Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ring in the New Year with Yma Sumac

I would be lax not to pay tribute to Yma Sumac (1922-2008). It doesn't get any more "true original" than this. Have a festive New Year's Eve and be sure to do a mambo for good luck in 2009.


Malambo no. 1

Bo Mambo

This goes out to Lisset Barcellos, another true original. Besos!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ann Savage, 1921 - 2008

As Vera in Edward G. Ulmer's 1945 low-budget thriller, "Detour," Ann Savage was not fooling around. She took the notion of femme fatale to the nadir of nastiness. With her hawk-like features, fingernails-on-the-blackboard voice and inTENSE delivery, Vera was not to be trifled with. And ultimately, Tom Neal as down-on-his-luck Al Roberts, deserves every miserable moment he gets after picking up this hitchhiker from Hades. He's on the road to ruin with no one but himself to blame, but of course he blames everyone and everything else anyway, including "fate." The film that put the NOIR in film noir.

Ann Savage's last role was playing Guy Maddin's mother in "My Winnipeg." Do you like weird, personal films that reference the history of filmmaking, past and present? Then get yourself some Guy Maddin films and make a night of it.

Interview with Ann Savage from the documentary, "Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Offscreen," 2004.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Eartha Kitt - "Cha Cha Heels" 1989

Collaborating with Bronski Beat, Eartha Kitt (1927-2008) proved once again that she made the world a more interesting and entertaining place. A truly original performer--she will be missed.

C'est Si Bon, 1962 - Classic Kitt

Thursday, December 25, 2008

African Head Charge - Off The Beaten Track, 1986

- On-U Sound biography.
- Wiki page.

Have Yourself a Self-Actualized Little Christmas

Whatever you end up doing today, make sure there's a festive component. For me, Christmas goes better with pumpkin bread. Find your Christmas muse and go for it. Even if you don't celebrate Christmas. Rent a film noir movie. Try popcorn with Cajun spices. Sing your favorite Buzzcocks songs when you go caroling. There's always room for expansion in the Christmas pantheon.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dock Ellis, 1945 - 2008

One of Keith's Dock Ellis cards - 1975Dock Ellis passed on last weekend after battling cirrhosis, and there's been much tribute paid on the Internet. Ellis was a starting pitcher who mostly played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 70s. He's most famous for pitching a no-hitter against the Padres while on acid, but he's also known for purposefully beaning the starting line-up of the Cincinnati Reds in 1974 to motivate his team to win. Ellis was pulled from the game before he could nail Johnny Bench in the head, but he managed to wallop Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Dan Driessen before management stepped in. His team did go on to win a few games afterwards but no one's proven that his methodology was the key factor in getting the wins. 

If you read his book, "Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball" co-written with Poet Laureate Donald Hall, you'll be amazed at how much racism was a part of 70s baseball. Ellis was was incapable of letting anyone think they could get away with making him feel inferior. He used his anger in interesting and often constructive ways to fight the ugly fight. I'm glad he got it down on paper because that's quite a hidden history. 

 He got sober after his baseball days were over and worked as a drug counselor at prisons and with youth groups to help other men have better lives. He gave a lot of himself. 

Cardboard Gods has a great write-up and lots of links about Dock Ellis. 

Barbara Manning's Dock Ellis (performed with the SF Seals on their 3-song EP, "Baseball Trilogy") celebrates all his career milestones, LSD-enhanced and beyond. She and I made this music video in San Francisco quite a few years ago with tons of low-budget psychedelic visual effects.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Presenting: SFGate Comments Comix, Vol. 1

For a few years now I've been reading the bitterly hostile comments posted on with growing anxiety and dread. Only when we moved away from the Bay Area was I able to say with some assurance, "Well, it's time to write a comic strip about this." With distance comes comix.

So here it is. I picked a story from today's paper and illustrated what I think some of the commentators look like. All spelling errors and vitriol are left intact. These were the top-rated (thumbs' up) comments for this story. I scribbled these panels in Macromedia Fireworks and they are clearly mouse-created. When I hook up my son's new Fisher Price Digital Arts & Crafts Studio (a Christmas present to him [and me]), perhaps my "line" will be more effective. You never know! Enjoy.

Vol. 1

SFGate Comments Comix Vol. 1

Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Self, My Toys

Jezebel had a "what was your favorite toy received at Christmas" post this week and so opened the flood-gates of toy memories from within. Here are a few toys from my past. Get to know me through my toys.

Spirograph - I had this exact set. It came with a piece of cardboard and a bunch of little pins. You had to pin the plastic circles in place on your paper in order to draw your trippy designs. In later years as a teen, it came in handy for Black Sabbath-inspired pentagrams (all done in black, of course).

Dawn Doll Beauty Pageant - I inherited this from my older cousin. She had the entire beauty pageant set-up with most of the evening gowns and dolls included. It was a Dawn Doll bonanza. It took some batteries to get this going and when the dolls "walked" they made this motorized sound: Rrrrrr Rrrrrrrr Rrrrrrrr Rrrrrrrr. Kind of took the romance out of the pageant. But the dresses were so very spark-a-leeee. I didn't have all this other stuff shown here in this promo, but keep watching to enter the groovy, ├╝ber-feminine world of Dawn.

Crissy Doll's cousin, Velvet - Hair's the thing! We completely fetishized long hair in the 70s. There were even special products for girls with long hair. As if regular shampoo and conditioner weren't up to the task. I started growing out my hair in second grade and didn't cut it much until eighth grade. A big, heavy tangled mop, down to my butt. You KNOW that was attractive. I blame this doll. She was very cute but other than growing and shortening her hair, she didn't do much. I guess that was enough for the times.

Gnip Gnop - We were so easily entertained. In order to win this game you had to slam your hand down really hard on the buttons and it hurt like hell. The toy that punishes you for winning. It's been reissued and Jackson's cousins have it. It still hurts but entices all the same.

Ice Bird - I never wanted to eat shaved ice, even with flavor packets, but I loved this jingle so much. I still sing it from time to time. Apparently this toy barely worked, according to YouTube comments, so I'm glad the song didn't convince me to put it on my Christmas list. Shaved ice seems even worse in December.

SSP Racers Smash Up Derby - Having a little brother meant lots of boy toys to play with over the years. This was one of the best. We'd smash these in the kitchen over and over and hours later my mom would step on a tire while trying to make dinner. They must be a rare find now, due to the multitude of tiny, flying parts.

Endless Star Wars - My brother had a ton of this stuff. He had a different Star Wars T-shirt for each day of the week and he wore them for a year. We know this because all the photos we took of him that year feature his shirts throughout the seasons. George Lucas--working it.

Puffy-Fuzzi Shrinky Dinks - I had these and they really were puffy and fuzzy and toxic, but oh well. Other than chemical fumes, a great craft toy. "Take your Shrinky Dinks out of the oven. I have to make dinner now." - my mom.

By the time Jem, The Holograms and The Misfits came out, I was old enough to be in a band (and I think I was, if I'm remembering right), but that doesn't mean I couldn't appreciate their ridiculous presence in the parallel cartoon and toy universes. Here's a two-fer from the 80s. Truly outrageous!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Evil Woman as Muse

The rising popularity of feminism in the early 70s must have struck a chord in songwriters because we had quite a lot of radio hits dedicated to bad ladies. Why were they bad? They hurt the songwriters emotionally. Some were downright evil, as evidenced by ELO in 1975.

For Cliff Richard, she wasn't merely evil, she was actually the devil—a Devil Woman to be precise. As I child I bought the sheet music, which looked all right in our suburban family room, propped up on the antique upright piano that my Mom painted completely white to go with the white vinyl couch. The cover photo featured handsome Cliff, dressed in a blue velvet pantsuit with a white ruffled collar. Unknown to me, I had really campy musical taste at age twelve.

The Eagles were held spellbound in the night by the dancing shadows, raven hair and ruby lips of the Witchy Woman. Was it the sparks flying from her finger tips? The moon in her eye? Who wouldn't want to be rocked in the nighttime 'til your skin turns red? Woo hooo!

Let's not leave out the ladies. They're inspired by ladies too. In Cher's case, by Dark Lady.

There's a twisted little animated version of this song too, from Cher's variety show. I LOVED these little cartoons when I was a kid. Cher was all kinds of awesome to me, with her limp-wristed stage presence, dark features, and wry comic delivery--there was no one like her on television. Give it up for Cher.

Here's Dolly Parton calling out Jolene. Is Jolene potentially evil? Or is Dolly's man extremely weak-willed? Either scenario would not be a beneficial prospect for our protagonist.

By 1977, Blondie was reinventing the evil woman genre, if there ever was such a thing. Debbie Harry deadpans about an insufferable lady. But who's the bad girl? The unnamed irritant she sings about, or Debbie Harry herself, who urges us to Rip Her To Shreds? Meta-evil woman!

Who continues to follow the evil woman muse today? Pink, of course—satirical, genre-blending, obnoxious, singular and melodically intelligent. Someone give this woman a variety show. She sings of herself as the evil woman and she's very happy to do so.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Trees For What Ails Ya

Christmas has sucked the life-blood from my soul. Today I drove in the snow to Dollar Tree for some affordable wrapping paper. It doesn't get any more Christmasy than that. The usually cheerfully polite Vancouverites are feeling it too. I sensed a slight tension in the air at Trader Joe's. No one was rude but people were just slightly less friendly than usual. My checker wouldn't make eye contact. Usually they ask me what I'm making for dinner that night. Then we discuss ingredients, especially if it's soup.

I nearly spilled the beans (not actual beans) at Fred Meyers and told a fellow shopper that I couldn't wait for Christmas to be over. Can you imagine? It would be like telling a relative at a big Catholic wedding reception that you don't believe in god. I did that once. I got the blank stare of incomprehension. I think it was because it was a grandpa of one of my cousins, and not a blood relative. I must have felt I could unburden myself for a moment.

But hate Christmas? That can never be said in public, during a sale. Only among your closest Bohemian friends (where it's a given) can you discuss your dislike of the holiday. I do like the Pagan elements (big surprise). Trees, lights, rum punch, eating rich, highly seasoned and fattening foods, giving presents to my child and to other children and having them rip them open and play with them heartily--that is good. The rest: enforced jolly times--bleh.

Here is my true love of winter: trees in snow. I used to sometimes visit trees in snow with my family during ski vacations, but I never lived next to trees in snow until moving here last year. And here they are--the stars of the season: home to squirrels, birds, bugs, lichen and moss. I can totally understand the sense of worship they have inspired over the millennium. Watching them throughout the year has been a true pleasure and watching Jackson hang ornaments on one in our living room makes me appreciate the traditional aspects of December a little more.

Here's the surrounding area of today. More snow due tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that, and the tomorrow...

Off to bed now...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Modern Christmas Music That Doesn't Suck (all that much)

Why must modern Christmas music be so schmaltzy, dull, and excruciating? Who wants to shop for gifts with that awful music blaring away like a torture device? Retailers: I've actually run out your doors to avoid becoming mentally unbalanced by your noise pollution throughout the months of November and December, thus cutting my shopping experience short. That's right: less time in your stores leads to more merchandise left on your shelves.

I feel even more sorry for retail employees who have to listen to it for eight hours straight, standing the whole time. I've asked people how they get through their shifts and some have said, "What? Oh THAT. I just don't hear it after a while..." Sounds like you're half-dead to me. In this job market, if you're forced to listen to terrible music at work, you may find yourself thinking: well, I could quit and be sitting at home, listening to good music, for a long, long, long time.

If only it could sound like Nat King Cole crooning The Christmas Song, I would never complain, I swear. Here's some post-mid-century Christmas music I can live with.

Grace Jones makes a grand entrance to sing The Little Drummer Boy in 1988's "Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special"--as always, that's entertaining!

The Weather Girls - Dear Santa (Bring Me a Man This Christmas). The 80s really knew its pop Christmas music. For me, irony and camp make the genre much more bearable.

The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping. OK, more early 80s. But this time it's the shorter version of the song (originally clocked in at over five minutes--it's not THAT good) set to a house display of 30,000 LED and 400 strobe lights. More irony since the song is about a Christmas gone horribly awry while the house is cheerfully blinking away...

Wizzard - I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day. A crazed, early-70s pagan freak-out is certainly in keeping with the spirit of the season.

Thomas Grillo plays O Christmas Tree for theremin and piano. What he lacks in stage presence, he more than makes up in technical prowess. It's not exactly easy-street, playing the theremin in correct pitch. Let's give it up for Thomas Grillo, ladies and gentlemen...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When Cats Blog

Cooper the cat, based in Seattle, has been rigged with a tiny digital camera that automatically shoots photos every two minutes. His owners, filmmakers Michael and Deirdre Cross, were curious to find out where Cooper wanders when he runs out his kitty door each day. Hundreds of photos later, now they know.

Here is Cooper, budding artiste, and some photos from his Flickr page. He also has a blog (of course): Cooper - Cat Photographer. He had a segment on Animal Planet, and he's getting quite a lot of press. Putting domestic cats to work--"they" said it couldn't be done.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Give! Guide 2008 - for all your giving needs

The Willamette Week has compiled a list of 55 organizations in the Portland area that could use volunteers and/or tax-deductible donations. Northwesterners are givers. After living here for less than two years, that much I know.

Check out the Give! Guide, featuring fine organization such as Free Geek, Writers in the Schools, KBOO, Street Roots, Community Cycling Center, Children's Cancer Association, Community Warehouse, Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls, Independent Publishing Resource Center, etc. etc. etc.

Also a good cause for budding art philanthropists: my friend from SFSU film school, Kara Herold, is scheduled to show her latest film, Bachelorette 34 in the "Documentary Fortnight" show at MoMA in NYC this Feburary. She's looking for donations to obtain music rights. Kara is a hard-working, funny, talented filmmaker who deserves to show her work in the big city, dammit! Go to her site and make a donation through the SF Film Society. Congratulations--you are a giver.

Whenever I'm feeling blue, Johnny Nash really lifts my spirits. May his lovely voice keep your spirit afloat during this holiday recession. Original video for I Can See Clearly Now has Johnny singing to the White House! Excellent.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Animated GIF - An Appreciation

You know what artform doesn't get any respect? The animated GIF. Because I'm tired, somewhat sickly and lazy, I'm just posting some GIFs I've scrounged up over at ONTD. I know that makes me a total lazybones but have you tried uploading to PhotoBucket on a sluggish computer during dire economic times? The guilt that goes into procrastinating my ongoing job search is eating away at my soul.

Let's look at some GIFs, shall we?

Here's a cheerful little GIF. Ah-hee!

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

I am "smiling with my eyes," like Tyra.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Arnold, dealing with California's multi-billion dollar deficit.


Bunk and Kima, working Homicide in Baltimore, could care less.


Let's lighten up with a little GIF dancin'! You can never have enough Paul Rudd dance GIFs in your possession. Call it Paul Rudd GIF hoarding syndrome.



Kathy Griffin is all, "Hey wait a minute! Don't forget me! I've got my own dancin' GIF style too, you know!" Kathy, I respect your life of comedy and your GIF dancin'.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Is this the ultimate GIF to date? If you've found anything better, let me know.


I don't know who created any of these (except if it's Tyra Banks, it most likely came from Rich at FourFour--the expert on all things Tyra). That's the beauty of the form. It's an anonymous, cheap, pop-culture thrill within a tiny animated format. To GIF-makers everywhere--thank you for filling a void we didn't know existed.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters," 1968

Part one of the Yokai Monsters trilogy, "100 Monsters (One Hundred Ghost Stories)" features at least a dozen, if not a hundred actual folkloric Japanese monsters, battling a greedy merchant who's making a land grab and out to destroy a sacred shrine. Monsters don't like that and band together to form a impenetrable army of supernatural aggression. Worth noting is the eerie soundtrack which I believe is heavy on the theremin, going something like this: Oooh OOOOOOH Oooh Oooooh (horn section: Wah wah waaaah).

What are Yokai Monsters? Glad you asked. I recently discovered a new guide to Yokai Monsters, Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt, that shares with English-speakers the legend and lore of many of Japan's supernatural, folkloric beasties of the night. The creatures of this film are based on tales that are hundreds, if not thousands of years old. And despite the dated quality of the story, sets and concept, the monster scenes are truly strange, mysterious and otherworldly. There is a respect for the monsters that comes through, even the tickling umbrella spirit!

True, this post might wreck the pleasure of monster surprises in store for you if you rent the DVD, but you were just going to fast-forward the dull human drama for the monster scenes anyway, weren't you? At least that's what I did. Grouped in no particular narrative order, by monster. And now...

Tsuchi Korobi - kind of a Bigfoot forest creature with only one (red) eye. He catches his prey with wind and constantly waving arms, while chuckling with merriment.

Nopperabou - Faceless Ghosts.

Rokurokkubi - Long (or Rubber) Neck. She lives to terrify her victims and it shows. Just look at the joy in her face.

I just want to say, if any of you out there ever dated me and I made you feel this way, I'm sorry. I can't help my monster nature.

Karakasa - Spirit-filled Umbrella. He lives to tickle you and dance. With his one eye, bouncing leg and extra-long tongue, he is indeed, quite peculiar.

Yeah, what he said.

I don't know this guy's name but I wouldn't mess with him. And not just because he can breathe fire and beat you silly in an acrobatic sword fight.
But because he comes with a lot of back-up.

This giant lady is not to be trifled with either. And the more distressed you appear, the more she laughs at your predicament. And not even maniacally. More like this: Ha ha, Ha ha, Ha ha HAH!

I love this guy, whoever he is (I still have to get the guidebook. I wonder if Powell's has it. Yes, of course they do). He seems to be commander-in-chief of the monster army, which must be quite unruly with all its slow-motion cartwheels, hopping about and fisticuffs.

My very favorite monster is in this scene. Can you guess which one?

It's the big guy on the right. He looks like he might have a few good stories in him.

Now the monsters really celebrate with a parade and lots of hopping about.

Hey, what's that?

Yeah--what IS that thing?

Until the last one disappears into the churning, haunted lake beyond...

One last tickle.