Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The (often unintentional) brilliance of LA radio...

(Build your own three-penny radio here)

Coming from New York where the radio is still 99.98% unlistenable, LA radio is a near paradise of variety and adventurousness. OK yes, there's still a lot of crappola on the airwaves, but proportionately speaking, there is great stuff all over the dial. At almost any given hour of the day you will have to make some difficult listening choices. Almost crashed the car just now, trying to eat my delicious sandwich from Juices Fountain with one hand, and switching between Steve "Sex Pistol" Jone's "Jonesy's Jukebox" (103.1) and Terry Gross' "Fresh Air" (89.3) with the other.

I don't know any other city in the country where you can hear Steve Jones and Jah Wobble ramble on uninterrupted (in nearly indecipherable cockney accents) about Eastern Philosophy, US Canadian border politics, bass guitar action, and Dick Clark's cadaver-like qualities interspersed with generally great and obscure musical selections. But that's the obvious stuff. Start digging around the downtown end of the dial (anything left of KCRW) and you will find incredible shows all hours of the day spanning the entire history of recorded music. Then you get into the pirate radio stations such as Kill Radio (104.7) and another faintly audible new one (to me at least) located way down at the very lowest number there is (87.1?), where absolutely anything goes including a long segment I recently caught where someone was cleaning dishes and singing to themselves. The thing is, you gotta keep on your toes, because as soon as one great show ends a god-awful one starts up. It's like the architecture out here, no continuity, no gestalt, just fits and bursts of the extraordinary thrown in to the hodge-podge.

Sorry. Not enough time today to do justice to this topic. Will have to revisit it in depth soon. Let's visit the Duke.

Monday, January 30, 2006

"The Facts of Winter" at MJT...

(Soviet space dog paintings by M.A. Peers)

This new offering from McSweeney's seems interesting. Sarah and I saw the author/"translator", Paul La Farge, read passages from it the other night at the Museum of Jurassic Technology (their heartbreaking shrine to Soviet space dogs pictured here, in part) a place that just gets better and better with each visit. "How did such a great treasure trove end up on the most desolate stretch of Venice Boulevard?" I always wonder. Of course, anywhere else would be a disappointment.

The venue was appropriate since the book, like the museum, walks a line between fact and fiction that is so blurry, neither camp seems to matter any more. Actually, this type of line is always very carefully drawn, then covered with leaves and candy wrappers and a final glazing of ultra-believable historical detritus so the ruse is made passable, though playfully detectable.

"The Facts of Winter" was written by "tiny metaphysician" Paul Poissel, who according to the blurb, "was not born in 1848. As a young man, he did not set out to become the greatest Turkish architect in Paris. He did not fail to become the greatest Turkish architect in Paris. He never became a poet, or invented puzzles for an illustrated magazine. In 1904, he did not write the book, The Facts of Winter." A thought that makes La Farge's translation skills all the more commendable. What he has translated (from the original French) are dreams all dreamed by people in and around Paris in 1881.

In one memorable dream, someone, imagining themself to be the prefect of Paris, takes over the Municipal Department of Seasons, a domain that includes a gigantic warehouse where the seasons and their various props are stored. In this new post, this person puts into place two new seasons: "Fammer - a long, hot spell of gray fog suitable for committing murders" and "Sprall" whose exact definition escapes memory. The book is full of this sort of wild playfulness set in the deadpan of dream logic. I decided not to talk with Mr. La Farge after his reading, partially because I have a history of being jealous of anything associated with McSweeney's, but mostly for fear of breaking an otherworldly spell and finding just another human being. Another magic trick ruined.

The doubious biography and artifacts business is an alltime favorite industry of mine. Two great instances that pop to mind are this Bowie-generated ruse, and the book The Motel of Mysteries, a perennial favorite by David Macaulay, about a distant future where amateur scientists mistake a buried motel as a great lost temple and burial complex from our time. I can't think of anything more worthwhile than throwing future historians into apoplexisms of doubt and despair. Where can I (and my pith helmet) invest in archeological digs through fictional history?

(photo by Paul Gachot)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

To Beatle or not to Beatle...

So many ways to appreciate the Beatles. So many stupid, depressing, milquetoasty, hyper-nostalgic, counter-evolutionary ways to appreciate the Beatles. Still, the simple pleasures of great songs and the players who played them survive.

Since the world continues to bestow them with such exalted status, well then, the very least you can do is find interesting ways of making them relevant. What meaning the Beatles should have on a cultural level today, I have no idea, maybe none other than a loosely connected web of personal meanings. In which case, what they mean to y-o-u personally is something to wrestle with, since it is a given that y-o-u will be hearing their music for the rest of your life in passing cars, and shopping malls, and finally, when you start buying music for your kids. Why not reclaim their sonic waves to further your own cause, rather than allowing them to further evaporate into marketing vapidity? Does it upset you to see them endlessly repackaged and watered down for new profits? Not that the Beatles ever had any real fangs - their mission to change the world, to promote love and peace, was as safe as it was superficially contagious. But like royalty, they did seem somehow above the ugly marketing clusterfuck that strips most endeavors of their soul and erotic power over us. Oh yesterday came suddenly.

If you estimate that they wrote around 200+ songs over eight years (1962-70), is it safe to assume that most people know 100 of them by heart? 50-100 let's say. As aspects of the public consciousness, each of those songs represents something unique to each of us - a personal state of being, a signifier of specific memories and emotional triggers. These can be curated, updated, honed and factored into your "present" so that they may color a moment, give expression a psychic condition, or spark your immediate aspirations in powerful ways. Sonic vitamins for your will. Cookie cutters for your chaos.

If you take stock in the calculus of the band itself: the archetypal characters feeding off of (and destroying) one another, you may occasionally find reason to invoke the well documented power dynamics of this quartet into your own group situations. Here's the inevitable roll call: John, the self-absorbed, reluctant, orphan-king (who had the good sense to die first and leave the others to the legacy business), Paul, the miserly raw talent rooted in cotton-candy, George, the curiously materialistic young soul miner, and Ringo the coddled Mexican day-laborer with a heart of gold. Recall the interweaving of egos and then the bitchy ungluing of what was the original boy band... The growing up and the sad solo aftermath, the supposed liberation from infantile mop-topdom that actually lead to many forgettable and anemic snores across the 70's. The parts were not the sum.

Is it even possible to re-process what the Beatles mean? All these sounds, these images, these archetypes, the rise and fall, the childhood singalongs and the eventual disassociation... All these layers? Is there a keyhole somewhere hidden in the well-worn scum of tired mythology that surrounds these latter day insects? Or is the whole thing best forgotten?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Gaul of Bernard-Henri Lévy...

I've only heard of "BHL" by reputation, described on the front page of the L.A. Times recently as a "philosopher, author, journalist, filmmaker, diplomatic envoy, world traveler, political activist and all-around celebrity intellectual." They forgot Oscar-worthy performer. I happened to catch him last night on Charlie Rose, and though I can't say I agree with him on all counts, the man makes so many well articulated points in the course of a minute, you can't help but nod and go, Oh yeah, that is true, isn't it? Indeed, I'm curious to check out his new book American Vertigo based on this interview alone. I know many people get squirrelly about the idea of a Frenchman commenting on The US of A. But there's the rub... this is exactly what motivates the guy to come here and visit little towns in the bible belt and talk to the people on their front doorsteps. Daring, especially if you imagine the reverse situation.

"When I grew up in France as a Jew," he said to Charlie, (I am paraphrasing here but basically he says), "My religion came from the ancient European tradition of Judeo-Christianity in which God is alive in our hearts yes, but also, more importantly, he is silent to us. Far away in the heavens. He is present but absent, and our faith is always put to the test. But today, in parts of America, I find that God speaks to everyone, ALL THE TIME! God is your best buddy. God is familiar. In this situation I think something strange starts to happen..." It does seem that we've lost touch with that Old Testament fire and brimstone. We have demystified God, and virtually eliminated Godfearing, so that now He sits on our porch talking to us about everything from baseball to Bathists. This God actively tells you what your country should do, what your politics mean in religious terms, who should lead, and how many flags to hang on your balcony. This chummy God, the one who is seen to have a national allegiance and a political agenda, is the image of America that scares so many people outside of our country. We could learn a lot (and not just the Red States) by listening to the ideas (even the flawed ones) of informed outsiders like M. Lévy. But we won't, and so our experiment in solopcism continues.

Of course, there may be reasons NOT to listen to M. Lévy. Wikipedia notes that "despite his lofty ideals, he is, with his third wife, actress Arielle Dombasle, regular fixture in Paris Match magazine, wearing his trademark unbuttoned white shirts and designer suits. Lévy's reputation for narcissism is legend. One article about him coined the dictum, 'God is dead but my hair is perfect'. He once said that the discovery of a new shade of grey left him 'ecstatic'. He is a regular victim of cream pie flinger Noël Godin, who describes Lévy as a vain, pontificating dandy."

While we're tossing pies, Charlie Rose has got to be the world's worst interviewer. He steps on his guests responses with wild non-sequiturs and half-baked statements that are more jumbled than a shell-shocked granny asking her dead husband to take out the trash. Which, I guess, makes the show all the more watchable.

Friday, January 27, 2006

No Spin Zone...

Believe everything you see?
Click on the above picture.
Are the wheels moving or not?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Giant Tasks...

(Image from Dali's "Les Diners de Gala")

Faced with something big and new to do? Something so large and unruly that the mere thought of it makes you anxious and reach for the procrastination pills? You need a serving of dime store philosophy! So sit down, tuck that napkin into your collar, and open your mind. Bon Appetite!

But before we get to the main course, savor an amuse bouche of platitudes: Forget the expectations you think others have of you. Was the task assigned (aren't they all)? It will do you a load of good to forget the assigners and to make this endeavor an extension of your own being. It's the only way you're going to care about it enough to get it done in a way that's satisfying to you. Second guessing other people's wills will inevitably lead you down a nauseating hall of mirrors.

Speaking of will and nausea, today's main course will be rich filets of Nietzsche and Sartre served over a sliced banana smothered with ice cream and melted chocolate and topped with a homemade jus: Mom's "it's going to be alright" jelly jam.

Mr. Nietzsche wants you to force "reality" to submit to your individual creative might. He thought that because most of our words and thoughts (and therefore actions) were mere instances of denial, or "lies" to protect us from the chaos that is all around us, we should make these lies as creative as possible. Only the most colorful, exaggerated, and most importantly, "noble" or life affirming, lies can puff us up enough to face this chaos and invoke the full power of our lifeforce or "will" to conquer it. Anything else is a surrender. Any whiff of pessimism or false humbleness will give chaos the upper hand. This is why Nietzsche was fond of dancing, laughter, and a generally optimistic outlook. Sure he was coo-coo as clams, but so what? He gives you permission to access all of your potential NOW. No saving for rainy days, no acting nice so you can have an afterlife, no fearing time. So, your giant task is yours to hammer out, an opportunity to mold chaos to submit to your will. By placing something in the world that exemplifies your will, that is filled with your best poetic interpretations, your highest most nuanced imaginings, and your laughter and hottest dance steps, you will triumph in the face of the grand immutable flux and decay. Stuff that in your 401(k).

Now before you bang your inflated head into the ceiling, it's time for a smoking hot medallion of Sartre to reduce the swelling. Mr. Sartre, ultimately, also wants you to impose order on chaos, less the chaos of the world, more the chaos of your own consciousness. But first, he's going to make you sick. For as your internal consciousness perceives the external world, it notices that "being" in it is a dizzying and nausea-inducing concept. All the flesh and the trees and the space filled with stuff that exists outside our consciousness seems absurd, insane, overwhelming. So, we must begin to make some sense in order to avoid falling into this chasm of absurdity. Not only are you free to organize your consciousness as you like, but you are condemned to this freedom for your entire existence. You MUST create yourself (and the world you live in) in each moment. Feeling queasy? Good. Because here's where it turns around. The nice part about being the creator is that YOU determine the meaning of all things. No blame can be placed elsewhere, since you are always free to reinterpret some fact or some event or some psychological condition in your own way or to your own advantage. You are the hero, you face the absurdity of being alive, and you persevere in a god-like fashion. In other words, that boulder you must push up the mountain everyday may look like a form of hell from afar, but given the choice of falling into the chasm of absurdity or placing your energies into a world that you have suffused with personal meaning, well, suddenly that boulder starts to look pretty great. It is afterall, YOUR boulder. Your Giant Task is the vessel into which you will pour yourself without complaint or excuse, for with this task you have been given the greatest gift: a "situation" in which to freely create the world you want.

Philosophy should be demystified and applied to everyday situations. The idea that it is incompatible with daily living is ridiculous and worse, Big Brother-ish. It should be studied from childhood on, with great emphasis. Our choices should be informed by the thoughts of great minds that came before. Granted much of the primary sources are not beach reading, but the ideas are generally accessible. And a good philosophy coach or professor who can peel back the linguistic pretentions of the canon and reveal the nuggets of wisdom within, is an invaluable teacher and an advocate for a much more interesting (if not orderly) future. Good luck with your task. I've got mine cut out for me!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

38 Special...

With my girl at sunset yesterday. Perfect.

(photo by Paul Gachot)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Show Us Your Curves...

Snapping this shot last night on the way to see this amazing show at REDCAT, I realized that the embarrassingly (but somehow appropriately) named Disney Hall is as likeable in person as it is in photos, possibly more so. This is good, since many buildings I see these days seem to be tailor made for the photo, not the live experience. What is kind of remarkable about Frank Gehry is that his buildings work on both levels, they are almost obnoxiously photogenic and yet they have a sort of living breathing, dare I say, human quality when you stand next to them and put your hand against the cold, curved metal and see the rivets that hold each plate in place. I know Gehry takes heat because his buildings leak and are way too shiny for the neighbors. All valid. But as a purely instinctual admirer of architecture I'm really glad to be living in the era of exuberant, non-box shaped structures. Santiago Calatrava, Rem Koolhaas/OMA, Zaha Hadid, and all the big, obvious names behind the curvy, soaring lines of our day. These people have enough critics, and they are probably a nightmare to, say, get coffee for, but since I have no business with them other than use their buildings and marvel at their feats, I will humbly offer my simple enthusiasm to their hard-earned monster egos.

(photo by Paul Gachot)

Monday, January 23, 2006

The answer, my friend...

Sarah found a door from the third floor of our home out on the street this morning, and I've just seen a slab of roof the size of a car hood go sailing off into Griffith Park. Sure, the pounding eighty mile an hour Santa Ana's whipping through LA's canyons today will ruin many expensive hair achievements, but let us remember that it could be worse. NASA's Solar Wind satellite has measured ion storms from the Sun whistling by Earth at speeds of 400-1000 kilometers per second. As a plasma, solar wind is highly electrically conductive. As the Sun rotates, the winds splay its dual (+/-) magnetic fields far out into the solar system in enormous, curved plasmatic "sheets". In fact, this rose-shaped heliospheric current sheet is the largest structure in the solar system. It is responsible for the great auroras, the geomagnetic storms that knock out power grids on Earth, and also explains why the tail of a comet always points away from the Sun. Solar wind is also said to contribute to the creation of new stars, which coincidentally, brings us full-circle back to Hollywood. So, the next time that casting agent offers to blow some stellar wind up your skirt, you tell them that the tail of a comet always points away from the wind source.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Great Dane is seldom petty...

In my old age I would like to write character descriptions for new dog breeds (and maybe revamp some old ones) for the American Kennel Club. Or maybe for the Westminster Dog Show announcers.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Whaling Walls...

Yesterday's live "Thames River Whale" story on NPR had me white-knuckling my way through the molasses traffic of LA on a Friday afternoon. Certainly the stuff of dreams: a young bottlenosed whale loses its way in the North Sea, and makes its way up the Thames right into the heart of London. There were reports of a pod of whales in the Thames estuary earlier in the week, and it is possible that the baby whale had become separated from this group. "It is the epitome of cool," quietly commented one young schoolboy (can you picture a nine year-old American kid saying that?). The whale had injured itself and landed in shallow water where it was in danger of having its lungs crushed under its five tons of mass. Sadly, the massive rescue effort went south when the whale went into fatal convulsions after being lifted by crane onto the salvage barge "Crossness." No doubt Prince Harry and his friends will dress up as Nazis and gorge on whaleburgers well into '06.

The Alaskan Eskimos have told a tale for thousands of years about The Trickster Raven. While drying his feathers by the fire on the beach one day, he spied a whale-cow close to shore. He called, "Next time you come up for air my dear, open your mouth and shut your eyes." The Raven gathered up his firesticks and waited. When the Whale surfaced and did as she was told, the Raven flew right through the open jaws and deep into her belly. There inside, the Raven saw a handsomely decorated room, dry and clean, the whale's spine supporting the ceiling and the ribs forming the walls. At the far end of the room burned a lamp, and sitting next to it a beautiful girl, The Soul of the Whale. A great tube ran along the ceiling from which great sticky drops fell from a crack into the lamp. Everytime the Soul of the Whale left the room, she forbade the Raven to touch the tube. Of course, he could not resist, the drops were so sweet he proceeded to catch each drop as they fell. And in his greed, he broke off a piece of the tube. Then, a great gush of oil poured into the room and the whale began to convulse and roll violently for four days. The Raven had punctured the Whale's heart-artery and her death (along with the Soul of the Whale) was slow but certain. After four days, the dead Whale washed ashore. Trapped inside, the Raven, almost dead with fatigue, heard men climbing on to the dead Whale's body. They pierced her flesh in several places and from one of the holes the Raven snuck out and ran away. But then, the Raven, cold and wet, remembered that he had left his firesticks inside the Whale. The Raven then removed his feathers and his Raven beak and took the form of a man. He too climbed up onto the great carcass and began searching inside. One of the men then called out "Look what I have found, firesticks!" The Raven was angry and very hungry by now. He quickly thought up a tall tale: "My, but this is very bad," he said. "My daughter once told me that when fire sticks are found inside a whale, that all the people in the village will die. I'm for running!" And he did so, and all the other men followed him in suit. And that was how the Raven, who doubled back retrieved his firesticks and had a whole feast of Whale to himself.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Reflections in a Golden Eye...

"“Photography is silent talk," late photography collector and curator Sam Wagstaff was wont to say. As Artforum said in 1997, "Wagstaff's curatorial genius and mania was juxtaposition. He paired discontinuous photographs to create a strange beauty, adding to the odd resonance of the photographs themselves, as in his wild and funny placement of Count de Montizon's recumbent The Hippopotamus at the Zoological Gardens, Regents Park, 1855, next to Lewis Carroll's sly odalisque, Portrait of a Young Boy, ca. 1857."

Were it not for Wagstaff's obsessive eyes, his penchant for the obscure and subversive, and his not-so-silent talk about the medium, photography might still be as under-appreciated and uncollectable as it was up until the late 1970s. Back in New York's swinging Studio 54 era, Wagstaff (incidentally, Robert Mapplethorpe's lover and mentor), trumped even Andy Warhol as champion of the inherent sexiness of looking at photographs, and by association, everything else the eye could see. "Some images," he noted, "allow you to linger, allow you to return again and again to a special mind-place that is sexy in the best sense of the word - emotional, intellectual, and sensual." This was the kind of simple and scandalous talk that made Wagstaff a reigning prince and provocateur in the art world. He was quick to throw vitriolic tirades at elitist curators pickled in their ancient ivory towers. His lively (and overtly gay) personal code of titillation and visual whimsy spread like confetti through the newly emerging moneyed and powerful ranks of "uber-art-fags". Soon enough, with Wagstaff's urging, Mapplethorpe's lens would uncap black penises for every mom and village priest to wrestle with in private.

The Wagstaff way of seeing quickly became the sacred bedrock upon which a whole new flock of aggressive collectors and curators fashioned their empires. And to close, a stretch: Could it be that the ascendancy and mass popularization of Wagstaff's talent for homoerotic juxtaposition is one reason why kissing cowboys rule the box office today? Well you'll just have to ask the next guy in a cowboy hat you see.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Most Wanted...

Just how wanted are our modern day totems of evil? Why are they so wanted and what are the unspoken rules of this twisted popularity contest?

It comes as no surprise that Osama bin Laden is on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list (although not for 9/11??). What is shocking is how relatively unremarkable the other nine wantees are. Clearly, if the accusations are correct, these are not upstanding citizens, but top ten material? Where are the Hannibal Lecters, the Ernst Stavros Blofelds, the John Wayne Gacy Jr.s, the Clyde Barrows and Bonnie Parkers? Yes, burning and torturing your family is an unfathomably repulsive crime, molesting children is absolutely wrong, and escaping from prison is sort of threatening to the public (but also strangely commendable and appropriate in the year of Johnny Cash). But don't these crimes lack the scale and the scope of evil and cunning one would expect the FBI to have on their hands when dealing with the so-called worst of the worst? Perhaps the only other really "classically trained" bad guy in the top 10 is Diego Leon Montoya Sanchez, a principal leader of the Colombian North Valley drug cartel. And he could use some work.

No doubt, we are completely jaded by outsized and oversimplified characterizations of "evil" in movies and other fictions. Lord knows our Commander in Chief hasn't exactly been an agent of refinement in this area (or has he?). One would expect our collective hunger for well-drawn villains to yield a glut of highly publicized real-life miscreants. The way, say, Donald Trump plays into our infantile projections of power and money. No doubt, there are people or deeds not on this list the FBI doesn't want the general public to know about. For example, I am surprised to see that weapons dealing makes no appearance, but maybe that's someone else's domain? (CIA? WTF?) (or as Syriana and Lord of War suggest, maybe these people are so in cahoots with the powers-that-be they remain safely outside the public myth of justice.)

Given that publicity and marketing are omnipresent and non-discriminatory, I'm shocked that there aren't more recognizable global outlaw figures (outside of established governments) who overtly aspire to world domination or other epically nefarious doings. Could this be a sign that there is simply less "evil" in the world than we originally imagined? In the black and white sense, yes. True evil is always gray.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Nuclear Age, part deux...

Did you know that the ready-to-launch New Horizons space craft carries 24 pounds of radioactive plutonium-238 on board its piano-sized hull? This plutonium is used to power the battery that will keep all systems go on the 10 year voyage to Pluto. (Plutonium to get to Pluto. Get it? Go ahead and insert your own Uranus joke here.) So I'm all for going to Pluto but, I'm less in favor of a rocket ship exploding in Earth's atmosphere and releasing the deadliest single radioactive substance in the universe into our rain clouds and air supply. They say the real damage would be centralized in Florida (insert your own Jeb Bush joke here), but I can't see how an explosion slightly higher in the atmosphere wouldn't make for a significantly larger target area.

As terrifying as all that is, I really bring this up mostly to show off this ultra-cool illustration of a "working" underground missile silo. Located in Green Valley Arizona just south of Tucson, it is the only remaining preserved example of a Titan II missile silo. During the cold war there were 17 other similar silos around Tucson, as well as 18 in Wichita Kansas and 18 in Little Rock Arkansas. This Site (named 571-7) was on alert from 1963 to 1982 with a single 110 foot tall 330,000 pound titan II missile armed with a nuclear warhead. What no back-up?

To top it off: a prediction. Not mine, but one firmly espoused by someone I know and trust. Here's how it unfolds: The world is about to re-embrace nuclear energy in a big way. You see, a loose confederation of conservative-leaning governments will rise to "answer" a steadily increasing world outcry against oil as a viable energy source. "We hear you," they will say, "and we agree. Oil is not the way into the future." And this talk will win elections. Of course, what they really mean is: oil will continue to be profitable for a while, but since it does seem to cause a lot of turf wars, we're gonna figure out a way to set up a mess of seriously profitable worldwide development contracts to reinstate nuclear energy. There will be lots of talk about how it's safer this time around, that the risk is negligible and the prices will be very reasonable. What they won't talk too much about is how, like before, there really is no safe way to store nuclear waste. Ironically, old oil drums full of the nasty stuff will be buried into mountainsides or empty lots or elsewhere where it can continue to risk contaminating the earth and the water and the air for thousands of years to come. There's more to this theory, but I can't remember it all now. But, back to my main point: Cool picture, eh?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Migration patterns are interesting aren't they? Birds are so much more predictable than us itinerant humans. Or are they? Let's do some big city math. After 9/11 many New Yorkers pulled up stakes and moved to Los Angeles (they're still complaining about the bagels, but they're getting used to picking fresh fruit from the backyard). Likewise, many (but far fewer) Angelinos have gone to NY in search of bigger prospects and true grit (that doesn't exist anymore. Each time I go to NY it resembles, more and more, the worst most commercially overblown aspects of LA). Then you've got the British, who used to go to Italy for their sunshine, but now they seem to be here in LA shedding their reserve. The Russians have been here for ages, and seem to relish occupying faded, pistachio, stucco dingbat condos in a way no American ever could match. I have no idea what percentage of Americans are moving to Europe these days. Less than in previous decades I imagine. Although you could say that plenty of NY/LA celebrity "royalty" has gone overseas in search of their respective castles. Madonna, Gweneth Paltrow, and Johnny Depp spring to mind. But these exceptions aside, the push of bodies seems to be Westward. You could also argue that the push of (pop) culture goes from West to East. In other words, all these exotic migratory birds who land in LA with the ideas and the focus and the intellectual rigor borne from points East, then regurgitate their creative loads into the mouths of a thousand gaping printing presses, broadcast machines, and satellite transmitters in order to beam messages of rampant mediocrity back home. Did you know that the number one television show in Moscow is Dallas? I'd like to say this proves my point, but actually, I think that speaks to a far more complicated cultural exchange.

I know, I know. Stereotypes abound. Don't get your feathers all ruffled. What's in your blood, titmouse?

Monday, January 16, 2006

"I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of goodwill. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability."

-MLK, letter from jail, 1963

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Anybody who knows me knows that long stretches of vigorous, transformative travel are what I hanker for. There is nothing like the feeling of moving rootlessly through the world, living on your wits, not being defined by a fixed context, a fixed identity, a fixed worldview. I've often thought that something I would be good at is ungluing unhappy people from their own fixed conditions and helping them to find some other self, some more enriching way of being, while knocking around the globe with them. These would have to be some real risktakers, people who might feel that their life has become a vessel for repetitive, dolorous pain and unfulfilled fantasy, and who are willing to let go of what they've got.

Travel Therapy (TM) I call it. I have found that sharing the commotion and momentum of travel with another human (or small group of them) is a good way to grow. Combine the walking and talking, the serendipity and adventure, the perpetual intersplicing of the familiar and the alien, the loneliness and the exhaustion, and pretty soon the binding on one's inner chaos knocks loose and begins to echo the chaos of meandering the continents. Terrifying at first, but the rewards of finding a sort of equilibrium with the world come quickly. In my own travels I have felt the awakening of something like a "core" being and found those elusive sparks of vitality we all crave. Bing and Bob knew that life on the road was where it's at.

Travel Therapy would offer troubled and isolated people a taste of wanderlust. A yearning for other worlds accompanied by the character and wearwithal to participate in them. Sure there are the sites and the marvels, the horrors and the dangers, and all the less spectacular stretches in between. Yes there is the exotica: the temples of Angkor, the tombolos of Cape Town, the blue hues of the South Pacific, the Mayan ruins, the "fish cure" of Hyderabad, the Japanese tea ceremonies, the orgies of Prague, the sea turtles of the Galapagos and so on. Yes, you will meet the people, smell the smells, savor the details in vivid color. But the point of Travel Therapy is not to lose yourself in the stuff of the world, but on the contrary, to discover a higher sense of self - a worldly self - a nuanced and robust ego that can adapt to change, openly observe, think deep, act fast and laugh hard, wherever, whenever... More on this later. My breakfast is ready.

OK I'm back. (Salmon crepes. Delicious. Find a partner who can cook and you'll always have something delicious to look forward to.) A full stomach takes the Alain de Botton out of a man and replaces him with Don Rickles.

So. In the "platinum" version of Travel Therapy you will be accompanied by a carefully selected coterie of experts - what may seem like a bizarre and rag tag group at first, but ultimately the perfect match for your deepest needs (as determined by exhaustive, diagnostic pre-interviews as administered by a panel of debunked Korean scientists and retired deities). Your team will include: A shrink (from your chosen school of psychology), a shaman, a scientist, an writer/aphorist/photographer, a geographer/historian/portraitist, a physical therapist/nutritionist, a body guard (who sings opera), a negative provocateur/contrarian (aka "the lovable scapegoat") and a personal friend. I too would come along as a sort of gestalt-ifying generalist in jodhpurs. (The Millionaire and his wife would be available for an extra fee.)

In addition to providing excellent company, education and a variety of good (and opinionated) ears, this group would assign site specific challenges, tasks, and homework along the way: sleep tonight on this beach, engage that person in a philosophical conversation, steal that loaf of bread, give that person a hug and a kick in the shin, read this book, dine with that policeman, paint that corn field, volunteer in that hospice, climb over that wall, etc. Don't think "Fear Factor" though. These challenges would occur at random intervals and are not superficial exercises in sensationalism for the benefit of couchbound voyeurs. These are tailor-made experiences that will make you angry and doubtful and resentful at first. There are no safety nets or easy outs. There are no commercial breaks. This is your life.

OF course the "platinum" service is wildly expensive. And worth it! It's life-changing results are permanent and will vastly outperform any other fixative or self-help the modern world has to offer. Start saving now. Or...

On the other side of the Travel Therapy coin, is the far more intensive and rewarding "budget" version. Here you will be approached unannounced while opening your front door one evening. You will be chloroformed into a deep relaxing sleep. You will wake up naked in the airport parking lot of a remote location such as Ulaan Bator. You will have 1200 Mongolian tugrogs (approx. US $1) taped to your forehead. Good luck!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

H2Over it...

("The Rest of
Your Life" by
Richard Gachot)

Amazing how a few work related emails and phone calls can throw you off track. As much as I love California, there is definitely some spirochete in the water that causes professional communications to malfunction in mysterious ways with alarming regularity. I say stick to the bottled agua if you value clarity, questions (with answers), time (as measured by clocks and calendars), and truthfulness. Or just go straight to the tap and have a guzzle if you want to join in the jabberwocky. I'm getting too old for this shit though. The wheel of time is nipping at my heels. There is so much to do. Days melt into months and progress dons a Hawaiian shirt and says, "Take a chill pill buddy," which, of course, fans the flames of anxiety. No wonder the hills are always burning out here. I've become a much better New Yorker in Los Angeles than I was in New York.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Going to see a new print of this Fritz Lang classic tonight at the Orpheum Theatre downtown, with a live organist. Well, actually I'm going with Sarah. The organist will be there already. Ah, language! Anyhow, I remember watching it years ago over and over in a lush Park Avenue apartment with the lame Queen soundtrack turned down (just threw on a few random albums and let the audio-visual synchronicities occur, like the old Wizard of Oz and Dark Side of the Moon trick). Even colorized, I couldn't stop watching this film. Don't remember why. Hopefully, it will all come back this evening. Here's the lovely Brigitte Helm in between scenes sipping what I can only assume is liquid LSD. What else could have caused such mad and otherworldly acting? (Perhaps repeated shots of scalding hot air pumped into her robot suit by a sadistic stage hand? Ah, Germans!)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Human Phosphorescence...

("Guest 20" by Chris Bucklow)

A few weeks back it was phosphorescent monkeys.

Now, CNN reports the existence of a new breed of domestic pigs in Taipei that glow fluorescent green from the inside out. Genetic engineering debates aside, I'd just like to make a prediction here and now that wildly expensive cosmetic phosphorescence for humans can only be a few years off. Will you be the first ones on your block to have that special glow?

Acausal Connecting Principle...

I've been in a massive coincidence vortex since Christmas. No need to list them all. After a while, what can you say. It's like living in a haunted house. Oh look, the table is floating across the room. Let's just start with five minutes ago when I was downloading Kraftwerk's track "Radioactivity" (not as good as the terrifying song that comes after it, "Radioland", but still worth having in any library). As the download is finishing up, guess what starts playing in the background of "The World" on NPR? Yes. Unbelievable. Of all the music in all the towns in all the world, why would an obscure German song recorded in 1975 walk onto my radio?

In cryptography, coincidence counting is the technique of putting two texts side-by-side and counting the number of times that a letter appears in the same position in both texts. This count, as a ratio of the total, is known as the index of coincidence. It can be reduced to the mathematical formula seen above.

I'm not sure about what ot make of coincidences or, more correctly, the phenomenon of synchronicity. (A coincidence is simply two simultaneous events, synchronicity is the human experience of two unrelated events that happen in close proximity and that seem to convey some meaning). Carl Jung (who coined the term synchronicity) frequently related this incredible example:

"In 1805, French writer Ãmile Deschamps is treated to some plum pudding by the stranger Monsieur de Fontgibu. Ten years later, he encounters plum pudding on the menu of a Paris restaurant, and wants to order some, but the waiter tells him the last dish has already been served to another customer, who turns out to be M. de Fontgibu. Many years later in 1832, Ãmile Deschamps is at a diner, and is once again offered plum pudding. He recalls the earlier incident and tells his friends that only M. de Fontgibu is missing to make the setting complete, and in the same instant the now senile M. de Fontgibu enters the room by mistake."

(Cue Theremin)

Are these instances mathematical inevitabilitieses? Are they (mis)perceptions born of magical thinking? Or are these symbolic messages from beyond? Only the shadow knows...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Watercress of Immortality...

"Grace" is a word whose meaning has eluded me, not having ever looked it up or asked what it means. I've generally taken it to mean "charm" or "elegance" that hints at divinity. Amazing Grace. Grace Kelly. Grace Jones. Graceland.

Sure enough, Webster's first definition is: n. unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification. That makes sense. When people talk about "the grace of God" it's like a plea for us awkward, trouble-bound humans to become unstuck by reflecting on the staggering poise of the universe. Calgon take me away... But there's even more.

I have recently come to learn that in nearly all mythologies, "grace" is something more tangible: a miraculous energy substance possessed by gods. In fact, the gods are only special because they viciously hoard their grace (by one account it is something they got with great effort only after their arch rivals, the titans, had acquired a superpower of their own: the power to revive the dead). Grace comes in many forms but it always gives eternal life and unique superpowers to its owners, so of course it is the envy of every mortal (typically, the place where grace is stored is the ultimate destination of the hero's quest - the fountain of youth, the holy grail, the elixir of life, Amrita - the butter of eternal life churned from the Milky Ocean, Gilgamesh's search for the Watercress of Immortality, etc). Grace is quite adaptable: It is Zeus' thunderbolts, Cupid's arrows, Buddha's mindsword, God's wrath, and even Jesus' miracles. When humans get ahold of grace by nefarious means, or with delusions of grandeur, the results are never pretty. Think of King Midas who greedily turned all to gold including the only thing he loved, his daughter.

It is not man's possession of grace that makes him great, but his desire to understand it and go looking for it in some pretty sketchy neighborhoods. As he searches, he soon learns that individual manifestations of grace are illusory. With each dragon slayed and every material treasure shrugged off, the hero summons the grace of higher and higher forms of divinity in the cosmos. One day he looks down and sees the gods squabbling beneath him over their petty powers. He looks up and sees... this

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Pity the Nipple...

("Woman #1" by Sarah Bay Williams)

In an amazing collision of art and legislation, Sarah tells me that the models at her life painting classes (here in LA) must now wear pasties (and panties) as a result of new laws designed to prevent actual nudity in strip clubs. I've been waiting for something like this. That unexpected point where the neo-con tentacle touches everyday life in some seemingly innocuous, but, at the same time, disturbingly personal way. The mayor better have a stock pile of pasties on hand, lest there be an outbreak of exposed nipples in homes and locker rooms across the city. In the meantime, might I suggest another model for the class?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Un-mothballing Space: How high can Iraq fly?

Look, I know it's mayhem over there, but even so, this is a time for broad thoughts. So, if it has to be that Iraq is now an "emancipated" country, well then, let's consider a new global attitude. Let us welcome them, embrace the exciting potential of a new country. Remember how good we felt back in 1776? How much hope and vision there was to right what was wrong about the world? Let's allow them a chance to distinguish themselves from the other 193 nations of our planet. Make a lasting gesture towards our collective future. This is what "new" can do.

So what will New Iraq be known for? Oil? (Done. Too messy.) New Energy? (Good, but unlikely to win favor with the West.) Religious tolerance? (Very good, but maybe too hot a topic?) That only leaves one thing - Space! What a turnaround that would be, if right under our meddling noses this modest new government quietly announced that they had a plan of their own: to explore and understand space on a level no nation has ever attempted.

Ever since the cold war thaw, space programs have been lackluster and washed-up shadows of their former glory days. Maybe they really were more about the competition than the rockets' red glare. If so, then what an opportunity there is now for someone to relaunch a space program that is informed by science and humanity rather than politics and one-upmanship. I mean if Neil Diamond gets a comeback, then surely space programs deserve another crack at the big time.

So, while we in the US are sending go carts to Mars, what if Iraq were to pool it's resources, bring in the best talent from Russia and other former space programs, and get back to mounting serious megamissions - manned and womanned space flights that boldly go where no country has ever gone before. And remember, space programs are responsible for groundbreaking, energy-efficient and generally cool new technologies. What a perq. The Iraqis might also look to the Burt Rutan's of the world - visionary private citizens fumbling with their millions to come up with lean mean space technology. Surely these entrepreneurs would consider redirecting their attentions to a such an initiative. One that might, incidentally, put the aftermath of the war in someone else's hands.

The way I see it, every gallon of Iraqi oil is tainted with the blood of Iraqis, Americans and every other country on earth. We are all complicit for the damage and deathtoll (even if the powers that be were unstoppable). If you are against the war, you should be willing to say 'no thanks' to that oil or whatever spoils the war brings forth. Let whatever the Iraqis have (after reconstruction) go to some greater cause. A space program, disease prevention, education, etc. Let them decide. Let the people of Iraq have a chance to show some vision, to be magnanimous in the face of imposed squalor.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


("Weed Against Sky" by Harry Callahan)


Annum Carnivalis...

("Mappa della Nonsforza" by Francesco Clemente)

I hereby pronounce the year 2006: Annum Carnivalis, or, the year of the carnival. A departure from lazy comfort, quiet stability and numbing routine. Dazzling animals flashing vividly colored pelts in a cacaphonous procession of hooves and fins and clipped wings waiting to grow out. Finding momentary footings amongst the chaos and inhabiting these as both home and laboratory. A celebration of skewered meats and crackling fires, terrifying thrills and jerryrigged systems, striped tents and peeling paint, and a persistent dizziness that borders on nausea, but sweetly innocent as horse shit. Also, the religious mounting and breaking down of a show, being on the road, the dappled sun, the quiet hours getting from here to there, slightly oval wheels rocking a haycart between two towns. Aching muscles and spectacular hangovers that transform over and over into ecstatic waking dreams of the circus.

Or maybe I'll just get TiVo.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Cheer up Syd Barrett...

Life begins at 60!
Happy Birthday to you.

Trip to heave and ho, up down, to and fro'
you have no word
trip, trip to a dream dragon
hide your wings in a ghost tower
sails cackling at every plate we break
cracked by scattered needles
the little minute gong
coughs and clears his throat
madam you see before you stand
hey ho, never be still
the old original favorite grand
grasshoppers green Herbarian band
and the tune they play is "In Us Confide"
so trip to heave and ho, up down, to and fro'
you have no word
Please leave us here
close our eyes to the octopus ride!
Isn't it good to be lost in the wood
isn't it bad so quiet there, in the wood
meant even less to me than I thought
with a honey plough of yellow prickly seeds
clover honey pots and mystic shining feed...
well, the madcap laughed at the man on the border
hey ho, huff the Talbot
"Cheat" he cried shouting kangaroo
it's true in their tree they cried
Please leave us here
close our eyes to the octopus ride!
The madcap laughed at the man on the border
hey ho, huff the Talbot
the winds they blew and the leaves did wag
they'll never put me in their bag
the seas will reach and always seep
so high you go, so low you creep
the wind it blows in tropical heat
the drones they throng on mossy seats
the squeaking door will always squeak
two up, two down we'll never meet
so merrily trip forgo my side
Please leave us here
close our eyes to the octopus ride!

Thursday, January 05, 2006


So we've got these fairly amazing bodies that serve us and carry us places and that give us clues as to who we are in the vicious realm of appearances. And generally we are pretty good at covering them up and scrubbing them down and not thinking too much about the carnivorous, feverish, decomposing, malodorous and rotting nature of human flesh. On the whole, our relations with our bodies tend to be perfumed and mythic if slightly nagging. And just as good fences make good neighbors, so too can much of our energy go into taming and training (and recarving) the outlines of the body to delight our eyes as well as the eyes of others. In Los Angeles it is the neighborly thing to do.

With that said, there seems to have been very little progress in the way gyms operate in the last, say, two thousand years. Typically, one goes to a fluorescent-lit cement box with horrible acoustics, blaring music that no one wants to hear, and a design aesthetic based around giant logo displays in clashing neon colors. It goes without saying that the smells are really what it's all about. I tell you that you have not lived until you've ventured into the men's bathroom at Gold's in Hollywood trying to hold your breath but losing it after a minute and finally inhaling the bouquet of freshly evacuated steroids. Are we getting hungry? OK, I'll stop.

My point is simple. Rethink the gym. For starters, let's start using all that energy that's being generated by pedal grinding legs and iron pumping arms to power homes and electric cars and hospitals and discotheques. Recently someone told me a great story about Ben Franklin and his front gate. Guests would drop by the Franklin estate and they would have to really knock themselves out to slowly nudge the gate open enough for a horse carriage to pass through. "Let me send someone over to help you fix that damn gate!" guests would kindly offer. "Why would I do that?" said Franklin, "then I'd have to pump my own water from the well." Genius. So, figure 20 minutes on the treadmill could generate three hours of heat and hot water in a homeless shelter. I mean there are so many frigging engineers and electicians and urban planners graduating from top notch schools. People let's get on this!

Secondly, foster community through music. Forget the piped in techno. Trust me, no one, not even the most pill-popping, juiced-up, Neanderthal is gaining any benefit from those spastic synthesizers. True, the right music can bring a jolt of excitement to any sagging workout. How about a live band? I mean a really good live band. One that has studied for years at an exclusive Swiss conservatory the way the body responds to certain sounds and crescendoes and chordal progressions and then spent years on the road performing before jaded pirates and stubborn shoegazers. And why not cellos? I mean isn't
it just a little too predictable to let the raw energy of the Sex Pistols or Led Zeppelin get your mojo up? Sometime the body replenishes not in reaction to a wall of sound, but to a single, beautiful note.

With a band comes a stage. A more theatrical experience. So if you are starting a gym, forget the empty warehouse space. Look for a charismatic old theater, crumbling and creaking and full of ghosts. Arrange the equipment accordingly, where the seats and boxes used to be. Arrange the equipment with the precision of an orchestra: rowing machines in front. Stairmasters and other Cardio equipment in the center. Free weights and chin-up bars in the mezzanine. Pilates and jump ropes in the boxes. Lighting and visuals are key. I saw The Flaming Lips once, and I don't really love them much, but the thing that got me going (besides the smuggled in tequila) was the full wall projection of ladies in leggings (circa 1985?) doing aerobic exercises in perfect synchronization to the music. Good visuals can trigger a great adrenaline rush.

Ah rats, there's so much more to explore here, but alas, time won't let me. Off to the cactus farm. More on that tomorrow maybe.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

How it works...

(image by Julien Pacaud)

I've been trying to have a real conversation with the telemarketer who keeps calling. She's all about selling me some thing. I tried to tell her I'm a salesman too. I want to sell her a piece of human conversation unfettered by the dull, hypnotic trance of the marketplace. But she's not interested. So I'm left with my own oh-so-deep thoughts and no one to tell them too... except you.

Speech is often taken for granted. Sure it can order a latte, or galvanize a nation, but what else does it do? At the risk of sounding flaky (I think that risk was established here weeks ago), speech enables the soul to escape the imprisonment of the body. The words we choose are like rudders, loosely steering the soul through the outer world, in the general direction of whatever external forces it seeks to connect with. Fortunately, unlike the printed word, speech is forgiving, and should never be overly censored in real conversation. Here, shared words, thoughts, and emotions should collide, combine, and re-combine in a chain-like molecular reaction. Make mistakes. Repeat yourself. Improvise like a jazz musician at a Jamaican clam bake jam. There is always room to recalibrate, to refine, to go back, to revise. It should be fun and purposeful and enduring. It should leave one feeling uplifted, ready for action, never put upon. OK, back to work... Have you considered refinancing your home lately?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Water Grandfather...

The Russian "Water Grandfather" or Dyedushka Vodyanoy is a dangerous ogre. He is an adroit shapeshifter and is said to drown people who swim at midnight or noon. He inhabits the deeps of rivers, streams, and ponds. By day he remains concealed, like an old trout or salmon. By night he surfaces to drive is subaqueous cattle, sheep, and horses ashore to graze. In the winter he smashes ice along the rivers, piling up great blocks. Mill wheels he is amused to destroy. But in a favorable mood he drives the fish into the fisherman's net or gives a warning of coming floods. His beautiful daughters, tall, pale, with an air of sadness, transparently costumed in green, torture and torment the drowned. They rock in the trees beautifully singing.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Powaqqatsi vs. Baraka...

Following some unconscious desire for spiritual cleansing at the year's end, and more specifically, a sort of antidote for all the crappy entertainment and media that one consumes in the course of 365 days, I walked into a video store the other day and rented Powaqqatsi and Baraka without hesitation or reflection. This was uncharacteristic on several levels. 1) I am generally against feelgood films and 2) l can linger way too long in those sneeze-ridden hellholes digging for non-existent truffles. This time I was in and out in three minutes, sure of my choices. (Although I was shocked to discover getting into the car that I had also rented "The Wedding Crashers"). By the way, there's a word for the state of consciousness that descends upon us when we enter a video store: Vidiocy.

Over the years I've seen all of these lush, plush, non-verbal, Earth-poem type films, and am not embarrassed to admit that I get something out of them. They all have a sort of naive generalism and broad-mindedness and global spirit that gets my inner-hippie nodding in awe. Great hangover TV too.

There's a particularly interesting newer one of these called Bodysong featuring a soundtrack by Radiohead's guitarist, Johnny Greenwood. It's got a lot more edge than the other films which tend towards the grandiose and the sexless. There's another one too I like, though very hippy-dippy in certain aspects of its approach. It's called One Giant Leap and is worth seeing. Interesting process, but a little too earnest.

But back to my DVD selections. Briefly, Powaqqatsi is the more interesting film. Baraka has better imagery and is more fun to watch (how can you forget this), but it lacks the epic swirling chaos and intellectual pomposity born of the Godfrey Reggio and Philip Glass collaboration. Jumping back a few thoughts, you might say Baraka is to Coldplay as Powaqqatsi is to Radiohead. If that makes any sense. Ron Fricke is a brilliant cinematographer but he or someone he works with has an annoying way of National Geographic-alizing everything. The effect is to anesthetize your feelings rather than challenge them. I don't live in a world of fluid and preciously composed shots of exotica. Reggio has this problem too, but again, his Qqatsi films are saved by his peculiar choices and his lunatic curiosity about how life on Earth works. A good way to really drive my point home is to watch the "making of" extras included on the DVDs. Listening to Ron Fricke talk about his special cameras and his trials and tribulations while globetrotting is as boring as Eric Clapton. Watching Reggio and Glass ramble on and on using long sentences full of Sunday times crossword puzzle words like shibboleth is also a little boring but in such a fascinating way. If that makes any sense. Now it should be noted that Ron Fricke was both writer and cinematographer on Koyaanisqatsi. I've heard that there was a falling out, and that Fricke thought he could do better on his own. I support that initiative, and I'm glad the film exists, even if the results are less interesting to this rainy day blogger. And if we talk soundtracks, well there's no comparison. Baraka is badly undermined by its sappy new age pan flutes and global multi-culti pastiche cliches... How on the nose can you get! Jeez. Philip Glass is one of our national treasures and I'm certain he has a great collection of aubergine sweater-shirts.

The caveat. All of these films suffer from the locked-in nature of linear film montage. You can feel the directors struggling to tell their tales with footage that just wants to live on its own. It's a very manipulative underpinning that smacks of ego and forced edits meant to synchronize the music and the mood and the very bigness of it all. Here's my solution for a digital age. Re-release the films as DVDs that have a random shuffle feature. Throw all the unused footage in there. Allow viewers to use the original soundtracks or select their own. Let the images pile up in their own way, tell their own story. Maybe in one version viewers can act as editor by clicking onto the next scene when they are ready. Or maybe there could also be a pre-edit feature that allowed you to select from the footage. Wait a minute. I thought I was a genius for a second, but I think I'm stealing this last idea from the Bodysong website. Yep, I am. OK, well it's a great idea anyway.

Some people can't stand these nonverbal movies. And certainly producers aren't lining up to make them by the dozen. Good enough. Still, I intend to make one of these films myself one day, as I think I have a different slant in mind that would add something to the genre. So you can email me your contributions or your estimated ticket price. In the meantime, if you seek some media lime sorbet that will counteract all the noisy and wordy entertainment out there, these films are the way to go.


Jellyfish Monkey...

That's right... phosphorescent simians.

"The jellyfish DNA was packaged inside a viral vector... The vector was used to transfer the DNA into 224 monkey eggs, which were then fertilized. About half divided to become embryos and 40 of those were selected for implantation in monkey wombs. The result was five pregnancies and three live births. Two of the three monkeys did not have the green fluorescence gene, but ANDi did."

Get the scoop here. Thanks Laura for the news flash!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Versionalism vs. Originalism...

In your life you will encounter the Originalist. He believes that some things which are truly great have an almost sacred quality and should therefore be exempt from imitation or reinvention (i.e. , pre-70's Fender guitars, King Kong, Mom's pecan pie recipe, the Constitution, The Harlem Globetrotters, etc.) His flag might read "Don't mess with the Ur!" I can appreciate this camp and have camped out there myself. But lately, I am finding myself leaning the other direction. Let there be many versions of each great thing. Let human energy be reallocated from perpetuating the mediocre to understanding greatness. I am pro-Versionalism.

Some principles. First: Defending original, sacred ground is hugely important IF it is in danger of being eclipsed or destroyed by an imitation. (Who was Che Guevara before he was a tee shirt?) Fortunately, many great things (though not all) can withstand a reinterpretation, remake, reimagineering, update or version 2.0. The spawn of the great will rarely alter the form or the impact of the original. The original will always be first. It shall stand as the groundbreaking standard of excellence.

Secondly, wherever there is gold, there may indeed be more of it to mine. If someone is willing to retread the ground where greatness has been, then I say go for it. The flag for this camp might read, "Improve or Die!" Of course, most attempts will fail to "beat" the original by a long shot. But other attempts will find new strands of greatness and perhaps even, in rare cases, improve upon the original.

An example. For me (and this is going to ruffle some space boots), the Steven Soderbergh remake of Solaris (yes, the George Clooney one) is a vastly superior film to the Tarkovsky original. Don't get me wrong, I love the original, and hold it in the highest esteem as an epic piece of cinema. (Haven't read the book though, apologies to the "Oh-the-book-is-much-better-than-the-film" camp.) The original film epitomizes the daunting task of trailblazing: it leaves behind a magnificent, though rough, pathway cut madly and blindly in the name of discovering something new and giving people a way to get there. The remake, on the other hand, acknowledges that the piece of fiction known as Solaris has kicked open many important doors, many opportunities. Let us now go through some of those doors it seems to say. The original and the remake then share the best kind of relationship - an evolving chain of thematic exploration. Of course, it didn't play out this way in the press. Originalists from all corners of the globe shot down Soderbergh's remake for all the usual originalist reasons - namely that sacred ground had been tampered with. But I say let there be hundreds, thousands of more versions of Solaris, and all the other great things as well. Surely some will outshine the master.

Lastly amigos, we must consider the ways of the world. In order for something to survive, it must replicate. How many great books, songs, ideas, inventions, blood lines, pizza toppings, have been lost to the one hit wonder bin of history? We know that imitation is flattery, but more than that: it creates a lineage, a conspicuous body of work that asks to be studied and built upon. This is how our myths are born. How old stories are rewritten and adapted to the needs of the day.

And what does any of this have to do with New Year's Day? Well, like this: In 2006, may you find the wisdom to recognize originality and greatness, and may you devise the marketing strategy to replicate it ad nauseum. With adjustments of course.