February 27, 2005

Self-Discovery, American-Style

An actual quote: "Chevy (tm) Tahoe (R), the one sport utility vehicle whose vast size and comfort make it perfect for self-discovery." — Chevrolet ad, back cover, Smithsonian magazine, Jan 1998.

February 25, 2005

Alien Life Forms

A panel exchange I once witnessed as part of a past life:

Chuck D: Polygram had a contract with me that said they had the rights to my music in the en-tire-fucking-universe. What if I got big on Venus? They don't even have an office there!
Reeves Gabrels: Yeah, I once tried to get my contract changed to cover only the known universe. Didn't work.
Thomas Dolby: I had more success. I managed to get a rider that stated that I'm allowed to negotiate in good faith with alien lifeforms.
Gabrels [deadpan]: Lawyers?

(From a typically-contentious late-1990's bit of music biz navel-gazing in my old neighbourhood that I attended as part of the Insurgency. More on this later...).

February 20, 2005

La Jetée

Chris Marker's La Jetée: I don't know how many times I've seen this film, either on-screen or replayed in my mind. The first time, I sat enthralled in a small Film History class late one wintry evening at the City University in London. Unlike the rest of the class, I'd come unprepared, and had no idea what to expect (I didn't even know we'd be seeing a film that evening). Everyone else sat there, getting their expectations confirmed; me, I sat there getting an education. An education in how to build a sense of movement through variably-paced episodic stillness, in the narrative strength of visual brevity, in the suggestive use of black and white textures and contrasts, of concise verbal narration (the half-understood French soundtrack played like a counterpoint in the back of my mind to the fugue on the screen), and, above all, in implication and indirection. The story — the paradox at the heart of the film — was the least of it (I'm always one to miss the point, and besides, you could see it coming from about five minutes into the film...). It's still the visual imagery and sequencing that haunts me twenty years later. And I could never see Orly the same way again.

But it's funny how in the future we'll all look and dress like cute white 1960's Parisian art students.

(Part of Flix).

February 16, 2005

Face Off

Frank Rich spends a couple of angry and perceptive pages in last Sunday's NYT deconstructing and discussing the US Right's ludicrous attacks on Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" (the attacks mostly focus on the film's supposed support for euthenasia and sundry other sins). Fair enough, but he makes the mistake of taking their arguments at face value, making short work of the self-righteousness, mean-spiritedness, and hypocrisy (not to mention irrationality) of the attacks. But surely the whole point of the attacks is the sheer pleasure of flexing your cultural or political muscles without needing a sound rationale, without needing to appeal beyond the True Believers, without needing to justify yourself.

They're attacking Eastwood and the film simply because they can, and because it's pleasurable, and because it rubs our faces in our own powerlessness and insignificance. Conspicuous hypocrisy -- what more do you need?

February 14, 2005

Photo Noise

Photo Noise: one of the few bits of concept art that actually translates into good performance art (and without all the usual self-congratulation). Small-scale. Subtle. Addictive (it'll probably die of its own success).

February 13, 2005

The State Oppres(s)es

The State Oppresses
More nostalgic hints from a past…

Wish I could say I remember this gig, but I don't. I don't even remember what year it was (it has to be 1980, according to the calendar). I do remember a knock-down argument with Angus while he was doing the artwork for the poster about how to spell "oppresses" (the sort of thing he and I took very seriously in those days). He won (the original slogan was in Spanish and taken with the drawing from a poster in a history of the Spanish Civil War we found in the Anarchist bookshop in King Street, I think). And I think I remember postering the bloody thing all over Chippendale, Glebe, and Redfern late one cold night… (postering has to be one of the unsung stories of the era. Dirty, dangerous, illegal, tiring as hell, and — as far as we could tell — absolutely essential).

(Part of Punk (and Later)).

February 11, 2005

Ironists Remind Me Of My Dog

Remnants of a recent rediscovery:

artists remind me of my dog / staking out their originality on the nearest tree

Wish I'd said that... (thanks to Phil T's one faint deluded smile for the reminder).

February 07, 2005

Disassociated Soundscapes

A year ago I bought a little XM satellite radio for use in my car while commuting around the Bay Area. One of the odd side effects has been the disassociation between mental soundscapes and landscapes on longer trips. Until now I've almost never had a CD or tape player in my car, and so I've always strongly associated particular regions with particular radio stations or genres. For example, the Owens Valley with the cheesy country music from Bishop's KIBS ("The Greatest Country in the World Serving The Eastern High Sierra and South Central Nevada!"), or the Central Valley with the endless chain of Crap Rock stations bursting at their aging macho seams, or Bakersfield with the sometimes-excellent classic C&W stations down that way, or LA with music from KCRW's deep eclecticism, or the High Desert with Barstow's dreadful (and now defunct) The Burner.

But now I can just cruise through landscapes with my own diverse soundtracks. It seems vaguely wrong to be driving through the remote forests along the Klamath listening to Caliente or "Deep Alternative Rock (tm)"...

February 06, 2005

Jefferson Dreaming

The State of Jefferson: the cold treeless waterlogged stony plains around West Louie Road, wet without being lush, glinting in that California High Country light familiar from Bridgeport or Lee Vining (or the Monaro, for that matter): harsh light, dark shadows. Everything in this lightscape is washed out, leached of colour, light grey, grey-green, dark brown.

Crossing the range on the Gazelle-Callahan road, a classic beautiful old two-lane mountain blacktop joining two other two-lane blacktops, I'm the only vehicle for nearly the entire journey. Later, on the outskirts of Fort Jones two large skinny black dogs run free down the middle of Highway 3, barking and snapping viciously at passing cars. Ahead of me an old pickup with the obligatory gun rack (at least two rifles by the looks of things) pulls out into the on-coming traffic next to the dogs; a passenger opens the door and starts trying to hit the dogs with a large broom as the dogs run alongside. The dogs veer off towards the right, across a vacant lot strewn with abandoned fridges and washing machines. The pickup slips back into our lane then roars off down a side track in a cloud of exhaust smoke and dust.

Every third ad on the local Crap Rock radio station, Redding's Rock 106.1, seems to be for a tattoo parlour; every other ad's for assault stereos. And every other song seems to be an ad for testosterone lifestyles.

February 05, 2005


Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, Yolo, Colusa, Glenn, Tehama, Shasta, Siskiyou... the Delta from 680, the wet dark green ground beneath a pale winter glare, the sloughs reflecting steely silver, the yellow and red of the Union Pacific freight locomotives angling slowly away from us into the grey of the Delta the only real colour in a landscape of stark trees and scattered farmhouses, everything washed out in the dim mist. Road 27, Road 23, Road 14...

In what seems like the middle of nowhere in the twilight off Road 23 two people in white hazmat suits, boots, and masks are using high-power hoses attached to a large tanker truck to spray the road clear of ... something ... a few miles further on there's a tattered AgCat sitting alone in the middle of a bare field, a set of fresh truck tracks leading away from it.

Even Corning now has a Starbucks.

February 03, 2005

Inhabiting Proust

Proust's notion that a writer inhabits his native language as if it were a foreign country: there are days I think I'd prefer "a writer is inhabited by his native language as if it were an occupying power...".

February 01, 2005

Baby Bullets

Sometime last year the local San Francisco Bay Area press enthusiastically reported the start of the new "Baby Bullet" commuter trains on the Peninsula between San Francisco and points south several times a day. These technological marvels are capable of "speeds up to 79MPH"! Phew, Wot A Scorcher!!!

OK, a (slow) step in the right direction, but if these trains are the answer, what's the question? How to keep stumbling blindy towards a transport solution that is neither intensive nor extensive, that consists of little warring fiefdoms that resolutely refuse to cooperate, and that doesn't work for the vast majority of Bay Area residents?

To get from where I live to where I work by public transport (a distance of about 40 miles as the crow flies), in this most public transport-conscious part of America (2nd only to NYC, I suspect), I'd have to change transport modes at least five times -- and none of the six or so organisations involved honours the others' tickets or coordinates their schedules.

In fact, in this miraculous age of Baby Bullets and BART, it would take me more than 3 hours in each direction to do the trip by public transport (I've tried it -- the first time, I didn't even get halfway before I had to give up after four hours), and about $15 in tickets. It takes as little as 45 minutes by car, rarely more than 70 minutes.

(Part of California).

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