Thursday, June 14, 2018

Families Belong Together March - Concord, California

The U.S. immigration policy of family separation, instigated by Jeff Sessions and Donald J. Trump, is egregious, horrifying and evil. Tearing families apart at the southern U.S. border as punishment for attempting to immigrate, and many of these families are trying to immigrate here legally due to deadly violence at home, is fascism, pure and simple. And that is not the law. Neither is the mass incarceration of children, who are being held in detention centers without parental contact. That is racist, sociopathic cruelty.

Tonight we held a small rally and march organized through Families Belong Together at Todos Santos Plaza in Concord, California. I grew up in Concord, by way of San Francisco. Concord used to be majority white. It's not any more. It's ground zero for immigration policies, especially due to recent activities by the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department, who are cooperating with ICE through a loophole in California's sanctuary state status.

Some photos from tonight's lovely march and rally. Below the photos is an excellent list of actions you can do TODAY to end family separation in the U.S.









What can we do? Here's a good list from Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin's Resistance Live. We need you! Let's work together to end family separation policy forever.
  • Families Belong Together is a site for protest, organizing and resources.
  • The RAICES Family Reunification and Bond Fund is raising money to support families seeking reunification and in need of bond money. Donate here.
  • The Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen Texas, is on the front lines for post-court support and is seeking donations for families once released. They need diapers, Pedialyte (flavored only), feminine hygiene products, and other items listed here:
  1. Toiletries for men and women (deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, etc)
  2. Shoes (sandals, tennis shoes, loafers, etc) for men, women, children and infants of all sizes
  3. Clothes (pants, t-shirts, blouses, underclothing, etc) for children and adults of all sizes
  4. Baby supplies for toddlers (Pampers, baby wipes, baby bottles, etc.)
  5. Sealed snack food (granola bars, chips, peanut butter & cheese crackers, etc)
  6. Gift cards to purchase food items
  7. Phone cards
  8. Plastic bags for families to pack sandwiches, snacks, and water for their trip.
  9. There is an Amazon Wish List as well as a donation mailing address here.
  • CALL THE HILL RIGHT NOW and demand the passage of the Joint House/Senate Bill known as the Keep Families Together Act. Call as many people as you can whether they represent you or not. The main number for the Capitol switchboard is (202) 224-3121. You can also send five free faxes a day to Reps and Senators (any of them who have a fax line--I'm sending faxes to the majority of the GOP every day this week) by using FaxZero. Here's all the GOP Senators who are currently doing nothing to end this travesty. The text of the Keep Families Together Act is here.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Movies You May Have Missed - Clockwatchers (1997)

I don't know why it took me more than 20 years to see Jill Sprecher's Clockwatchers in full, but life is full of mysteries and this is only one of many. Sprecher, working from a spare and quietly lacerating screenplay co-written with her sister Karen, created the temporary-employee office-noir two years before the much more lauded white-collar satire Office Space. Her stylish study on the de-humanization of the American workforce deserves more accolades, particularly because it stars a stellar cast of four women (Toni Collette, Parker Posey, Lisa Kudrow, Alanna Ubach) as office temps in corporate purgatory. Written and directed and starring women about womens' work experiences within the male-dominated capitalist system—I cannot for the life of me fathom why this cult film isn't more celebrated. What could possibly factor into that I wonder.

And now:



Shy, unassuming Iris (Collette) is a new temp within the insular putty-colored world of Global Credit. It's an environment ruled by the clock, to the point that Iris is completely ignored by the receptionist until 9 A.M. rolls around, wherein she's instructed to sit on a chair to await further instructions. Two hours of muzak-laden negligence later, she's reprimanded by the office scold (née manager) Barbara (Debra Jo Rupp) for following directions.

Anyone who's ever temped before will recognize this barely exaggerated scenario as base truth within the world of middle-management. And guess who's temped for years on end in countless office environments? That's right, me. So consider me your expert on the subject. Aren't you lucky I'm here to vouch for what appears surreal and heightened but is in actuality true in scope?



In the sterile confines of her new job in a town with no name, muzak is pumped overhead throughout the day to "boost productivity," barely concealing the buzz of fluorescent lighting and quiet desperation masquerading under polite social norms. Margaret (Posey, sharp and brilliant), a temp who's been around long enough to know all the slacker tricks to get through an eight-hour day, takes Iris on the dreaded "office tour." During which she meets all the office types who would also be parodied by Mike Judge in Office Space: the snitching rule-follower, the grinning golden boy, the patriarchal senior executive, the bossy fuss-budget, the vindictive phony, and the anal-retentive supply clerk (Stanley DeSantis as "Art," close cousin to Office Space's cult figure Milton, played by Stephen Root with similar mumbling weirdness). Is it possible Judge never saw Clockwatchers before making Office Space?–maaaaybe... U.S. office culture trends toward the universal. Still, Art and Milton are practically twins in schlub-brotherhood.



Margaret, who despite her grasping desire to be hired permanently, is styled slightly "off" for office culture, in keeping with her rebellious spirit: skirts a bit too short, shoes too casual and comfy. Decked in warm shades of red, her patterns and florals among the navy-blue power suits read like warning flags, signals about how not to get ahead in this stifling mono-culture.



Margaret recognizes the futility of identifying with your job when you're basically a file clerk. Still, she has a terrible work ethic and sucks up to power (gloriously) to get what she wants. She's a scammer par excellence and reminds me of many of the people I was attracted to in my 20s, in and outside of work.



Iris, among her new office pals, begins to bloom within the radiance of Margaret's sass. Soon-to-be-married perfectionist Jane (Ubach, with her huge eyes, a living anime in Chanel suits) and would-be man killer/actress wannabe Paula (Kudrow, flipping hair and attitude way back in '97) are exactly the kind of friends you make while temping—you have nothing in common but the dead-end job, but sometimes for the moment that's enough.



When small personal items go missing throughout the office, things take a dark, existentialist turn. Not that the entire enterprise wasn't dark or existentialist to begin with, but now the four temps, always on the peripheral of job status with their lack of benefits, paid days off, or ability to advance unless offered the coveted permanent position, become the number-one suspects.

Margaret suspects the new permanent hire, prematurely shriveled Cleo (Helen FitzGerald), lurking about, copying Iris' newly acquired beaded and floral styles, to be the thief. Margaret's fury at being passed over for permanent status, her belittling family and ongoing petty scams, along with the office's new security cameras, lack of privacy and suspicion of anyone outside the credit "family" begin to erode the tenuous social glue that holds the little group together.



A coup-in-the-making is plotted. The male executives continue to yelp orders or smile condescendingly, never learning the names of the young women who do their shit work for low pay. Although I always appreciated that temp work existed, allowing me to attend school and live in San Francisco among my fellow freaks, I'm here to tell you that this film is eerily accurate. I direct no shame toward my former co-workers and managers, the majority of whom were working moms who needed a decent income to live the Bay Area and raise their children. But office culture still frowns on individuality and free-thinking. This is a purgatory of stultifying boredom for an enforced eight-hour-day (most every job I temped could be done in less than three, but everyone was in denial).



A strident Margaret wants to burn the whole thing to the ground and start over. Who will join in? The film, a wise character-study as well as surreal satire, doesn't make that much of a suspenseful plot point on workers' rights. We can already see the group dynamic disintegrate in small, painful and emotional ways.



When you need a myriad of emotions from your lead actress, hire Toni Collette. We have to wait a while for Iris to take her stand, but it's worth it. A rare film about women's work and women's relationships and how they affect one another. Add it to your cult-film roster.




And now, to help with your productivity, I gathered some of the fine Clockwatchers office-muzak soundtrack for you to file your papers by. May you get permanent status and a letter of recommendation, always.

"Azure Sands" - Les Baxter




"Jalaba" - Les Baxter




"Magenta Mountain" - Les Baxter




"Theme from A Man Called Dagger" - Steve Allen




"Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" - Hugo Winterhalter & His Orchestra




And in keeping with any worthwhile soul-crushing existential office crisis, plenty of offerings from the Paris Musette.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

She Mob LIVE at Up the Creek Records


She Mob is playing a dinner show, 6 - 7:30 PM! There will be no dinner, but plenty of records and art and tchockes for sale at Up the Creek in Walnut Creek (California).

Note: there's an actual Walnut Creek in Walnut Creek, so quit making fun of its bucolic-suburb fake-sounding name! It's a former orcharding enclave with a hundred-year-old downtown that used to be a railway stop during the ranching era of Northern California land-use and settlement! That railway is now the Ironhorse Trail—a fine bike and walking trail, so be proud, Walnut Creek. Bicyclists know the score.

Up the Creek Records is in a split-level strip mall—the best kind of strip mall. 1840 Tice Valley Boulevard in BADASS Walnut Creek, California. 6 - 7:30 PM. It's a fun little shop and there's lots of live music there weekly, so check the calendar for future events.

Update: Our friend Debi took these shots of our show—thank you Debi! Great fun was had. We'll play again. Hopefully before we turn 60.






Monday, April 30, 2018

Best of 2017 - a super-late list, part 1

"Best of" lists are unnecessary but they lend themselves to the Internet so well—platform of scroll-worthy material. Keeping track of creative output within a span of 365 days is an arbitrary measure of quality control but because my brain tends to work in intuitive—not analytical for the most part—ways and I can't remember dates or time-frames well at all, I tried keeping a year-long list starting last January, just to see what would happen. Any time something lodged in my consciousness for more than three weeks, I figured it was a keeper, so here's a little list of some favorite things of 2017. I'll be brief so your scrolling finger doesn't get a callous. May you face 2018 with open minds, hearts and good memories to come.

Books! I love books and I'm usually reading three three to five of them at once, trading them off throughout the day and night. I always seem to have 20 books checked out from the library at all times and when I enter a decent bookstore (which are disappearing from our cities in a terrible online-based epidemic), I usually buy a few books which end up stacked up around the house because all the shelves are full at this point. I'm a book pig, no doubt about it. Here are some I liked this year:

The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones by Rich Cohen
Some notes I took upon reading Vanity Fair/Rolling Stone journalist Cohen's travels with the Stones: Personal, historical, great sentences and editing—an almost-haiku of rock journalism. Includes a lot of (sad) perspective from Marianne Faithfull and the dark and fascinating influence of Anita Pallenberg on the band. Jagger comes off as a narcissist business man, Richard a genius musician and selfish addict. Watts a sweet steady presence who fell apart in middle age, in reverse order to 99% of rock stars. A lot of credit is given to Gram Parsons for his country-rock influence.

History covered: importance and influence of American blues to post-WWII England youth. The blues, its beginnings and its influential recordings are given a lot of weight in this book. The British invasion and hippie mysticism and drug experimentation of the 60s is extensively covered, as is Altamont, of course—its ugliness and impact on celebrity/fan paranoia and separateness that heralded the 70s. The whole Altamont experience reads like a horror story, starting with Mick and Keith wandering through campfire gatherings the night before the concert, as the desolate pass fills to beyond capacity, and ends with their treacherous escape in an overloaded helicopter as the free concert erupts into murder and mayhem.

You also get the stories behind how the Stones' classic albums were recorded, and that's a book in itself. The aftermath, which asks why they still tour, reveals the surprising knowledge that Keith Richards lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Great book.


Never a Dull Moment: 1971 The Year that Rock Exploded by David Hepworth
In 1971 I was seven years old—the magic age. The age of reason. But I never considered how many seminal albums were released within that year because, c'mon, I was seven. I did like radio though and my friends and I were grooving to the music big time, listening to KFRC in Concord, California and to our older siblings' and cousins' record collections because they had disposable incomes and we had no choice.

With the breakup of the Beatles in '70, Hepworth dubs '71 the beginning of the rock era. Each chapter of this enjoyable, informative read outlines not only the albums that began the mega-rock industry industrial complex, but how society influenced the artists, how the record industry grew into a mammoth incubator of talent and wealth, and how each album influenced society and the music industry.

Surprisingly Carole King's Tapestry kicks things off into high gear, launching quietly and setting off a popular maelstrom of singer-songwriter folk-rock that today we still equate with sincerity and artistic expression on a grand scale. Hepworth covers the Carpenters, Led Zeppelin, the Stones, Marvin Gaye and Sly and the Family Stone with equal depth and fervor and Bowie coming to America, of course. It's a thrill ride of musical exploration until we hit the pay-dirt wall with The Eagles, a more calculated attempt to mine the infinite riches that would eventually morph into the bloated rock industry that begat the punk rebellion that begat...digital piracy and tumbleweeds blowing down the corridors where once record moguls shared their coke stashes.


What Are You Looking At? by Will Gompertz
This was published in 2013, but it was featured on an end-aisle at Powell's in the art section and I snagged it on a whim. It's a fast and fascinating history of contemporary art, which my knowledge of was spotty at best. If you studied art history in college and never got past the Renaissance era, this is going to fill in so many blanks for you and you'll enjoy it too. Gompertz answers all your contemporary-art questions and concerns, especially: why is this art? And: but my five-year-old could do this! You will finish this book a much more learned creature than when you started and when you visit modern-art museums, you will have all the background you need to appreciate what's been placed in front of you. The timeline of modern art and its iconoclasts are exhilarating and worthy fields of study for any creative person or appreciator.


TV! It lives in our houses. It's in our subconscious. TV is still a powerful entity and don't you forget it.

The Detectorists - No, it didn't start in 2017. 2017 is OVER. But this was the year I finally saw this two- (now three, but not available in the U.S. yet) season British gem. Mackenzie Crook's quietly deadpan take on metal detectorists who hunt the old farmsteads of England looking for historical, possibly pre-Roman finds. They don't just want treasure. They want transcendence. Also starring the great Toby Smith—this show is gentle in the best sense of the world, with shots of nature interspersed with the nuttiest group of small-town obsessives and their prized equipment. This show is soul food and often very funny but also extremely human. Crook is a treasure.

To be continued...





Monday, March 26, 2018

March For Our Lives 2018 - Walnut Creek, represent

It's been noted that the SF Chronicle has failed to report that an estimated 8,000 people marched in Walnut Creek, California for #MarchForOurLives on March 24, 2018. So I will be a citizen reporter and document the event here. March For Our Lives Walnut Creek was organized by a small group of high school students and co-sponsored by Book Clubs 4 Change—it was the students' first time putting together a political march and they did a fantastic job. From their Facebook event page:

Enough is enough. We march to support the students of Stoneman Douglas High School and the National #MarchForOurLives movement. We march for common sense changes that will make student lives and safety a priority and for an end to the epidemic of mass school shootings. The time is now. 

My sign is in the public domain if you want to use it
There were volunteer signups, a donation site, sign-making parties, porta-potties , registration and pre-registration for voters, ages 16 and up, and many great speakers before the march, including local students and Congressman Mark DeSaulnier,

Thank you for marching or marching in spirit, everyone. Make sure you're registered to vote and that you vote in EVERY ELECTION from now on, whatever your political affiliation. Sixty percent of Americans, which includes gun owners, favor stricter gun policy from the Federal government. If we all vote, we outnumber NRA-backed political candidates overwhelmingly. Use your power and vote them out. Make this nation a safer, healthier, less deadly place for children, for everyone.


















Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Women's March 2018 Oakland - we came, we marched, we had clever signs

It was a good Women's March, the massive sequel to last year's worldwide record-breaking demonstration. I hope we can do it again, but in celebration of a better government going forward. Here's to hope. Some photos and video and many good vibes to follow. Thank you, peaceful protesters. Now call and write your Members of Congress and tell them to impeach and/or 25th Amendment the obstruction-of-justice-in-chief and here's to the FBI's quest to oust the criminally corrupt from our Federal government.

The combined creative energy of this group could light up the Eastern Seaboard











Occupella sings "Bella Ciao" - an Italian anti-fascist protest song from the 1940s.




Here they come! Thousands marched through downtown Oakland on January 20th, 2018. The #Resistance is marching right into the halls of Congress - be sure to register to vote and vote for and support all the incredible candidates now running for office in the U.S.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The heightened cartoon-brilliant art direction of "Dick" (1999)

Has anyone checked in with Dick lately? Directed by Andrew Fleming from a script by Fleming and Sheryl Longin, starring young Michelle Williams and even younger Kirsten Dunst as endearingly dumb best friends, Dick came and went in 1999.

Mashing together the teen comedy with political satire is a challenging task and Dick struggles with its premise, especially attempting to answer the question of who is the audience for this movie: Teens living on the cusp of the 21st century, who have little to no knowledge of the Watergate scandal and its myriad of corrupt players? Adults who lived through the 1970s, watching as intrepid journalists and the legal branch took down paranoid would-be despot Richard Milhouse Nixon? No one was sure how to market this one for maximum audience.

One aspect of this film is crystal clear in its premise and its execution—the art direction by Lucinda Zak, who took all that was hideous, deformed, brilliantly muddy and wrong-headed about 1970s style and ran straight down the field with it for touchdown after touchdown with it. If you're looking for a feast of 70s oddities for the eyes, this is your movie; sit back and enjoy.

A slew of amazing comedy talent co-starred as historical figures of the Nixon White House era, including Will Ferrell as Bob Woodward, Bruce McCulloch as Carl Bernstein, Dave Foley as Bob Haldeman, Ana Gasteyer as Rose Mary Woods, Harry Shearer as G. Gordon Liddy, which is a comedy of riches, but then it's all topped off by Dan Hedaya just throwing himself into the role of Dick Nixon, plus the great Teri Garr as a Watergate-Hotel dwelling single mom who, like most of the adults in this would-be teen-comedy/political satire, has no idea what's going on under her very nose.

And now, Dick.

Title features a manual typewriter with psychedelic bubble font

Our protagonists, bubbly Betsy Jobs (Dunst) and her romantic best friend Arlene Lorenzo (Williams)—two high school sophomores who can't wait to win a date with their idol Bobby Sherman. But when when they sneak outside of Arlene's Watergate apartment's bedroom to mail in their contest entry, stumbling upon a late-night break-in, fate has other plans in store for them.



The detail in every upper middle-class set of this film is astonishing. Note Arlene's trendy TV and bedroom phone (both luxuries in the inflated 70s) alongside her crafty Bobby Sherman shrine.





According to the DVD commentary (yes, as a dedicated chronicler of obscure film history, I listened to that) a warehouse full of period-era polyester fabrics was discovered pre-production and so Dunst and Williams were treated to a wardrobe of custom-made clothes made from unbreathable synthetic fabrics—great way to get into character—the 70s were colorful but uncomfortable for most of us.

Some major polyester going on here

This is a cartoon version of the Watergate scandal, but perhaps that's what's needed after a dark political corruption storm of this magnitude. Wait, was I just describing the early 70s or today? Either way, over time, the sociopaths at the center of corruption tend to look more absurd (but just as creepy) with hindsight. And also, look at the 70s—this art direction is only a slight exaggeration of certain 70s concepts, and when I say slight, I mean the width of a polyester thread.


Betsy gets the "cool" history teacher and it shows in her presentation.



While poor Arlene gets the "up-tight" teacher. This was the extreme cultural divide that we found ourselves in after the social upheaval of the 60s.



Betsy and Arlene are solidly upper middle-class and have plenty of leisure time to enjoy the latest in 70s fades and fashions. The last of the baby boomers, allowance-dollars in hand had plenty of recreational and consumer activities to partake in. I don't know who on the film crew painted and lit this roller rink, but I want to shake your hand.





A typical (hyper-real) hip girl's room of the era. Canopy bed, lots of orange, textiles, pastels, brights, patterns, flowers and a collie lamp to add a touch of whimsy.



The heady days of trying to make sense of a world gone made through the prism of girlhood friendship.



Featuring David Cassidy. RIP.



Ana Gasteyer as Nixon's extremely dedicated secretary Rose Mary Woods.



Dick sets in motion a series of events that filter the Watergate scandal through the actions of two bumbling sub-intelligent girls. It's purposefully silly as hell, but the girls, as performed by Dunst and Williams, are endearing. And their dum-dum legacy is a sort of prequel to another cult film Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, which remains the pinnacle of dumb friendship movies as far as I'm concerned.

Nixon recorded everything he said—leading to the downfall of a paranoid would-be zealot


More polyester in our nation's capitol.



Ryan Reynolds, in one of many effective and very funny small roles, and a muscle car.



And here's a typical teen-boy room of the era. Trophies, plastic skulls, groovy love poster all framed in brown plaid (not shown: beer bong).



According to the DVD commentary, once Will Ferrell was on board playing straight-laced Bob Woodward to Bruce McCulloch's preening, narcissist Carl Bernstein, a flock of funny people joined the fray.

Best use of Yes's "I've Seen All Good People" in a scene of journalistic triumph

Comedy goddess Teri Garr, long may she reign.


This Watergate Hotel room cannot get any more 70s than this


Also on hand is Devon Gummersall as Betsy's stoner brother Larry, who might be the most insightful person in this satirical world, albeit while being very, very high.

Do you like brown? Then you'll love the 70s

Dan Heydaya firing all his guns as, at that time, one of our freakiest most corrupt Presidents.



I would never make any effort to rehabilitate Nixon's image. He was a criminal, a freak, and deeply flawed on many levels. But the orange person currently residing in the White House is, relatively speaking, makes Nixon look a lot more like an actual human. Sad.


Just here for the poncho in the foreground. My aunt made me one of these for Christmas one year and I was kicking it in second grade in my swinging poncho—thanks Auntie Joan.



A tight shot of a period department store demonstrates what creative art direction and a decent budget can accomplish.



For the girls, the Watergate conspiracy comes to its ultimate conclusion. At the mall. Which is very 70s.



So long, Dick.


In conclusion, I would like to see Kirsten Dunst and Ryan Reynolds do more comedy—they have the chops and they're both so effortlessly charismatic onscreen. I would also like to update Dick for the Trump era and I would call it Shit. But that's just a working title. And the story would begin in the 80s, because imagine the art direction!