You’re the top, you’re 2010

The Best of Me:
A year ago I couldn’t have compiled this list, but I’ve massaged my writing brain more and more this year. And  sometimes even I like the results:
1. Nanowrimo: the more I look at the draft I plugged away at during the month of November, the harder it is to find something I want to share. Not that I’d forgive myself for not achieving perfection on the fly. No. But sometimes, it was close enough for jazz.
2. My Blogcritics review of  The Wonderful world of Kittens. Really one of my best reviews ever.
3. From my work blog, a tribute to Lawrence Welk.
4. Ditto, an announcement for a lecture by Greil Marcus, which gave me the opportunity to pay homage-cum-satire to his associative leaps, if not to his signature contradictions which run along the lines of,  “It was the yes that means no; it meant nothing; and everything”  not a direct quote but That’s How He Writes And In What World Is That Good Writing I Ask You? Anyway, it was a grand chance to reference Bigfoot and Marie Osmond in the same post.
5. From DCist, my review of Robert Ryman and Pousette-Dart at the Phillips.

Best Sandwiches:
Classic bahn mi at baoguette (NY)
Meatball bahn mi at BaBay (DC)
Pastrami on rye at Eisenberg’s (NY)
Firehouse 14 at JJ’s Cheesesteaks (DC)
Cheesesteak with wiz at Cosmi’s Deli (Philadelphia)
Spike’s Sunnyside @ Good Stuff Eatery (DC)


Art:
Otto Dix @ Neue Gallery
Yves Klein @Hirshhorn
Robert Ryman @ Phillips
Miroslav Tichy @ICP
Muybridge @Corcoran
The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry @Met
Bern Porter @MOMA
Artifice @ Delillis
Pieter Hugo’s Nollywood @Yossi Milo
This clock, from a gift shop in Front Royal, VA:

Movies:
Winter’s Bone
Last Train Home
The Social Network
Marwencol
And I named it last year but it only got a semi-commercial US release this year so it’s worth mentioning twice: Henri-George-Clouzot’s Inferno, which features some of the most stunning cinematography I’ve ever seen.
honorable mention: Easy A, Daybreakers, Runaways

Meh: Wild Grass, Black Swan, Piranha 3-D

Music:

I’ve barely listened to any new music this year, and none of what I heard (pace nice albums from younguns Allo Darlin’ and oldies the Vaselines; new ones from Taylor Swift and M.I.A. haven’t hit repeat for me yet) knocked me out like the Chic box set. But I heard a number of revelatory things from the past and far away thanks to my homie lapinfille‘s voracious youtube investigations. These are just a handful:

Rita Pavone, “My name is potato”
Bruno Lomas, “Ven sin temor”
Michel Polnareff, “La poupee  qui fait non”
Olavi Virta, “Hula hula hula hoop”

And one of the most amazing things she has ever found:

Happy New Year!

RIP Sandro

This piece first appeared in a slightly different form on blogcritics.org.

A year ago this week, near the end of a whirlwind holiday trip to South America, I walked into the magnificent El Ateneo bookstore in Buenos Aires. I looked through the Argentine DVDs for something to remember the country by. On a whim led by cover art that spoke some strange yet familiar sentiment to me, I picked up a movie starring Roberto Sanchez, aka Sandro. This is the trailer for that movie:

My homie and I watched it that night, and were immediately transfixed by his infectious gyrations, now rhythmic, now melodramatic. On our last night in Argentina we went back to El Ateneo for more Sandro for her and for friends back home, but nobody else really seemed to recognize his swarthy awesomeness.

English-language obituaries call him the Elvis of Argentina, though Sandro’s musical hips are attached to a dramatic ham that Elvis never showed in his movies. Sandro’s entertainment was no less than an alchemical explosion of equal parts Tom Jones and Richard Burton.
Sandro died on January 4th, from complications arising from a lung and heart transplant. He was 64. In an interview with Mitre Radio, excerpted in the Star Tribune, Sandro curses his fate:

I am debilitated because I cannot move. My life is my bed, my spot in the dining room where I read the newspaper, and from there I do not move, I am to blame for the condition that I am in. I deserve it; I sought it out. I picked up this damn cigarette.

May flights of angels hip-shake thee to your rest, Senor.

sometimes when we record at extended play

http://youtube.com/v/2lGH2evXX4g

In the 80’s, I asked a high school chum, who shall remain nameless but who is a FB contact (apropriately enough, I also remember lending him a philosophy textbook, which he left in his car during a pouring rain; he returned the book to me besotted with water damage, and our Philosophy teacher pointed to it’s damage as an indicator of how much its owner referred to it. I never corrected his assumption) to tape Lord Love a Duck for me, off a broadcast station (WBFF 45, a Baltimore station) I couldn’t get well in DC. The tape was full of dropouts and transmission problems, and though I taped over it long ago, and the movie is now available in a pristine DVD transfer, I sometimes wish I could watch it again broadcast problems and all. The tracking (and audio) problems in these clips of similar vintage are the video-age equivalent to the patina of scratches and emulsion damage seen in neglected celluloid prints of the silent era. Cf: the time I saw a faded-to-pink print of Lasse Halstrom’s Abba movie. Via lapinfille.

American Masters: Rick Dees

Over the transom from lapinfille comes Rick Dees’s companion piece to “Bigfoot” and “Disco duck.” Any single one of these records may seem like no more than cheap novelty with a driving beat, but the cumulative effect of these dismissed if not forgotten lipstick traces of the nineteen-seventies is more troubling than bell bottoms. Dees is clearly fascinated with modern man’s increasing distance from nature, meaning not only natural environment but his own animal instincts. These treatises on bodily transformation are mined in the rich vein of his contemporaries Davids Johansen, Cronenberg, and Bowie. Today, Dees lords over America’s Top 40, and while Lady Gaga may traffic in personal identity a la Bowie, and Mariah Carey has shed her secret life as Chewbacca, we can only hope that as Taylor Swift grows into adulthood she throws her remarkable poise and skills into her own cryptozoological project. I think I’ll tweet this at her.

the three burials of timothy carey

Timothy Carey is my favorite character actor. His 6′ 4″ frame and menacing looks got him plenty of work as a noir heavy, and an often uncredited one at that; it’s not for nothing that he’s listed in the cast for Shock Treatment as “Hulking patient.” His scene-chewing walk-ons would be enough to land him in the darker annals of Hollywood legend, a kind of demonic Edward Everett Horton. Imagine for a moment that Carey was born a generation or two sooner and had a recurring role in the Fred and Ginger movies; perhaps Hermes Pan would have recognized a kind of grace in seventy-six inches of mean lank and, on the merits or at knifepoint, given the man a dancing role?

But Carey wasn’t your ordinary character actor, and his was not an ordinary career. To crib from the notes I wrote for a brief Timothy Carey film series I curated for a now defunct repertory program in Washington, D.C., : [Carey] was known to go to unusual lengths to get a role. Hoping for a part in Prince Valiant, he donned medieval robes and climbed a fence to brandish a knife at Henry Hathaway. At a casting call for The Godfather, he shot blanks at Francis Ford Coppola, who returned fire with glee. Carey didn’t get either of those parts, though Coppola kept trying to hire him anyway. Not satisfied with chewing somebody else’s scenery, Carey directed himself in the notorious underground film The World’s Greatest Sinner, and upon his death was working on a stage production of a play he called “The Insect Trainer,” a salute to the irrepressible creative energy of flatulence.

I recently looked up Timothy Carey in a database of historical newspapers and found a number of intriguing items:

New York Times, May 8, 1957
Missing US Actor is Found

MUNICH, Germany, May 7 (Reuters)–Timothy Carey, 31-year old Hollywood actor who disappeared from his hotel here sunday night, was found gagged and handcuffed on a lonely road outside Munich this morning, the police said here today. They said the actor had hitched a ride in a car driven by two English-speaking men, who held him at gunpoin, robbed him of $40 and finally dumped him by the roadside

One’s natural first response is, “What kind of thug holds up Timothy Carey?” My dear fellow American suggests an intimidation level of three Klaus Kinksi’s, but I’m not sure that even an unholy trinity of Communist Kinksi’s could strike that much reckless fear into the eyes of this fallen American Carey.

But what further intrigued me, upon scrolling reel after reel of virtual microfilm, was that the name Timothy Carey was associated with an uncanny violence in at least two previous iterations.

New York Times, July 5, 1887
SUICIDE OF A VIOLENT WOMAN

Ellen Carey, the wife of a cripple, Timothy Carey, living at Tenth Avenue and One-hundred and Fortieth Street, commited suicide yesterday by taking a dose of rat poison. She had been quarelling all night with her husband, and about 7 o’clock in the morning resorted to force, striking him a severe blow with a stick of wood. She then drank the contents of a teacup, afterward found to have contained poison, and died almost immediately.

The deceased had been known as a woman of violent temper, approaching at times to insanity. During Mr. Cleveland’s Administration as Governor she was pardoned from state prison after serving two years of a life sentence for arson. She had been convicted of setting fire to a house belonging to her sister.

Finally, this item, which despite the chronological proximity to the previous tragedy, is, owing to the manner of injury, unlikely to be a document of the widower Carey.

New York Times, September 28, 1897
BICYCLIST FOUND UNCONSCIOUS
Timothy Carey Picked Up Near Vineland, N.J., with a crushed head.
VINELAND, N. J:, Sept. 27.–Timothy Carey, a bicyclist, was found lying unconscious in the middle of the road near this place to-night. His head was badly crushed, and it is probable he will die. His bicycle, a light racing machine, was lying beside him totally wrecked. It is not know how he was hurt.

Good night, sweet three Timothy Careys, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

a merry carey christmas

sheena take a bow

I’ve been weeding. I’ll weed maybe a handful of books or CDs at a time, and with as much clutter as I’ve accumulated over the years that barely makes a dent. Because, despite what it says under my blog header, I hoard. Not on the Collyer level but I missed that by a matter of degrees, and I was perhaps only saved from that fate by a major termite infestation that required sorting out and throwing out 40 years of basement clutter.

Still, I buy books I never read and CDs and lps I never listen to and movies I never watch. I end up buying duplicates. With no discernible organizational system, I’m not surprised to find two copies of a book I’ve never read. What surprised me was the CDs. Despite having at least 80% of my thousands of CDs in alphabetical and categorical order, I still found five inadvertent duplicates – which doesn’t count remasters of CDs I found filed right next to their original, arguably inferior but perhaps more valuable for sentimental reasons iteration. (n.b., If anyone reading this would like a sealed copy of the compilation CD, “Brazil Samba Jazz Vol II,” with the Tamba Trio’s terrific version of “Se voce se pensa,” let me know.)

I hoard to fill the void, and I found absolute proof of that last weekend when I discovered, in the back of my closet, a bunch of empty boxes of various sizes, shoe boxes and shipping boxes that I thought I might need some day. Some of them must have been in my closet for more than a decade, and had accumulated several inches of dust. I took those metaphors to the recycling bin right away and I can walk in my closet now.

I’ve been weeding regularly, and I’ve made progress, and discoveries.

As I weed I come across things I forgot I had. One is a VHS tape of Sheena Easton’s Act One special, one of dozens of tapes I scrounged from a video store’s $2 closing sale several years ago. The program was originally broadcast on NBC in 1983 and captures a moment in the Scottish singer’s career between the girl-next-MOR success of “Morning Train” and the tarted up persona of “Strut” and “Sugar Walls” (number 2 on the PMRC’s “Filthy 15,” right behind her collaborator Prince Rogers Nelson’s “Darling Nikki.”)

Act One is a strange piece of celebrity self-consciousness, with Easton trying on a variety of 80’s fashions and identities only to fail to hide behind any of them. Maybe it’s all that 80’s make up, a Bonny lass hidden under a very pretty cakeface. She is not one of those performers who disappears behind her roles. Rather, Act One reveals that for Ms. Easton, as for many of us, as many disguises we try to hide behind, who we are will unmistakably shine through the cake.

Speaking of clutter, I happen to have a copy of Chambers’s Scots Dictionary at my desk. Did you know that gardy-moggans are what they call long sleeves?

The first number “A song for you” serves as an overture of the major themes we will be exploring in the next hour; most strikingly, that of a Whitmanesque multiplicity and a personality in fragments (or shallmillens, as her people call them). Easton comes into focus from a black silhouette of her head against a stark white backdrop (apt echoes of Bergman’s Persona). A soft-focus head shot dissolves into Ms. Easton leaning against some kind of prop box, mirrored on the other side of the box by her animus, or anima, or some androgynous harlequin mixture of both. Not that I’m suggesting anything.

As the overture comes to a close, the camera closes in on Ms. Easton pouting for the camera and attempting to look soulful and amorous underneath the volumes of 80’s makeup; then she breaks out of character and asks somebody in the booth “is tha’ akae?” Looking for approval. Over the studio intercom an unseen techinician tells her there was a glitch and they’ll have to make some adjustments before they can continue with the production.

Ms. Easton then wanders through NBC back-stages killing time when she happens upon The Tonight Show set. A tarp is draped over the guest chairs but Johnny Carson’s desk is open. Sheena takes Carson’s chair and sets up the framing device for the rest of Act One, where she imagines herself a talk-show host. She interviews herself, surveying her career from the relatively subtle makeup of “Morning train” to today (then, 1983), never imagining the makeup she has in store. She also invites guest stars, including Al Jarreau and, naturally, Kenny Rogers, who joins her in a duet of “We’ve got tonight” in which you are forced to imagine that Ms. Easton would romp (rommie, v. to rumble, to beat. to stir violently) in the hay with that grey-haired beast simply because he’s there.

It’s when Ms. Easton takes her seat at Johnny Carson’s chair that Act One begins to remind one of Werner Herzong’s Grizzly Man. The documentary shows copious footage of the video Timothy Treadwell made in the wilderness as he tried to live with bears, but despite the magnificent natural backdrops and the danger we knew was coming, his tone struck me as that of a child putting on a private show in their bedroom. Ms. Easton put on that show for us in what indeed was only the first act of her career. It’s a keeper.

convergences, aka kittens inspired by Schoenberg

The above youtube clips came over the transom from different sources the other day. I linked them one after the other on the Facebook and in jest remarked that “The line that connects Guss Visser to Cage and Cunningham is the line from which springs all subsequent American Art.” By which I meant the blurring of highbrow and lowbrow upon which I base much of the creative work I do. Sans highbrow, perhaps. Moments later, I discovered, via Jeffrey Cudlin, the twelve-tone kitten work of Cory Arcangel, which proves my thesis in undeniably cuddly fashion. Here is the fruit of the lineage of Visser, Cage and Cunningham:

in the electric mist with the televised dead

I watch old movies all the time and never ruminate on how many members of the cast of, say, The Magnificent Ambersons is still alive (zero major cast members, apparently.) But old tv clips like this make me sad. I wonder how many people who used to fall asleep watching the late show are today no longer waking up. Maybe it’s that much of the cast of The Magnificent Ambersons is still remembered today. But who will long remember the names of these unidentified newscasters? Maybe it’s the imperfectly preserved broadcast, the degrading video a reminder of what will happen to our memory and the memory of us. Will future generations have such a frisson when looking at the “early” days of the internets, the blogosphere, the twitterverse?