Friday, October 31, 2014

Murder Ballads Bash in Berkeley Tonight for Halloween

Joy and I are playing as The Rotten Logs in tonight's Murder Ballads Bash at the Starry Plough in Berkeley. This is the 13th annual Murder Ballads show and it's always fun. I don't say that lightly. It really is always fun. In fact, every time I've played at the Starry Plough, or viewed others playing there, it's always been a good time all the time.

We go on at around 9:30-ish. Each act is only 15 minutes so it's fast and furious. Hey, Penelope Houston will be there. Happy Halloween to one and all. I'll be dressed as a rotten log.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

An Avenue of the Giants, Eureka, Redding, Weaverville and Mendocino Weekend

Road trip post! In the quest to, as Jackson says, "visit California's most desolate places," we hit the road for a surprise three-day weekend (thanks to a mandated day off by our school district). With the goal of seeing some fall foliage (goal unmet), visiting Joy in her new digs in Mendocino, and taking a trip back through time on the Avenue of the Giants, we climbed into the Subaru and hit the road.

In no special order, photos and thoughts. We haven't run out of places to visit in California by a long shot, oh no. California is truly a place of wonders. Witness:

Avenue of the Giants - this is a side-by-side comparison of Jackson at the Shrine Drive Thru Tree at ages 6 and 12. The tree itself is barely alive and kept standing by wire. Next time we'll try the Chandelier Drive Thru Tree in Leggett. They both cost about the same fee for the opportunity to thread your car through the tree slot. Of course drilling a tunnel through a living tree is a grotesque and harmful thing to do and would be completely frowned upon today. Still, you can drive through it, or should I say "thru it"—tell your grandchildren.

Jackson is growing but I think the Shrine Tree has reached its full growth potential

We strolled through Founders' Grove and marveled not only at the trees towering hundreds of feet above us, but also at all the fallen giants along our path. Redwoods have a shallow root system and make these tremendous environments for more forest growth once they topple. Keith poses to give you an idea of the size of the base of this tree. Ferns, redwood shoots, fungus and who knows what else have made this former tree their home.

Large and in charge (now that they're protected from logging interests)

A sampling of fallen tree root systems and their eco-systems.

We saw a few slightly burned-out trees, perhaps from fires started by logging companies many years ago...? It's hard to burn redwoods—they're dense. Lots of crevices and tunnel-like formations from old fires. The trees endure.

Did you know there's an Avenue of the Giants Marathon in May? That would be a beautiful, shady run. Runners must feel like beetles scurrying through the vast woods.

Jackson poses at one of the redwood sculptures at the Legend of Bigfoot Gift Shop in Garberville. Let me say this about Garberville—it's overpriced for what you get. Bay Area new-money-itis has probably had a hand in this, making Garberville a stopping-off point for trees and other destinations. Motels and restaurants overcharge in this small, nondescript town. If you must visit, do stop at the Woodrose Cafe where the food is organic and served with a smile.

Shrek-tastic (not an officially licensed product of Dreamworks Animation)

Hey, we're in Eureka now. We were just passing through this former logging town/suburban city-center, when out of the corner of my eye I spied the Carson Mansion tower and made a screeching sharp right turn to visit. Here it is—the crazy-times Victorian Queen-Anne style lumber-baron home of your dreams.

Check out the intense architectural detail. Apparently owner William Carson had this house built by his laborers during a slump in the lumber industry. The house was a source of employment during its two-year construction. Job creators, we salute you.

And directly across the street, The Pink Lady, same San Francisco-based Newsom brothers architects, hired by Carson to design a house for his son. A sort of "Everybody Loves Raymond" situation, Victorian style.

On to Mendocino! Another logging town turned tourist destination. Adorable Victorian-style buildings a few hundred steps away from ocean-side cliffs. Taking a stroll around the neighborhood is an edifying experience for the senses.

Joy has discovered that living in peaceful, quiet conditions by the Pacific Ocean has its its merits.

Town is on the left. This was the location for Elia Kazan's East of Eden and it looks pretty much the same today. No streetlights, telephone poles or overhead wires of any kind. James Dean could walk down the street as Cal Trask and you wouldn't know what era you were in. There's no Target, Costco or Trader Joe's either, but you can get that in nearby Fort Bragg up the road.

Suddenly we're in Redding and visiting a bridge. Not just any bridge—the Sundial Bridge—designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava in 2004. Why visit a bridge? Well, look at it. It's awesome. It's so tall (217 feet/66 meters), it has a warning light at its top for aircraft. It's a cable suspension bridge that's also a working sundial! Glass panels line the walk going across the Sacramento River. Originally they were made of clear green glass, but that was too freaky for people to see the water below their feet, so now they're frosted, but still green for tinted-light purposes. And perhaps best of all, this is a pedestrian bridge, which includes Segways, because: California/technology, etc.

Witness the splendor of this destination bridge.

Have Segways, will travel

Like really great public sculpture, it must be seen in person for the full effect

The McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens and acres of walking paths through tree-dotted open space, plus the Turtle Bay Museum with interactive science exhibits, all make for a fine afternoon outing. Redding—who knew? And if you like this sort of thing, check out Calatrava's  Jerusalem Light Rail Bridge—splendid.

Have you spent any time in Weaverville by the Trinity Alps lately? Neither had I. I'm so glad Keith discovered this lovely little gold-mining town. And by gold-mining, I mean, from 1845, with a downtown made up of buildings from the era, with spiral staircases outside (to avoid a bizarre California tax on indoor staircases—it's California and it doesn't always make sense), cute restaurants, antique shops and my favorite: junk stores. Junk stores where you can buy a second-hand long-sleeved cotton shirt for a dollar. A dollar! Where mood-ring displays and political buttons from the 1940s sit alongside records, charm bracelets, Carl Sagan books, driftwood sculpture, model ships, buttons, you know—junk. The Bay area used to be full of junk stores—no more. Now we have to go to Weaverville to get our fill. Fine, so be it.

I walked around downtown Weaverville, gaping and exclaiming little ooh's and ah's and took not one photo, so here's a photo from Matthew Roth, who has kindly posted it to the creative commons space on Wikipedia. Look how cute!

Up the street from the old courthouse is a row of lovely Victorian-style homes. Here's one. I like old homes but having owned one (not nearly as stylish as this), I issue this word of advice to would-be old-home-owners: have a chunk of surplus cash set aside for ongoing repairs. And by ongoing, I mean for the rest of your natural life. Then bask in the charm.

I took many photos of the Weaverville Joss House State Historic Park, the oldest Chinese temple in California (in continuous use since 1874! Actually even before that—an earlier temple burned down, like much of mining architecture of the time). That's the temple behind Keith and Jackson. The arched bridge they're standing on not only gets you across the creek, but purportedly helps keep out evil spirits, who have trouble managing curved pathways. The temple was built by gold miners from China who were mostly young men, hoping to get rich. It was a rough life to be sure.

Looking up at the entrance. The blue "tiles" are painted to look like ceramic as in traditional Chinese temples, but this temple is completely made of wood. There's a high first step upon entering and a solid wall that you have to go around to enter the temple. More evil-spirit barriers. They travel in straight lines and don't go over steps or through walls very easily. Now you know.

The temple altar honors powerful deities, Xuan Wu and Guan Yu. Our lovely park guide, Julie, gave us much information on these gods and all their accouterments. The interior decor was bought in San Francisco then hauled up to Weaverville by mule-wagon, piece by piece. It all looked super-deluxe to me and in great shape (the park doesn't refurbish, only preserves), but Julie told us Weaverville miners probably got the leftover discounted temple artifacts that had been shipped from China and remained unsold after a period of time. Kind of like a temple outlet mall.

Nonetheless, the Joss House items look good to me. These procession banners are made from silk and silk embroidery. One of them features a crafty bat atop it to bring prosperity and good luck.

This lion dog is made of gilded silk thread and it's not stuffed—that's just layers and layers of embroidery atop itself for a 3D effect. I've done some embroidery and let me tell you—wow. The long-ago artisans who created these items have my complete respect and admiration.

A lovely drum banner for parading around. Everything has meaning in the Joss House. I should have taken notes. I'm not really a journalist in my heart, but mythology and symbols are important. I'll return again and do a better job reporting next time.

Let us not forget Whiskleytown. Another mining town that was made into a lake in 1962. That is, the town is under the lake that was created by damming up the valley. One original building remains on dry land. This is a popular boating and recreation area.

Whiskeytown is also home to four waterfalls with fresh new paths made by the park service. We only got to Crystal Creek Springs Falls this time. Next spring we'll probably come back for the Whiskeytown Waterfall Challenge—hike all four waterfalls in a week and receive an "I Walked the Falls" bandana (while supplies last).

Crystal Creek Falls is more raging in the spring—still a very nice to see in the fall

Upper Crystal Creek Falls

One last stop, the Minor Theatre in lovely down town Arcata. Not only a nice old theater, built in 1914, but perhaps the oldest movie theater in the country designed exclusively as a movie theater that's still showing movies. Apparently a trap door that Houdini once used is still there. The lobby was the woodsiest movie-theater lobby I've seen. I would have loved to have checked out The Skeleton Twins, but we had to be on our way. That was three days of adventure. We'll be back.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Elite Group of Other Bloggers - Here I Come!

Hey you guys, big news! I received this email today and it alerted me to a fantastic opportunity. Nine years blogging and FINALLY my ship has come in. Or should I say my vintage-furnishings-and-accessories delivery truck has showed up. Oh, just read the email—I can't do it justice.

I've changed the sender's name slightly to protect her identity, as well as her company name. And I am so excited to partake in this golden opportunity, I will put my thoughts in red throughout. Because my thoughts are RED as in HIGH-ALERT WITH EXCITEMENT RED.

Here's the email:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Failed Memes

All my memes are failed memes, but these really tanked. Tanked hard. That doesn't mean I'm not going to share them with you anyway. Failure is a chance to learn, to grow, to meme once again.

I really am addicted to cereal, but I guess as far as addictions go, it's not a very compelling one.

I figured this had to appeal to some segment of society. I figured wrong.

They dyed Cindy's hair so much on The Brady Bunch that it started to fall out. Then they told her she could wear a wig. Poor Cindy.

My dad used to say this all the time.

Young Harvey Pekar in American Splendour asks a pertinent question with no answer.

What—God says stuff. This is something God might say if He watched a lot of reality TV. I'm sure He's very proud of us.

Yes, dealing with Comcast is a "first-world problem," and it's still awful.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Startle Your Eardrums With The Sonics

Some would argue that the birth of punk or at least garage rock was way back in 1963 in the town of Tacoma. That's where The Sonics came together and began blasting the roof off this sucker. Imagine if you will the year 1963 (I'm going to do this too since I was born a year later): John F. Kennedy—assassinated; Alabama governor George Wallace proclaiming, "Segregation now; segregation tomorrow; segregation forever!" in his swearing-in address; the number one Billboard chart-topping single for the year was Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs' Sugar Shack.

Was the U.S. primed to spawn punk rock from the overcast confines of the great Northwest? YOU decide.

Have Love, Will Travel - A 1965 Richard Berry cover, performed, in the words of Wikipedia, "hard and fast."

Strychnine - Hell yeah, Strychnine! A Sonics original, covered by many, including The Fall, The Cramps and L7.

Boss Hoss - A song so rockin' it inspired two bands to name themselves after it, including a German country outfit who are definitely not referencing the German countryside.


The Witch - "She's gonna make you itch 'cause she's the witch!"  Long ago when I was writing album reviews for "Option," my friend and editor, Richie told me I couldn't review music by just quoting lyrics; I had to add some analysis. But I think if someone makes you itch because she's a witch, that's all you need to know. My opinion.

Cinderella"HYAAAAAAAAUGH!" (sorry Richie)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Movies You May Have Missed - Clash of the Titans (1981)

I'm not here to convince you to take a gander at the original Clash of the Titans (the 1981 release—NOT the eyeball-searing 2010 remake), though I'm a huge Ray Harryhausen fan and can enthusiastically recommend Jason and the Argonauts or Golden Voyage of Sinbad for almost any occasion. Clash of the Titans, while aiming high and definitely enamored of Greek mythological tales, is not as narratively successful as those earlier films. The live-action and animated scenes are not as seamless as in Harryhausen's past work, especially for the post-Star Wars age. The pacing by director Desmond Davis is often turgid, partially saved by some twinkly character-acting by Burgess Meredith. But Meredith can't be in every scene—he's just one man. And the film's leads, Harry Hamlin and Judi Bowker, are not burning up the screen with swashbuckling energy, more like walking through in a Valium haze.

Which is why I'm spending my precious, valuable time on Earth presenting this here. Because, upon watching it 30 years after its release, I had a realization—Clash of the Titans may be one of the most drugged-out movies ever made. I'm not on drugs. I'm a clean and sober Mom these days, unless you count melatonin for my sleep issues, but while watching Clash of the Titans, I got a contact high. Maybe it's the weird choppy story throwing Perseus across geographical time and space. Maybe it's the Gods tinkering with their human offspring and assorted masses as pawns in a game (a concept first explored in 1963 in Jason in the Argonauts). Maybe it's that elusive Harryhausen magic that makes otherworldly creatures somehow mesh into the mythical world we think we know. Let the visuals convince you. And now...

There's this:

And this:

And this:

Disco Zeus

What a trip! Then of course there's the Kraken, of "Release the Kraken!" fame.

The Kraken myth is actually of Norwegian origin and was most likely based on giant squid sightings by freaked-out sailing men, so what's he doing here in ancient Greece? It's a mythological mish-mash.

Look at Poseidon's face (Jack Gwillim) when he gets to Release The Kraken.

Clearly, he's a god in need of an intervention.

The Kraken wreaks all kinds of havoc for the city of Argos. Lots of death and destruction when you let the Kraken out of its undersea lair. And all because Perseus' mother, the gal-pal of Zeus, is sent to sea in a coffin with their baby Perseus by her uptight creep of a father. Zeus protects his earthly family and crushes her father in his powerful Laurence Olivier hand, so that takes care of that. Unfortunately the people of Argos are squished, drowned, and run screaming only to be crushed by marble columns.

The gods are a vengeful, sadistic lot. As played by a truly god-like roster of esteemed thespians, including Olivier, Claire Bloom and Dame Maggie Smith, they're directed to stand around like statues, looking mostly irritated with one another. Certainly Olivier, who was suffering serious health issues, was not in the best condition to portray unbridled infallibility. He comes off as a cranky despot with a fine mellifluous voice. These gods are portrayed as, dare I say it, middle-aged in appearance and demeanor. They look tired. Gods aren't supposed to get tired!

Claire Bloom as Zeus' long-suffering wife, Hera. Ursula Andress as world-weary goddess of love, Aphrodite, and Maggie Smith as sea goddess Thetis, mother of Calibos, part man/part animated creature thingy.

And who is this Perseus, now grown and ready for adventure? It's Harry Hamlin—you may think of him as Jim Cutler on Mad Men, ruthless accounts executive and speed-freak, but here he is in his youth and he's darn pretty and ready for mind-expanding adventure.

Harry Hamlin - a long and illustrious career

Which brings us back to drugs. Want to take a ride to the center of your Greek Mythology mind? Come along if you dare...

This is the bustling and cursed city of Joppa, with its visible matte lines. I bet when Harryhausen saw this shot, he winced. It needed a little more "massaging" before completion.

This is a giant vulture who shows up at Princess Andromeda's bedchambers while she sleeps and steals her somolent soul for a while (her soul enters the little cage here—are you having a bad trip? sorry).


This is Perseus taming Pegasus, only Perseus is wearing a helmet that makes him invisible, so he's just a rope in mid-air. Whoa.

This is Calibos. He was a handsome guy but he killed everything in sight, including Zeus' prized flying horses (except for Pegasus), so Zeus turned him into a monster-guy. This is actually close-up-Calibos, nicely played by Neil McCarthy, who suffered from acromegaly, which is a form of gigantism.

But wide-shot-Calibos looks like this.

Wide-shot-Calibos in close-up reveals a disparity between the look of his close-ups and his action shots, which are animated with Harryhausen's usual flair for the dramatic, especially his thrashing alligator-like tail.

These are Calibos' only friends and they all live together in a swamp and write riddles to Princess Andromeda's sleep-soul, who has to memorize them and take them back to her kingdom to present to would-be suitors. Failure to solve the riddles (and there have been some failures) results in death. It's a total bummer.

Dang, Calibos' hand is creepy.

McCarthy's close-ups add a welcome dose of pathos to his otherwise despicable character. I believe the original idea was for an animated-only Calibos but it was decided that he needed more of a personal story, so McCarthy and dialogue were added.

Typical Calibos, *tsk*.

The problem is that while both versions of Calibos were fine on their own, they didn't mesh with each other, which creates a jarring effect. This fighting Calibos has a different face going on. Hence, audiences really have to suspend their belief above and beyond the usual Harryhausen outing.

Thetis talking through a beheaded statue of herself like something out of Disney's Haunted Mansion (which I like, by the way). It's OK, man. I'm here for you. I'm your guide through these bad parts...

Perseus and Andromeda are the dullest love-pairing in fantasy-cinema history. Hamlin wasn't up to scenery-chewing in his youth and Bowker in this role has all the allure of a preschool teacher-in-training. Hamlin had more of a connection with his off-screen lover, Ursula Andress, Aphrodite herself.

Poor Bowker, in polyester Easter-egg pastels throughout the entire film

Burgess Meredith loved playing playwright and thespian, Ammon. Here he is, all merriment and joy, with goofy mechanical owl, Bubo.

Meredith, having a blast
I'm not a fan of Bubo. His clumsy, blooping shenanigans seem forced to me. Owls are cool but Bubo looks awkward when he flies around, like RT-D2 with wings, Still, you can order your own Bubo costume accessory for the next Comic Con, so what do I know?

Back to the fun! These three blind cackling Stygian witches always cheer me up. True comic relief.

She's the absolute best

Perseus messes with the witches a bit but it's all in good fun. Until he takes a ferry ride to the Isle of Medusa with the boatman Charon. Bad vibes all around.

Low-budget, but it works

And then, JAWAS!

OK, not really. It's a two-headed guard dog. Harryhausen said three heads would have been too complicated to deal with and as it was, keeping the fur smooth throughout the shot was a big problem for the animators. Consequently, not a great action sequence—kind of like a stuffed animal gone berserk. I told you it was druggy.

Ruff! Ruff! Ruff! Ruff! Owhooooooo! Ruff! Ruff Ruff! etc.

As you probably know, Medusa has the power to turn men to stone, with just one look. Thus, her decorating scheme is...intimidating.

This is very Return to Oz

Now here we go. This is it. The Medusa sequence. This is where Harryhausen poured his heart and soul. I think it stands up to many monster-movie confrontation scenes. Just A+ work all around. And Hamlin steps it up too—perhaps the creepy set gave him the proper heebie jeebies. He looks scared out of his mind. AS HE SHOULD BE.

Shadows from the firelight, multiple snakes moving around—can you imagine animating this?

What an entrance

Medusa is a badass archer and formidable foe


More visual complications for Harryhausen. What a master he was.

Hooray! But also, darn, I liked Medusa, in a way

And then there's more Kraken. Can't have too much Kraken.

Kraken hand

Mr. Kraken

Pegasus and animated Perseus going down

Disco Medusa

And there it is. You're back now—how do you feel? Was your mind expanded? Was it inner-eye opening? Would you do it again? I did and I turned out fine. Hail, Harryhausen—he loved fantasy storytelling and created so many memorable creatures to haunt us forever. Oh, I forgot to mention the giant scorpions. They go clackity-clackity-clackity-clack! when they attack. Sorry if I harshed your mellow.