November 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
It’s been a science fiction week for me — that is, the feeling that the world’s gone all science fiction on me.
But not the fun kind with time travel or martians. I’m talking about the George Orwell kind — dystopian, as the current craze in young adult novels points out.
It starts with the visible — in your face, literally, with outrage over the use of pepper spray on peaceful protesters. This has launched a spate of articles detailing the increasing militarization of our police forces in the wake of national security. Since 9/11, our police forces have considerably upped their routine use of high-powered rifles and body armor, and have begun acquiring bazookas, machine guns and mini tanks for their arsenals. Worse still is the change in training that has transformed suspects into enemies, apparently without qualifications.
And while they’re beating you, they will also try to suppress your communication — or at least the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act will give them the right to. These bills — the first a Democratic darling in the Senate, the other the apple of bipartisan eyes in Congress— give law enforcement the right to seize and shut down websites like YouTube on which users might infringe a copyright. For example, you could post a video of your five-year-old singing “Happy Birthday.” If you haven’t paid your ASCAP fee, the FBI has the right to descend upon you — and don’t forget what I said about military-grade weapons in law enforcement.
It would also give the government the right to block you from websites based on how many “infringing links” it might sport, as well as track any links you provide in your social networks. Just like they do in China and Iran! All the totalitarianism without the good food!
Everyone’s used to being tracked online though — it’s the invisible tracking that really scares us, right? The stormtroopers I mentioned earlier in the column are back yet again with another tool to intrude on your civil rights.
It turns out they’ve been collecting samples of your genes — not just criminals, but the innocent as well.
It works like this — half the states in our country have the power to take DNA samples after arresting you, but before charging you. They are allowed to keep the sample even if you are found innocent — and plenty of cases have been found where they do just that. While the police say that taking DNA is no different than taking fingerprints, it’s important to note that fingerprints don’t offer all sorts of personal information that DNA does, including medical and racial.
If the folks in the NRA are worked up about the possibility of a national gun registry, they should really be leery of a national DNA registry, don’t you think? Guns?
Why do we allow this to happen? Several recent studies by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada puts all this in perspective. Making a study of the concept of “ignorance is bliss” in terms of politics, researchers found that the people who are most affected by a horrible economy are also the most likely to avoid bad news about the situation. In fact, the researchers found that the more catastrophic the information — it could be anything about government — the more reluctant participants were to be told more about it. They actively avoided anything that revealed that those in charge were incapable of acting in anyone’s best interest.
And that’s on the back of the much passed-around study this week that revealed that Fox News viewers were actually more poorly-informed than people who weren’t informed at all.
So what’s next for us? Why not look to Europe and its new craze for quiet takeovers in the form of unelected bankers? In both Italy and Greece, leaders have been ousted and replaced by economists appointed to the highest leadership — in Italy, the appointed banker is actually international advisor to Goldman Sachs. By coincidence, the president of the European Central Bank — based in Germany and happy to pull the Chancellor’s strings — is the former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International.
I feel very sure that the American division of Goldman Sachs has someone that they would be more than happy to install in Obama’s seat, should it ever come to that. And given the police bazookas and DNA profiling and digital surveillance and frightened apathy, that could be as early as tomorrow, right?
Do I sound paranoid? Forget about me. Don’t anyone out there worry. It’s Black Friday!
Our job today is to camp out at Walmart so we can get a flatscreen television for cheap.
And whatever you do, don’t listen to those bad people at the University of Waterloo! You can’t trust Canadians, anyhow!
November 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
In this gentle and mature fable of the destruction of loss and clinging to the past, Charlotte Gainsbourg plays a widow in Australia who, following the sudden death of her husband, must negotiate a delicate situation with her daughter.
As Dawn, Gainsbourg has a pristine life in the Australian outback with four children and a loving working class husband. Following his death, Dawn finds the burdens of being a grieving parent — even if the children can’t quite plunge into visible darkness like she can, she still needs to pull herself up as the anchor of the family.
This requires a lot of negotiation as she tries to figure out what to do when her eightyear- old daughter Simone (Morgana Davies) becomes convinced that her dead father is whispering to her through a giant fig tree next to their house.
As Dawn begins to rebuild her life, she faces the ultimate challenge for a parent in her position — understanding that her children may not be able to follow her lead in moving on as promptly. When the fig tree starts to physically encroach on their house and cause damage, Dawn is faced with not only the unemotional reality of what the tree is doing, but also the likelihood of the wounding that Simone will face if the tree is appropriately dealt with.
Even as the film evokes belief in multiple types of afterlife, including but not limited to reincarnation and also the idea of hauntings and a shared spirit with nature that is part of many a pagan belief, it also walks a delicate line that acknowledges less the reality of any of these and more our need to have them. The grieving process surely requires some cushioning and if religious thought has any great purpose, it’s one of comfort through stories that are needed at key points in our life. Fairy tales, in some ways — the embrace of a magical realism that a typical logical existence would not allow for.
The husband’s spirit is in that tree because Simone needs it to be, and so the line between imaginative play as a healing mechanism and religion is drawn. When the healing is done, so the story can be left in lieu of the lesson, but perhaps the fairy tale quality of spiritual belief is mandatory to our emotional survival. When the fairy tale takes place on the beautiful Australian landscape, it’s that much better.
November 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
For “They Draw and Cook,” recently published by Weldon-Owen, brother and sister team Nate Padavik and Sallie Swindell asked professional illustrators to give a visual flair to their favorite recipes and create a feast for the eyes and the tummy.
The book compiles artwork from the popular website of the same name. Padavik, who lives in the Eclipse Mill with his partner James Voorhies, says that in some ways the combination of art and food is a marketer’s dream, but it does cause some complications in other areas.
“It’s a good and a bad thing,” he said. “This book appeals to a lot of people. If you are art-minded, it’s an art book with a cooking/recipe angle. If you’re a foodie, it’s a sweet new cookbook that also happens to be artistically designed and illustrated. It appeals to those two big populations, but the tricky part is booksellers. The book shop asks ‘Where do we put this book? Is it an art book or is it a cook book?’ I say, ‘Just put it right next to the cash register.’ ” The challenge for Padavik and Swindell when it came to compiling the book was to choose works that stood as both good illustrations and good recipes, both at the same time. The good illustrations were obvious to their eye, but the recipe part could be a little more challenging. Most submissions rose to the occasion, though, and the use of tradition has been one quick way to spot delicious concoctions.
“If someone’s going to illustrate a recipe, they’re going to illustrate a recipe that they love,” Padavik said, “so what we found on the site is that the majority of the recipes are titled ‘Granny’s Apple Pie’ or ‘Mom’s Brownies’ or ‘Aunt Diane’s Pumpkin Cake,’ so there’s lots of family history that comes with the recipe. Right then and there, it means that the recipes are automatically good because it’s something that’s passed down from generation to generation” The huge international presence on the site has helped as well. Padavik says they routinely get recipes for obscure foreign dishes that they have never encountered before.
“I learned about something called Paplova, which is a dessert served on the holidays in Australia and New Zealand,” he said. “It involves cooking fruit into some sort of meringue. Never heard of it before, but we had four recipes for Paplova.”
The blog was created after Padavik and Swindell had a giggle one family holiday when they noticed he was cooking and she was blogging, and thought that was a great theme for a project. Although the idea was birthed between the two of them, it came to fruition with the help of eight friends in Cleveland — eight freelance illustrators — who signed on to use the idea for a small promotional book to give to family, friends and clients. That never actually happened, though theblog did.
“It takes more than just throwing a blog up in 10 minutes,” Padavik said. “It takes a bit of a community.”
Each person involved put their recipe up on the blog and then promoted it to their own following via Facebook and blogging. With each of them announcing to 300 friends, and then a number of their friends passing it along, people began descending on the site.
“It just spread more quickly than we expected because the very next day we got an illustrated recipe from a person we never even heard of before,” said Padavik. “It just popped in our inbox. It’s was kind of like a little ‘aha!’ moment. This could be a thing!”
A new recipe would come in every few days and they knew they had hit on something that tapped into a desire for expression shared by many professional illustrators.
“It’s a total creative playground,” Padavik said. “I’m addicted to illustrating recipes because I don’t have an art director telling me what to do, and I think that’s why a lot of people submit them. As a freelance illustrator, you’re always being art directed, so now and then it’s just nice to go and do something that’s straight from the heart.”
“ A lot of people have a really strong emotional connection with food and that really plays out in the illustrations. You can feel that. So many of the recipes have a little story behind them.” Such a partnership between brother and sister wasn’t always a logical or likely possibility. A 12-year gap between the siblings defined their relationship for two decades “We were both oblivious to each other’s existence until I was in my 20s,” said Padavik.
Padavik was looking to leave the world of computer science and programming and began to consider graphic design — a visit one day to his sister’s studio saw him asking about her about the possibilities. Swindell was busy working on a pattern for a textile company and needed some technical help with it. She proposed that if Padavik could help her with that, they could work together. Padavik took some appropriate classes and ended up doing production work for Swindell.
“That to doing my own patterns and then starting to do illustration,” he said, “and since then we’ve created over 2,000 greeting cards, hundreds of magazine illustrations, everything is collaborative.”
Almost immediately after the two masterminded They Draw and Cook, they had a follow- up already in mind — They Draw and Travel — which would see illustrators rise to the challenge of creating inventive maps for their favorite locations. They took a year and a half to make sure They Draw and Cook was going smoothly and then began work on their travel effort.
“Maps are a little trickier than recipes because with recipes you automatically have a formula – you’ve got ingredients and directions,” Padavik said. “With a map, it can go in so many different directions. Some of the maps are very literal. They show roads and icons and take you down the roads and visually depict what churches and museums and neighborhoods and restaurants cafes look like.”
“But other maps — and I use that in quotes — are more inspirational. They just give you a feel for what a place is like — a beach or a town — and then there are maps that are illustrated to inspire you to learn more about a place, not necessarily to take you from point a to point b. I think those are the maps that are most successful because they are just full of emotion.”
The maps are generally of mix of what you want to know about the area depicted and the artist’s personal experience that you’ll never find anywhere else but that map. Padavik has created a couple maps of the Berkshires and area for the site — one of North Adams, and one of his favorite bike route along the Deerfield River — and loves discovering new places through others’ work.
“When a new map comes in, I’ll immediately do a Google image search of that city or that beach town or that museum that they’re illustrating,” he said, “and I always find new places in the world. I’m planning vacations because of some maps I saw on They Draw and Travel.”
As the team looks ahead, the focus is on merchandising, which is a way to get the illustrations out there beyond the website, as well as compensate the artists. Part of that involves a They Cook and Travel book — WeldonOwen is interested in pursuing that — but it also involves some self-publishing, like the 2012 They Draw and Cook calendar that is offered through the website and splits 50 percent of the profits with the 12 contributing illustrators. “It’s fun, but it’s also helped the careers of these freelance illustrators and also for them to benefit financially,” Padavik said. “My sister and I wanted to do something that is a win-win — it helps pay bills for the website and also gives the artists a little monetary feedback.”
Commerce and publicity are nice, but Padavik points to his favorite part of the endeavor as the togetherness it has fostered.
“I think the relationships keep it fun,” he said. “Sally and I have built good relationships with the artists on the site and the community of fans are super generous with their comments. They say the nicest things and they share recipes among friends and it’s just a fun place to be.”
November 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
As the last official work of the acclaimed comic book writer Harvey Pekar — played by Paul Giamatti in the film “American Splendor” — Yiddeshkeit is appropriately a tribute and history of the language and culture that Pekar embraced.
I’m certain that it is of interest to anyone already acquainted with Yiddish culture, since the depths of Pekar’s explorations go much further than any casual observation would allow, but to anyone outside that world, it’s a revelation.
What Pekar documents is a completely realized alternate world, a shadow culture that existed vibrant alongside any official culture the typical American kid is taught about. This is a world of immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and of scholarly religious philosophy in a tug of war with the sort of radical left thought that has become relevant again in our politics.
Mostly it’s a world entwined by the Yiddish language, which would creep its way into the mainstream of America largely through comedy and “Fiddler on the Roof.” Pekar despises “Fiddler” and this book serves as a guide to the substantive iceberg that lurks under the tip.
A graphic anthology of sorts, the book leads off with Pekar’s exhaustive study of Yiddish authors in a burst of one-page bios, accompanied by portraits, that could serve as a reading guide for years to come. It’s through this literature that Pekar is able to help the history of the people unfold.
The rest of the book holds nuggets from Yiddish history by multiple writers and artists, including Sharon Rudahl’s graphic story adaptation of Edgar G. Ulmer’s film “Green Fields” and gorgeous realization of the lyrics to “Brother Can You Spare A Dime,” Danny Fingeroth and Neil Kleid’s cartoon compare and contrast of Al Jolson’s “The Jazz Singer” with Moishe Oysher’s “Overture To Glory” and Barry Deutsch’s charming biography of Zero Mostel as seen through the eyes of the old people who knew him back in the day.
The book also includes fascinating cartoon biographies of Mad Magazine creator Harvey Kurtzmann, blacklisted novelist Abraham Lincoln Polonsky and ’50s writer Chaim Grade, as well as the story of the birth of the National Yiddish Book Center and a brief, enlightening history of Klezmer.
Within these pages, Jewish culture as it shines through words — written, spoken and sung — are revealed with a sprawling and sophisticated level of completeness. It’s a must have for anyone seeking knowledge of something so hidden, but so ingrained in American culture.
November 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
When New Jersey band The Feelies broke up in 1992, they seemed to be walking away from impending rock stardom after well over a decade of acclaim in the independent music world.
Reunited 16 years later, they’ve managed to get back to their original track before they signed to a major label.
The band’s latest album, “Here Before,” was released this year, and they’ll play Mass MoCA tonight at 8.
It was in 2002 that the rumblings of a reunion began. Cofounders Glenn Mercer and Bill Million had their first conversation in a decade to address some mutual business. “We were noticing a lot of interest in the band,” Mercer said. “We had a request for licensing of the music and a lot of requests to reissue the records and a lot of requests to play, so it seemed there was really a lot of interest in the band. Also, on the Internet, you can keep tabs on the fan base a little bit better than you could in the ’80s.”
Million’s son was going to school in New Jersey, which lead to a casual invitation from Mercer to come and jam if he was ever in the area. This grew into a reconnection for the two, who communicated a lot more. Even with talk of working together again with The Feelies, their personal lives often intruded on their musical plans.
“We wanted to make sure if we did do it, it was with a clear mind and no distractions and approach it with what we thought it deserved, which was to take it seriously and do it the right way,” said Mercer. “And that included the possibility of recording.”
It was while Mercer was performing with Feelies bandmate Dave Weckerman that the real opportunity came in the form of an offer from Sonic Youth.
“Their agent came by and said Sonic Youth wanted The Feelies to reform and play on the Fourth of July,” he said. “The Feelies used to always play on holidays, so we said we’d run it past everybody, not really thinking much about it, and he said ‘Whatever it takes! We’ll fly Bill up. They want this to happen and we’ll accommodate you in any way.’” The band performed a few warm-up shows at their old home base, Maxwell’s in Hoboken, N.J. — one show for family and friends and two for fans — before the Sonic Youth show. The reunion was already on the table before they ever got on the stage, however.
“I think we had talked about continuing even before we played,” Mercer said. “We knew after the first rehearsal that it was viable and something we wanted to pursue.”
At center of the discussion was the necessity of making new recordings to defining the band as an entity in the present and not just something to reminisce about. “That was definitely at the top of the list, otherwise, it’s just really nostalgia, which we knew would be a big part of the reunion but we didn’t want that to be the whole thing,” said Mercer. “We’ve always been a band that is driven by creative urges and to just play the old songs would have been fun, but it wouldn’t have been as rewarding and it wouldn’t have lasted as along.”
This second life as a band was started with the lessons of the previous incarnation well taken to heart.
“We were always were agreeable,” Mercer said. “We ran into trouble by having so many people involved in the decision making — when you have the record company to please and a lot more people giving opinions, you have a lot more pressure really back then.”
Pressure, Mercer says, was a huge part of why the band broke up in the first place. The band had always functioned happily on independent labels, but the point came where the members had to make some career choices.
“It seemed the thing to do, to go to a major label,” he said. “All the bands that were our peers were doing that and it seemed that alternative rock was becoming pretty commercial, so it seemed like the thing to do. In retrospect, all those bands broke up shortly afterward, so I guess it wasn’t a good idea.”
There was also the issue of simple economics. Musicians tend to start bands in order to play music, not to run a business, and The Feelies was, like so many other bands striving for success, becoming a business.
“We found there was a lot of pressure to play bigger places,” said Mercer, “so when you do that, you need more people in your crew, and there’s as many people working for the band that are in the band. Basically, it wasn’t economically worth the amount of effort and time we were putting into it.”
During the years following the break-up, Mercer and Weckerman played together often. Mercer also played with Feelies drummer Stan Demeski in a side project, and recorded a solo album, 2007’s “Wheels In Motion,” that saw most of the band, other than Million, playing on it. It was a busy period that also served as a decompressing time from the end of The Feelies’ run.
“There was still pressure, I guess, just to be able to do it,” Mercer said. “We still had to go after a record contract and record for a minuscule budget, go on the road and not be able to afford enough beds for everybody. On the one hand, though, at least you feel a little more in control of your life. You feel like you’re at least behind the wheel steering.”
A new era has dictated a new way of making music. The band members don’t all live in close proximity of each other any more, so that involves a lot of preparation before converging to record. A lot of this still has to do with business, but this time it’s about small budgets, which demand the band is fully prepared by the time the step into a studio — there’s no time to lose in that situation.
“It involves demos getting passed around, and we do one preproduction demo recording with Bill, and I and Stan to go over arrangements and stuff,” said Mercer. “I had done demos of all the songs that I wrote and then the songs that Bill and I wrote together, he had sent me a demo of his guitar. From there, I added vocals and guitar and various kinds of things to move them further along. Everybody had things they could work on their own, so when we did get together, we were a lot more efficient with our time.”
The demos are recorded digitally, but passed along through the mail. Once the band gets together in the studio, Mercer says it’s the same as it ever was, just The Feelies playing together in the same room — and with all their preparation, they have time for overdubs and mixing.
Growing up and having families has given the entire band a different perspective that they bring to the work.
“On the one hand, we don’t take it as seriously, the big picture,” Mercer said. “It’s only rock and roll and we’ve been through so much that you don’t worry about it, but on the flip side of that, it really does mean a lot because you see the value of the band and the friendships and having a gratitude for being able to do it, having the opportunity. There is both sides of that.”
The only real pressure is having to live up to their own past. The band’s first record, “Crazy Rhythms,” still brings in a lot of new fans thanks to its distinction as one of Rolling Stone’s best albums of the 1980s. The band tries to put that out of their minds and move forward, but it’s their legacy to live with.
“I don’t think about it, but a lot of times I’m reminded of that when people talk about the band,” said Mercer. “A lot of it, I think, is nostalgia, too. It’s the period that they remember the most, so they put the most value on that. I certainly don’t feel it’s our best record.”
November 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Never during my life have I seen the word “anarchist” pop up in the mainstream news so often — unfortunately, it’s used with an old school connotation that ignores the last 15 years of our digital evolution.
As used by the national media, it refers to the so-called Black Bloc — a small sub-section of protesters dressed all in black and embracing property-damage focused violence as their method of political speech. This hearkens back to the days of Sacco and Venzetti and skims over reality for headlines.
Anarchism as a concept of governance and social order is more widespread than the media understands because they only conceive of anarchists as violent. In reality a majority of the protesters embrace anarchism — a peaceful form — that they were weaned on in their digital lives and which is currently and quietly seeping its way into everybody’s daily lives.
You don’t have to throw chairs in the windows of Whole Foods to be an anarchist, it just helps if you want the attention of Fox News.
The rest of us practice it in ways we don’t even consider.
Aside from its embrace within the punk subculture, everyday anarchism has its roots in the early Internet message boards that grew in the 1990s, creating social structures that thrived on anarchism.
Napster gave rise to a revolution of commercial anarchism that restructured music and eventually film, television, publishing, games, software, while YouTube ushered in accepted media anarchism. Twitter heralded headline anarchism, and Facebook brought anarchism into the realm of the ordinary — your grandmother has an account and the infiltration continues.
Dissatisfaction with our political system and the leaders that have floated to the top has escalated in the last decade, our dependence on leaderless communal social networks infiltrated our lives as well. Behavior on your Facebook page is determined by the consensus of your friends — they don’t like it and you won’t change, they can passively unsubscribe. You are free, as are they. The Internet has broken up a portion of our existence into little digital citystates of self-determined communities at odds with our real world citizenship and we’ve mostly embraced it.
Half our daily lives are now spiritually apart from the system our bodies inhabit — and if the people taking to the streets are any indication, the kids who have been raised and come of age with this dynamic are prepared to transfer to all areas of life.
That’s what anarchy, as a political movement, refers to.
It’s not the same as chaos — that would be libertarianism.
Anarchy refers to entities without figureheads or central authorities, wherein the laws of the group are decided through consensus.
Somewhere along the line, the systems through which a generation traded computer files has crept into our political discourse. The hactivist group Anonymous provided the role model that has exploded recently into a hybrid world in which the digital and the analog occupy the same psychological space — protest online and protest on the streets are the same thing now.
See that town square? It’s filled with invisible wormholes that make connections through Twitter, Facebook, whatever. When you dismiss these as a waste of time, you are tuning out of a shadow world that is now part of reality whether you want to perceive it or not.
This column isn’t meant to be a diatribe to sell you on anarchy, because that would imply that we all have a choice. While we adults were laughing about MySpace, the kids were being raised in an alternate universe and now they’re invading ours with this new dynamic. It’s about time.
November 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Ten years ago, Americans were horrified by the attack on New York City by Muslim extremists. Now, the mayor of New York is using tactics against free speech that’s like a page out of the Middle East Muslim Extremist Dictator’s Handbook, but fewer Americans seem angry about that.
On early Tuesday morning, Mayor Bloomberg didn’t just shut down the Occupy encampment in Zuccotti Park. He also created an unconstitutional press blackout that kept news helicopters from the relevant air space and resulted in two Associated Press reporters, a New York Times reporter, a television reporter from New Zealand and an NPR reporter being arrested, as well as a city council member.
A freelance radio journalist was also arrested — after identifying herself, a police officer knocked her recorder out of her hand before cuffing her. In addition, a New York Post reporter was put in a choke hold by police. Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer demanded an investigation, telling the Associated Press, “Zuccotti Park is not Tiananmen Square.”
Controlling the information flow of Occupy has been a major priority for police and arresting journalists is just part of that. As general procedure, when descending upon encampments, police have been taking out the media tents first in their raids. This prevents protesters from live-tweeting, blogging or Facebook posting updates — that is, getting the word out.
The police never seem to understand that nearly everyone in the crowd is enabled by cell phone to video or photograph whatever thuggishness unfolds despite their efforts to suppress it.
This is exactly the same tactic used in Iran and it didn’t work there either. The hactivist group Anonymous had to intervene to allow those fighting their oppressive government access to communication. It’s disheartening to see the same thing happen here with less outrage from American citizens.
If there’s anything more alarming than the systematic attempt to control the free flow of information, it’s the institutional use of violence against the protesters. The national media has proved gormless in reporting systematic police brutality spanning our country, but that hasn’t hidden the evidence.
The footage is all over YouTube, Facebook and Twitter — and don’t forget all the live feeds of events — and the scenes look like something out of China or the Middle East with police beating kids and gassing citizens. You’ll have more luck finding outrage about this on Alec Baldwin’s twitter feed than most official sources.
Do an online search for “police brutality” and include Boston, New York, Oakland, Denver, Berkeley, Portland, Riverside, San Diego, Washington D.C. or Atlanta and you’ll find a rich collection of videos, photos and firsthand accounts at the unnecessary excessive force being utilized across the country just to shut people up.
It’s officially an epidemic that has been downplayed in the national media. You’d hope that the spate of journalist arrests that displayed excessive force might change the narrative in the reporting, but that remains to be seen.
One thing seems certain to watchers of the protests — for such violence to be used to bring down the encampments must mean authorities are scared that the protesters’ message is getting out.
Stomping down the tents won’t help — in its brief existence, the Occupy movement has added supporters on the street each time police club them down.
Systematic violence endorsed by the government against dissent is everyone’s problem. The Tea Party of Rochester, N.Y. recognized this when it came out in support of that city’s Occupy movement and its right to protest.
A precedent has been set and it was handed down by the millionaire mayor of New York City.
Bloomberg is the 12th richest man in America, a media mogul and a Wall Street favorite who actually changed the laws in order to get elected for a third term. Isn’t that exactly what the protesters are screaming about, the unfair influence of the rich?
Whether you agree with the protesters’ financial message or not, the men behind the curtain and their disdain for the rights of ordinary Americans on the left or right and the reasons for them have never been more in plain sight — and they’re embracing the tactics of governments that we traditionally think of as our enemies.
As the ante continues to be upped every time a protester is clubbed down, the time is coming when everyone might have to pick their side. It won’t be right or left, or even rich or poor. It’s going to be power or people. Time to figure out where you stand.
November 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
A new book, conceived by Amherst- based illustrator Rebecca Guay, tackles stories of angels in a way that mixes Bible stories with “The Canterbury Tales” by way of some of the hottest writers in their field.
Guay’s book “A Flight of Angels,” from Vertigo, features collaborations with Holly Black, Bill Willingham, Alisa Kwitney, Louise Hawes and Todd Mitchell.
She will appear at a book signing with Black at the R. Michelson Gallery 132 Main St., Northampton, on Saturday, Nov. 19, at 6 p.m., which will also serve to launch a gallery show of Guay’s pages from the book.
Guay is best known for her work on “Magic: The Gathering” and “World of Warcraft,” as well as a number of children’s books. She had just finished a book for Houghton Mifflin when she found herself at a creative crossroads.
“I was asking, ‘What do I really want to do now?’” she said. “I was in that creative brainstorm place of ‘What’s the best thing I could do? What do I really want to sink my teeth into at this point?’” One idea she had was a book on angels that encompassed some of her most long-standing interests.
“I love winged creatures, I love mythology,” Guay said. “I was really into Greek mythology, and Cupid and Psyche, when I was a kid and that launched my interest in winged beings,” She had also found a following in fantasy art depicting angels, which furthered her intent to pursue them in a book. A dinner with author Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi Stemple gave her the opportunity to expand on her ideas for the project.
“I was talking about the angel book,” said Guay, “and how I really wanted to do a collection of angel stories that explore atypical ideas of angels — falling in love, falling from grace, falling from heaven — these particular arc of themes that were perhaps tied together by a framed story,” Yolen and Stemple suggested that Guay ask a number of authors at the top of their game to help her with the project, and reminded her of her neighbor, Holly Black. Black has found much success in the field of YA books, with supernatural and mythological scenarios.
“I had coffee with Holly and I told her about the idea about the arc of angel stories that I really wanted to explore,” said Guay. “She was a little worried that we would offend the angel community because it might be toying with something that they hold very dear.”
“I said that it won’t be disrespectful, it will just be something that takes it in another place and we’ll end up seeing them a little bit differently.”
Black’s mind then got to work and provided the pivotal detail for the book’s plot, a nugget from Scandinavian folklore.
“She said ‘Did you know that fairies come from fallen angels?’ and I thought, ‘Well, that sounds like a really good direction to go in,’ ” Guay said. “From early on, it began to be a collaboration. I had conceived the arc of angel stories and had the drive and passion to seek out writers who I loved dearly and I wanted to work with.”
Once Guay firmed up her stable of collaborators, they all began working with them to shape the stories that resulted. “It’s one of the things that I do like about the format of words and pictures, that it allows a deep creative process with collaboration in a way that I think other areas of illustration don’t,” she said.
The writers added elements that Guay had never considered — Guay, in turn, began embellishing their ideas in the visuals. At that point, she had been approaching the work as single-page illustration, but after several manifestations of that format, began to think that the illustration needed more and she pulled from her past to bring it all together.
“I realized that it wouldn’t work as well if it were singlepage art,” Guay said. “It needed to be a graphic novel. We broke down the stories and retold them as sequential art. I started as a sequential artist so I was comfortable shifting to that place.”
The structure of the book also gave the Guay a chance to switch styles and shine in each of them. The stories run thegamut from Biblical to historical romance to traditional folklore and more than that, and Guay portrays each genre differently.
“It was always part of the intent to shift stylistically within my look to shift tone to look like the personality of each story specifically,” said Guay. “The narrative style is meant to switch with the illustration style and further the experience of the reader.”
Guay’s book represents a intellectual move forward in a recent genre that has seen traditional Christian concepts treated on equal level as more typical Pagan folklore involving fairies and elves. There is a fantasy element in angels specifically that begs a return to the idea of Bible stories as myths — something abandoned in modern fundamentalism — on equal footing with other fables and stories.
“I think that happened as a natural progression of the topic, the theme,” Guay said. “People spin a little bit toward that area of mythology. What I like very much about it is we use the two together in a way that I don’t often see.”
The result is a book that examines the way stories are told, with a Rashoman-like approach to explaining the tales behind angels and, therefore, the multitude of spiritual myths and legends that swirl in our cultural heritage.
For Guay, though, the appeal with angels is less intellectual or even religious, but more emotional.
“My interest in them comes from a grand place that taps into something inside,” she said. “There’s a deep grandeur and the emotions that are caught up in that grandeur can create angelic and god-like beings in your art that lift your spirit and that instill a feeling that I respond to when I draw and paint these kinds of images.”
Guay sees emotion as the center of artistic pursuit, so it only stands to reason that angels would be that for her.
“I think any great artist who I have loved over the years, what makes them great is that they can convey an emotional content within the quality of their work,” she said. “They can draw in the viewer and make their heart hurt or soar or have a deep emotional connection. It’s what defines the people who stand the test of time as artists.” “If you can’t do that as an artist, you won’t have a following, you won’t have fans, you won’t stand the test of time without that emotional connection, so whether it’s angels or fairies or dark things or urban gothic, whatever area you’re passionate about.”
November 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The Found Footage Festival, which has a home in New York City, but has also made traveling appearances (it came to Mass MoCA a couple years back), has a unique focus — the worst, most hilarious examples of the golden age of video.
Festival hosts Pickett and Prueher mark 1988 to 1998 as “the Golden Age of VHS” when anyone and everyone had the means to produce and nationally distribute the sort of spectacle that had previously been confined to local cable access and evening church functions. Most of the output was instructional — any fiction was usually for the purpose of teaching kids to not talk to strangers and such.
For this literary companion to their film festival, Pickett and Prueher gather up a ton of their favorite VHS covers, coupled with a wisecrack that clues you into what it must be like to hang out at yard sales and Salvation Army with these guys — fun, that is. Gathered in one place, these images are a reminder of a world that you forgot existed and probably barely noticed when it did.
You can guess many of the genres of videos included, but each veers from the expected — embarrassing fitness, selfdefense, fishing, pick-up tips and pet care videos in their, as well as horrifying learning opportunities for children featuring creepy costumed people, they’re all there. Among the most astonishing are “Balloons for the Restaurant Worker,” “Therapeutic Massage for Dogs,” “How To Have Fun With Billy Bob Teeth,” “How to Date God,” “Mr. Baby Proofer” and the quintessential “Identifying Machine-Made Marbles.”
And there’s plenty more where those came from. Pickett and Prueher even include some found personal video tapes that include the scrawled shorthand of people notating birthdays, anniversaries and marathons of The Waltons.
The best of their collection, though, belongs to the work of tai-chi and kung fu master Bob Klein, host of over 60 instructional videos since 1975. With his tired eyes, prominent honker and bushy mustache, Klein makes an unlikely martial arts master and the covers meant to illicit power and excitement only really inspire furrowed brows and shaky heads. They’re a hidden masterwork resurrected for this book and a testimony to where the real treasures in life can be found.
November 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Canadian wonder cartoonist Seth delivers one of the weirdest and most haunting examples of fictional pedantry ever committed to paper.
If you’re fascinated by old and forgotten institutions or driven by the thrill of discovering obscure examples old narrative forms — in this case comics, but it could be movies or novels — then Seth’s journey is sure to draw you in.
Built around the concept of a private club for Canadian cartoonists — think the Friar’s Club — the book starts out as a tour of the building, with a focus on the unusual decorative delights that the nooks and crannies have to offer. Eventually, however, Seth breaks into a fictional history of Canadian comics that will have you wishing you could read these titles.
Seth does wrap in some real history in the form of cartoonist Doug Wright, whose silent strip “Nipper” (later “Doug Wright’s Family”) is a Canadian classic that ran for three decades, comparable in national stature to “Family Circus,” but without the cloying sentimentality.
But the fake ones are fascinating and allow Seth to flex his creative diversity. “Kao-Kuk of the Royal Canadian Astro-Men” is a reality-bending space opera featuring an Inuit — perfect for space travel because his race is used to isolation. “Canada Jack” follows the convoluted adventures of a walking enthusiast superhero who at one point teams up with Snoopy. And “The Great Machine” is a creepy surrealist graphic novel that traces the mechanical bowels of a building with cryptic results.
Between the examples from cartoon history, Seth examines past members and events. By the end, this all adds up to a melancholy that is directly related to the reality of cartoonists in Canada — unlike this alternate history version, they’re just as ignored there as they are here. As laid out by Seth, though, it’s easy to see why the collector’s understand, and his brilliant tribute the mystery and power of the form might actually entice you to pursue the real strangeness that exists.