My year in music - confessions of a grumpy old man

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 9, 2009 10:24am | Post a Comment

According to Billboard, the top artists for 2008 are Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Taylor Swift, Leona Lewis, Miley Cyrus, Jordan Sparks, Jonas Brothers, T.I., Coldplay, Flo-Rida, Carrie Underwood, T-Pain, Josh Groban, Colbie Caillat, Ne-Yo, Kanye West, Katy Perry and Mariah Carey.

At Amoeba, the top sellers were Radiohead, MGMT, Vampire Weekend, Portishead, Coldplay, M.I.A., Fleet Foxes, Beck, Flight of the Conchords, The Raconteurs, Sigur Ros, She & Him, Santogold, Crystal Castles, Black Keys, Lil Wayne, Cat Power, Kings of Leon, Amy Winehouse, Bon Iver.

Haveing not heard of most of the Billboard stuff, I can only assume that it's mostly autotuned, oversung, expendable American Idol/Disney Channel/Nickelodeon R&B/pop/Rap sung by sexualized children -- which gives me hives. I definitely would rather, if forced, take the Amoeba package, although I am surprised that I have never heard of four of the top sellers there either.

My friend Lars, who gave up on new music a long time ago, was surprised to read news about Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails and asked, "Is that what people are still listening to? Bands from when we were in high school?" It is kind of strange. I mean, the Beatles and the Doors weren't dominating the charts in the '80s. So it is kind of strange to see a figure like Mariah Carey on the charts, who I remember as a adult-contemporary VH1 staple whose vocal runs I used tape onto VHS to send myself into fits of laughter when needed. Kanye I've listened to and can, without exaggeration, say it was some of the most unpleasant music I've ever heard. When interviewed about Kanye West for the Defamer, I expressed my dislike and someone commented that, to be fair, asking a white thirty-something music store employee is like asking someone in the inner city about bluegrass. Yeah, because Kanye West is "urban" music. Seriously? If you go to Watts or Compton, the Norteño has a lot more in common with Bluegrass than Kanye. Hollywood nightclubs and the suburbs is where rap flourishes... welcome to the '90s, dude.

But I have a serious question. Where does that Top 20 stuff even get played? When I scan the radio, I hear Korean talk, Persian Pop, Ranchera, Oldies, Shock Jocks, News, Classical, Vietnamese Talk, Banda... I seriously feel like I'm never even exposed to this stuff except maybe as I pass through a Glendale food court. Is their some new technology that I'm unaware of that exposes people to that stuff? I wouldn't doubt it. MTV's not playing music again, are they?

On the Billboard Top 20, I only have heard four other artists. Coldplay are too bland to have any sort of reaction to except to say that I bet the rest of the band don't tell the singer when they're going somewhere to hang out. T.I. has epic production but his inability to say anything remotely interesting makes him not worth revisiting, and this is coming from a Young Jeezy fan! I mean, his peak was yet another song about rims ("24s"). Lil' Wayne... Oh man, Weezy F, from 1995 to the first Carter he was awesome. Then he turned his back on the South, sold his soul to Baby, pissed off Freshly Snipes and everything since then has been tailored to the ringtone market above all else. He's been recording for thirteen years now, so the well has to run dry somewhere, right?

Working in a music store can often make you realize what you don't want to ever hear again more than turn you onto new stuff, as we tend to play stuff that's familiar to most. In my case, I learned that I've had enough, forever, of  the Damned, the Undertones, the Buzzcocks, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, middle-of-the-road reggae and what I call Baja Fresh music -- the sort of Cuban stuff they play in slightly pretentious Mexican Chains that I eat at when I'm too lazy to walk further.

And yet, I got into more new music in 2008 than any year in my life, probably, since 1983 when I first turned on a radio and stopped relying on my parents' jazz, bluegrass and soul records for everything.
Myspace, Pandora, Youtube, podcasts and yes, the amoeblog. I learned about music I already know, too. Not all songs by the Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac and the Cars suck, just the ones we've heard over 700,000 times! Some of their other stuff is actually quite good. 

, Skweee and Spacesynth were all new discoveries to me that I'm happy to have in my life. I wish I had a better venue for non-Western (or so-called "World" music) though. I did discover that music from all the horn of Africa is to my liking. Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia may not be hyped like Ethiopia, but I can't figure out why. I also learned that almost everything from Central Asia is amazing-- especially Turkmenistan and Kyrghyzstan. Maybe that's what I'll try to focus on in 2009. Since they either never name the artists or I just can't understand them on the non-English channels, the Shazam application has the power to open up the horizon. First positive ID on some jam Recuerdo was playing, Leo Dan.

Although I already was a fan of a lot of Australian bands from the '60s to the present, I bought a 2-disc compilation called Inner City Sound that introduced (and re-introduced) me to a bunch more gems of Australia's still criminally underrated music scene. Chief among my new favorites are The Apartments, Lime Spiders, Paul Kelly, The Scientists, Slim Dusty, The Stems, The Triffids and Young Charlatans.

I've always loved the Baroque era -- the music, the archictecture, the art, the wigs, the harpsichords. But classical stations tend to represent it with Bach and not much else, so I'm glad to now be familiar with  Dietrich Buxtehude, François Couperin, Georg Muffat, Giacomo Carissimi, Heinrich Schütz, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, John Blow, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Marin Marais and Pietro Antonio Locatelli.

I used to sit in the classroom in Florida and frequently there'd be some car parked outside with a trunk transmitting the carressing frequencies of some serious Bass. I never knew who it was half the time, and sometimes you could only feel it anyway and not hear the lyrics. My Iove was re-awakened when an angel known as Ngoc cung came into my Iife, reminding me of the charms of Gucci Crew II and the like. This year I was really happy to be introduced to Bass 305, Bass Mekanik, The Dogs and Lejuan Love.

There are just so many Blues artists in the history of the Blues. Blind so-and-so this, Reverend Willie so-and-so that. And then, for me there's always the danger of being hit with the Blueshammer. So I am really grateful to learn of Big Joe Williams, Bukka White, Furry Lewis, Josh White, the Memphis Jug Band, Pink Anderson, Rev. Robert Wilkins, Rev. Gary Davis, Skip James, Snooks Eaglin and Sunnyland Slim.

Whilst I've never been to Brazil, I'm pretty sure I'd love it. My grandfather, who sadly died this year (RIP), used to go there over and over, despite the fact that he was mugged three times. The thing about so much Brazillian music that I like is that, even though it's coming from a tropical locale, it doesn't all have that relentless, facist party-time aspect, like, say, Soca does. It's just content to whisper sweet nothings and be pretty. This year I got exposed to Alcione, Celso Fonseca, Djavan, Marcos Valle, Maria Rita, Rosa Passos and Vinicius de Moraes.

Whereas the British charts are usually dominated by the likes of Bon Jovi or some umpteenth Simply Red reissue, they've produced more than their fair share of great pop music. Who would dispute that? And there's still more out there to discover, year after year, like Hotlegs, The Loft, Real People, Reverb and The Weather Prophets.

Like I said, I grew up on Bluegrass (you know, the music "those people" know nothing about.) I spent the first four years of my life in Bluegrass Country and the first time I was on TV I was attending some Bluegrass Festival. But like all good children, I didn't pay attention to what most of it was and rebelled by not listening to it much. Of course, you always outgrow your rebellion and come back to what's good, which for me included Dock Boggs, Don Reno & Bill Harrell, Larry Sparks & the Lonesome Ramblers, Osborne Brothers, Red Smiley & the Bluegrass Cut-Ups, Sid Hemphill and Tony Rice.

Classic Rock     
Man oh man, I used to hate Classic Rock. I worked on a farm in Iowa for two years. They seemed suspicious of anything that they hadn't heard a buzillion times before and whether you were a "Prep" or "Scurv" was mostly determined by whether you prefered Led Zeppelin and AC/DC (Prep) or Black Sabbath and Metallica (Scurv). Oh yeah, male Preps chawed and played football, male Scurvs smoked and wrestled. Everyone agreed that the Steve Miller Band would never get old, that only "fags" drove Fords or drank Coke. So I was shocked to move to L.A. and find the twentysomethings who'd grown up, presumably, on New Kids on the Block and the like, playing the same stuff I'd fled. However, I do have a soft spot for Mountain Dew Rock because it now makes me nostalgic, as long as I haven't heard it too many times, which is why I was pleased to learn of the rocking sounds of  Elf, Grupa 220, Jane, Montrose, Quicksand, Radio Stars, Ten Years After, Trapeze and Zephyr.

Pretty much my problem with Classical radio and Baroque is the same as with actual Classical of the Classical period, which tends to be heavy on the really well-known. So I was happy to be exposed to the new (to me) sounds of Antonio Soler, Johann Ludwig Krebs, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Karl von Dittersdorf and Muzio Clementi.

The country I was exposed to as a kid was usually Crystal Gayle, Kenny Rogers and stuff like that, which I liked! But my parents never played much older stuff. And the radio? Forget about it. I usually can only tell that the hat country they play on the radio is even supposed to be Country and not pop because it's especially bland but missing the code words that give away Christian rock (e.g. "He," "light," and "up"). When I worked at a horse ranch, it was all Hank Jr, which I didn't much care for. And I never listened to George Jones because of his hair. I had no idea what I was missing. Thank the lord I found Carl Smith, Charley Pride, Cliff Carlisle, The Delmore Brothers, the aforementioned George Jones, George Morgan, Hank Snow, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jim Reeves, Ray Price, Red Foley, Red Simpson, Stonewall Jackson and Uncle Dave Macon.

I've long genuinely enjoyed cheesy dance music. I can't listen to any of these artists, all new to me in 2008, without being cheered up: Den Harrow, Fun Fun, Ken Laszlo, Laban, Nick Straker, Sabrina Salerno, Squash Gang, Sarah Jean, Jim Player, Cheryl Hardy, David Lyme, Kay Franzes, Ken Laszlo, Lime, Nick Straker and Alisha. Again, all credit to the inestimable Ngoc Nguyen.

Depeche Mode Soundalikes
I'm always shocked at how many bands there are that sound just like Depeche Mode. Since the days of Red Flag, Camouflage and Cause & Effect, I've always liked them. In 2008 I also was turned onto And One, Beborn Beton, Cetu Javu, Covenant, De/Vision, Imperative Reaction, Seabound, VNV Nation and Melotron.

It's weird to me how evocative the sounds of the 80s are. I mean, Danny Hutton Hitters, Dragon, Honeymoon Suite, Sheriff and Sly Fox are all new to me but they make me feel like the credits are rolling after some nerd gets the girl in a twenty-year-old sex comedy.

It seems like every week I'm hearing about some new band playing in Echo Park or Silver Lake who's described as "Electro." Don't they know that that term is already spoken for? This year I got turned onto some great real Electro that I missed out on as a kid: Jazaq, Funkatronic, Rodney Stepp, Impackt, Cosmic Touch, Megatrons, Starr's Computer Band, Sorcery and The Future.

I began 2008 in the mood for Folk music, which I'm still pretty ignorant of, so I was pleased to learn of  Bridget St John, Frida, Jake Holmes, Kate Rusby, Martin Carthy, Roger Rodier, Susan Christie, Vashti Bunyan and Wizz Jones.

The way I see it, anyone who doesn't love Freestyle either hasn't heard it or is just too insecure about their own sexuality to admit it. It's in the human race's blood! So I was happy to learn of Bad Boy Joe, Linear, Nolan Thomas, Pajama Party, Sequal and Sweet Sensation.

Previous to 2008, I always thought that I didn't have a Funk gene. I mean, aside from the one Bootsy Collins song (that I only know because of N.W.A.), I never wanted to hear "Jungle Boogie" or any P-Funk again in my life. So I was really surprised to discover The Boris Gardiner Happening, Ebony Rhythm Band, Michael Liggins & the Super Souls, all of which I really enjoy.

I was never a teenage rivethead. I never role-played that I was a cyborg or anything, but I did used to go clubs with names like Stigmata, but didn't at all dress the part, because the stuff is so over-the-top it's irresistable to me. So whilst they may be old news to all you deckers out there, I was happy to get into Combichrist, Funker Vogt, Suicide Commando, Velvet Acid Christ and Wumpscut.

is like it's own country or something. You know that every scene and every subculture that's ever existed is being kept alive by at least ten Japanese at any time. It's so hard sort through the thousands of bands in hundreds of styles (not to mention all the traditional genres), but I did find out that I like Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Cruyff in the Bedroom, Gackt, Guitar Wolf, Loudness, The Mops, Number Girl and Thee Machine Gun Elephant.

OK, my dad used to play Jazz every Sunday as he made grill cheese sandwiches (his one contribution to helping raise three kids), but I never knew who any of it was. So I'm sure I'd heard a lot of these guys before, but I didn't realize how much I like Barry Harris, Dick Wellstood, Earl Hines, Erroll Garner, Jelly Roll Morton, Joe Sullivan, Joe Venuti, Pee Wee Hunt, Red Garland, Sonny Stitt and Teddy Wilson until the '08.

Thinking of women's music as a genre seems exclusionary and patronizing, but I feel like finding women who rock always takes special effort. I mean, entire weeks pass when I only hear dudes rocking on the radio and at Amoeba. So I was pleased, in 2008, to get into Azita, The Bangs, Be Your Own Pet, Black Tambourine, Buttersprites, Girlschool, Milk 'N' Cookies,  Nikki & the Corvettes, 100 Watt Smile, Penetration, STP, The Pandoras, The Rogers Sisters, The Vibration, Visqueen and Wendy & Bonnie.

I don't know ish about Mambo except that I've always liked it, but it's all pretty much new to me. I did, however, take a special liking to Beny More, Cheo Belen Puig, Emil Richards, Humberto Cane Machito and Tito Rodriguez. Maybe not all of that's considered Mambo, but that's what I've labeled it and I'm not going to call it Cuban and ruin the alphabetical order of this blog.

Whenever I used to listen to Medieval music at work, my co-worker Dave would say it sounded like Church music to him. Dude! What church is that?! We never sang anything like these composers in my church: Alfonso X (el Sabio), Francesco Landini, Léonin, Peirol and Perdigon.

OK, I never really listened to any metal growing up. They never played it on the radio and the headbangers were rumored to be Satanic or racist so I kept my distance as a kid. So a lot of what I heard in 2008 is probably old hat to metalheads, and every time I came to my co-worker with a new discovery, he invariably dismissed it as garbage. What can I say, if it's got dragons and knights in it, I'll probably like it. My 2008 Metal discoveries include All That Remains, Andy Timmons Band, Los Angeles del Infierno, Armored Saint, Avantasia, Black ‘N Blue, Black Majesty, Celesty, Dark Moor, Dragonforce, Dream Evil, Edguy, Excalion, Gamma Ray, Hammerfall, Hibria, Kamelot, Loudness (courtesy of Ngoc's cousin, Hien), Mob Rules, Nuclear Blast Allstars, Pretty Maids, Rata Blanca, Rhapsody of Fire, Saratoga, Silent Force, Sonata Arctica, Steel Attack, Tierra Santa and Zandelle.

I've always been a sucker for most things with a hint of psychedelia about them, but most of the neo-psychedelic stuff flew under my radar until 2008 until I got turned onto Abunai!, Bobb Trimble, Green on Red, Hex, The Last, The Rain Parade, The Salvation Army and The Three O’Clock.

Portuguese, Farsi, Japanese and Korean are probably my four favorite languages just for the way they sound. So take some passionate Portuguese singers and their lovely language and it's a recipe for success, as far as I'm concerned.  2008 happily presented to me the sounds of  Amalia Rodrigues, Dulce Pontes, Madredeus, Mariza, Misia and Monica Salmaso.

Power Pop     
I love the perrenial playground vibe of power pop, which makes me feel like it's high school all over again. In 2008 I got introduced to Dirty Looks, The High Back Chairs, The Mirrors, The Motors, Off Broadway, The Posies, The Stems, Tuesday, 20/20 and We All Together. Yeah, I knew of the Posies when they were popular. Why didn't I listen to them before? I guess I was a close-minded little shit.

Prog rocks. If you know of my predilection for gnomes and stuff like that, then it should come as no surprise. But as someone who never played D&D or had a dorky older brother (my mother claimed to have turned Ethan Bob into a frog before I was born), I have to find all this stuff on my own. In 2008 I was pleased to find Atomic Rooster, Barclay James Harvest, Bo Hansson, Caravan, Egg, Laghonia, Moonkyte, National Health, Premiata Forneria Marconi and Wigwam.

I never was a Punk. Buying an anarchy patch and donning the uniform of a mohawk and plaid pants always seemed so... conformist. Heck, my dad was the one who introduced me to the Sex Pistols (as an example of "mental illness"). What's more punk than hating punk, right? So, now that I'm old I learned to enjoy the likes of Blitz, D.O.A., Negative Trend, UK Subs and TSOL.

Radio Dramas 

Since I'm not in my seventies, listening to radio dramas was pretty much all new to me. In 2008 I eagerly tuned into episodes of Adventures of Phillip Marlowe, Dimension X, Dragnet, Gunsmoke, The Great Gildersleeve, Night Watch, The Six Shooter, Suspense, Tales of the Texas Rangers and X Minus One.

Having spent most of my childhood near the cradle of Ragtime, I was familiar with some of the more obscure names in the genre but I don't think I'd truly heard the actual sounds of Blind Boone, Butch Thompson, Claude Bolling, Eubie Blake, Frank Townsell,  Muriel Pollock, Miguel Pineda-Van Gelder, Sue Keller, Vee Lawnhurst and Zez Confrey till 2008.

With R&B, I always favored the synth-heavy, straightforward stylings of artists like Oran "Juice" Jones, Timex Social Club and the like. When New Jack Swing happened, I pretty much ended my relationship with R&B and we don't talk anymore so it probably shouldn't be surprising that my 2008 R&B discoveries were the likes of Aurra, Barbara Mason, Cherrelle, Coffee, Dennis Edwards, Jeffrey Osborne, Kashif & Meli'sa Morgan, Patrice Rushen, Starpoint and Yarbrough & Peoples.

It's been a while since I heard any new rap artists that I thought were worth a damn. I dislike both the bourgie, bland club crap that dominates the airwaves as well as complainy, hating, bitchy, conservative back pack stuff. So what's someone in my position to do? Just stay in my Dirty Dirty world, I guess, where I continue to unearth enough gems to keep me grinning. In 2008, I got into the mostly old school sounds of Da Sha Ra, Ninja Crew, New York Incorporated, Lil Slim, Magnolia Shorty, MC Thick, Sporty T, VL Mike, Black Menace, Tinchy Stryder, Man Parrish, Body Head Bangerz, Da Banggaz314, Huey, Black Twang, Black Moon, Booty Bouncers, Da Grassroots, Divine Sounds, Justice, Maceo, MC Duke, Plastician, Pretty Ricky, Skinny Pimp, The Watts Prophets and Young Quon.

Back in Florida, the only music they played on the radio that I could stand was Reggae. But then working at a music store, I got so sick of the go-to world music being reggae or salsa. Still, it turned out in 2008 that I can still enjoy some Reggae, such as the likes of Busy Signal, Cham, Ital Sound, Mr. Vegas, Ooklah the Moc, Tanto Metro & Devonte, Tony Matterhorn, Voicemail, Vybez Kartel and Wayne Smith & Prince Jimmy.

Renaissance music, to me, is the music of autumn, when life is a mead-fuelled vision along the lines of a Pieter Bruegel the Elder painting... or that's what I pretend, at least. It's always been something of a mystery for me why the Classical Stations never take the Wayback machine any further than Bach. So, in 2008, I was turned on to Andrea Gabrieli, Carlo Gesualdo, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Jacob Obrecht, Johannes Ockeghem, John Plummer, John Sheppard, Ludwig Senfl, Nicolas Gombert, Peter Philips and Tomás Luis de Victoria, which were all new to me.

The '60s seem like such a fertile time for music. I remember at one point thinking, "Surely I've heard of every band from the '60s by now." I mean, how many can there be? How many people were there on the planet back then, right? And yet it wasn't until 2008 that I got introduced to the awesome sounds of The Aerovons, Andwella’s Dream, Arzachel , Billy Nichols, The Black Diamonds, The Boots, Bram Rigg Set, The Cryan’ Shames, Drag Set, The Free Spirits, The Gordian Knot, The La De Das, Majic Ship, Marmalade, The Maze, The Millenium, The Moving Sidewalks, The Open Mind, The Remains and Sagittarius.

With so much soul music out there, every year brings the discovery of tons of gems. In 2008, I got hipped to Ann Sexton, Azie Mortimer, Barbara Lewis, Bettye Swann, Beverly Shaffer, Bobby Marchan, Chuck Jackson, Don Covay, Jan Bradley, Kim Weston, Maxine Brown, Percy Wiggins, Shorty Long, The Tams, Walter Jackson and many others.

Space Rock        
As a fan of '80s bands like Spacemen 3 and Loop, I was pleased to disover that Space Rock seems to be making a return and in 2008 I got into The Black Angels, Darker My Love, Dead Meadow, The Ponys, Spectrum and The Tremeloes.

Everyone loves Tango, it seems. But, if you're like me, you know Astor Piazolla and maybe Carlos Gardel but that's it. In 2008, I finally broke through and also got into Alfredo de Angelis, Anibal Troilo, Francisco Canaro, Francisco Rotundo, Jose Basso and Miguel Montero.

20th Century Modern
I don't know what else to call this stuff. My co-worker (the one who's reminded of his church at the sound of 14th century monastic chanting) claims that this stuff all sounds like it was made by children. I love it though, and was happy to learn, in 2008, of Elliot Carter, Hans Werner Henze, Henri Lazarof, Luciano Berio, Luigi Dallapiccola, Marcel Dupré and Stefan Wolpe.

So music fans, here's to 2009 and may we all be blessed with new musical discoveries. Excelsior!

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Mimes in music and film

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 8, 2008 09:12pm | Post a Comment

Last year for Halloween I was Bip the Clown, a famous creation of the then recently passed master of mime, Marcel Marceau. I thought it would be good to go an entire day without talking, yet it seemed to arouse violent annoyance in as many people as liked it.

I think it made me realize that I like mime, especially when it's darker and scarier... as in the mimetic acting of German Expressionist silent film... as well as comedians like Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin, who were all essentially mimes. And, come to think of it, so was Cesar the somnambulist in Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari... whom I was for Halloween a while ago, come to think of it.

Mime has its roots in ancient Greece but most conventions of modern mime were developed by the Bohemian mime, Jean-Gaspard Deburau, who adapted aspects of the commedia dell'arte for nineteenth century French actors. His most famous character was Pierrot, the moonstruck, dumb romantic in white face and poofy threads. He was portrayed in Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du Paradis.

In the 1920s, Étienne Decroux created a highly original take on mime, focusing on statuary poses, a technique known as corporeal mime.

Jacques Tati worked, not surprisingly, as a mime. As a director, he mimed out his actors' movements.

Lindsay Kemp
was raised in Yorkshire, an area whose green moors and dales have earned it the nickname "God's Own Country." At Bradford Arts College he studied with famous Austrian dancer Hilde Holger and even more famous mime, Marcel Marceau. His take on mime was experimental, nightmarishly creepy, psychedelia and Butoh-informed and part of that whole anarchic, vaugely-sinister, druggy whimsy that seems to be evident in so much late '60s/early-'70s British stuff from the final scene of Blow-Up to The Prisoner. He had a small role in the druggily whimsical The Wicker Man as well as Velvet Goldmine and others. His troupe employed David Bowie and Kate Bush.

David Bowie

Peter Gabriel
is an admitted fan of Kemp and Marceau and, especially in Genesis, he was a mimetic performer with a stock of mime-ish characters. 

Steve Harley
, in Cockney Rebel, frequently incorporated aspects of mime into his performances. And he always chewed gum, it seems.

was obviously informed by mime, mentioning Pierrot numerous times and striking mime-like poses in pictures. He seems a bit nervous here, but there isn't that much footage of him performing and he seems to get a little more comfortable and mime like as it goes on.

Renato Zero
, hailing from the home of the commedia dell'arte, has clearly a been inspired by mime.

Klaus Nomi
's look, his movements and performance all have a distinct air of mime about them.

Kate Bush


Marillion's Fish seemed fairly mime-informed... and perhaps owed a little to Peter Gabriel.

I think that part of the reason mimes are so broadly detested is that most people who practice it are just sidewalk performers in whiteface trying to get paid for doing charades. Plus it's just sort of a comedy cliché, like midgets biting peoples legs. Shakes the Clown certainly addressed it, as has Reno 911 and millions of struggling comedians and bloggers.

More postive portrayals of mimes do exist in film. Consider:

Hildur and the Magician (1969), Le Monde Etait Plein De Couleurs (1973) and Sueño de Noche de Verano (1984)

Happy All Hallows' Even

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 30, 2008 08:05pm | Post a Comment

You know those grinches that, on Valentines Day say, "I don't need a holiday to tell me when to express my feelings for my loved one" or, on Mothers Day say "I don't need a stupid holiday to tell me when to call my mom?" Well, that's one reason I like Halloween --because those bias keep their yaps shut for once. After all, it's unlikely that those negative nancies are going to say, "I don't need a stupid holiday to tell me when I can dress like Boba Fett and go door-to-door begging for candy from strangers." Like so many holidays, most of the customs are under threat of disappearance due to the media standardizing, simplifying and corporatizing its observance.

Halloween origins

On Halloween, the boundary between the alive and deceased is erased or at least thin. It was observed as Samhain by the Celts and other Euros until 837 AD, when one of the popes decided to move All Souls Day from May 13 (previously chosen to capitalize on another pagan holiday -- The Feast of the Lemures -- on which day Romans would exorcise their homes of evil spirits) to its current date. Over time it has evolved from a harvest festival, to an opportunity to divine the future (in the 18th century), to an opportunity for children to obtain candy, to its current status as an excuse for drunken adults to dress like media figures or slutty versions of mythological beings.

Jack-o-lanterns and other Halloween trappings

The tradition of carving a jack-o-lantern comes from the tale of Stingy Jack, or Jack the Smith as he was also known. Jack was an Irish drunkard whose reputation for debauchery, scumminess and villainy reached the ears of the disbelieving Devil himself. When the Devil decided to take Jack's soul, Jack tricked him into transforming himself into a coin to pay for one last ale. Instead, Jack placed the coin in his pocket, next to a rood, and made a deal that the Devil wouldn't come back for another ten years. When the Devil showed up ten years later, Jack asked to have an apple. The Devil, displaying shocking gullibility, consented and Jack climbed a tree with a crucifix carved on the trunk. This time Jack struck a deal to never be taken to Hell. Upon Jack's death, he was denied entry into both Heaven and Hell so the Devil gave him a burning ember inside a hollowed out turnip, cursing him to spend eternity wandering around with his strange lantern.

These jack-o-lanterns were formerly yielded by children to frighten off faeries, who aren't nearly as benevolent as Tinkerbell would have us believe. Of course, making them out of pumpkins instead of turnips made carrying them impossible for any kid beside Richard Sandrak so costumes have to do the trick. It is also customary to light candles and leave some treats so that the home will be spared.

Halloween games

Everyone knows of the prohibitively unhygienic practice of bobbing for apples but another, more disgusting game involves trying to eat a treacle-soaked scone, suspended on a line, without using one's hands. There's also the game of Puicini. In it, blindfolded participant places their hands into a saucer to divine their future based on the contents of the dish. Dirt = death, water = emigration, a ring = marriage, a rosary = taking Holy Orders, a coin = wealth, a bean = poverty.

Another form of Halloween divination is young women unleashing slugs on flour-sprinkled saucers or toss the peel of an apple over one's shoulder. The result is supposed to spell out, in both cases, the first letter of the future spouse's name. This is pretty much strictly a Hillbilly thing. More well known is the practice of a young woman gazing into a mirror. Either the image of their future husband or a skull signaling death before marriage is supposed to appear. 

Halloween food

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Happy Missouri Day! - Yup, It's aready been a yurr since the last'n

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 15, 2008 12:42am | Post a Comment

The 3rd Wednesday of the October, this year the 15th.

Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Missouri

In my experience, when you'ins tell people you’re from Missouri, most people reply self-satisfiedly with "don't you mean Missouruh?" or, alternately, "where is Missouri? I don’t think I’ve ever been there."

Whether Missouri is Lower Midwestern or Upper Southern (or the Border South or, the Upland South, or less commonly today, the Yeoman South) is a somewhat common debate amongst Missourians... at least on the internet.

In my experience, Missouri's Midwestern neighbors, centered along the Great Lakes, (haters) tend to disparage Mighty Mo as a hick state whurr test scores are low, the accent is ugly and you'ins can buy fireworks, liquor and ammo... all in the same place.

Missouri's neighbors in the Deep South (also haters) usually don't consider it to be Southern because Missouri didn't side with the South in the Civil War (well, that's complicated-- thurr were 30,000 gray and 109,000 blue) and because South Coasters love to equate the entire South with just the Deep South aka the Lower South aka the Plantation South.

As far as Southern credentials go, Mark Twain, Langston Hughes, Thomas Hart Benton all seem fairly Southern, do they not? On the other hand, natives like T.S. Elliot, William Burroughs and Maya Angelou don’t so much, huh? Cultural cringe I reckon, plays a part in this confusion, as do geographical overlap and historical shifts.

Art! What Is It Good For? More on The Lives of Others Vis a Vis Clockwork Orange

Posted by Charles Reece, January 10, 2008 09:44pm | Post a Comment
Regarding what I wrote about the the transformative power of music in THE LIVES OF OTHERS being a lie, a pal of mine, K, suggested the possible counter-example of the Nazi being moved by piano music in Polanski's THE PIANIST.  I still haven't seen that film due to its starring Adrian Brody, but I suppose if a digitized giant ape can get me to put aside my aversion for 2 and half hours, the name 'Polanski' ought to, as well, even if it's later Polanski.   So maybe I'll get around to that film at some later date. 

A film that does approach what I was talking about from a truer perspective than Donnersmarck's is Kubrick's CLOCKWORK ORANGE.  The film was based on Burgess's novel, which was a rejection of the panglossian futurism of B. F. Skinner's behaviorism, most notably his sci-fi novel, WALDEN TWO, where the happiness of individuals is derived from the outside-in, every aspect of culture being a stimulus which, if functioning properly, keeps the whole community flowing along in prosperity, promoting the desired actions/"responses" -- the providence of which is defined by the organizers.  Things like art have value insofar as they help shape the "proper" behavior, value being defined top-down.  If that strikes you as totalitarian, that's because it is.  And Kubrick's film is an all-out satirical attack against the reifying tendency of the bureaucratically minded whereby value obtains as a place within the system, never for the thing itself.

Contrary to the story Donnersmarck tells of the incommensurability of violence and art, the love of both happily co-exist in CLOCKWORK ORANGE's protagonist Alex.  As it was with Lenin, he loves smashing heads, but unlike with Lenin, he does so to the accompaniment of Beethoven.  It's not until Alex undergoes reconditioning at the Ludovico lab that Beethoven becomes associated with nonviolence.  Getting a dose of some noxious serum while being forced to watch acts of violence and hearing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony results in just the sort of transformative effect Donnersmarck associates with art.  Donnersmarck might argue that his Stasi Captain gives up his ideology in favor of the intrinsic qualities of the piano piece he hears while spying through headphones, whereas the effects of the Ninth on Alex are due to its extrinsic associations with negative stimuli (via Pavlovian, not Skinnerian, conditioning, but the point remains the same).  This potential distinction, however, rests on the shaky notion that such music has ideological content internal to its nature as art-object, rather than associated with it as a social object.

I'm reminded here of a story Ligeti tells of composing his Musica Ricercata No. 2 where every stroke of the piano was intended as a stab into the heart of the communist regime in Hungary.  Stabbing is a good visceral description of the sound, but is there really anything intrinsic to the music about who's doing the stabbing and who's getting stabbed?  If it weren't for the aesthetically conservative Hungarian apparatchiks defining the piece as decadent, it could've (a la Reagan's attempted appropriation of Born in the USA)  inspired quashing anti-communist resistance.  Furthermore, the violence Ligeti associates with his piece suggests that art can most definitely be linked to ideology with violent intent -- albeit, in his case, a morally defensible position -- and even serve to justify it.  The social effects have more to do with the ideological lens through which the music is refracted than any inherent ideology of the music itself.

Thus, it's as a conditioned stimulus that music comes to support or oppose one ideology over another.  By having a committed Stasi captain give up his ideology after hearing a committed communist playwright play a piano piece that has no anti-communist ideological stance associated with it, Donnersmarck does little more than create a narratively convenient lie.  The danger of this lie is that it shares with the prominent management regimes the view that art is inherently ideological, another object whose value is determined by the function it assigns to humans operating within the social order.  As the bureaucrats in CLOCKWORK ORANGE suggest, who cares what happens to the Ninth so long as Alex is no longer committing acts of violence?  What's forgotten here is the aesthetic value of art where any human interacts with art on its own terms, rather than those mandated from the top down.  Thus, the problem with the LIVES OF OTHERS isn't that a communist or Nazi or any other totalitarian functionary might have exquisite taste in art (many do), but its unwitting perpetuation of the value of art as utility, even when its instrumentalist function is what most of us would call socially beneficial.  It's the horror of losing the aesthetic value of art -- which can only come about through a free interaction with art that hasn't been precategorized -- that is central to the terror Alex feels when he makes the leap out the window, no longer able to stand having his love of the Ninth so violated as a byproduct of ideological reconditioning.  The celebratory ending to Kubrick's film isn't the result of some thuggish desensitization to violence, but is one of an individualist aestheticism managing to slip through the cracks of an overdetermined utopia, even if it's under the sign of brutality.
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