Friday, March 30, 2007

Sanjaya at Seventeen

...Remember those who win the game
Lose the love they sought to gain
In debentures of quality
And dubious integrity
Their small town eyes will gape at you in
Dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received at seventeen...
- "At Seventeen" by Janis Ian, 1975

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Monday, March 19, 2007

Give Tribute Where Tribute's Due

I wanted to post a farewell to my father-in-law, Ron, who passed away this week after living with Parkinson's disease for 25 years. He was a kind man with a little twinkle in his eye. He liked to make people laugh and he was good at it. Originally from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Ron settled in the U.S. many years ago and became a journalist. He was a huge sports fan who liked to root for the underdog. He was active until he just couldn't be any more. He and his wife Joan raised their three kids and she took care of him until the end. They were a good team. In the past five years, Ron got to watch his four grandchildren grow from infanthood to childhood (well, one is still an infant--but he's a good-sized infant). I know that made him happy. We will all miss you, Ron.
If you happen to be looking for a charity to donate to this year and you happen to pick the Michael J. Fox Foundation, then I commend you.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

We like atheists, yes we do...

House Representive Pete Stark (Fremont, Calif.) admits he doesn't believe in a supreme being. Stark voluntarily "outed" himself after answering a call from the Secular Coalition for America to find the "highest level atheist, agnostic, humanist, or any other kind of nontheist currently elected public office in the United States." The Secular Coalition is made up of eight atheist and humanist groups and they offered a $1,000 prize to whoever could identify the most powerful, god-less person.

According to the Coalition, Stark is the first open nontheist in the history of Congress. Way to go Representive Stark! America needs more weirdos like you to rep. the "rest of us." If you want to thank him for his individualistic streak and bravery, go to this Action Alert and send him a letter saying, "Gee, thanks." I'm going to because Rep. Stark makes me feel a little less lonely in the world.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

(sub)Urban Ruins

Mt. Diablo, 1860 or 1870 I love urban ruins and the photography they inspire. I guess it stems from where I grew up, in a somewhat rural suburb (Concord, Calif.--heavy-metal capitol of the world) with hills, cows and sheep nearby. We kids used to explore the junkyard that was on the side of a hill that loomed above our dead-end street (since flattened and housed). A really old guy lived in a pink trailer house there and his "yard" was an entire field full of rusty giant-sized farm equipment, a water tower, piles of junk, rusty box-springs, stacks of soft, gray wood, and the remnants of a truck with wooden running boards and spokes.

Of course we went over there as much as possible and the added bonus was that there was a barn, leaning to the left, full of sheep further back. The problem was the old guy, who always eventually ran out of his trailer home, yelling, "Get away from there! Those sheep bite! Get out of here, you kids! I mean it--now, get!" like a villain from an Our Gang comedy.

And just like the little rascals, we hightailed it, slightly freaked out. Once I managed to sneak into a little crooked woodshed, all gappy between its boards. There was a sloping pile of treasure on the dirt floor: piles of old pre-war Christmas cards; postcards with messages fading away; assorted junk, and one baby boot, lined with buttons all the way up its ankle, like they wore in Little House in the Prairie. I looked around for a button-hook, just to see if that existed there too, but the old guy came out, yelling.

I thought about going back many times to swipe some of that great old stuff. But I never did. It didn't seem right. It all belonged to that guy, I figured, and I didn't want to steal from him. We were making his life miserable enough just by trespassing. And I also knew that if I started hoarding his stuff, I might get to be like him, just obtaining all the time and never letting it go. From what I could see, that wasn't healthy living. I did take a foot-long bolt once to show my school librarian, as proof of the historical significance of the junkyard of our humble town, but he just indulged me with a condescending smile. I guess the bolt couldn't possibly represent all the magic of climbing into a water tower with a home-made rope ladder, and discovering a wasp's nest, which sends you screaming out of the tower and across the field back to your house again, knowing that your brilliant plan of basing your secret clubhouse within the tower is dashed.

It pained me though, to think of all those postcards and Christmas and baby announcement cards, moldering away in a pile of damp and dirt. If I could get those, I thought, I might piece together a history of that guy in the trailer home.

One day, all the stuff was gone. We went back there and it was an empty field with tire ruts along the ground. I guess some developer bought the land and carted everything away from the other side of the hill, out of sight from our view. The barn was flattened (the sheep had long since disappeared), the junk was hauled away, even the water tower and the truck. The trailer home was gone. And soon after, a housing development sprung up.

That's the story of Contra Costa County, in a bitty nutshell. One day, years later, I was driving my friend, Joseph, who grew up in San Francisco, around the old haunts. I took him up the hill beside my high school. "And here's the awesome abandoned graveyard that we used to party in when I was a teenage hellion," I tour-guided. I was about to expound on the fact that the graveyard hadn't been used since the 30s, when I realized that I couldn't find the graveyard. And the reason I couldn't find the graveyard was because it was gone and covered with a new housing development. "They dug up the graves!" I yelled. What'd they do with the stones? Where's all the little rusty gates and crypts and stunted, scary trees?

Not to be an old coot, but it was disappointing to lose entire chunks of my past geography. My dad had the same feeling when he visited Detroit with my brother and found that his once-vibrant melting-pot neighborhood consisted of many vacant lots and boarded-up houses. What's my point? Everything changes. The photo is of Mt. Diablo and the surrounding foothills of Contra Costa County, taken around 1860 or 1870. This could easily be where our housing development was built, 100 years later.

Here's some urban ruins sites.

Opacity - Mr. Motts has a really good eye and uses great cameras. I love this site.
Action Squad - Minneapolis Urban Adventurers. Go Minneapolis Action Squad, go!
Boing Boing has a good link to an abandoned housing development in Taiwan that looks like background animation from "The Jetsons."
A gallery of Japanese ruins and an abandoned Japanese bowling alley.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Sex Over the Phone

This video came to my attention from Tuckers, longtime friend and Internet boss. Thank him.

Born in a Trunk at the Princess Theatre

The Man That Got AwayPBS recently broadcast the restored version of Judy Garland's 1954 vanity project, "A Star Is Born" (George Cukor directed it, but it's Judy's world and her movie). I had seen this at the Castro Theater years ago and it was such a treat to see it again. If you can get past the odd little segments of restored photo stills that move the storyline along (Warner Bros. had cut out nearly 50 minutes of the original film, which made it a box-office bomb; it was restored with the stills in 1983), sit back and enjoy the drama.

It's rare for a musical to strive for tragedy, but Judy's rising-star, Esther Blodgett, and her great love for James Mason's hopeless alcoholic film star, Norman Maine, certainly qualifies as great Hollywood soap opera. And not because he raises her to stratospheric heights of fame while his career nose-dives into obscurity, but because his endless self-destruction mirrored Garland's own. In fact, she was playing opposite of herself and that's what I like most about the film: It's hyper-reality, with Gershwin tunes. Also, she was too old for this role and her weight kept fluctuating throughout the long (over-budget) shoot. And she was never beautiful to begin with. That's what makes it hyper-real, because it just kept mirroring life and career all the way through. And she got to stick it to MGM, the "class-act" studio that dumped her. She has several scenes that parody their star-making machine and musical extravaganza aesthetic. Plus she acted her heart out--it was supposed to be her big movie come-back but the end result pretty much convinced her to leave Hollywood and focus mostly on live-performing instead.

I couldn't help thinking how unrealistic the plot would be today. Barbra Streisand attempted a remake in the 70s but the results are god-awful. Not even enjoyably bad. AVOID. Norman Maine discovering Esther Blodget and nurturing her career to become super-star, Vicki Lawrence, would be the equivelant of some drunken star on the downfall--say, Keanu Reeves--discovering me drumming in Death by Stork one night and taking me under his wing until I became the reigning drummer of Hollywood rock legends...uh...Counting Crows Revival? How about a newly formed band featuring the boyfriend of Drew Barrymore, the boyfriend of Winona Ryder and a friend of Kate Hudson's boyfriend, Owen Wilson. And me. We would be called some typical garage-band redux name--let's see, The Killers, The Strokes, The Vines--these are all taken. How about The Drastics--that's about stupid enough.

During insomnia attack #4,023, I even imagined our initial "meet cute." I know--that is socially retarded of me--but insomnia leads to brain damage; everyone knows that.

Scene: Dark, smoke-choked bar on Telegraph Street.

Keanu: Oh my God! You are an awesome drummer! Just, totally! Can I buy you a drink?

Me: (Sputter!) Uh, Mr. Reeves? What brings you to the Stork Club in Oakland?

Keanu: I don't know how I got here, but it might have involved a bus and a drug deal gone bad.

Me: That's certainly interesting. Well, thank you, you're very kind.

Keanu (to bartender): I'll have a Southern Comfort straight up and a Heineken.

Bartender: We only have Milwaukee's Finest.

Keanu: I'll have four of those. (to me) Come away with me to Hollywood. You don't belong here! I want to introduce you to some boyfriends of friends of mine...

Me: And LEAVE the band? It's taken me all my life to get to this point.

Keanu: But this bar is completely decorated with special edition Barbies! And (looking around) Christmas trees?!

Me: Yes, but Jerry Brown lives right down the street. Don't you know this neighborhood will one day be completely gentrified by the year 2045? And Death by Stork will finally headline a Saturday night.

Keanu: You need to dream bigger. I'll help you. Everyone knows I'm a nice guy...

Me: And attractive, once you've showered.

Keanu: ...but don't get too involved! I'm crazy, sister, and I'm not kidding.

Me: Oh God, you think of me as your sister. Wait, did you just order a boilermaker?

Keanu: (getting distracted) Is that Star Trek Barbie? Cool!

And so I go on to great heights in those Hollywood Hills. But Keanu ends up on "Dancing With the Stars," Season 12. If he could just hold it together enough to make it to the semi-finals! We might re-write the end so that he finds Jesus: "A Star is Born Again." Or not.

Come to think of it, I did meet Keanu Reeves in this manner. Only I wasn't drumming; I was sitting on a stoop and he almost tripped over me. But it was at a bar and he was drinking boilermakers. See--anything is possible--if you have a stage mother and you can sing like Judy Garland. And, incidentally, her 18-minute show-stopper in "A Star is Born" (literally--many people think this musical number goes on waaaay too long) goes something like this, "I was born in a trunk at the Princess Theatre--in Pocatella, Ida-hoooooooooooooo!" Oh, and James Mason was awesome too.
A Star Is Born montage