting laser beams. As lasers weaved and crossed through the tops of the audience's heads, a woman dressed as a futuristic Indian chief flailed her arms around in the corner near the bar. Was I at the Regency Ballroom or the Mos Eisley Cantina?

This song is freaky and sounds like nothing else out there; quite simply I love it. It really seems to pick up at the second movement, at "I know it, I think I know it from a hymn/They've said so, it doesn't need more explanation." Word.

Watch the video only if you want nightmares.




9. Taken By Trees: "Watch The Waves"
Unfortunately, the only track off Victoria Bergsman's side project, Taken By Trees (Bergsman is most commonly known as the female vocalist for Peter Bjorn and John, or from her own bands, El Perro Del Mar, and The Concretes), to gain any attention was a cover of Animal Collective's "My Girls," entitled, "My Boys." Too bad. This album was as gentle as a lullaby, as environmentally-conscious as Green Peace, and as fascinating as a Middle East travel diary. The Swedish artist, inspired by the music of India and Pakistan, actually set out and recorded the album, East of Eden, in Pakistan, with the help of local Sufi musicians. The result, a masterful collection of real deal regional rhythms and harmonies gently sprinkled with the sounds of birds and insects, is Bergsman's most impressive project to date. Side note: this is the only modern, studio-recorded song where I find the use of the Pan flute actually acceptable. Listen to "Watch the Waves" here, and watch this short National Geographic documentary about her journey:




10. Real Estate: "Suburban Dogs"I don't know why this song gets me, with its clichéd, low-fi garage band sound. I don't even think it stands out as something nearly as unique as the aforementioned songs on my list. And there have been several notable garage bands that really stood out here in the San Francisco scene like Girls, Grass Widow, Thee Oh Sees, etc. This was truly a remarkable year for localized, low-fi garage and psychedelic rock. Maybe it's a backlash against all these mash-up movements, and re-imagined versions of the '80s--perhaps we're overdue for a grunge revival? At any rate, there is something striking about Real Estate, and something undeniably universal about the mood and atmosphere that "Suburban Dogs" evokes. The twinkling, harmonizing guitars seem to undulate and drift like waves along the shores of Atlantic City (that's just what I imagine, since the band is from Jersey). But I could also see this song as providing the perfect soundtrack for so many lazy summer days in Santa Cruz, or any suburban town in California, nay anywhere, for that matter. But I think what made me fall in love with this song is the lyrics:
Suburban dogs get afraid when it rains
Suburban dogs bark at slow moving trains
They'll run from your house and come back the same day
Suburban dogs are in love with their chains

This song gives me a strange kind of nostalgia for teen angst and romanticized depression; I wish I could have penned a poem like this as a youth.

I also thought of this song when I read a recent news item about how more and more Americans are chained to their current residences, unable to relocate for better jobs because they can't afford it. Again: sigh.




Well on that cheery note--that's it! All ten. Happy New Year!

Things I learned from the New Yorker 2009 Quiz

Sometimes you just watch The Daily Show and think you've heard every absurdity there is to know about in Washington. That's what I thought, until I did this New Yorker quiz. Here are some highlights:

--Larry King actually thought that Michael Moore wrote "The Times They Are A-Changin.'"

--G. Gordon Liddy said of the Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, "Let's hope that the key conferences aren't when she's menstruating or something."

--Sen. Joe Lieberman said he decided to oppose the Medicare buy-in because the liberals seemed to like it even better than the public option.

--Bill Gates released mosquitoes into the audience at the TED conference and said, "There's no reason only poor people should have the experience."

--Oklahoma senator James Inhofe said, "If global warming really exists, explain that to the people of Oklahoma. We had the largest snowstorm in the history of Marches three days ago.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Seasonal Waltz

My very first commissioned poem was completed today, and sent via the electronic mail to my dear pen pal Sean in London, Ontario. I was paid in chocolate, a good book, and a Pee-Wee Herman doll.

Enjoy (or don't, if, y'know, poetry isn't your thing):


Winter/Perseverance

Wind chants “fall into me”

It purrs and it whistles

First thing you hear

after the din diminishes

of downtown streets

that bustle and beep.

As the swirl of frustration

wears thin, looses grip.


So you cease to fight it, and cease to hide

Hair in tangles,

ears hot; turning red.

Soothe the dry sore skin of all winters past

Incite morning’s biting kiss.


Countless walks in barren courtyards

Skeletal trees,

skeletal umbrellas

left to the elements both harsh and unkind.

On these gray days, and blackest of nights

a single tears streams gently down—

Let it go

like a snake and the shed of his skin.


Fall/Reverence

Don’t forget to catch the day

Like a clear photograph of a bird in flight

Motion in the air made still

Don’t let it blur, linger on.

You sit on the front porch

watching children jump,

kick, crunch the leaves.

Cinnamon, cardamom,

nutmeg swirl at the top of a mug

like a dream.


How many tears drops does it take to cleanse,

rattle the cobwebs of the heart?

It’s a question you ask only on the days when you forget

to forget to forget to forget.


But the wisdom of days spent

basking in reverie

come back,

come back to you still.

Of awe and beauty,

love and endearment

This is the language we speak.


Spring/Innocence

Into the tall grass

go children and lovers

to their oblivion.

Submission

so boundless is dear.


Soon weeds wreak havoc

Flowers fight, stand your ground.

While cascading drops from cotton ball clouds

Trickle down, tap and shower

Replenish your soil, bring back light.


Sunshine like mother’s arms

So fleeting,

bittersweet.

On days like these

the night envelops it all

Too soon.

And there’s a vulnerability,

you recall—

a soft fear you miss

in illness, while in bed,

waiting for a gentle hand.


Summer/Exuberance

Under weathered tarmac, the grass still grows

Roots still move through the earth

And through folly and hardship

and doom you know

that this is but one way to see it.

Parallel worlds, the dreamers say—

Tilt the kaleidoscope.

You’ve been beat down by the end of a day

Yet neglected waves at beaches

never slow.


Poor souls in grottos

frightened to find what awaits:

The laughter of summer,

its joys and its triumphs—

all part of the mad adventure.

Gravity move in reversal you say.

Start it all over, children cry out.


Give back what you’ve taken,

for better, for worse

and birth, only birth

plead the old and unwise.


Letter from Rome

This just in from my dear friend Joelene, who I have mentioned and had as a guest blogger a few years back. She is still living in Rome with the Italian voice of Homer Simpson. Recently, I asked her about how the whole PM-getting-a-statue-thrown-in-the-face thing was going, and if there is an Italian satire show to mock him:
Italy is as hysterical (in the Latin sense- not "ha ha" hysterical) as ever. We're in for at least three weeks of constant media coverage of this whole Berlusconi getting hit in the face thing. Already there are so many conspiracy theories (Italians are way worse than Americans in coming up with conspiracy theories). The latest one is that his bodyguards were paid off by the leftist party to let the assailant pass through to get to Berlusconi.

I don't know, Italy is such a beautiful country with an amazing culture-- but sometimes it feels like it's in such a mess organizationally and politically. You know what it is? It's oppressive! I don't know if all of Europe is like this, but here in Italy you really feel the weight of a government that seemingly exists only to collect taxes (seems like they do absolutely nothing to improve infrastructure, education, culture, etc.), a social hierarchy that leaves people with little hope to get out of the "class" into which they were born, and a bureaucracy so useless and complex that even completing the most mundane task is near impossible (try paying an electric bill!)...and the high cost of living with low paying jobs. I can't even tell you how many stories I've heard about people trying to start up something positive here and running into government bureaucracy that ultimately shuts it down. The nurse at my dentist's office was telling me about how her class in university started a dental education program for little kids, where they would visit classrooms and teach kids about dental hygiene (which there is a HUGE need for, since nothing like this exists in Italy and since the "dental care" of your average Italian involves letting your teeth slowly rot until you're 50 years-old so you can get a whole set of implants or dentures). She said they were forced to shut the program down after just one semester.

So there you have it. You know, on days when I miss the US it's usually because I miss the freedom of hopping in my car and going to the bank or going to the grocery store. Stuff like that becomes really difficult here in Rome between the traffic, no parking, and weird hours (everything closes from 1:30pm to 2:30 with lots and lots of exceptions-- for example, the butcher doesn't reopen until 4:30, apparently there's some historic explanation as to why butchers need a three hour break).

To answer your question, no, there's no Daily Show equivalent here, which is a shame because they would have sooo much material. That's another thing, everyone's so paranoid here that they're afraid to bad mouth the government. There is this show called "Hyena" that does some pretty good investigative journalism- -they're always doing exposès on some type of corruption of the system. One time they showed how easy it was to walk into the public courts building and rifle through files and literally walk out the door with stacks of confidential documents.

Ah, "La Dolce Vita." Sounds kinda sour to me.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Top Ten Orphans

Lately, I've been thinking an awful lot about orphans. Perhaps because it's the time of year for folks to be thinking about things like hunger and charity, family and community, Dickensian imagery, and the feelings of alienation that can come from familial separation around the holiday season--a kind of adult orphanhood.
At any rate, I've always loved stories of orphans and the orphan aesthetic. And in film and literature, orphans are always masters of their own fates; slaves to none. So here are my top ten classic orphans:

10. That one kid from Slumdog Millionaire: He just made slummin' it look so badass, whatwith ripping off tourists, and jumping from train car to train car with M.I.A. singing in the background. That was rad.
9. Superman: I really don' t need to justify this choice. Although not particularly pleasing to the eye by way of orphan chic, Superman still provides a badass story of pullling yourself up from your bootstraps and being super.
8. Harry Potter: I don't know if I really can consider a character whose parents died and left him alone, rather than decisively parting ways, an orphan. I guess I just had to include him to appease any geeks who may be offended by his exclusion.
7. Tom Sawyer: Great style, sass, mucho brio. Artful in manipulating the adult world; however, not quite as artful as...
6. Artful Dodger: Makes greasy hair and dirt on the face super hot. Grade A for style, B for sophistication. A cockney accent is the ultimate orphan accoutrement.

5. Punky Brewster: I'll admit it, I totally wore a bandana around the leg for a few days in the first grade, such was the influence of this fashion maven. Also, I claimed to want to be an astronaut when I grew up for approximately three years, simply because that's what Punky Brewster wanted to be on her television show.
4. Annie: Aw man, I wish I could give Annie the #1 spot, I mean, the style, the sass, the songs that really spoke to orphans and orphan-wannabees such as myself. She really paved the way for orphan chic. And how supremely fantastic is the choreography in this video?

3. Peter Pan: His force was so powerful that he was able to command an entire army of orphans to outsmart pirates. Pirates! And you can't knock an orphan whose name has been used for the title of a syndrome to describe the ultimate man-child.
2. Oliver Twist: The Audrey Hepburn-in-Breakfast-at-Tiffany's of orphans. So chic; so beautiful, my inner eight year-old girl still yearns for him. He was so very captivating as a child orphan that it is actually rumored that Michael Jackson used the actor who played Oliver in the classic film adaptation, Mark Lester, as the sperm donor for his child, Paris.
1. Eleanor Roosevelt--because, really, no shit, she was an orphan. And how many orphans grow up to be first ladies? The ultimate orphan in terms of style, Protestant work ethic, and prowess.

That's it--I'm buying up all this orphan garb. I'm bringin' orphan back.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dear Men:

I've said it once (well, actually way too many times), and I'll say it again: you people never really grow up, do you?


Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Letter to the Editor at the San Francisco Examiner, which won't be read by anyone but you, dear blog visitors

This morning I read this Examiner editorial about the Fort Hood massacre, specifically targeting the Muslim Army psychiatrist for his creed and unproven ties to terrorist operations--not his obvious mental instability. The fact that this paper is distributed in San Francisco is the only relationship to my dear city that it enjoys: it does not speak for us, and it is not locally-owned. I thought that the conservative titans of industry who spoke through this asinine rag went a bit too far when they endorsed John McCain. But this, this is just disgusting.

What I wrote will not be read by them, as both emails to send your letters to are now defunct (sfeditor@examiner.com and letters@examiner.com). Instead I was left to leave a comment under the article, which curiously disappeared immediately after I submitted it--twice.

I guess my only option is to publish it here, or post it as a facebook status update, but I don't think anyone would be into that, so here goes:

I am deeply disappointed in your article regarding Nadal Malik Hasan, the former Major and Army psychiatrist who opened fire at Fort Hood and killed 13 U.S. soldiers just one week ago. On the day after Veterans’ Day, your paper chose to criticize the viewpoint that our dear, brave soldiers are in dire need of more care when it comes to TBI and PTSD. Instead of acknowledging what we all know—that PTSD rates are on the rise, while funding is scarce for veteran care (please see: “PTSD Rates Rising” Veterans of Foreign Wars Magazine, June 23, 2009, or “Nidal Malik Hasan case: Are Army psychiatrists overwhelmed?” Christian Science Monitor, November 6, 2009)--your paper chose to side with the Right Wing echo chamber that is having a xenophobia fest with the massacre, using it as an excuse to further discriminate against Muslims in this country. Question: was the devout Christian who slayed abortion doctor George Tillman mentally ill, or just a zealot with an agenda? If these two characteristics are not mutually exclusive, should we then target the religious group that inspired this mental illness? Should American Christians be scrutinized and discriminated against?

It’s true, “we all know” that Hasan yelled “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) before opening fire. And we also know that he associated with his local imam who had ties to al Qaeda. But we also know that there were signs of Hasan’s mental illness under George W. Bush’s watch, outbursts and disorderly conduct, that were sloppily investigated years ago—this is old news. What should be news, however, are the grave consequences of pushing these selfless young men and women to the brink of mental sanity. This man sat and listened to gruesome tales from soldiers who, one can venture to guess, suffered deep mental and emotional scars. He sat and listened day by day, waiting for his turn to be deployed into that same world.

Need your editorial board be reminded of the U.S. soldier who opened fire and killed five soldiers in a Baghdad stress clinic just this past May? U.S. Army figures claim an estimated five soldiers stationed in Iraq attempt to kill themselves every day. And the Department of Veterans’ Affairs states that nearly 45% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who sought care have been diagnosed with possible psychological disorders.

Your editorial cited a DOL study that Vietnam vets are just as competent and mentally stable as their civilian counterparts. Need I remind your editorial board: this isn’t Vietnam. I am ashamed for the bigoted writer of this article, on the day after this country honors our dear veterans—veterans that desperately need public support for mental health care.

Amity B

San Francisco

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

So I was all like, "That totally looks like Keanu Reeves," and she was like, "Yeah, I guess," and I was totally all like, "Whoa."
Let me back up. I spent Veteran's Day afternoon at the Legion of Honor, which as it turns out, is not so much about honor or legions thereof, but more about classical European oil paintings, primarily from the 16th century up until the middle bits of the 20th, with a dash of mummies thrown into the mix. Radical!
So there was a room full of various French oil paintings, and a man was sketching a painting of one of the portraits in front of him. I kind of snickered, mockingly telling my friend Yelli that it looked like the actor Keanu Reeves. But then I instantly felt embarrassed, and thought to myself, Geez Amity, you need to get over your childhood crushes and stop seeing them everywhere. Turns out it was a portrait of Frenchman Paul Mounet (1847-1922) who, oddly enough, was also an actor by trade!
But just moments ago, my friends, something totally mind-blowing this way blew. I happened upon this very video, I totally forget how (it wasn't by thoroughly investigating ever obsessive fan site I swear!):





The likeness is just too awesome. Obviously, I thought, Keanu Reeves must indeed be immortal.

Compare:























Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Let's talk about Celine Dion
I've been reading Pitchfork reviewer Carl Wilson's masterpiece from the 33 and 1/3 series, "Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste" on and off, and find myself constantly fascinated and enthralled with all the little factoids about her music and her fans. I learned a lot about taste--good and bad--and think that this book has really instilled a sense of compassion and patience towards those whose tastes I find repulsive.
I used to be far more outspoken and intolerant when it came to others' taste in pop music and culture. As a teenager, I ruined a friendly group outing by lambasting my blind date, a guy who made us listen to Christina Aguilera in the car ride home, thereby creating an awkward silence in his souped-up Honda Civic for nearly an hour. I had recently learned the term "melismatic" and found it necessary to lecture on how showy and trite I found this vocal choice to be in popular music. Years later, I made a good friend's little sister cry. She was about 11 years old at the time, and I was horrified to discover that she idolized The Spice Girls. But there's a happy ending that particular tirade: I caught up with her recently, and she thanked me for turning her off the girl group at a young age, freeing her up for better things. But at any rate, I realized I had become very judgmental--as I think many people my own age are, brimming with pride about our under-the-radar indie rock findings; easily smug when others haven't heard of our new favorite bands.
But this book really made me understand the justifications for Celine Dion love. Here are just a few of the curious fun facts I discovered from Carl Wilson:
--A February 2007 USA Today article credits Celine, Bryan Adams and Lionel Richie with helping popularize Valentine's Day in Ghana, where public displays of affection among unmarried couples are traditionally taboo.
--From Observer Music Magazine, Dec. 2003, a 21 year-old Iraqi girl claims: "There is a lot of pain and separation in Iraqi songs. Generally the Western music we like is slow: Michael Bolton, Celine Dion."
--Jamaican-American music critic Garnette Codogan reminisced on a recent trip to Jamaica: "I remember always hearing Celine Dion blasting at high volume whenever I passed through volatile and dangerous neighborhoods, so much that it became a cue for me to walk, run or drive faster if I was ever in a neighborhood I didn't know and heard Celine Dion. The unofficial rule seemed to be, "If you hear Celine Dion, you're in the wrong place."
--26 year-old Iranian-Canadian activist Neda Hassani immolated herself outside the French embassy in London in 2003, trying to force French prisons to release several leaders of the leftist People's Mujahedeen of Iran: "Amid a glorious pile of wilting flowers laid days before at Ms. Hassani's funeral, a child sang Celine Dion's 'My Heart Will Go On' through a makeshigt public-address system, and the tears flowed."
--The Chicago Tribune (in 2003) reports that the most visible cultural influence in Afghanistan was Titanic. Most residents saw illegal videos when the Taliban was still in power: "In [Kabul's] central market, vendors now sell Titanic Mosquito Killer, Havoc on Titanic Perfume Body Spray, Titanic Making Love Ecstasy Perfume Body Spray...Whatever big is "Titanic." And Celine tapes played from boomboxes in many stalls.
--From Wilson's research: around 45 percent of Celine listeners were over fifty, compared to only 20 percent of music buyers overall. Add to that the fact that 68 percent of her listeners were female. Celine fans were about three-and-a-half times more likely to be widowed than the average music listener.

All of this mind-blowing information led me to learn one very important lesson: for every artist or piece of music that I believe to be pure and utter crap, there is a damn good reason why people love it, and it's not due to lack of intelligence or cultural sophistication.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Quote of the week:

Recently, I was struck by a most startling and drunken telephone call by an old high school friend in Los Angeles, who had decided to confess a love for me from outside of a sports bar after a Lakers game. This was confusing as, last time I checked, we were platonic friends of over ten years.

My friend Paul, who is also his best friend and last year gave a most memorable quote of the week, assessed the situation:

"Amity, ____ was drunk. Very drunk. And alcohol changes everything, Amity, everything. Like the other day, my friend Allison drove us to the Carl's Jr drive-thru, and I was about to order my usual, a double cheeseburger with bacon. But since I had been drinking, I yelled over her, "NO! FREEZE! Stop what you're doing in the kitchen! I WANT A CHICKEN SANDWICH." Alcohol changes everything Amity, everything."

Thursday, November 05, 2009

I'd rather be...



Taking a nap under the hot Tunisian sun with my body double from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, in my sparkly Princess Leia slave girl getup. Oh to be Carrie Fisher circa 1983.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Sino-U.S. Relations

I had a great "conversation" via the facebooks about a week ago, from a Chinese friend who works for Aljazeera English in Beijing. She wanted to know what concerns Americans may have about China and Sino-U.S. relations, as Obama makes a visit to China later this month.

I told her my concerns about real estate tourism, and what it means that China, by way of owning nearly all of our debt, owns us. I also told her about how controversial the Olympic torch event was here in San Francisco, since a lot of Americans were angry about China's human rights abuses, namely those involving Tibet. I wanted to post her response, firstly, since I have the first amendment right to do so; and second, because I think it's fascinating to hear from someone that must live in a country so overwhelmingly brainwashed by its own government:

You have touched on a lot of issues that's very interesting and complicated. The economic aspect is definitely something we want to reflect in our stories, how China is getting the upper-hand in the whole economic downturn and like you, many Americans are worried that because of this, no one would really press China on human rights issues.

It's very interesting to see that human rights issues in China seem to be a very big concern for you(and a lot of Americans). China is hugely nationalistic, you'll be very surprised how Tibet issue has been down-played in China, and that if you discuss the issue with any Chinese, 9 out of 10 people will be offended, and believe you're one of those narrow-minded Americans who judges China from a western perspective. And this is how successful China's brain wash has been. Nearly all of my friends think Dalai Lama is a lying wolf dressing in a monk's robe(the government line) though none of them read anything written by him or even heard him talking. The blindness is shocking. This is something i think very difficult to reflect on TV---the scale of things. And it's the same with Taiwan. You'll be shocked to see how easily government lie and its people comply. It's not to say that Chinese people are so stupid they believe everything government says. But it's very difficult for people who are brought up being taught one value and see reality operates in another. I do think that free countries like America should press China on human rights issues, but i don't think it will ever work. Chinese love Americans, but Chinese also firmly believe that American values are so different that it can never work for China. In the end, like Iran, only when Chinese people realize the suppression can there be a solution. But this is very unlikely in the coming years as the economy is growing and the riches, the middle class are benefiting.

But, it is disappointing to see the country advocates human rights and freedom of speech is getting less and less vocal about China’s issues, when Nancy Pelosi( though a political opportunist, have displayed strong emotions against China many times) came to Beijing, her overly positive schedules in China have amazed me, and I, for once, shared my countryman’s view that America doesn’t care about human rights as long as there’s business to be done. It’s always about business and interest.

Word.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!


I San Francisco

And this oh-so-magical artifact.


San Francisco 1958 from Jeff Altman on Vimeo.


Were you aware...

that in Japan, Kit Kat bar pandemonium has intensified, with Nestle's release of a special "cherry blossom" edition? "Kitto Katto," as the bars are known there, come in a wide variety of flavors including Green Tea, Apple, Melon, White Chocolate and Maple, etc. The cherry blossom flavor will be released in April to coincide with cherry blossom season, as well as test-taking season because, apparently, Kit Kat bars are are viewed as lucky charms in Japan. This may be due to the fact that "Kitto Katto" sounds very similar to the Japanese phrase "kitto katsu," which translates to "You shall surely win/be victorious."

Take a little trip down Kit Kat Breaktown way; buy some golf club bags.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tough times in the world of dudes

My friend P found this recently on the Craigslists. She found it amusing, but I think her interpretation was: "geez, this guy is a real a-hole." But I don't, I think I see his frustration:

Check this out! - 28


Date: 2009-10-25, 9:28PM PDT

I know my job and I own up to it, I learned the hard way - but I own up to it now. My job is to be decisive when you say "what do you want to do tonight?" My job is NOT to say, "I dunno, what do you want to do?" It is my job to say, "I would like to [verb here] to [insert place] and [activity here]. Yet, I must also know when you have your own idea and actually want me to say, "I don't know, what about you?" How should I know? That's my job as a man. I must know. I do know.

He wants to be that in control/take charge kind of manly man. But, at the same time, he wants the lady to feel like he respects her ideas as well. At any rate, I'm glad it took him only 28 years--not the average 45 or older--to discover that women want to be with someone that knows what they want and how to take control, yet can also manage to respect a lady's need to feel like she has an equal say in all matters of going out on the town. I know if I were a dude, I'd be confused about my gender role as well. Old fashioned values in the modern world--it's tough for dudes, tough times indeed.


Friday, October 23, 2009


Adlai Stevenson

I'm a new mother now, to a four month baby kitten that I've named Adlai "Cricket" Stevenson. While I've always been wary of pet people that refer to their little bundles of joy as "children" in general, I'm starting to see how easily it can happen, how one can fall into parent mode when a new, vulnerable life rests solely in your hands. But hopefully I won't become too comfortable with this concept, for I fear I may turn into this:




But it's strange how these things happen. One day, you're just looking out for top dog numero uno, and the next, you're buying food for this new creature, taking it for physical examinations, being handed an "adoption certificate," and, worst of all, having nightmares that the little varmint has fallen into a well or worse. And when someone calls the squirrelly little rascal "stupid" or "slow" for attacking the knob on your dresser, or for biting its own feet, you get protective and your mama bear sensitivities make you defensive. But all of this ridiculousness is well worth it when you come home to a little creature that seems to want nothing more than to love you and get showered by your attention. This strange new animal is now looking at you lovingly, as if you were the only person in the world that matters. Is that a kind of motherhood? I think so.

Although, you won't see me putting my precious one in a stroller and adorning it with sweaters. I'll save that for the gay couples that frequent Duboce Park (a friend of mine witnessed it, this is what happens when people aren't given the right to start an actual human family).

So, getting back to the name "Adlai." I love this name, and this man. Adlai Ewing Stevenson was a one-term governor of Illinois who ran for president; lost to Eisenhower--twice--but, the third time, when up against JFK and of course losing, was entrusted with the role of UN ambassador. Stevenson was known for his grandiose oratory skills, his wonky professorial demeanor, and as a liberal crusader for the Democratic Party. But his most resonant characteristic was his quirkiness, and an iconic photographic of his shoes:



Supposedly, Stevenson wore these shoes with great pride, as it represented his devotion to pounding the pavement while on the campaign trail. I only found out about this man and his mysterious shoes when this image came out during Obama's campaign:



There is one more sweet little anecdote about this obscure man of mystery and beauteous name, found via the wiki:

At the age of twelve Stevenson accidentally killed Ruth Merwin, a 16-year-old friend, while demonstrating drill technique with a rifle, inadvertently left loaded, during a party at the Stevenson home. Stevenson was devastated by the accident and rarely referred to it as an adult. However, as the Governor of Illinois he was told about a teenager who had survived an automobile accident while his friend was killed. Stevenson told the teen's father that he should tell his son that "he now has to live for two", which Stevenson's friends took to be a reference to the shooting incident.

If names become indicators of anything, my child/cat better grow to be something special.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Asgarda photos by Guillaume Herbaut


File under: epically great ideas

I read some shocking news the other day, got me real mad: In India, illegal, sex-selective abortions are still on the rise, and contribute to a $250 million per year industry for the country. Despite the government's best efforts to give incentives for families to raise daughters, females are being killed brutally by such methods as drowning, starvation and poisoning. Over the last 20 years, researches have begun noticing the impact. Whereas in most countries there are 105 females for every 100 males, there are now only 93 females for every 100 males in India. Apparently, some Indians believe that those who give birth to females will be reincarnated into a lower caste system. How murdering an infant can then allow these scumbags to reach a higher ranking in the "next life" is something I can neither comprehend nor explain.

However, I can explain how to eventually reverse this horrific predicament: send members of the neo-Amazonian, Ukrainian tribe Asgarda to India, have them beat the shit out of known offenders, then whisk young Indian girls away to their own special commune in the foothills of Nepal, where they will learn karate and grow strong like the Asgarda. Then, let the Indian girls loose where they can rape and pillage the hell out of all those neanderthals killing babies. Like the original Amazonians of the Scythian variety, they can rape men and have the babies in a safe place where no one will kill their infants, then continue to raise only the girls, sending the male infants back to the villages from whence their fathers came.



Then, Quentin Tarantino can make a bloodfest of a film about it, a worldwide phenomena will be created, and similar Amazonian tribes will naturally crop up all over the place. I must say, my ideas are quite brilliant at times.