Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pet's Rest Cemetery and Crematory - Colma, California

It's that time again: time to move. I've moved more than a dozen times in the past 20 years so you'd think I'd learn the basics: don't collect too much stuff. Stay organized. Live minimally. I've accomplished none of this. But I do know not to unpack every box because there's always the chance that I'll be moving again in a few years. And with me, that chance is high.

So trying to sort out the gazillions of photographs I've taken over the years, I came across a few from Pet's Rest Cemetery. Colma is a weird place south of San Francisco that is foggy and full of cemeteries. It's famous for having more dead people within its population than live. That's because most of its land is taken up by cemeteries. Within the parameters of this set-up, lies Pet's Rest, which has been burying and cremating the area's beloved animals for 60 years now. My cat Caz was cremated there because his veterinarian had a deal with Pet's Rest. It wasn't that expensive and I got his ashes in a little wooden box, which I painted with his portrait.

Because he was such a great cat (one of those "dog-like" cats) who was truly a wonderful companion, I can kind of see the inclination people have to honor their pets. I personally don't go in for burials for people or animals due to land-use issues but I do like visiting graveyards, especially old ones with lots of statuary and inscriptions. It's sobering, eerie and sometimes humorous to dwell on our final resting place and the mark we leave behind.

"Sandy - Here Lies the Only Four Legged Human God Ever Put on this Earth."

"Chico," "Sniffy," and "Ms. Ming."

The photo insert is touching.

"Betsy" - I guess I liked that Connie, Susie and Bunny all sound like pet names, yet Betsy does not.

"Fluffy" takes prominence but "Our Beloved Baby Gave us More Love Than Any Human" is pretty good stuff.

"Mitzie B - 13 Years of Love."

"Cocoa Tea Bean - My Baby, My Precious, Now, in God's Arms Purring."

Also of interest:
- Colma: The Musical.
- Official site.


Colma Stays But I Have to Go

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Surrealism of Disney

It's hot in the Northwest once more. We're dealing with flaky would-be house-buyers and their hyper-annoying phony-baloney real estate agents. We're moving this June. We need a break from reality. What could be more mind-bending than a series of Disney shorts from the 40s?

I got this Classic Cartoon Favorites: Extreme Sports Fun DVD from Netflix for Jackson last week. I was getting very tired of his love of "Playhouse Disney" which he discovered while we were visiting, where else--Disneyland. "Playhouse Disney" is a computer-generated preschool-type endeavor where Mickey and the gang learn their shapes, colors and counting while all sorts of gadgets and gizmos float around, helping them out with a series of tasks.

I suspect Jackson is attracted to the gizmos and the Hot Dog Dance which ends every episode, but besides including all the classic Disney characters of yore, even Daisy Duck, who is the voice of reason and seems to be a pre-med major, these shows have nothing to do with the anarchic zaniness that was once a Disney staple.

So knowing Jackson's new-found love of Mickey Mouse and his obsession with most all sports, I got him this collection of sports cartoons and watched him crack up for most of our car ride down to California last weekend. Then I watched with him and we were both cracking up. How can we attempt to bust out of our day-to-day life in elastic and insane ways, giving us the freedom to leave the physical plane without losing ourselves completely in the process? Cartoons. Of course, film stills can't convey the lunacy of a surrealist slapstick moment. But here they are anyway. And now:

I know what you're thinking: What ARE the titles of these masterpieces?

"Canine Caddy" in which Pluto proves he's not just a benign sidekick to Mickey, but a frustrated and aggressive would-be murderer of gophers. The golf course is not left in such a pristine state by film's end.

"How to Play Baseball" featuring two teams of Goofies. These Goofy sports films were produced under an "educational" title and we actually watched them in school. We did not however, learn our shapes and numbers from them.

"Double Dribble" - The Goofies have no ears. There might have been a shortage of animators for this one and the ears had to go. That's my theory.

"How to Play Football" - Just like Baseball but more violent. Cartoons used to be very violent and never educational and that's the way we liked it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Evelyn "Champagne" King for what ails ya

What a effin' exhausting week. Looking for a rental in California while selling our house in Washington. Not complaining. Just explaining. Lots of phone calls, emails, faxes, scans, attachments, signatures and initials. Then: the sale falls through, but wait--we got another offer. Then more applications, viewings, phone calls and messages. Then we wait to see if we have any housing in the next month.

Meanwhile California Supreme Court is LAME and gay marriage is set back more years than I care to dwell upon. When I DO settle back here, I will address this issue in some way. Not sure yet how. You're PISSING me OFF, California.

On the up side, my dad and I got to watch a family of California Quail as the dad quail tried to get his chicks to follow him out onto the sidewalk and out of the yard they were hanging around in. The mom hung back and the chicks flocked around her while the dad stepped onto the sidewalk and called them all big babies in his funny, peeping-booping quail voice. The chicks weren't buying it. They stayed with mom and it was probably for the best because a huge hawk was circling overhead the entire time. Mom knows best. You could practically hear it in the tone of her quail voice as she peep-booped back to her partner, "Oh leave them alone. They're just LITTLE."

And that's how it goes. Wait, what about Evelyn "Champagne" King? She started out as a teenage singing star during the late 70s disco era. I've always loved her voice. I heard her at Great Clips while Jackson got his hair buzzed and she cheered me up immensely, as always. Weird, musical prozac moment in the ex-burbs. Cheers, Ms. King.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Guler Ice Cave, Washington

Today Laurie, Keith and I took a road trip to the Guler Ice Cave near Trout Lake, Washington. Driving along the Columbia River Gorge with some short stops to Starvation Creek, Horsetail and Multnomah Falls, we crossed this crazy-narrow bridge to the Washington side to the National Forest and proceeded to drive along some very bucolic landscape, featuring barns, fields, meadows and llama farms.

Our ice-cave equipment sucked. None of us had proper shoes and we were sliding all over the giant lava-boulders that line the 680-foot long cave. A lot of melting ice is creating some weird see-through puddles that are actually a walkable solid surface but they look like liquid puddles. Some of the icicles are curling from the ceiling, "like dreadlocks," said Laurie, but most look like your standard (if gigantic) pointy icicle. Many from the floor surface are rounded like sparkly alien creatures.

Our flashlights and lanterns were dim at best but we really felt like we were having an adventure, down in the ice cave there. I took some photos with my little camera and I'll see if anything comes out when I get the film developed. That's right: I use film and a scanner. Wanna fight about it?

Here's a video from Wend Magazine, shot in February of this year, when it was even icier. We would have died if we had attempted this. Thanks for risking your safety for the sake of video, Wend.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Northwest - I Ain't Missing You

I have to de-personalize my house to put it on the market today and as I take down the family photos and colorful little tchockes, let me just get through the moment by saying, "I ain't missing you, Northwest." And here's a list of everything I ain't missing. But first the musical accompaniment (if you can take it):

There. Now, let's get started:

Nature: My house is surrounded by giant trees that could crush me in half a second. They blow in the wind and house thousands of birds throughout the year. The squirrels run rampant from bough to roof and back again, burying nuts in our yard and hopping about in the tall grass. In any direction driving a half-hour to an hour away is an ocean, river, lake or multiple waterfalls. Plus a gorge with stunning vistas. I ain't missing you!

Kids: All you kids, running around and playing with my son, laughing, being innocent and having fun. And your school with its dedicated, hard-working staff and teachers and volunteer art program that allowed me to teach you art for the last two years, covering Matisse, Pollock, Warhol, Mucha, Escher and hand-carved carousel horses from the Italian artisans of the 19th century. I ain't missing you!

Portland: With all your distinct, interesting neighborhoods and architecture and neon signs, friendly people and culture up the wazoo. The delicious food, dessert treats, coffee and brews, who needs 'em? Your film festivals, low cost-of-living, altruism, love of theater, art and writing...I ain't missing you!

Peace and quiet: Overrated! I ain't missing you at all!

Burgerville: Your delicious cheeseburgers, sweet-potato fries and fresh, seasonal blackberry shakes cannot be replicated. I'll come back to visit you. But I ain't missing you! Oh no.

Later this week, I'll write about what I'll REALLY not miss. Every place has that list too, you know.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Life During the Recession - Jackson 5 Friday

In 1973, the U.S. began its descent into its worst recession since World War II. In a nutshell: our gross domestic products levels sank while the jobless rate reached to the sky. Investment purchases collapsed and starting the whole ball rolling, oil prices soared. And to add to everyone's depressive drug- and alcohol-fueled mood swings, there was the Vietnam War and the treachery of Richard Nixon to contend with. It was a low point.

The entertainment industries lifted our spirits with manufactured chaos and polyester glitz and glamour. Disaster movies were huge. We packed in theaters to watch people get eaten by sharks, get sucked out of airplanes and flip over on cruise ships. Television offered escape from its war coverage by flying us to Fantasy Island, sending us on a Love Boat cruise (with special guest star, Andy Warhol!), and providing the drama of undercover female detectives dressed as high-class call girls.

As for music: what is more endorphin-inducing than pop, disco, funk and soul? Enter the Jackson 5. The band of brothers, after touring the back roads of Gary, Indiana, were signed to Motown by Berry Gordy, Jr., and seemingly helmed by eerie childhood prodigy, Michael, would go on to stratospheric hit-tune success.

I LOVED The Jackson 5. They made me and my friends so happy. First there came the infectious, bouncy pop hits like ABC and I Want You Back, then the weird love ballads sung by a child (Ben [about a vengeful rat and his owner], Got To Be There), and finally disco fever with robot dancing! Thanks for getting us through the 70s in almost one piece, Jackson 5. Whatever befell us (and them) later on down the road, it was a good ride while it lasted.

Sugar Daddy - 1971. Michael was originally billed as an eight-year-old when he was actually 11, to make him seem THAT much more amazing. Even so, he astounds with his super-human talent.

Rockin' Robin a cover from Michael's solo album in 1972 (the one where he's wearing a jaunty cap and a big smile) - It's impossible to be depressed while listening to this song. Inversely, it's strangely removed from any musical style of that year. I'm sure the Jackson brothers were all WTF? about performing this live. They didn't have a lot of input in their early hits. I must say, when I was eight, this song was nirvana to me, so Berry Gordy had the right idea (as usual).

Dancing Machine (about one minute in) - 1974. If I had a dollar for every time my friends and I joyfully began dancing the robot when this song came on the radio, I'd have at least $300. Note the horn section at the robot-dance break.

Would you consider bringing up the horn section there? Me neither! Creative composition, just before the explosion of synthesizer-disco hits, beginning with I Feel Love in 1977 with Donna Summer doing an euphoric vocal and Giorgio Moroder on practically unmanageable synth. Before that, synthesizers had pretty much been relegated to krautrock and movie soundtracks only.

I Want You Back / ABC - originally released in 1969 and 1970. YEAH. That's what I'm talking about. The 70s' variety-show format was completely insane as evidenced here. And oh so entertaining.

I Am Love - 1974. Featuring Cher, little Janet and a love ballad sung by Jermaine. What more could we want out of life?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I, Twit

I had to join Twitter because as Keith put it, "Someone might take your name." So out of fear of human grabbiness, here's my Twitter area.

I also took my real name which doesn't make me feel very empowered, but I have it. JUST IN CASE. Will we ever learn not to covet?

I don't have a lot to twit about (does anyone?), but I'll be linking to here and describing my celebrity dreams. If you care to follow, let us run around in the circles of our minds.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Vaselines Play Tonight - Whee!

The Vaselines, a 1986 Scottish folk-punk-pop duo, have reformed and are touring around the West Coast this week. I'm going to see them at the Doug Fir in Portland. They had a wee underground following that swelled in ranks once Kurt Cobain took up their cause and started covering their songs in earnest. The man dearly loved the Vaselines.

Seattle's The Duchess and The Duke will open and that's nothing to shake a stick at either.

Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam - This definitely has the Kurt Cobain seal of approval.

Son of a Gun - 2008

You Think You're a Man - 2008

Molly's Lips - Keith remembers my little cousin Matt making fun of us for liking this song back in '94. He told us, "Molly's Lips? What kind of a song is THAT?" Then he made us sing the chorus and he laughed at us. Twee folk rock is not for everyone, but it does has its fans.

Update: Well, the show was swell, if a bit like watching a long Red Sox game with its technical glitches and tunings between songs ("We might be here all night," mused Frances McKee in her charming brogue. "I hope you brought your sleeping bags!.") The songs were almost flawless though, and with an excellent Belle & Sebastian rhythm section (introduced as Bobby and Mike) and 1990s lead guitarist (Stevie), there was much "punch" to force our heads a'bobbin.' I'm sorry I just wrote that, but it made sense at the time.

Mostly younger Portlanders, a friendly, if pasty lot (including myself), worshipping at the alter of their elders. Big encore claps and yells, which in the middle of I thought, people--you KNOW they're coming back out here--the lights are dim--no sound on the P.A, etc. Then when they did come back out, Eugene mentioned, "You knew we were coming back, didn't you? You didn't even have to cheer." Deadpan--I love it.

They ended with the Divine disco put-down, You Think You're a Man, and one of my favorites, Dum Dum (I've always loved Eugene's gnarly little guitar solo in the middle). After everyone left the stage, Eugene thanked us for coming, saying, "We didn't know if anybody liked us, and now we see that some people do." He was very sincere about it and I think when you're very underground, as they were, and you get covered by Nirvana, and then people say things like, "I like the Nirvana version better," then touring (20 years later) to sold-out audiences must be very gratifying indeed.

Mwillie70 posted this from their L.A. show a few days ago. Thanks, Miss!

Frances McKee
Frances McKee - 2009, Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR

Frances and Eugene Kelly
The Vaselines - 2009, Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Recession Makes Me Fighting Mad

It isn't fair! How many times have I stated that, deep within my mind where no one else will know I'm a self-pitying fool? OK, maybe a few times, tops. I'm kind of a throw-up-my-hands, intuitive type, I guess. But still, what are the odds that we would move to the Northwest with a new full-time job, nice little house, great little school, etc., only to have the recession kick in, lose that job, and then live in one of the worst areas of the U.S. for employment?

Well, I suppose it can happen to anyone and it has. So I don't take it really personally. But I'm still really PISSED about the greed, deregulation, corruption and stupidity that got us in this situation.

And I'll express that vicariously with these ridiculous fight scenes. Over-the-top absurdity? Yes! Like the quandary we find ourselves in, moving back to where we started from, to look for too-expensive, tiny housing next to train tracks in a broken-down state with a class-based public-school system and a constitution altered by popular vote to disallow gay marriage.

Am I ranting? Tomorrow I'll post some cheerful videos to balance everything out. Until then: AARRRRGGGGHHHHHH!!!

Take THAT, Recession!

Justice WILL prevail!

Or maybe it won't. Might take a few years...

Well, I have complete trust in our elected officials to handle it in a pragmatic, intelligent manner.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Parting really is such sweet sorrow

No, I'm not leaving the blog (we're stuck together like high fructose corn syrup spilled on the floor). But I am leaving SW Washington (technically the city of Vancouver, which, while geographically in the state of Washington is STILL a major city-suburb of Portland--a cultural mecca full of elitist eco-snobs who DESPISE Vancouver with every fiber of their being). Keith got himself a job after much effort and frustration. The job is in San Francisco. The job is located where he used to work when we lived in the Bay Area, so it's as if we never left!

Except of course, we did, two years ago, and while we're very happy to return to my birthplace, family and friends, we will miss the Northwest terribly. So many good memories in two years. Ahh, memories. I had to weigh the pros and cons. Not that we have much of a choice, due to the recession and our dismal job prospects here (which amounted to zero), but still, there's nothing more clarifying than boiling everything down to its essence and placing it in a spreadsheet.

Northwest / NorCal - Pro & Con

Northwest: Incredible greenery and stupendous waterfalls / near-constant precipitation as the cause of incredible greenery and stupendous waterfalls.
NorCal: Incredible scenic vistas and beaches. / Once you get through traffic.

Northwest: Clean air. / Eco-snobbery.
NorCal: Foul air. / All encompassing snobbery.

Northwest: Oregon - highest unemployment rate in the nation (behind Michigan). / A culture of politeness, nonetheless.
NorCal: More industry and commerce despite the recession. / When do I get MINE?

Northwest: We're leaving behind a neighborhood and school full of great kids. /We made almost no personal connections whatsoever with adults.
NorCal: Practically everyone we know and love lives there. / We're sure to get on each other's nerves in no time!

Northwest: Art, music, and writing ALL the time. / Galleries closing down ALL the time.
NorCal: Most all of my music and artist friends are still there. / Struggling to afford everything.

Northwest: Gay marriage - Washington quietly and stealthily working on getting it legalized. / Oregon: was for gay marraige; now against gay marriage.
NorCal: Don't get me started. / You disappoint me, California. You really do.

Northwest: It's inexpensive. / There are no jobs to be had.
NorCal: It's a miracle Keith got a good job in this economy. All my freelance work is based there as well. / Everything costs a shitload.

Northwest: The Cascades. / They blow once in a while.
NorCal: The Sierras / All those plate tectonics shifting around.

Northwest: Niceness. / Blandness.
NorCal: Snarkiness. / Excellent Mexican food.

And there you have it: Mexican food will ALWAYS win out with me in the end. I guess that's my way of saying: I miss you, excellent Mexican food. If you know what I mean. We're coming back here to visit a lot, though. We've got wonderful family in Seattle, for one thing, and more wonderful family in Vancouver B.C. And now we know Portland and its environs as well. And let me say this: Portland and its environs are incredibly special and wonderful and now fill a huge part of my heart. I will always love this place and I will always miss this place and I will be back...

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Sita Sings the Blues Trailer

I've been in neighborhood-newsletter editing hell and didn't have any left-over brains to work on the blog. But here's something for all you fellow scrambled-brains out there. The Sita Sings the Blues trailer from the animated feature by Nina Paley.

The film will have its San Francisco debut May 8 through 12 at the Red Vic Movie House (on Haight Street, ya'll!). The Red Vic has couches and serves delicious popcorn in big brown bowls, just like your mom used to make.

Summary from The Red Vic site:
Tragedy, comedy and musical collide in this gloriously animated film from Nina Paley, a onetime SF denizen and “One Woman Pixar” (Wired Magazine). Sita is a goddess separated from her beloved lord and husband Rama. Nina is an animator whose husband moved to India, then dumped her by email. Three bickering shadow puppets act as comic narrators as these old and new stories are interwoven in a post-modern retelling of the ancient Indian epic Ramayana. Animated in a dazzling mix of traditional and collage animation styles and backed by a soundtrack from legendary 1920s jazz singer Annette Hanshaw, Sita Sings the Blues follows in the tradition of Spirited Away, Waltz with Bashir, and Persepolis in expanding the artistic boundaries of animation - which does not stop it from being laugh-out loud funny. Sita is a subtly subversive and visually stunning, highly original work.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Mattel Funlight, We Hardly Knew Ye...

In 1970 Mattel created one of the best toys of all time: the Funlight. We were lucky to own this amazing light projector with its nine projector wheels of excellence. My mom still berates herself on a yearly basis that she gave it away because, as she puts it, "You both played with it constantly."

Mattel Funlight
One desperate Internet soul, in trying to track down this toy, describes what made the Funlight so fun:

I had as a child, a kind of transparency projector with groovy slides. Round about Christmas 1975, my uncle gave me my favourite toy ever. It was a red plastic projector that came with numerous circular slides about three inches in diameter that could be combined in interesting ways. For example, one slide was about 1/8" thick and contained blue liquid with bubbles that made a kind of psychedelic light show on the wall. Another slide was two colour wheels joined together in the middle. You could rotate the wheels independently to get different colours. There was room in the projector for more than one slide, so you could (for instance) combine the colour wheel with the blue bubbles to make bubbles of constantly changing hue. I also had some Shrinky Dink material and cut out circles of just the right size, then drew comic strips on them with magic marker so that I could project those on the wall too. (I think the projector may have come with a blank slide that gave me this idea.) Overall, given the versatility of this toy and the scope it offered my imagination, it's hands down the best toy anyone ever gave me as a kid.
The blue bubble slide (unfortunately not pictured here) put the Funlight over the top into toy nirvana. It was so trippy to project liquid bubbles across the ceiling. It also came with a MONSTER SLIDE; a slide full of classic movie-monster heads that were black & white so you could put the color slide behind them and make them change colors. There was a goofy head-body-feet interchangeable human character-slide, a vehicle slide, an insect slide, and a slide of groovy geometric patterns, as well as an LSD freakout slide of swirly colors for when you wanted your slideshow story to completely wig out.

For that is what we did with a Funlight, we told stories, like the ancient cave-people with their fire, soot and shadow puppets. The Funlight wasn't just a visual free-for-all. It was a visual free-for-all with our thoughts and narratives tying it all together. More than a movie projector, the Funlight was an extension of our 70s-era brains. In our darkened suburban bedrooms, we could make anything happen on the wall and we did. If anyone is willing to part with a Funlight, get in touch with me.

More fun kiddie projectors over the years:

-Photo source: Mettavant Project
-Children's Records & More - Give-A-Show Projector/Mattel Funlight/Viewmaster

Pop Culture is Tired - Let's Watch a Waterfall

Recession, two wars, swine flu--you'd think pop culture would step it up to fill in the void, but nope. It's in a lull. Sorry, Lady Gaga, you just don't do it for me. What else has the media got...? [crickets chirping].

No problem. We're lucky to live close to nature and nature will always provide the wonder and awe that we're secretly missing. I can't do it any justice with my little camera but here's a nice waterfall for the day.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Shocking Blue May Day

Happy May Day everyone. A worker's holiday (not in the U.S.--too bad, workers--I guess you just have to celebrate having a job at all), a celebration of spring, AND my birthday. Today Keith and Jackson gave me one of those birthday cards that plays music when you open it and I was very pleased to hear Shocking Blue's Venus emanating forth. I mean, that's a pretty cool birthday song.

So without further ado, let's listen to some Shocking Blue, the Dutch band from The Hague with the distinct lead vocals of the late Mariska Veres.

Venus, 1970. Their only #1 hit. Sasha Frere-Jones recently wrote in The New Yorker (about Lady Gaga): one-hit wonders are weirder and cooler than the well-paid musicians who stretch their careers over seven years on the stage and twenty more behind it. That certainly applies to Mariska Veres and her haunting delivery in this song.

Live version.

Never Marry a Railroad Man - This would have sounded quite contemporary in the mid-80s San Francisco paisley underground scene, which was a rehash of the late-60s blues-folk-rock scene. What goes around, comes around.

Love Buzz - Kurt Cobain knew his stuff. I miss that cardigan-sweatered genius.

Daemon Lover - Have you ever had a daemon lover? Well, congratulations and too bad for you.

Hello Darkness - More inspiration for that long-ago, nearly forgotten paisley underground scene.

Mighty Joe live. Dig the groovy twangings.

I'll Follow the Sun - Fan video worth posting due to the intertwining guitars here. Simple yet complex.