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25
Oct

Killing Joke – and How to Get (Almost) Evicted

If ever there was a record that begs to be played at maximum volume, it’s gotta be the debut release from Killing Joke. I have no recollection of exactly when I first discovered this magnificent piece o’ wax, but once I did, it became a staple of my early career as a young rocker boy.

Another “perfect” record, ‘Killing Joke’ is incendiary, brutal and raw. Cold sweat, youthful angst and anger, the perfect soundtrack to a primal scream.

Killing Joke s/t

Back when I first bonded with their amazing debut full-length, I was living in a side-by-side duplex on 15th Ave. on South Capitol Hill in Seattle, with my aging landlord living in the other half.  She was a woman in her late ’60s. It would have been 1984, because Meagan and I had broken up, but I was still living in the duplex – I lived there for over seven years – not bad for a laddie in his early 20s.

My old pal, Tom Davis was over very early one morning (in recalling this story my thinking is that he was probably there from the night before and we had stayed up all night, something I can hardly fathom any more). So at some point, for some unknown reason and utter lack of logic or rationality, we dropped the needle on the record and immediately cranked it, as the opening song ‘Requiem,’ really does need to be rattling the glass out of the windows at five in the morning to be fully appreciated. By the time ‘Wardance’ was tearing its way through the airspace of my apartment, the two of us were thrashing around the living room in utter abandon, headbanging and careening off of each other and the walls of the room.
Daniel House and Tom V. Davis a few years before - in 1980

Then we both realized that there was a rather insistent banging coming from my front door, and in unison, we both suddenly realized the larger scope of our situation at that moment. I opened the door, not thinking that perhaps the volume should first be turned down. There stood my landlord dressed in a plus-sized moomoo and bathroom slippers. And she was angry. I immediately had Tom run back to turn down the volume and attempted what must have been one of the most awkward excuses for an apology ever made by a clueless young man in his 20s. I had no explanation to give her. I had been so in the moment, that anything outside of the four walls of my living space did not exist.

I was sure I was going to be evicted, and to this day, I’m not quite sure how I managed to talk my way out of that one.

Now I pay a mortgage instead of rent, so I can play Killing Joke as loud as I like. The benefits of being a grown-up.

Released August 1980

Posted in Music, Personal Ramblings.

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15
Jun

From Guemes to Berkeley – A Reflection on Father’s Day

When my father announced in 1976—rather abruptly—that we were going to be moving away from Guemes Island, and back to the Bay Area, it was as if an anvil had been dropped on my teenage head. I had just finished 10th grade, and was indeed the happiest I’d been in years.

Since first living with my father in San Francisco at the age of eight, we had moved a total of five times over the course of under seven years. Guemes was the sixth place we’d lived, the third in Washington State. It was also the first place in all these years where my life  finally had some stability and where I finally had  several genuine and meaningful friendships.  At the core were my best friends, Tom and Ben. The three of us were a weird sort of nexus to a close-knit group of us who lived on Guemes Island, a quick five minute ferry boat ride from the Anacortes mainland.  We were largely inseparable, and eventually, it would be because of that friendship that I was drawn to Seattle where I lived from 1981 to 2003.

Tom, Daniel, Grama Leota and Ben

On Guemes, I had gotten bit by the acting bug, and—only weeks before— had been offered the roll of Nick Burns in the local Anacortes ACT production of the Herb Gardner play, A Thousand Clowns. It was—and still is today—among my favorite films. At that time, I had not been aware that it had originally been a play. This was to be the beginning of an entirely new chapter in my life, one that would have doubtlessly taken my life in an entirely different direction had we stayed on Guemes. We moved before the play even started rehearsals, and I never pursued acting again.

So we moved away and I was crushed and crestfallen. More so, I was furious with my alcoholic father, who was once again uprooting me, but this time had been the first time I had known close friendship and stability in my life since living under his charge, so being a young teen, this was particularly difficult. And so in moving, I drew a firm boundary that I was done living with him. Instead, I would move back in with my mother in Berkeley, a decision that proved considerably less stable and structured than my life had been during those previous seven years with him.

My mother was living in a one-bedroom mother-in-law in West Berkeley with a boyfriend who she met through the methadone clinic they both frequented. Both were receiving some sort of Federal assistance, and neither was particularly capable of functioning in the normal social context of an urban environment. They spent the majority of their time parked side-by-side on their bed, watching TV and smoking cigarettes. My mom’s boyfriend would frequently fall asleep with a lit cigarette in his hand. I was always imagining them engulfed in flame some evening after he fell asleep and caught the bed on fire, and me crawling through a window just barely escaping alive. Nice flair for drama in my imaginary world. Eventually, he did manage to ignite the mattress, but it was a slow smolder, and the mattress was dragged out to the sidewalk where it burned for the next two days.

My “bedroom” was intended as a pass-through living room. You had to walk from my mom’s bedroom through my room to get to the kitchen, and you had to pass through the kitchen to get to the bathroom.  Those four rooms and a large utility closet was the entirety of the place.  The time I spent there was minimal, as I’d go to Berkeley High in the morning and then to my job at the U.C. Berkeley bookstore directly afterwards.  At the end of my shift, I would invariably hit one of several record stores and dig through their used bins, buying records twice a week on average. Occasionally, I’d take the bus home, but the bulk of the time, I walked the two and a half miles back to the emotionally depressing haze of my new environs. There I would read, listen to records on headphones, watch occasional TV and work on my homework until I went to bed. The next day was a repeat of the day before, and on weekends, outside of homework, I would get out as much as I could so as to minimize my time at my mom’s place.

Next to my mom’s mother-in law was a garage piled high with precariously balanced boxes full of clothes, books, old dishes, newspapers and magazines.  One box however was filled with a bunch of old records. I asked my mom if I could go through them and take any of the ones that interested me. She said it was fine. Many of the records were too thrashed to even consider, and most of them were by bands or artists that I was not familiar with or whose names I knew, but whose music I did not. There were classics from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Marvin Gaye, Lighting Hopkins, Horace Silver and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. One record however jumped out, and that was Sir Douglas Quintet + 2 = Honkey Blues, the first official studio recordings by Sir Douglas. The artwork pulled me in, and upon slapping it on the turntable, what I discovered an AMAZING record that slipped effortlessly between straight-up rock, tex-mex, jazz and even noisy passages that would seem out of place anywhere else. It is still a long standing favorite of mine, almost four decades later. These records—in addition to the ones I was buying regularly on my own—were my solace and a place where my mind and thoughts could soar. They were indeed the one place where I could ground myself in what felt like a safe refuge, stuck in a house with a couple of methadone zombies.

It took close to two years before I was finally able to save enough to get out and into my own apartment. I was still in high school in my senior year, and it was still several months before graduation, but I found a simple one-bedroom in a fourplex on Derby Street, just below Martin Luther King Jr. Way, a quick walk to and from Berkeley High.

It was a couple of years more before I moved to Seattle to re-unite with Tom and Ben, but had my father never moved, I imagine that my life might have ended up very differently. Theater would have undoubtedly forged a different path in my life, and I wonder if I ever would have gotten into music the way that I did. It’s near impossible to consider my life without the history I’ve had in Seattle during the music scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s. My nine years of playing in bands—the most notable of which was as a co-founder, bass-player and song-writer for Skin Yard—and my fifteen or so years releasing music by other bands via C/Z Records. It is such a critical piece of my identity, one that I am genuinely grateful for.

I am not really much of a believer of destiny, however I am acutely aware how radically one decision at a fork in our life can completely transform the direction that we end up taking. The curious thing is that none of us have any way of gauging how things might have been different; we just know that they would have been – for better or for worse. I have no qualms about the way things turned out. I experienced more than my share of chaos and adversity under the barely-watchful eyes of my parents, but these were the experiences that helped to forge who I am today and that gave me the abnormal perseverance that have helped me to achieve the things I have thus far.

My father and I don’t have any communication anymore, but on this Father’s Day, I am reflecting on the seven short years that we spent together.  Sadly, he is slowing down in his life with a cognitive decline due to white matter disease, a disease I had not heard of before. I hope he is still able to reflect on his early days and on all the meaningful contributions and accomplishments that he’s made in his life.

Shooting guns at Salmon Creek - photo by Chuck Gould

My father has written and had published a book or two and has forged a life in Petrolia, CA. that is a template for living self-sufficiently that I still find extraordinary. His time in the Diggers in the late 60’s has always given me a sense of pride, and his unrelenting commitment to finding better ways of living as part of our world have helped to inform my Pantheist notions of our place on this planet. His commitment to the things that he felt were important in his life is perhaps the most important thing that I am indebted to him for, and is certainly part of why I always try to live my life guided by my principles and driven by my passions.

Father and Son

Posted in Personal Ramblings.

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6
Jun

Social Media – Look at Me / You’re Doing it All Wrong

According to a new article in SocialMedia Today entitled: “The Ideal Length for Everything You Want to Post Online,” the ideal length for a blog post is between 1,500-1,600 words total. The article also included the ideal length for many different kinds of social media posts, and I cannot begin to tell you how ridiculously happy  I am to finally have somebody tell me exactly what I should be doing, and how wrong I’ve (presumably) been doing everything up to this point.  Apparently the numbers have been scientifically researched and verified. In the end, I really could honestly care less.

The Ideal Length for Everything You Want to Post Online

But hey, you say: “I wanna stand out! I wanna cut through all the noise. I wanna be relevant damnit.!” Isn’t that ultimately what social media is all about anyway: our undying need to be seen and heard, to be noticed, adored, affirmed and praised for how awesome we are in all of our creative uniqueness? Huzzah!

For years, I’ve been saying that social media ultimately appeals to two specific (and largely opposite) traits common in humans, narcissism and voyeurism, but increasingly I am of the belief that the tendency towards narcissism predominates, and indeed that social media is changing our culture to one that is increasingly more self-absorbed and narcissistic. An article from the NYtimes in 2012 explored just this question, at least in regards to the mighty SM Gorilla, Facebook. The final conclusion was, well… inconclusive. Some suggest that the area where social media is  turning people into self-absorbed, un-empathetic anti-social brats the most is with teens.  If anywhere, this is one age group where I would expect it to likely be the case, since social media does to a large degree replace traditional face-to-face communication. For younger people who are still learning how to interact and engage with others, a computer screen isn’t going to convey the subtle nuance of a real conversation. It makes sense.

Perhaps social media is turning us into a world full of narcissists, and perhaps it isn’t, and perhaps it’s moot. Social media isn’t going anywhere, and I don’t imagine any sort of grand movement where tens of millions of us are going to suddenly jump ship…nor am I suggesting it.

The real point of this post was (at least when I started) to discuss if we should all conform and adhere to reports like these (apparently social media and the web is also responsible for making us all a little more ADHD). Shouldn’t the general quality of the information and thoughts contained in a post trump the “scientifically researched” little box that we’re supposed to occupy?

If you have something to say, I say “say it” and don’t get too terribly caught up  in whether your post is too long or not long enough. Take the care to edit yourself and distill your thoughts so that you can say what you want in as elegant form as works for you, but beyond that, let your freak flag fly.

This post is—by the way— much too short. It is only 529 words, but I’m happy with it, so my apologies if you feel gypped. I have other things to do.

Posted in Social Media.

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2
Mar

The Best Documentaries of 2013 – My 2014 List of Favorites

This year, I’ve seen all but one of the films nominated for best picture, and while I give kudos to a decent field of good films, I gotta say, I’m not particularly blown away by most of what I’ve seen. I thought that 12 Year a Slave was solid, and deserves to win for best picture, but I don’t know that I’ll ever feel driven to see it again. I thought that Her was one of the more interesting films, one that I will see again, and one of the quieter films of the year –Philomena–is one of my strongest recommendations, as is Dallas Buyers Club for which Matthew McConaughey will undoubtedly win for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Another McConaughey film that it seems almost nobody saw, but that is well worth tracking down is Mud, released theatrically in 2012, but not on DVD until 2013.

I’ve decided instead to focus my attention on my favorite documentary films of 2013, because –in all honesty–I found more in this area to be excited about than in the bulk of the films produced for mass market consumption.  So with that said, here are my favorite documentaries from 2013 from fave down to numero diez:


Sound City

#1 –Sound City

Rarely have I seen a music documentary that hit me so square between the eyes, and not just because it connects so readily with my own self-identification as a musician from the fabled Seattle music scene, but more so because Sound City is such a beautiful love story to the power of music , and to the aural magnificence of traditional recording techniques when compared to the digital technology of today.

The movie is not about Nirvana or any of the other artists featured in the film (Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Fear, Neil Young, Pet Benetar), but instead is an homage to a recording studio where all of these bands recorded. The main character of the film is in fact a Neve recording console; not any particular person or band, just a piece of equipment that was a key element of much of the music that it recorded.

It’s a hard film to fully do justice to, but it’s heartfelt and joyous, a celebration to the power of music, and a remembrance of a time that we may never know again

Remarkable directorial debut from Dave Grohl.


#2 – Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story

Talk about an awesome surprise from far out in left field. Tomi Ungerer was one of those artists whose art I remember from childhood, but whose name I did not readily recall. It’s a fascinating character study of one of the most beloved and acclaimed children’s artists of his time, but who was forced into obscurity when he work moved into edgy erotica and visceral anti-Viet Nam poster art. Towards the end of the ’60s, he was effectively barred and exiled from the publishing world and subsequently vanished from the public eye.

Ungerer is uncompromising and wicked if not utterly charming. His talent is undeniable, and even with his erotica – an area that seems so far removed from his work as a children’s author – there is a playfulness and charm throughout. This is an insightful piece of work, celebrating one of the more interesting and curious artists of the last fifty plus years. It is unapologetic and titillating. See it.


#3 – The Source Family
Perhaps it’s because I have such vibrant recollections from my childhood and the cultural chaos and transformation going on in the early ‘70s, but The Source Family is a comprehensive exploration of one of the earliest cults based in Los Angeles. Centered around ex-marine and alleged bank robber, “Father Yod” was one of the first vegetarian restaurateurs, a man who became the spiritual leader of “The Source Family,” a small band of misfit hippies whose existence was centered around Yod’s teachings, polygamous lifestyle (of course) and his psychedelic space-rock band Yahowha 13, The Source Family is a compelling study of obsession and the search for a universal truth. The film follows the progression and eventual disillusion of the Source family from Los Angeles to Hawaii, and as always seems to be the case, the utopian idealism finally crumbling under the weight of its unrealistic naïveté.


#4 – A Band Called Death

Drag City had a good year. Not only did they release my #2 documentary for the year, The Source Family, but they also released A Band Called Death, a considerably more celebrated and viewed film, about a band of three brothers from Detroit in the ‘70s whose music was punk before much of anything like it existed.

After a short-lived run, and limited recording, the band hung it up only to be re-discovered decades later thanks to the diligence and vision of one documentarian and the label who helped get the film to DVD and their music finally re-released for the underground public to fully appreciate.

It’s hard not to draw an immediate comparison to last years’ Oscar winner, Searching for Sugar Man, and the comparison is a fair one. Death’s music however is considerably more fierce, and their (re)discovery from a place of total obscurity is even more remarkable.


#5 – Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

Finally! A proper film about one of the most beloved bands in indie America, the now-legendary Big Star, a band who at the time were almost entirely panned, and who now have a following that falls nothing short of worship.

For non-fans, the film might be something of a “so-what?”experience, but for fans like me, this is a welcome and joyous labor of love. It is thorough and full of so much great archival footage, even the die-hard fanatics will most certainly discover new revelations and a new appreciation for the trials and tribulations that this Memphis outfit endured in their rocky attempt to reach the world stage…something that never happened while they were all alive.

Nothing Can Hurt Me is bittersweet, but endearing and passionate. For the fans of Big Star and Chris Bell, this is essential viewing.


#6 – Dirty Wars

One of this year’s nominees for best documentary feature, Dirty Wars is an edge-of-your-seat piece of investigative political reporting that gets creepier and more disturbing and the film progresses. Peeling back layers upon layers of covert military activities, Dirty Wars shows us a web of conspiracy and collusion that is global in scale.

This is a film that makes you realize how very little, we the people have to do with the politics and aggressions that occur on the world stage, and more so how much of it is kept from us entirely. Not the feel-good-movie of the year. Sobering and intense, there’s a good chance you’ll feel angry afterwards.


#7 – The Square

A remarkable inside look into the beginnings and progression of the Egyptian revolution over the course of two years, where Tahrir Square in the middle of Cairo was the flashpoint for one of the more tumultuous political upheavals in recent history.

The Square gives unprecedented insight into a world as the events unfold. Several cameras were used by the protesters themselves, with much of the violence and military abuse documented in real-time.

The film is frenzy, and is chaotic and messy, exactly what you’d expect from a homegrown cultural revolution. This is a powerful  and up-close look at the power of determination and the resilience of the human spirit. The film itself has been banned for viewing in Egypt. That kind of says it all.


#8 – GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

This is one of those films that opened my eyes to a whole (sub) cultural oeuvre that I was completely oblivious to even though it happened right in my mid-twenties sweet-spot when I was in the heyday of my musical creative life. “The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” was a TV show that hit the airwaves in 1986 and lasted for all of four years, during which time, they apparently took America by storm. It’s a fascinating exploration into the campy and short-lived world of women’s wrestling on television with such unlikely stars with names like Matilda the Hun, Mountain Fiji, Ninotchka, Little Egypt, Tina Ferrari, and, Big Bad Mama. Unfortunately, the quality of the source footage is not great, but as a slice of history, it’s fascinating and fun, and the human element is real and sincere.


#9 – Inequality For All

In my mind, Robert Reich is one the great modern day heroes for the down-trodden and one of the strongest voices for social and economic equality in America. I was ready for this film to be overly preachy and self-righteous, but what I got instead was a semi-depressing, but equally powerful and hopeful documentary showing the staggering degree to which income inequality is crushing the middle class.

While the topic may sound like it might be sanctimonious, the film is a sobering slap of reality and an empowering treatise on non-complacently, urging the importance of awareness and the need to speak out.


#10 – Room 237

Maybe it’s because I am a big fan of Kubrick, or maybe it’s because I genuinely do believe that The Shining is among his best films, but a documentary devoted to the throngs of conspiracy theorists that surround this film in particular is such a compelling topic for a film, how could I not jump at the opportunity to dive in head-first?

While I do not subscribe to the bulk of the purported hidden meanings contained throughout The Shining as many interviewed in the film do, I find the perspectives and intricate dissection by these people to be utterly fascinating. It’s hard to separate the conspiracy-fanatics from the film itself, and that in and of itself is compelling and worthwhile.

Any movie about movies already has my attention, but a movie about a movie directed by Kubrick – you had me at “hello.”

For last year’s picks, check out The Best Films of 2012 – My 2013 List of Favorites

For the year before, check out The Best Films of 2011 – My 2012 List of Favorites

Posted in Movies, Music.

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24
Jan

1,000 Years of War in Europe

Entitled a “Map of Europe 1000 AD to present with timeline,” this is a fascinating video showing a constantly changing geography throughout Europe over the last 1,000 or so years.

A couple of key items come to my inquiring mind.

What this ultimately shows is a never-ending history of war and conflict. Included are many that some of us already know: the Norman Invasions, the various Ottoman wars, Hundred Years’ War, the Eighty Years’ War, the War of the Spanish Succession and of course both World Wars.  It’s fascinating on the one hand, but equally horrifying to imagine just a seemingly never-ending history of aggression. Wikipedia has a rather jaw-dropping list of Wars in Europe going all the way back to BC, the majority of which I have never heard about. Overall, I should not be surprised. This is essentially a timeline of blood and the quest for power.

I can’t help but wonder if the overall timeline is accurate on terms of linear scale. It appears that it likely is, as the video is 5:30 in duration and 2:33 appears to synch with what would have been the approximate finale of the Napoleonic Wars.

For a static maps of Europe in year 1000 and each century leading up to the close of the first millennium, click HERE.

Posted in Video.

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1
Nov

(R)OcKtober, 2013 – The Seattle Edition

If I’m not mistaken, this is the fourth year in a row that I’ve posted a music video each day on Facebook during the month of (R)October. This year however, I did something a little different: Instead of choosing whatever video struck my fancy, I decided on a theme. This was the first time I’ve done this, and considering that Seattle is largely where I came of age musically, I chose videos by bands that I enjoyed during the the 22 years that I lived there, and indeed even a couple of bands that have entered into my consciousness since moving down to L.A. back in 2003.

This is a fun vanity project, however while I’m not sure if it’s due to the fact that Facebook is now throttling posts (hoping to extract money out of you by getting you to “promote” your post), or if it’s just that people aren’t as interested as a months worth of videos all falling loosely under a vague “theme,” but I have definitely noticed that I am getting waaay fewer “likes” and comments.

I think next year, I’ll just stay with the previous routine, and post whatever comes to mind that morning. Feel free to comment here however, and in the meantime, enjoy the rock!

Mudhoney - I Like It SmallMudhoney – I Like It Small Hammerbox - When 3 is 2
Hammerbox – When 3 is 2
Gas Huffer - Crooked Bird
Gas Huffer – Crooked Bird
The Fastbacks - Smells Like Teen Spirit
The Fastbacks
Smells Like Teen Spirit
The Poises - I Am The Cosmos
The Poises – I Am The Cosmos
Malfunkshun - The Words of Love
Malfunkshun – The Words of Love
Alice Donut - Mrs. Hayes
Hater – Who Do I Kill
Screaming Trees - Nearly Lost You
Screaming Trees
Nearly Lost You
Metal Church - Watch the Children Pray
Metal Church
Watch the Children Pray
The Gits - Second Skin (Live)
The Gits – Second Skin (Live)
These Arms are Snakes - Woolen Heirs
These Arms are Snakes
Woolen Heirs
Tad - Woodgoblins
Tad – Woodgoblins
Presidents of the USA - Lump
Presidents of the USA – Lump
Coffin Break - Kill The President
Coffin Break – Kill The President
Fleet Foxes - Mykonos
Fleet Foxes – Mykonos
Blackouts - Idiot
Blackouts – Idiot
Jimi Hendrix - Machine Gun (LIVE)
Jimi Hendrix
Machine Gun (LIVE)
The Fall-Outs - Here I Come
The Fall-Outs – Here I Come
The Visible Targets - Just For Money
The Visible Targets
Just For Money
Love Battery - Half Past You
Love Battery – Half Past You
Soundgarden - By Crooked Steps
Soundgarden
By Crooked Steps
Sunny Day Real Estate - In Circles
Sunny Day Real Estate
In Circles
Skin Yard - Slow Runner
Skin Yard – Slow Runner
Flop - Anne
Flop – Anne
The Monkeywrench - Bottle Up and Go
The Monkeywrench
Bottle Up and Go
Forced Entry - Never A Know, But The No
Forced Entry
Never A Know, But The No
Laura Veirs - July Flame
Laura Veirs – July Flame
The U-Men - Gila
The U-Men – Gila
Treepeople - Something Vicious for Tomorrow
Treepeople
Something Vicious for Tomorrow
7 Year Bitch -      In Lust You Trust
7 Year Bitch
In Lust You Trust
Alice In Chains - Would?
Alice In Chains – Would?

If you’d like to see last years videos, CLICK HERE.

Posted in Music.

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14
Sep

Bejeweled Bodies, the Ultimate Veneration

I first became aware of Paul Koudounaris a couple of years back with the release of his Thames and Hudson book, The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses, but had forgotten about his beautiful and stunning imagery from religious ossuaries throughout Europe until I received an email from my friend Lee announcing the release of Koudounaris’ new book, Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs (also from T&H).

The ultimate veneration, these bejeweled bodies remind us distantly of the illuminated manuscripts from the earlier Middle Ages, but instead of decorating pages of text, we’re looking at the remains of various saints, both male and female, dressed and decorated with such subtle intricacy, all shimmering with silk and gold, sparkling in precious stones including rubies and emeralds. The result is breathtaking.

Luciana

The images are visceral and cannot help but to remind us of our own mortality. For the meek, the images may be discomforting and perhaps even grotesque, but getting past any unease with looking at the remains of human bodies, what is left are these spectacular and beautiful seventeenth and eighteenth century skeletons photographed with the utmost attention to detail. This is an important body of work and visual history, recording a collection of historical artifacts that show a particular reverence for the dead. Almost an odd variation of taxidermy, these figures were reminders to the faithful of the treasures that presumably awaited them in heaven; more of a carrot than a stick a reminder that living a saintly life would perhaps bring the ultimate reward in the afterlife.

Jewel Encrusted Hand

Koudounaris’ fascination with the ways that death have been preserved, displayed and regarded in various European religious traditions may seem to some macabre, but it is the fear of wanting to know what happens after death that is ultimately the basis for the existence of all religion, so in exploring how some people within certain religious communities honored their saints, we can gain insight into how that attitudes about death have changed in today’s world.

Albertus

Indeed, as the press release declared: “Death has never looked so beautiful.”

* * *

La Luz de Jesus Gallery (Los Angeles) is hosting an opening reception and book signing on Friday, November 1, 2013, 8:00 PM. I plan to be in attendance. Added bonus: everyone who buys a book at the opening will get a FREE print from Paul.

Munditia

 

Coronatus

You can keep up-to-date with Paul Koudounaris on Facebook

Posted in Art, Photography.

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23
Feb

The Best Films of 2012 – My 2013 List of Favorites

Enough has already been said about the peculiar (and presumably political) decision on the part of the Academy to leave Katherine Bigelow, Quentin Tarantino and Ben Affleck from the list of nominees for best director, one that seemed even more pronounced when they then included David O. Russell for his overrated work on his undeserving but overly adored, Silver Linings Playbook.  I was told that I had a heart of coal in finding SLP to be pointless and so very predictable, but to me, the only real performance worth recognizing was there was Bradley Cooper.  Jennifer Lawrence was cute and perfectly charming, but the fact that she was nominated (and will almost certainly win) baffles me even more. There’s nothing “wrong” with her performance, it’s just that I do not consider it worthy of recognition for best performance of this or any year.

The Film that SLP ultimately wanted to be, one that is on my top ten for the year (see below) is The Perks of being a Wallflower, and of course it was overlooked entirily by the Academy, I’m guessing due to the misguided trailer that misled theater goers into believing that Perks was a throwaway coming-of-age comedy. That’s unfortunate, because Perks is a delight.

What REALLY pissed me off however was that miserable piece of tripe from Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom.  I appreciate some of Anderson’s early films, but I feel that his best works were at the beginning of his career. Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums are both outstanding, but his follow-up to Tennenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was so utterly self-aware and precious, that calling it a disappointment was being kind. Moonrise Kingdom however makes The Life Aquatic seem like one of Anderson’s better films. It is all style with no substance: his films have become carbon copies of each other with no real emotional connectedness; they’re fun to look at, but all consist of the same brand of quirk we see from him again and again.

So with that, my introductory rant over, my personal top ten favorite films of 2012:


Beasts of the Southern Wild

#1 – Beasts of the Southern Wild
I don’t even know where to start with this film. It is unlike anything I have ever seen, and as a result poses the difficult task of trying to describe it. Portrayed throughthe eyes of a six-year old, played magnificently by the first time actress, then six-year old Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild is at once startling, magical and visceral. It follows a little girl, Hushpuppy (Wallis) deep in a bleak and remote portion of Louisiana swampland called “The Bathtub.” Hushpuppy’s father comes in and out of her day-to-day, however even at his most lucid, he is in the throes of mental illness and profound alcoholism. As The Bathtub is about to get hit by a hurricane that we assume to be Katrina, the residents refuse to leave and choose instead to ride out the storm. Hushpuppy is left to her own devices much of the time, but her character is strong, proud and resourceful, and even amidst the chaos of the hurricane, you somehow know that she will manage and endure. Interwoven throughout is the dreamlike fantasy life of Hushpuppy’s imagination. First-time director Benh Zeitlin manages to shift between the stark and primal reality of life in The Bathtub against a tapestry of Jungian dreamlike imagery in such a way that makes the film seem at times as much a poem as a piece of cinematic story-telling. Beasts is  stunning, beautiful andapocalyptic. It’s a bold piece of work.


#2 – Argo
The film that I truly hope will win for best picture this year, not just because Affleck was snubbed as a nominee for best director, but more so because Argo managed the task of telling a complex and layered story with remarkable ease and an exciting narrative. For my money, there is nothing not to like about Argo. It is a political thriller that tells the unlikely and yet true story of the phony shooting of a science fiction film in Iran in the late 70s as a cover for an operation to rescue half a dozen U.S. diplomats. As unlikely as this story sounds, it’s told with a keen matter-of-factness that harkens back to some of the great films of the 1970s. The Oscar-nominated screenplay weaves espionage against the political realities of the time effortlessly, telling a multi-layered story without being condescending to the audience. Argo is both gritty and glossy, and is entertaining as much as it is challenging.  My only real criticism oddly enough is that Affleck’s performance is not up to the quality of the film overall. The film features a strong ensemble cast with Affleck the only one among them who is a flat and stiff from time-to-time.


#3 – Skyfall
Let me start by saying that Daniel Craig is in my mind, the best Bond. Not that I don’t love Connery who was the perfect Bond for the ‘60s, but Craig brings a pathos and vulnerability to the role that we’ve never seen in any of the previous interpretations. Many purist die-hards have suggested that Skyfall (the 23rd film in the franchise) spends too much time as a character study, and not enough time with the glamour, flash, sex and action of the previous films. For me however, this is exactly what makes Skyfall so compelling. We do get all of the key elements we’ve come to expect from a Bond movie, however the generalpace is more drawn out, with the attention more in the direction of a psychological thriller, away from the played-out action thrill-ride that the previous films have invariably relied on over the last 50 years.

Roger Deacons delivered some of the most gorgeous and sweeping shots of any of this year’s films, and as much as I wish Skyfall would win for best cinematography, I doubt that the Academy can see past the legacy of 007 to the sheer beauty of this film.

If I were to level any criticism of Skyfall, it would be that the evil-genius nemesis played by Javier Bardem seems all too much a pat performance from him, kind of a lesser version of the performance he delivered in No Country for Old Men.


#4 – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
One of the most unexpected surprises of the year for me. As mentioned above, this is the film that I felt Silver Linings wanted to be, but wasn’t. Not only should this have been nominated for best picture, but also for best adapted screenplay (the film was based on the best-selling book by the same title also written by the film’s director, Stephen Chbosky).  As easy as it would be to pigeonhole this simply as a cute coming-of-age movie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is indeed so much more: It manages to be sentimental without being smarmy, and touches on the familiar teenage themes of alienation and unrequited love without being cliché. Anchored by remarkable performances from Logan Lerman (3:10 to Yuma and loads of others), Emma Watson (Hermione from the Harry Potter movies) and Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Perks is earnest, touching, incisive and heartfelt. Essential viewing for anybody who doesn’t have a heart of coal.


#5 – George Harrison: Living in the Material World
This was a great year for documentaries. The five that are nominated this year are all solid and worth the nod, however two of my top films of 2012 were in fact documentaries, with neither of them even on the list of nominees.  I have no idea why this film didn’t even show as a blip on the radar, because it’s a spectacular piece of work from Martin Scorsese, but my guess is that it was because the television release of the film on HBO was in 2011, and the DVD was not released until the tail end of 2012. Living in the Material World deserves to be added to the pantheon of must-see music documentaries.  It’s considerably better than Scorsese’s half-baked Rolling Stones documentary, Shine a Light, and I’ll go out on a limb and say that this film is superior to his The Last Waltz from 1978. Living in the Material World is almost four hours in length, and may need to be watched in two sittings, but it’s a passionate, absorbing, and revealing film on the most mysterious of the four Beatles.


#6 – Life of Pi
Without question, one of the most visually stunning films in this year’s horse race, including the coolest CGI tiger cinema has ever seen. Life of Pi from chameleon director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Sense and Sensibility; The Ice Storm) is one of the headier pictures of the year. It is a meditation on whether or not god exists, but is more so an exploration on the concept of god from a spiritual viewpoint. From my perspective, Life is as Pantheistic as any movie I’ve ever seen. The story is told as both a fable and as a personal history, and throughout ponders the idea that all animals have souls, sentience and consciousness.  The exploration then is not so much about god or faith as it is about the spirit and the soul. As the story progresses, it blurs the boundary between the physical and spiritual and is ultimately a reverential celebration of nature. Life of Pi is a sweeping lyrical journey, epic in scale, visually breathtaking, and a film that will set new standards for years to come.


#7 – Zero Dark Thirty
It’s near impossible to not make the comparison with Zero Dark Thirty to The Hurt Locker, as the two seem on the surface like companion films in a series, and while both deal with themes of war, but the two each stand on thrie own merit. ZDT is a steady and tense set of character studies, its story pulling us towards a final outcome that we already know, however that fact that doesn’t make the tension and suspense any less gripping. A fair bit of critisicm has been leveled at Bigelow around her portrayal of torture (water boarding in particular) with many critics saying it was inappropriate to show it so blatantly, others suggesting that her portrayal was an endorsement.  There is nothing vicarious about the portrayal, and if anything, the sheer brutality of the portrayal is a condemnation more than ana celebration. It is also—seemingly—a means to an end.  There is a dispassionate quality to the movie, but considering that the character that Jessica Chastain plays  spent 12 years of her life straight out of high school in the pursuit of Bin Laden, I imagine that the procedural approach to telling the story was the best way to handle the narrative. If anything, Zero Dark Thirty reveals a side to the Bin Laden story that Americans need to see first-hand.


#8 – Django Unchained
Gratuitous violence? Check. Sex appeal? Check. Overwrought and heavy-handed? Check. Lurid and lascivious purely for the sake of entertainment? Hell yes! In other words, everything you love (or hate) about Quentin Tarantino in one of his most memorable films of his celebrated 20 year career. The Django legacy harkens back to 1966 when the first of 30 plus “Django” films was released, this one being one of the earlier films to capitalize on the popularity of the Spaghetti Western genre that was ignited with the “Dollars” trilogy from Sergio Leone beginning in 1964. The original however brought a whole new level of violence for the time, something that Tarantino no doubt was drawn to and looked to resurrect in this, his eighth feature film.  It’s easy to look at the surface and focus solely on the violence or at the fact that it also borrows heavily from the blaxploitation genre (a genre previously visited in his 1997 film, Jackie Brown), however that does not alter the fact that Django Unchained is a great piece of film-making beginning to end. The story is well crafted, and Tarantino gets top performances out of the entire cast. Even if the characters are brash and indulgent, this is what makes Tarantino such a distinctive director: He is irreverent and politically INcorrect, however he is utterly unapologetic about it.


#9 – The Queen of Versailles
Nothing quite so compelling as watching a train wreck in slow-motion, and The Queen of Versailles is a most magnificent and curious example of just that.  Among the rather strong list of documentaries this year, this one should have been on the list of nominees.  The film follows the a former beauty queen Jackie Siegel, the wife of the wife of one of wealthiest men in America, David Siegel (30 years her senior) as the family in the midst of building the largest home in America, a 90,000 square-foot copy of Versailles. Filmed during the nation’s 2008 economic collapse, we watch in dumbfounded fascination as their financial empire is in freefall. In the face of reality, it seems that she is –in spite of her white trash beginnings –unable to let go of the utterly insatiable lifestyle that she’s built for herself. This is a movie about excess, delusion and denial. On the one hand you are baffled by Jackie’s seeming inability to change her habits in the bleak face of imminent financial ruin, and at the other end, however deluded she appears to be, you cannot help but be charmed by her odd sweetness.


#10 – Lincoln
Although Lincoln swept this year in racking up the highest number of nominations, it’s just barely on my top 10. It’s an excellent piece of film craft, and we should expect nothing less from Steven Spielberg. I predict (as does everybody else on the planet) that Daniel Day Lewis will win for best actor, and it’s a deserved win, no doubt. The film can also tout one of the more impressive casts of all the films nominated this year, yet another sweeping score from John Williams, and some impressive albeit uninteresting cinematography. In other words, everything you’ve come to expect from Steven Spielberg. What the film lacks however, is any real dynamic quality. Similar to the dim sepia of the film—a choice I’m guessing that was made with a conscious nod to the early daguerreotype photography of the time—with the exception to the feisty sessions in the house of Congress, the pace of Lincoln seems monochromatic and flat. Combine that with the fact that the movie clocks in at two and a half hours, and you have a prolonged, lackluster film that has all the earmarks of a timeless classic, but sadly only manages to deliver an Oscar-worthy lead performance. It’s lovely to watch, but unfortunately uninspired.

For last year’s picks, check out The Best Films of 2011 – My 2012 List of Favorites

Posted in Movies.

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30
Jan

Classic Kitten Album Rock- for those about to Purr…

First, let me start by saying that I take no credit for any of these fantastic images. I have not come across a graphic mashup as fantastic as these classic album covers all being kitty-fied in a a long time, so I HAD to share, because they put a big smile on my face…and because I think they’re nothing short of brilliant. These images (and SO MANY MORE) were created by one by Alfra Martini of AymVisuals. Check out her kitten covers tumblr and you can see an entire 8 pages of awesome…in the meantime, below are a bunch of my favorites!

PurranoidPurranoid Tom Kitty and the HeartscratchersTom Kitty and the Heartscratchers

Syd PurrettSyd Purrett

Cuteness on the Edge of TownCuteness on the Edge of Town

London MeowingLondon Meowing

Led Kitteh Led Kitteh Mew York DollsMew York Dolls

CatfishtrombonesCatfishtrombones

Pink CatPink Cat

The Meowers of InventionThe Meowers of Invention

MewrythmicsMewrythmics

Cat Flag

If you like these, you might also want to check out Alfra’s band, Virginia Plain

Posted in Art, Design, Music.

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26
Jan

Screw Your 100 Influential Albums List – I Like Mine More

It seems that everyone is expressing a similar annoyance with the “100 Influential Albums List” that’s been circulating around Facebook. Being among the annoyed, but using their list as a starting point, I’m taking a stab at my own personal top 100. Put me up to the task tomorrow, and I bet I’d come up with a different set of records, if for no other reason, because100 is just not enough to touch all the bases.  In no particular order, here is a list of records that most influenced me and changed my lifefor the better:

  • David Bowie – Hunky Dory
  • Television –  Marquee Moon
  • The Notwist –  Neon Golden
  • The Kinks – Village Green
  • Pink Floyd – Meddle
  • Leonard Cohen –Songs of Leonard Cohen
  • Roxy Music – Roxy Music
  • The Band – Music From Big Pink
  • Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
  • Massive Attack – Mezzanine
  • The Stooges – Funhouse
  • The Jam –All Mods Con
  • King Crimson – Discipline
  • Radiohead  – OK Computer
  • Horace Silver –  Song For My Father
  • Portishead – Dummy
  • Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um
  • Failure –  Fantastic Planet
  • Velvet Underground and Nico
  • NoMeansNo – Sex Mad
  • The Beatles – The White Album
  • Cream – Disraeli Gears
  • Sonic Youth – Bad Moon Rising
  • Yes – Fragile
  • Sleepytime Gorilla Museum –  In Glorious Times
  • Talking Heads –  Remain in Light
  • This Heat – Deceit
  • Brian Eno – Another Green World
  • The Birthday Party – Prayers on Fire
  • The Wipers – Over the Edge
  • XTC –  Drums And Wires
  • Cheap Trick – S/T
  • Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
  • Killing Joke – S/T
  • Au Pairs –  Playing With A Different Sex
  • The Cars –  The Cars
  • Tool – Ænima
  • Wilco – Summerteeth
  • Elvis Costello – Armed Forces
  • Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds of Fire
  • Gang of Four – Entertainment
  • Wire – Chairs Missing
  • Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson
  • Frank Zappa – Waka Jawaka
  • Au Pairs –  Playing With A Different Sex
  • Buzzcocks – A Different Kind of Tension
  • Los Lobos – Kiko
  • Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left
  • Led Zeppelin – III
  • My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
  • Cocteau Twins – Blue Bell Knoll
  • Stevie Wonder – Innervisions
  • Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline
  • Alice Coltrane – Journey In Satchidananda
  • Bauhaus – In the Flat Field
  • Jeff Buckley – Grace
  • Nirvana – Bleach
  • Mogwai – Mr. Beast
  • T Rex – Electric Warrior
  • Big Star – Third/Sister Lovers
  • Groundhogs – Thank Christ for the Bomb
  • Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger
  • Scratch Acid – S/T
  • José González – Veneer
  • Sweet – Desolation Boulevard
  • The Weakerthans –  Reconstruction Site
  • Alice Donut – Bucketfuls of Sickness and Horror in an Otherwise Meaningless Life
  • Weather Report – Mr. Gone
  • The Who – Quadrophenia
  • Psychic TV – Dreams Less Sweet
  • Pixies – Surfer Rosa
  • Genesis – Selling England By The Pound
  • Dead Can Dance – Aion
  • Echo & The Bunnymen –Heaven Up Here
  • Blur – S/T
  • The Specials – S/T
  • Metallica – Master of Puppets
  • David Grisman Quartet – S/T
  • Elliot Smith – Roman Candle
  • The Gun Club – Fire of Love
  • Drive Like Jehu – S/T
  • Byrne/Eno –My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
  • PJ Harvey – Dry
  • Atmosphere – Seven’s Travels
  • Steve Earle – Washington Square Serenade
  • Meat Puppets – Up On The Sun
  • Sir Douglas Quintet – Sir Douglas Quintet + 2 = [Honkey Blues]
  • Heatmiser – Mic City Sons
  • Santana – Abraxas
  • Oliver Nelson – The Blues and the Abstract Truth
  • Tuxedomoon – Desire
  • Aerosmith –Toys In The Attic
  • Richard & Linda Thompson – Shoot Out the Lights
  • Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters
  • John Coltrane – Giant Steps
  • Fugazi – Repeater + 3 Songs
  • Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians
  • Henryk Górecki – Symphony #3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs)
  • The Pretenders –S/T
  • Minutemen –Double Nickels On The Dime

Please feel free to comment, even if it’s just to say that this list is shiite. What would your essential life-changing list include?

Posted in Music.

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