Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Unknown Museum - Mill Valley, CA

The Unknown Museum was curated by Mickey McGowan in a nondescript Mill Valley ranch-style house, from 1974 to 1989. For a small donation, you could marvel at the abundance of pop-culture artifacts set in glorious tableau throughout the house. McGowan had a great eye and a highly sensitive hoarding instinct that made the museum a special place—a baby-boomer funhouse of delights.

The entrance sign stated: This Is Your Life, and as you walked in, you realized it was true. Everything from your life seemed to be in front of you, sometimes in multiples of hundreds. And you could touch it and reminisce while laughing at the incredible amount of plastic that makes up our modern lives.

These are photos of one of my last trips to the museum--probably in 1985 or '86. That's my friend Joseph in the living room next to the Mr. Potatohead shrine. There was an entire Kennedy-shrine above the fireplace with busts of JFK, calendars, books, icons, and the Camelot-family White House board game featuring Jackie and all the gang.

The "Mom's room" had a little Madonna/whore thing going on at the dressing table. The "boy's room" and "girl's room" were distinctively decorated with gender-specific items. In the corner of the girl's room lay a life-sized bridal mannequin, tied down to the floor a la Gulliver's Travels, and surrounded by a bed of rice and tiny groomsmen—creepy. The boy's room was full of science kits, Godzillas, and of course, war toys. The hallway was completely encased in smiley-face paraphernalia. The kitchen contained several columns made from metal lunchboxes and I can't remember the bathroom. I'm sure it had one of those crocheted toilet-paper cozies.

In any case: eye-boggling. My photos are hazy because unbeknownst to me, my camera battery was dying that day. It kind of works though. The hazy memories of nostalgia, or something to that effect. The Unknown Museum closed in 1990 to make way for new development (the story of Northern California in the 90s). McGowan drove five truckloads of stuff to a warehouse, opened a temporary museum for a few years, and then called it a day. But that doesn't mean he gave up on the concept. He still lives in Marin with everything you see here and more. He just lives with it privately.

As you can see, I wore my special pants for this outing

- Interview with Mickey McGowan at Marin Nostalgia, with vintage video news stories
- Unknown Museum lives on, privately - Marin Independent Journal
- Unknown Museum post from Cabinet of Wonders

XTC visits The Unknown Museum (the Museum outshines Andy Partridge).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sergei Parajanov - "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" 1964

Have you ever had a dream that was its own world--with its own culture, music, costume, social rules and spiritual mythology? That's what Parajanov's Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is like.

Set in the Carpathian mountains of the Ukraine, Shadows is a thwarted love story between the children of two rival Hutsul families. Parajanov's camera is always moving, falling like a tree, seemingly looking up from the river, swirling with the dancing villagers, who are constantly making music of the mouth harp, auto harp and tremendously large bugle variety. A folk tale. A ghost tale. The kind of place where you're out in wonderous nature most of your life, surrounded by mist, trees, rain, art, and your stories are told through music, dance, and gossip.

Sergei Parajanov was an intensely artistic and creative man who was at odds with his Soviet government. His mystical aesthetic did not follow any social realist doctrine. He was jailed numerous times on trumped up charges and his films were blacklisted. While in jail he made over 800 drawings and hundreds of collages and dolls. His health suffered and he died at 66 of lung cancer. A tragedy. He is one of my favorite artists and I am constantly amazed by this film. He made others but this one with its traditional music, culture, and intense spirituality still leaves me spellbound.

The Kino release DVD features a documentary about Parajanov and his good friend, Andreï Tarkovsky and how they supported each other artistically, plus a photo gallery of Parajanov and much of his fantastic art. Not for everyone--just people who dream in 19th-century Ukrainian.

Fake Eastern European Music Is Keeping It Real

A Hawk And A Hacksaw plays Fernando's Giampari in the Aligre region of Paris (The Leaf Label)

Jeremy Barnes played drums in Neutral Milk Hotel and this is his solo baby. Looks like he's been living in Europe, Mexico and Albuquerque for the past few years (currently residing in Budapest--excellent). That's pretty nomadic. His violinist partner is Heather Trost, and I'm liking her sound. Summer 2008 tour information (yay--they're coming to Portland, Seattle and San Francisco).

Death By Blonde by Daron Nefcy. Music by DeVotchKa.

This is Daron's second-year film at CalArts. The DeVotchKa song is from their album "Una Volta." DeVotchKa are from Denver. They started out playing in burlesque shows, toured with Dita von Teese, and scored the soundtrack to Little Miss Sunshine, which got them a 2006 Grammy nomination. Clearly, DeVotchKa are not fucking around.

Camper Van Beethoven in Pittsburg, 2006

I'm not familiar with this song but one of the things I always liked about CVB was all their fun world-music instrumentals. Throwing together a little Balkan, South African, and ska was part of their mix from very early on. The Santa Cruz world-beat influence was strong and ripe for some gentle parody. Once when I told Jonathan Segel that I wanted to transfer to UCSC and work at the radio station he looked at me and said very earnestly, "I hope you like Celtic music." I'm glad to see them back together again. Their 25th Anniversary show will be at The Fillmore on June 28th.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Lafayette Hillside Memorial - 2008

Lafayette Hillside MemorialLafayette is a little well-to-do California suburb, about a 12-minute drive from Berkeley. It's in Contra Costa County--not the most politically liberal area of the Bay Area. Yet in 2003, a small group of anti-war activists began putting up crosses on a privately owned hill, above Highway 24--the main route to Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco. When you drive past the BART station, look up, and there it is--over 4,000 crosses, commemorating U.S. military casualties, plus a sign with the weekly death total. As of today, 4082 U.S. deaths. Estimated Iraqi deaths: 84,050 to 91,713. There aren't enough foothills in Lafayette for that scope of memorial.

If you're voting in this year's presidential election, please vote for the person who's against this war. Obvious, but in this case, I can't help stating the obvious.

- Short documentary of Lafayette Hillside Memorial on Memorial Day, 2007.
- The Crosses of Lafayette blog.
- Panoramic photo from Wikipedia.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Buddhist Trance Dance Holiday Weekend

Buddhism Art Dance - Thien Thu Thien Nhan (Thousand Arms Thousand Eyes)

Buddhist Trance Dance - monks at the Ganden Sumtseling Gompa monastery, Tibet

Buddha-Bar- Tears Inshalla (vintage dancers compilation by aline81)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Musical Transgressions From the Begrudging Acceptance File

There are bands and music that I truly hate. Some I hated as I got older and my tastes changed. Some were just over-played where I grew up and became instruments of torture to my ears. And some I hated upon first listen, for my own subjective reasons.

Among these bands I admit there is usually one song I can handle for a few minutes, even though it pains me to say so out loud to anyone, even a pet. But I'll go ahead and air it out here, as in confession. I was raised Catholic--not the most musical of religions, but certainly one of the most confessional. Let's just get it all out in the open (for entertainment purposes only--not to be considered an actual form of redemption).

Number one hated band in my roster: Journey. I can't STAND Journey but because I was raised in the Bay Area, they were stuffed down my pop-culture throat during my entire high school experience (not a huge problem as world problems go, but still). MTV played Journey round the clock, as did our local radio stations. Girls in my school hung photos of Steve Perry in their lockers so when I walked down the hall: BAM! He might be in my sight-line at any moment.

Ultimately my problem with Journey resides in Perry's vocals and presence. He irritates me seven ways to Sunday (is that even a legitimate phrase?). He's whiney, he's too tightly dressed, he's fully mulleted at all times, and he finds himself awesome. Tens of thousands of fans have reinforced this opinion of himself. He has talent but I can't stand listening to his voice. It sounds like this to me: WHOAH-AH-WHOAH-AH-WHOAH-AH-WHOAH-AH. So that the lyrics, "alone with your lover" become: Aloh-ah-one with your luh-ah-uh-ah-vah!

That said, I do like Wheel In The Sky. It's got a weird, epic vibe that the rest of their power-ballady output doesn't match. If I'm driving my car and Wheel In The Sky happens to come on the radio, I will most likely listen through until the end. Forgive me. Choosing a video for this was very tough. Do I go with the puffy-shirted Perry? Or the high-waisted skin-tight jeans and animal print belly-shirt look (watch him dance during the Neil Schon's blistering guitar solo--golden!). I decided to go with high-waisted electra-green pants/open flowery shirted Steve Perry. Don't look into his eyes, ladies. He will seduce you.

Once my friends and I listened to every Foreigner hit, raising our tiny fists in the air in unison. Yes, I thought the name "Foreigner" was really unimaginative, even stupid, and they looked like your least favorite substitute teachers, but they had stories to tell, man. We even overlooked the awkwardly internal rhyming scheme of Cold As Ice.

Then I moved to San Francisco and heard The Residents and realized they had way better stories to tell. Not that I knew what they were talking about, but I realized that it was virtually impossible to listen to the two bands in one sitting without my brain imploding. Foreigner would have to go.

Years later I was surprised to hear my two little cousins sing all the major Foreigner hits in one sitting. "How do you know all those old songs?" I demanded. "We had a really cool babysitter," they explained. "She used to bring over her 'Best of Foreigner' album and play it for us--we LOVE those songs!" Well, if it's good enough for my little cousins, it's good enough for me.

Here's the song I'll linger in the shoe store a little longer to hear all the way through, especially if there's a sale on socks. Check out the inflatable set design--not as visually arresting as The Residents, but it'll do. Lou Gramm's voice is so raw it sounds like his larynx is about to fall out of his throat. That's dedication to the sound.

I don't hate Cher. She's always been so independent and wry. She just doesn't have a lot of vocal range. And her 70s hits are so cabaret-ish, it's embarassing to admit you might actually like them (I mean "like them" like them). I do find myself singing Half Breed to myself on occasion. Maybe I relate to her Armenian/Cherokee/German/Irish/English ancestory. I think it has to do with how pissed off she sounds. Maybe this one really resonates with her. When Cher and I were growing up in California, there weren't a lot of gals that looked like us in the suburbs (or in her case, in the entertainment industry). Once a kid in my school thought I was Chinese because I had black hair. There was some identity confusion. That's not the way it is now, but you get the idea. Tell 'em Cher. Tell 'em how it was.

In 1985 in certain circles, it was considered very uncool to like The Power Station. Even though they had the hottest member of Duran Duran (John Taylor, sorry Andy), the eternally suave Robert Palmer, and some very crunchy, tasty rhythms. They were a supergroup celebrating overt, day-glow sexuality--possibly transexual in nature--what's not to like? So c'mon, let's turn up the heat 'til we fry.

Bin Can Can

This restores my faith in humanity.

by Steve Agland

More fun with trash:
- Find your childhood garbage truck(s) at
- "Garbage truck" camper--nicer than most homes.
- Motivational writer David J. Pollay explains "The Law of the Garbage Trucks™." Take the No Garbage Trucks!™ pledge. Or don't. At Captive Wild Woman, we're big fans of garbage trucks.
- The Garbage Day Project - Garbage, Art, and Recycling.
- The Volvo Hybrid Garbage Truck; being tested in Sweden, right now!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Obama is Portland's Mr. Popularity

Today 72,000 people jammed Waterfront Park to hear Obama speak (The Decemberists opened but good as they are, they were not the main draw). The Oregonian has a nice and eye-boggling slideshow.

I was visiting my childhood puppet teacher, Bruce Chessé in Portland today. Bruce is definitely one of the most artistic people I've ever had the pleasure to meet. We had a wonderful day discussing his fascinating, compulsively creative father, and Bruce's adventures in teaching, puppetry, theater and film (which, geographically and in spirit, parallel many of my own, oddly enough). I especially liked his stories about performing puppet shows in Black Panther-era Oakland. A lively time for performance art in general.

He told me puppets have around since the dawn of time--probably beginning with people creating shadows on the walls of their caves. Even more interesting, puppets have always been the people's artform and puppet theater has actually been banned during many regimes and eras in history because puppetry tends to undermine authority.

Bruce took me on a beautiful tour of the city, starting with Mt. Tabor, an extinct volcano--a beautiful neighborhood with a park. Its crator is now an outdoor stage where Shakespeare plays are performed (next to the basketball courts). We saw a lot of great old theaters, antique shops, rose gardens, Oaks Amusement Park, and throughout, Bruce told me of arts schools, theaters, and outdoor activities that Jackson would love.

After we pulled back into his driveway, one of Bruce's tenants came out to say hello. "Did you know you can hear Obama right now?" He asked us. "Oh, is he on television?" asked Bruce. His tenant pointed to the back of the house. "No," he said. "You just walk towards the back yard, you can HEAR him speaking."

We followed his finger and listened. Sure enough, we heard the familiar voice floating up from the waterfront, far below and out of sight. It's very weird to be standing on a quiet, sunny Portland street, listening to Barack Obama speak. A good weird. Nice wrap-up to the day.

photo source: The Oregonian

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ted Neeley - The Angriest Jesus

"Real Simple's" June issue has a photo gallery of the Top-10 On-screen Outbursts—the best angry moments on the big screen. The usual angry suspects are here: Peter Finch in Network (he was mad as hell and he wasn't going to take it any more); Sissy Spacek in Carrie, making it a prom to remember, always; Thelma and Louise blowing up an oil tanker with a single gunshot, Jack Nicholson's entire career, practically, etc. But they forgot the angriest outburst of all. Why, Lord, WHY!?

I'm talking about Ted Neeley as Jesus in the 1973 film adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar. Neeley, the Ranger, Texas native with the improbably sun-streaked shagged hair. Neeley, a blue-eyed, chisel-cheeked, frayed-robe wearing Jesus, who has a few father issues to work out. Neeley, the Jesus who would not go gently into the void, but would screech and demand answers from the sunset over Israel, representing his parentage. Neeley, the Broadway understudy who grabbed onto his big break and never let go; still playing Jesus in the touring company of JCS, at age 64! As Patty Duke so memorably cried out at the end of her angriest role in Valley of the Dolls, "NEEEEELEY!!!!"

In a typically subtle number from the film, Neeley storms the temple like the son of Godzilla, instead of the son of you-know-who, in a scene that plays out like a really scary Grateful Dead parking lot gathering of 1991. Look out! It's Jesus! Although looking at the piss-poor set-design, this is the most depressing flea-market ever to be seen on the big screen, and it deserved to be smashed to pieces in a poorly choreographed musical number.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Platform Shoes Rise Again

I was thinking in the middle of the night some time last week that I'd do a platform shoes post. Just haven't seen too many platforms in a few years. Since the Spice Girls, perhaps? Then "The Oregonian" decided yesterday that platforms are back. Well then!

Here's a random sampling of platform shoes from different eras. No criteria, other than what caught my eye. No permissions were asked or given. If you don't like that, chew me out via email and I'll remedy the situation. I'm lazy and on an Obama endorphin rush. I feel three to five inches taller when I hear him speak--whoo!

And lest you think the modern age has cornered the market on shoe weirdness, these 16th-century "chopines" are 20 inches tall and required an attendant to help ladies navigate the wet, muddy streets of Venice. That's passion for fashion.

Shoes by Liam Kyle Sullivan (Warning: swear words, and warning: ridiculous, like our inexplicable obsession with shoes.)