Wednesday, April 22, 2015

She Mob - Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy

Something special for Earth Day—She Mob's one and only 2001 foray into metal territory. Although not known for its metal proclivities (when I told Alan to make his guitar riff sound like Metallica, he confessed to never having heard Metallica, even though Metallica lived 30 miles north of our San Francisco rehearsal space and had been together in the Bay Area for 20 years at that point), She Mob has always had a secret heavy-metal heart—that would be me behind the drums.

I was born in San Francisco and lived through the Summer of Love before living for a couple years in North Hollywood. I would say my formative upbringing has been Californian in scope. But nothing prepared me for teenagerhood in Concord, California, where we had moved when I was in first grade. This bucolic, countrified exurb, where sheep grazed on a hill at the end of our street, 40 miles yet worlds away of San Francisco, turned into a completely alienated landscape during my high school years.

Drugs were openly bought and sold in the "smoker's field" behind my school, which was literally a field full of smoking peers, watched over at a great distance by middle-aged hired goons in big sunglasses, vinyl raincoats and beehive hairdos. These hapless "narcs" didn't bother narcing on anyone, except for escapees from our closed campus. Meanwhile, long-haired stoners in lumberjack shirts and Levi's dealt their wares at lunch-time out of Sucrets boxes. Marijuana, crank, coke—all for sale during school hours. One-stop convenience shopping. If the field went "dry," there were plenty of drug houses to check out—strip malls of the mind. Contra Costa County was and is a total drug wasteland and it's no surprise that its drug task force has been a source of corruption and scandal, probably only recently busted due to years of stupidity and hubris.

Where was I? Oh yes, in this setting, there was a sort of oasis at my school, a heavy-metal radio station that still broadcasts across a vast amount of territory in the hinterlands of suburban sprawl. KVHS—still playing the heaviest metal, 24 hours a day (unless someone doesn't show up for their volunteer shift). KVHS was run like a real radio station. Mr. Evans, our broadcasting teacher, made sure we had weeks of training before we got an air shift. We had to apply for an FCC license, and the news was read from a ticker-tape AP feed that we edited and formatted for specific time slots (more fun to get your news from a ticking strip-let of paper than digitally—take my word for it). It was a good experience.

And it wasn't officially "heavy metal"—it's just that all its DJ's and listeners were into metal, so it was a default format. The only exceptions were my fellow female broadcaster, Wendy Chavez, and me. She played a lot of then just-coming-into-its-own new wave, and I played a mix of new wave, pop and metal, as I saw fit. Once when I was training a new recruit, a nice guy in a Hawaiian shirt who resembled Dick Van Dyke, we got a phone-call death threat during an Oingo Boingo song. My trainee talked him down by invoking the universal creed of compassion for the rights of others. I believe his words were, "There's enough room in this world for all kinds of music." Our would-be assassin agreed and backed off, apologizing for saying he was going to come down to the station and kill us if we didn't stop playing that fag music. And that's today's beautiful moment remembrance.

That's the back-story. In truth, I just wanted to write a metal song entitled Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy because it makes a great heavy-metal title. Footage is from the Prelinger Archives.

From She Mob's second album, "Turn to Chocolate," available at CDBaby.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Writing Prompts For The Modern Age

As a writer, I haven't used writing prompts because I can (so far) pull stories out of my ass , er, memory banks/imagination. I do read writing prompts once in a while just to check in—it's important to stay up on the latest writing-prompt trends. There will probably come a time in the near future where they'll help me out when I run out of story ideas.

Most writing prompts don't "speak" to me and my oddball brain, so I thought I'd try to come up with a few. Are you experiencing writer's block? I don't mean the daily "better get back to writing" kind where you vacuum the living room and start a wash load before finally sitting down (or standing, if you're Ernest Hemingway) to write. I mean that long-term, ten-years-or-more kind of blockage where you actually forgot you were a writer once and then, finding your old journals, realize they're full of half-finished stories that you gave up on to go work in a law-firm to hopefully pay the rent and eat and break even at the end of the month. Not that I know anything about that, mind you...

I hope this helps.

1.) Write a story based on this performance of Frankenstein by the Edgar Winter Group. Be sure to include all of Edgar's solos as story-arc points. Extra credit: create a character based on the saxophone solo and a character based on the drum solo—what is their conflict?

2.) Write a story based on all eight illustrations from a British language primer that I found in a thrift store years ago. Include the word, "dipsy-doodle." Bonus points if you write in a British accent.

3.) Write a political thriller based on Carlo Collodi's "Pinocchio." Will your protagonist ever become a real boy or girl? What happens when he or she lies? Who is the secret kingpin running Donkey Island? Is the giant fish merely a giant fish, or does it signify something even more massive—corporate interests in an unregulated capitalist system, perhaps? YOU DECIDE.

4.) Write a story based on "No. 43," the anonymous person who inspected your underwear in a garment factory overseas. Do your research. What is No. 43's motivation? Is your underwear part of the solution or part of the problem? Do you feel guilt or pride knowing No. 43's expert inspection has touched you in some way?

5.) Write a story that takes place entirely within the confines of the New York City subway system. You can use a different subway system if that's what you know. Mexico City Metro is sadly under-represented in the subway stories pantheon, so keep that in mind.

6.) Blindly reach into your medicine cabinet and grope around until you grab five items. Line them up on the nearest level surface. Write about them.

7.)  Write about a morning DJ who hates mornings, hates her sidekick laughing-man partner, hates the city she works in, and the station's music programmer who insists his staff play "Dust in the Wind" at least five times a week, as well as multiple Steve Miller Band hits. The name of the radio show: Suzy and Jimbo's Good Morning Radio Sunshine Power Hour.

8.) Call your mother or other significant guardian representative and tell her you love her. She'll tell you a story.

Monday, April 06, 2015

The 6ths - San Diego Zoo, featuring Barbara Manning - video

In honor of a forthcoming trip to San Diego, here's a little video treatment for this lovely 1995 song by Stephin Merritt for his offshoot band, The 6ths. Barbara Manning brings her beautiful vocal clarity to the mix.

From the album, "Wasp's Nest." Footage is from A/V Geeks and the Prelinger Archives.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Movies You May Have Missed - Bomb It (2007)

I waited a long time to watch  Bomb It, Jon Reiss' graffiti documentary. I imagined a sort of macho, clandestine, adrenaline-junkie-filled couple of hours. That is explored here, in compassionate detail in the New York City portion from the 1970s and 80s, but the scope of Reiss's documentary is much broader and edifying. This is an art history class covering street-art—a meditation on graffiti, the battle to eradicate graffiti, and why graffiti may out-live us all.

I secretly harbor feelings of street-punk activism, imagining myself spraying stencils and slapping up stickers (the quickie methods) to protest rampant over-development, strip-mall sprawl, and billboard advertisements that pollute more than any tag ever could, I hold myself in check. Mostly because I'm too scared and lazy to run through the streets, spray can in hand. I've also been on the other side of the matter, diligently painting over multiplying scrawl-tags on my house and neighbors' houses (tags will spread like tribbles on the Starship Enterprise if you ignore them). In this manner, I kept the residential vandalism in check but no matter what we do or how we feel about it, graffiti isn't going to stop any time soon. Those are two sides of the issue. After you see Bomb It, you'll never think about graffiti in simple terms again.

Paintings on walls—an ongoing theme.

Chauvet cave paintings in France from approximately 35,000 years ago

And now:

We begin in Philadelphia, where legend has it, modern day graffiti as an obsessive and known quantity began. Meet Darryl McCray, aka "Cornbread," prolific tagger and ex-reform-school kid, who once was arrested for tagging the side of an elephant at the city zoo. As cruel as it was, from a graffiti standpoint, that's some bragging rights right there. Cornbread wasn't affiliated with any street gangs—his tags were his own.

Cornbread "King of the Walls," in Philadelphia, 1967

When I think of graffiti, I immediately recall visiting New York city several times in the mid-80s and and marveling at the subways. Summer time and you'd be waiting in a station in hundred-degree heat, feeling like a baked potato in a brick oven, when VOOM, along comes your train and it's just COVERED in art. Dazzling, vibrant, completely unexpected art. You never knew what you'd get. Maybe a plain train--pristine, silverish-gray, utilitarian but dull, or a tremendous day-glo dragon, staring you down as you entered its interior. It was completely up for grabs and it was often marvelous.

Lady Pink apologizes to her mom for painting on the subway

Interviews with now-middle-aged artists of the time reveal most were from the outer boroughs, poor, without playgrounds, yards or greenery, not a lot of career prospects in the neighborhood, who sought to express themselves among a crumbling infrastructure.

The Bronx in a bankrupt city.

Youthful taggers show their stuff.

Wild style lettering, created at this time, is likened to jazz improvisation.

Lady Pink, first lady of graffiti art, is one of several pioneering artists interviewed

As New York City cleans itself up (several interviews come from the side of "The Man," without judgment—a sign of high-quality documentation), graffiti artists have literally gone underground.

Revs writes his stories in the tunnels below New York City

The point is made—a valid one—that unchecked self-expression leads to an impression of systematic neglect on our city streets. It's interesting to note that systematic neglect inspired many street artists in the first place.

I personally find this uninviting but I do miss the art cars of the 80s

So that's my go-to think-place for graffiti—New York City of the 80s, but there's an entire world of street art to explore and Bomb It sets out to do so. As with any art form, culture, architecture, history and current state-of-affairs all contribute to the movement.

Over in France, there's Blek le Rat, who as a young man, strove to cover all of Paris with rat stencils. I feature a lot of Blek here because if you wanted to contrast different attitudes and backgrounds regarding city graffiti at their most extreme, you couldn't do a better job than New York City of the late 20th century and middle-aged Blek in France today. He doesn't just paint walls, he philosophizes over them as well.

Blek could not be more French in concept or tone. In case you missed his artful stance, he ties in stenciling to the dawn of self-expression.

I conclude by saying: Blek—c'est magnifique! But there's more to France than lyrical musings. There's income disparity, homelessness and racism. All are addressed here from a graffiti standpoint.

We get more fascinating musings on guerrilla artwork in Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Barcelona, São Paulo, Capetown and Tokyo. People who run around in the middle of the night spraying public areas with paint are definitely an interesting, often quite thoughtful group. Reiss had to hone down hundreds of hours of footage, shot by his amazing cinematographer, Tracy Wares, for a feature film. The result is so rich, you can return to it over and over and gain new knowledge—it's crammed full of insight. It takes multiple viewings to absorb it, digest it, live with it.

Surprisingly, more than one artist points out that defacing homes, schools and churches is not cool. Another forgives tagging because, (I paraphrase) "It's how the kids start out, before learning new skills." There's a well-rounded humanitarian concept to the enterprise.

Here's Mickey in Amsterdam. She's an elementary-school teacher who's come out as an underground painter with years of experience.

How protective are you about this particular wall in Berlin? Do you think a respectful "hands-off" anti-graffiti stance was warranted here? After all, it is a government wall.

 A quick reference to Banksy in London illustrates the culture of surveillance we live under.

South Africa has a history of political graffiti and instant imprisonment without legal representation or trial if a painter was caught. Again, we ponder, is graffiti outright vandalism under tyrannical rule?

In Capetown, the residents of this township didn't have the means to buy paint, so the artists came to them.

In Barcelona, a discussion among neighbors covers both sides of residential graffiti. One dismisses it entirely. The other says it beautifies the neighborhood. Figurative art is heavily featured.

São Paulo is a thoroughly fascinating world of art among the decay. Where police are so busy dealing with serious issues, they let graffiti artists paint with impunity (at this filming). Where graffiti is a visceral response to impending dystopia that unfolds before our eyes, from the tops of buildings, to the sewage tunnels beneath the surface. Several novels could be written based on the Brazilian footage alone.

The gallery co-opting of graffiti is touched upon just enough to show how iffy a prospect it is to display street art in a museum setting. Eyed by patrons instead of the general public, street art loses its power to startle and comment on modern life. It becomes an object for sale, losing its original intention. Merchandising has a long tradition too. If artists can turn their art into a living, I say: GOOD, keep going.

Jon Reiss is a man of action. There's already Bomb It 2, covering more of the world of graffiti. I won't wait so long to see it.