Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Get Killed or Die Trying Update

If anyone is still reading this, I hope you'll allow me a break from the half-baked thoughts on movies to engage in some half-baked thoughts on a subject that has more or less hovered at the outskirts of my life for - basically - about 8 years. My record is actually coming along. I know, I know, this sounds familiar. But I mean "coming along" as in, you can download the first song on the record right now and listen to it and (hopefully) drop me a line and share your thoughts.

Download "Long Distance" at ZShare.

This post may be a bit more for my own benefit than anything else, but I need to do a gut check and think about where this stands right now, anyway. Yesterday afternoon, I booked a couple of hours with Soundworkz recording studio in downtown Shreveport, it's a kind of mom-and-pop style recording studio that is absolutely, positively spectacular. I couldn't afford it money-wise and had to take $100 out of my savings, but in the end I was so glad that I did. I've had such a hard time getting songs to sound right while recording them with friends, through no fault of anyone's. I've tried to record this album with at least a half dozen people, all with disappointing results. I just wanted to get behind a Pro Tools set-up, with a hard-core, professional engineer, and give it 110% of my best effort - not only in the recording stage but in the mixing stage, which I have a habit of zoning out during.

Anyway, the gamble paid off - I had an amazing time working with Jason, the engineer, who obviously cared for my song as though it were his own creation. He's more into rock music, which has been a problem with engineers in the past - I literally had a Bossier City-based engineer who i was paying $35/hour to track my vocals walk out and make a sandwich while I was recording. Of course, that dude also wore white daisy dukes and no shirt. Sammy Williams knows what I am talking about. The resulting song from the Soundworkz session is "Long Distance," which you can download and check out for yourself. This is how "Get Killed or Die Trying" will sound. The beat for "Long Distance" was produced by my friend and producer T-Swift from Houston, check his phenomenal songs on Myspace.

I take the act of creating anything way, way too seriously - so seriously that sometimes it paralyzes me to the point that I just lock up (anyone read my short story collection lately? Yeah, didn't think so...). But making a rap record is, to me, an act so surrounded by various sociological concerns and factors, it may be the hardest process I have undertaken to date. Rap music changed my life. Keep in mind that when I was fourteen, I bought Public Enemy's "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us back" from a Circle K and listened to it on repeat for the duration of a 13-hour car ride. Literally the first rap album I ever heard was arguably the greatest rap album ever made. It also taught me that pop culture could take on societal issues, and it gave me my first non-white role model. This was all happening in like '94, at the height of the anti-gangsta rap furor in the media. All I heard about was how ignorant and hateful this music was.

I'm aware that, being a white kid, a welder's son, a kid growing up in a very racist community, loving rap gave me a way to be different. I'm aware of all the complicated issues that brings up.
Looking back on it, falling in love with Public Enemy at 14 may have been one of the formative acts of my life. It set off a domino effect interest in media and culture that ended with my applying to Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts, and put me on my life's path. Anyway, rap matters to me like a family member. And so when I see the state it is in today, I don't like what I see. Money, money, money. But at the same time, I understand that in a capitalist society with deeply entrenched, systemic racism, a young black man throwing stacks of money around in a video is political. So I see the value of Lil' Jon, 50 Cent, the mainstream...50 Cent basically IS Interscope Records. 10 years ago that would have been difficult to imagine, for a black man to control a mainstream media empire. The same is true of Jay-Z. So I see both sides. I don't feel at home in either the underground or the mainstream. Both sides just look silly to me.

So what do i want this record to be? When I'm standing there at the microphone, recording words that will be etched into vinyl plates and plastic CD's, that may end up in flea markets, in record crates, etc. long after I am gone from this world?

What do i want this to be?

Honest is the first word that comes to mind. This is the first song on the album's tracklisting and in the first 30 seconds I have said "I'm a one-woman man." The glorification of sexual conquests in both mainstream and underground rap disgusts me. A male has a lot of sex, he's a player and gets the high fives. A female does the same thing, she's a chicken head or a slut. Does this make sense to anyone? At all?

Honesty. "Just finish the drink, drive home, spank, come in hand." It happens.

Honesty. I wrote a song about being in love with someone I can't see, someone I can't touch. Learning to see that my mistrust of her, my jealousy of others who spend time with her, was just thinly-veiled self-loathing looking for another opportunity to manifest itself.


I'm writing a song right now called "Go Ask Dracula" that is an honest-to-God look at what I'm pretty sure is a latent case of manic depression. Circumstances created it, the loneliness of recent months. It's like I got bitten by a vampire, now I sit around in dark rooms (case in point, right now) to the point that I feel completely removed from the rank and file humanity. Last night I slept about three hours, and on a bad week, that's about average. So "Go Ask Dracula" is on deck. I want these songs to be hard to create. I want it to kind of hurt to hear them. "Long Distance" did hurt to hear. That was probably the truest shit I ever said to a mic. I hope that statement is only true until i record the next song.

Anyway, sorry for the rant...uhmmmm...get crunk!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"Just because your dad tried to eat you, does that mean we all have to be unhappy forever?!"

I recently saw the Canadian zombie comedy (peep the awesomeness of those three words strung together in order), "Fido." People, this is the funniest movie I have seen in 2007. Seriously, I did not stop laughing the entire time. The zombie horror genre is perhaps the greatest horror sub-genre, in my opinion, because it has so much potential for social commentary ("Dawn of the Dead" being the most obvious example of critique-of-American-consumerism-as-represented-by-zombies), and "Fido" manages to touch on materialism, sexism, racism, necrophilia, slavery, facism, the homogenization of culture, the military-industrial name a topic, "Fido" rambles towards it and eats its brains.

"Fido" is a zombie horror set in the idyllic 1950's. It's basically what would happen if zombies invaded an episode of "Lassie." The music, the wardrobes, the sets, the cars and poodle skirts - everything is a hilarious 1950's stereotype. Until the zombies arrive. So doughy-white 50's television is the main point of reference, but a more subtle reference is the cinema of Douglas Sirk , films like "Written on the Wind" and "All That Heaven Allows," heavy melodramas that made "the neighbors" less a friendly, benign presence than a possibly intrusive, looming, unseen evil, more a part of the atmosphere than a part of a harmless social circle.

But the social commentary doesn't override the laugh-out-loud comedy. I literally laughed out loud throughout the entire film, despite the fact that the film (repeatedly) breaks Hollywood's last remaining taboo - a lot of innocent children die on-screen, which you still don't see a lot of these days in film. Kids also have to kill zombies, sometimes even the zombie forms of adults they knew in life. There's a great moment where a teacher asks a classroom "So how many of you kids have ever had to kill a zombie?" About half of the kids raise their hands, and the teacher sighs and says "Okay...not that many of you."

Basically, if you're a zombie horror fan, see this movie as soon as humanly possible. No societal convention is safe from its hunger.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

My New Thing: Mario Cantinflas

A scene from "El Bolero de Raquel," during which the bootblack played by Mexican comedy legend Mario Cantinflas accidentally wanders on-stage during a nightclub routine, having mistaken a call for "a Bolsero" (a sexy dance) with a call for a "Bolero" (someone who shines shoes).

I was recently read an interview with Charlie Chaplin in which he referred to a Mexican film actor named Cantinflas as “the funniest comic actor who ever lived.” Considering the source of that compliment, I immediately became interested and added “El Bolero de Raquel” to my Netflix queue. I watched it this morning and I believe I am officially hooked on this fellow’s work, and now I need to see it all. I read comparisons to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, but really these films are short on physical comedy and long on somewhat racy, self-deprecating humor occasionally highlighted by an intense physical gag. In “El Bolero de Raquel,” for example, there is amazing sequence where Cantinflas and the child he is baby-sitting are watching some cliff-divers in Acapulco as they entertain a crowd. The child sneaks away and climbs to the top of a cliff where the divers have been leaping from. Simultaneously, both Cantinflas and his charge decide to join the other one on the opposite side. They cross paths but don’t notice one another. While crossing the cliff, cantinflas slips and falls, diving about 100 feet to the water below. A local hotel owner, who has seen Cantinflas fall, mistakes his fall for a courageous leap and hires him to be a lifeguard. He starts work as a lifeguard the next day, but he can’t swim, and he has to rescued by some swimmers the first time he gets in the water. This all happens in about a minute and a half, and it typifies what I loved so much about this film. The pace is almost unbearable. You can’t go make a sandwich while this movie is playing without missing about three big gags.

Also, I liked the lonely optimism of the main character. Cantinflas lives in extreme poverty, but he’s always on the make, always looking, sad-eyed, at the pretty ladies on the street. He doesn’t pursue women in a semi-creepy, obsessed way like Roberto Benigni does in all of his films. He just doesn’t give up trying.

That being said, he’s obviously also an immense fuck-up incapable of handling even the smallest responsibility, much less the child he is charged with caring for in “El Bolero de Raquel.” He’s neither adept at life or some kind of lovable, pure-hearted scamp. When a teacher asks him what he thinks about parenting, he responds “There’s more work and less to eat.” So he’s neither the warmfuzzy, doe-eyed do-gooder or a bitter maladroit, but something of a big grey area, morally. Maybe that’s why I loved this so much.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Netflix Vs. Blockbuster

Anyone else getting tired of seeing this kind of shit? As opposed to making me more likely to use Blockbuster, it just makes me mad at them. Seriously. If you can't see the detail, it says that "Grindhouse" has been removed from my qeue and will never be available through Netflix. Because the distributors struck a deal with Blockbuster, the idiots.

Movie review: John Ford's "Young Mr. Lincoln"

The first time I attempted to watch John Ford’s “Young Mr. Lincoln,” I struggled to make it through even ten minutes. It was just so over-the-top and corny, such an outright fairy tale, I couldn’t help scoffing at it. In the first ten or fifteen minutes of the film, Lincoln (played by Henry Fonda) does everything except help an old lady cross the street or save a cat from a tree. Sappy music swells while he gives precious food and supplies to a family of hungry strangers, saying they can just “Mail him the money when they want to,” and eventually he gives them the food as a square trade for an old book about the law. “The law,” Lincoln says, gazing at the horizon. It’s corny. There’s not any other word for it. But when you get into the second half of the film, Fonda’s performance heats up. Playing a more mature Lincoln who has taken on a life-changing criminal case (he was a lawyer at the time), Fonda obviously worked very hard on the physical being of Lincoln. Fonda is huge like Lincoln. When Fonda walks, his stature is huge yet still humble, something in the shoulders communicating honesty and humility. His legs and arms move slowly but confidently, a combination that sounds contradictory and must have been difficult for Fonda, as an actor, to work out. One genius element of this performance is that Fonda’s meticulously-crafted Lincoln body language actually began to make Fonda’s handsome face look more like the president’s. It was like one of those “Magic Eye” posters or something, it was like his body became a context for his face, and changed its effectiveness.

Occasionally I make a complete, 180-degree change in my opinion of a film, and that happened tonight upon my second viewing (and first complete viewing) of “Young Mr. Lincoln.” Acting aficionados or actors would benefit from wincing through the irrefutably Hallmark-card-like first quarter of the film to watch the trial portion of the film. It’s worth it.

For more than casual viewers, there is a brilliant essay on the film at Sense of Cinema.

And in a completely, almost OBSCENELY unrelated part of the internet, I believe R. Kelly has taken the art of the music video to a new place with his new video for "Real Talk." I'm not sure this is actually music. I think it is more like a really good piece of comedic performance art. people who don't think R. Kelly is aware of his current context must be (as this song says) TWEAKIN. Here's the video (foul language ahead):

R. Kelly's "Real Talk" video

Does anyone else enjoy the concept of "realness" in hip-hop music as much as I do? Baudrillard fans in the house, please holla.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

It Makes No Sense At All: How I Got The Entire Husker Du catalog for $20

So, three weeks ago my friend Bill came to town and he and I drove to Disc daddy, one of my absolute favorite stores in the world for music, one of the few remaining places where I still "shop," meaning that I go in not knowing what I'll buy, I just browse. Bill was getting ridiculously excited about the copy of Zen Arcade that I was jamming in the car, so he said that if they had any Husker Du at Disc Daddy, he'd buy it. They didn't have any, and the owner basically said that they never receive any, people just don't sell Husker Du CDs for $4 apiece. Today, I popped in after a disappointing tour of Shreveport-Bossier's Salvation Army stores (does anyone know what's happening to these places? They're almost empty. A few scraps of furniture, no men's clothing at all, etc.), and came in as a guy was selling all three of the Husker Du albums I don't have. What are the chances??? So, I bought them all on the spot for $20, and I'm making a "Best Of" disc for Saratoga and my homey Jessanald, who have both asked me about the HD in the past week. The owner of Disc Daddy was tripping out on it, he said something like "That is the quickest I have ever sold anything...I know Husker Du albums never stay here long, but this is really funny."

Other than that, I'm excited because tonight I'm part of a showcase of weird electronic/rap musicians at the Jackrabbit Lounge that includes Paradise Island, a side project of a band that I love very dearly, Erase Errata. I'm actually totally terrified about doing the whole King Hippo schtick while opening for, in my opinion, one of the great lead singers of feminist punk rock music. I'm gonna avoid "Monster Cock," to say the least...

Monday, September 10, 2007

"Townes Van Zandt is the greatest songwriter who ever lived, and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that." - Steve Earl

I had kind of expected for there to be a lot of trouble coming, with Sara going back to Denver for another long year. I knew it was coming and braced myself, but it's worse than I had expected. I'm not mad at anyone, myself nor anyone else, I mostly just feel kind of silly for my lack of preparation, having known what to expect. I feel like I imagine the people left clinging to tree limbs must feel when they're being rescued by movie stars in aluminum boats: Glad to be alive, pretty embarrassed for being so stranded.

I've been pouring as much energy as I can into the creation of new music, text, and film, and I've been falling back on some friends old and relatively new. Carter and I created a short film on Sunday, we made it out of pieces of an old public domain Mexican film that I found at Goodwill. Turned out to be the best damned purchase I have made in ages. Here's a link to the film, which is an absurd re-edit of this movie into a surreal trailer with nonsense subtitles.

"Solo in Mis Juevos"

As my awesome friend Riley palmer said: I have no eggs. I have no eggs.

Something else (and to explain the quote above), the best music purchase I have made lately has been Townes Van Zandt: Texas Troubador. My favorite song that he wrote is a number called "You Are Not Needed Now." You can buy it on iTunes for 99 cents, a fact that seems somehow amazing and cruel at the same time.

More movie reviews to come, perhaps, or maybe I'll just keep doing this emo-ass posts. Or maybe I'll take up catblogging, but without the cat.

"Well, the birds they were talking all at once
and the old man mowing down his lawn
he didn't look like much too bad a guy
and I was thinking, hang on man,
something's wrong
your blues, they do seem to be gone
Heaven ain't bad, but you don't get nothing done.

Well, Allison laid an egg on me
and every time I turn around
it's swimming through the air above my bed
I told Miss Hicks and she said "Fine,
as long as you're back in your room on time,
I keep you clean and the girls will keep you fed."

Between the blankets made of wool
the trains roll by every half an hour
and the body can get no restin' done, that's true
so I do my best, as best I can
thinkin' big and making plans
and wondering where them trains are rolling to

Lay down your head poor boy
and feel how the ground does move
and hear how them drivers sing

Well, goodbye friends, it's time to close
everybody knows that's the way it goes
where was it you lived in case I'm ever there
Well, three doors down and two behind
and it gets a little bit out of hand sometimes
don't let it fool you into thinkin you don't care

Lay down your head and fly
I'll quietly pass you by
you won't even see me go

If I thought about it long enough
I just might make some kind of move
watchful eyes are too hard on the soul
With the smoke house just across the way
and this fog upon the light of day
I would be hard pressed comin' up with where to go

Lay down your head poor boy
feel how the ground does move
hear how them drivers sing
What now, my darling one
go find a little fun
you are not needed now."

-Townes Van Zandt,
"You Are Not Needed Now"

Monday, June 25, 2007

Still in Saigon.

It's not a bad hotel room view, I'll admit. It's also not a bad conference that I'm at - the 2007 NMEC, hosted by AMLA (Alliance for a Media Literate America). And what I am about to say should definitely be taken within the context of the fact that I am a newbie when it comes to conference-going. This is literally my first conference of any sort, not just my first media education conference. A more experienced friend tells me that "in general, conferences are disappointing," which I can imagine would be the case. But, even considering that fact, I can say without a doubt that many elements of this event could have been done in a much wiser and all-around more enjoyable fashion. The huge elephant in the room is the fact that the event's organizers decided to conceal the fact that Douglas Rushkoff (author and PBS "Frontline" producer, best known for "Merchants of Cool") canceled his engagement as a keynote speaker. Rumors were flying about this being the case by mid-day on Sunday, but whenever I asked a board member, I could never get a straight answer. People literally mumbled and walked away from me. This went on until five minutes before the event the following day. If someone from the board ends up reading this, I just want to say that I honestly would not have been upset about the cancelation, had you been honest with the members. The way you handled it was ultimately far more upsetting than the matter of the cancellation itself.

Despite the Rushkoff thing, a host of hotel issues (I walked sixteen flights last night because all three elevators were out, and when I got back, housekeeping had left the door to my room standing wide open), St. Louis issues (bus fare=$4.50, wow, that makes mass transit so accessible), and quality of presentation issues (I just sat through an hour-long session with a really interesting, thought-provoking title that turned out to be a workshop on how to use instant messenger, sample moment: "You can even enter your own away messages. Some people, when they don't feel like entering an away message, type a smiley face."), I AM STILL ENJOYING MYSELF AND LEARNING.

Highlights so far have been the INCREDIBLE presentations by Chris Sperry from Project Look Sharp, Henry Jenkins (who really set my mind on fire with an amazing hour-long presentation on the implications of Wiki software), and Also, the bookstore here is jam-packed with amazing resources...I'll probably just abandon some of my clothes here in St. Louis so I can bring more things back with me. Just Think (of San Francisco) is also here, and it's inspiring being around them - they've been doing youth media production for a very long time.

But ultimately I can't help but think of that scene from "Good Will Hunting," where Will confronts the intellectual bully at the "Hahvad Bah" and says something like "You've dropped $150,000 on an education that you could have gotten for a dollar fifty in library fees and the cost of a bus pass." So, if you couldn't afford to drop a grand or so on hotel rooms, registration fees, meal costs, etc., here's a library card to some of the most amazing moments I've had at this admittedly very valuable conference. But I can't afford the bus pass. At least not in fuckin' St. Louis.

As of Tuesday morning, June 26th, you'll be able to download the presentation he gave this morning about Wikipedia (using Middlebury College's official rejection of Wiki sources as a jumping-off point for a larger discussion of participatory culture) at the above link. I am currently reading Convergence Culture, Jenkins' most recent book, and it's a wonderfully fresh and readable look at the same topic. Also, his blog looks incredibly enlightening in general. I have to ask myself...with blogs like this out there, is college worth $30,000 a year anymore? I'm inclined to answer "Yes." It is, after all, a great time to make friends. And make out.

Project Look Sharp

Immediately visit this site and download the "Media Construction of Presidential Campaigns" curriculum. It is free, entertaining, and hella enlightening. It can't possibly be as much fun as the actual presentation with Chris Sperry, who was undaunted by the fact that 8 people showed up to hear his presentation (they scheduled it at the same time as a "Leading the Field" working steak dinner where, I am told, lots of by-laws were ammended and such). Sperry's presentation skills are not unlike those of the wonderful Bryan Alexander. Dissecting the history of media construction of presidential campaigns with him is a process filled with "a ha moments." No, they're not "a ha moments." They're "holy fucking shit, I can't believe how stupid white people can be!" moments.

1 Part Steve Inskeep
1 Part Saul Williams
1 Tbsp. Expert Guidance in Public Radio Production
Add all three to martini shaker, shake, and serve in very cool container

Seriously, last night I met a young woman named Ayesha Walker, who has created some amazing stories that you may have heard on NPR. Here's one about Bathing Ape hoodies (this new Nigo-designed Batman joint is CRAZY RETARDED), here's the Youth Radio iTunes show. Again, there were about four people in this presentation, which was also scheduled during what I am sure was a very important networking opportunity.