Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Works in progress and some Cuts & Bruises...

Pretty much the moment I released For Anyone Who Ever Had A Heart... earlier this year, my mind was already working towards a follow up. I'm sure its a common feeling for artists across all mediums, as soon as one project is finished the next one begins. Your mind becomes feverish with all the things you know you want improve upon, the new directions you want to explore. For the new collection I knew I needed to get away from me as much as I could. To look outward at other people in my life, other stories I'd heard, other adventures and dangers beyond my own little world.

Moving to the vast open expanse of desert in West Texas has certainly helped to provide a physical representation of that artistic and emotional journey. Almost immediately upon arriving in this terrain,stories began to tell themselves. All I had to do was sit down and shut up. Just listen and look around. Keep my pen and paper handy and take a few photos and the rest would unfold on its own. So far so good. Seeing as how For Anyone... is almost a year old (and it's the time of giving) I figured I'd share a few images and passages from the new collection taking shape. It's (as of now) called Cuts & Bruises. Stories of scars, inner and outer, that make us who we are.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Thunderbird Holiday Shopping List

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While everyone else is rushing around at the mall and getting the “next big thing” for Christmas, why not relax in the comfort of your own home, put on the Charlie Brown Christmas Soundtrack, and get really unique presents for you friends and family from some up and coming artists on the interwebs?!

I’ve made a list of some really great stuff that I love and so might you. Merry Christmas, Thunderbirds!

ART

Grace Davis

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Grace is a printmaker and textile designer living in Marfa, TX. She creates work with such distinct colors and textures that they often seem otherworldly. Whether it’s print for your collection or an accent for that perfect outfit, Grace has got you covered with her beautiful work. Check it out!

http://rangetextiles.bigcartel.com/

Matt St. John

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MSJ is an illustrator and painter living in San Francisco, CA. His work has a childlike whimsy but often toys with the disturbing culture of violence, media saturation, and corporate domination of modern America. Oh, but it’s funny too! The price is right and it looks rad. Hit him up!

http://www.etsy.com/shop/MSJPrints

Clifford Washington

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Clifford is a painter, graphic designer, and all around Renaissance man based in Brooklyn, NY. His work has traces of Archibald Motley and Shepard Fairey but ultimately is a style all his own. Looking for something fresh and bold for your burgeoning art collection? Check out his online studio, KnoCliff.

http://knocliffstudio.com/

APPAREL & ACCESSORIES

Nicole Schwieterman

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Nicole’s StudioNico shop, based out of San Francisco, CA is totally rad. Featuring the bestselling “Good Grammar Is Sexy” shirt and tote, as well as one of a kind SF Giants (2010 & 2012 World Champions, mofos) gear, Nicole has a little something for everyone. Go rep the Bay and get some awesome presents!

http://www.etsy.com/people/StudioNico

Lucy Moran

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Lucy is the proprietor of Lucia, in Saratoga Springs, NY. She fastidiously curates this beautiful store, offering cutting edge women’s fashion that maintains a classic appeal. She’s got a great eye and you’re guaranteed to find something perfect for your special lady.

http://shop.luciaboutique.com/main.sc

Samantha Cisneros

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Samantha is a textile designer living in Oakland, CA who runs the Shapes & Colors studio. The studio is aptly named as her exploration of shape, of a distinctly southwestern Native influence, is combined with a contemporary color pallet. The result is a beautiful collection of textiles (pillows, bags, blankets, etc.) that will brighten up anyone’s home.

http://www.shapes-colors.com/shop/

MUSIC

Ali Holder & Daniel Thomas Phipps

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These two Austin, TX based songwriters are beating feet all over the US these days and making new records to boot! Imagine the incredible musical companionship of Emmylou and Graham, except between songs they reveal intimate and self-deprecating details of their relationship in a kind of country-fried version of a weird Woody Allen movie. Needless to say, the combination is captivating and they are a duo to watch for sure. Their debut EP’s are available on their respective websites, but keep an eye out for new music this coming year AND check the tour dates as well.

http://www.aliholder.com/

http://www.thekinfolk.com/

Lilly Hiatt & the Dropped Ponies

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I’ve already raved about this Nashville band’s debut record but I can’t say it enough… ITS RAD! Go buy it already. If anyone you know digs rock ‘n’ roll music and bad ass chicks, then this is the best thing to get for them.

http://lillyhiatt.tumblr.com/

Adam Bork

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Adam Bork is the entrepreneur extraordinaire of “Food Shark” fame in Marfa, TX. But when he’s not slinging grilled cheese and cruising around in vintage cars, he’s also a bad ass musician. His songs exist in a universe far beyond that of the average American mind, somewhere inhabited by the likes of Lou Reed and Dr. John and accessible by us normal folks only after a healthy portion of lysergic acid diethylamide. Instead of giving someone LSD for the Lord’s birthday though, just buy this record instead. Or both actually. That’s a rad combo.

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/adambork

BOOKS

Mary Angelina

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This is another artist that I’ve already championed on The Thunderbird Blog but if you didn’t hear me the first time, I’ll say it again… READ THIS BOOK! Mary Angelina is a Burlington, VT based poet, musician, and painter and I tell you… she’s a real bad ass. Cracking Calypso, her debut book is all at once funny and tragic and wild. She’ll take you on a trip. Go with her.

http://www.amazon.com/Cracking-Calypso-Mary-Angelina/dp/1453698035/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1355517800&sr=1-5&keywords=mary+angelina

Sean Frasier

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Frasier is a New York City based writer with a wicked sense of humor. To say the poems in these books are “dark” is too quaint a description. But if you or someone you know has a thirst for the macabre, well you won’t do much better than this. Slip one or both of these collections into their stocking and give them a nightmare before Christmas.

http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?contributorId=345650

Cory W. Lovell

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This book will change your life. Or maybe it won’t. It totally doesn’t suck. But maybe some of it might.

There is only one way to find out, man. Take the plunge and get somebody you love this collection of prose, poetry, and polaroids.

http://www.amazon.com/For-Anyone-Who-Ever-Heart/dp/1468164724/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1355518297&sr=8-1

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Film Pick- Sweet Dreams: The Patsy Cline Story - 1985

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I’m a sucker for rock ‘n’ roll movies. Even the bad ones. The Fabulous Stains… dig it. Rock N Roll High School… so much fun. That Thing You Do… who doesn’t love The Oneders? Backbeat… ok, well maybe not Backbeat. These films tend to be formulaic and cheesy, glossing over major life milestones of their characters without so much as a dramatic pause (I’m looking at you Ray, with your ridiculous 5 second heroin withdrawal scene). They also tend to ramp up the drama with over the top scenarios that are completely out of character for the artists portrayed (Johnny Cash introduced to the evils of drugs by Elvis? Come on, dude. That’s total BS.) Often they have actors playing these rock legends who make no sense whatsoever, but somehow kind of pull it off (Gary Busey = Buddy Holly? Val Kilmer = Jim Morrsion? Bette Midler= Janis Joplin?). When all is said and done though, these are movies about rock music and the crazy people who make it, so how can you not have fun?

One of the awful gems of the rock movie genre is the 1985 film Sweet Dreams, starring Jessica Lange as Patsy Cline. It’s guilty of all of the genres faults and is riddled with historical inaccuracies, but somehow it still hits some right notes and ends up being a terribly entertaining, albeit very frustrating, movie. Written by Robert Getchell, an eclectic screenwriter with credits as diverse as Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Mommie Dearest, Point Of No Return, and Woody Guthrie biopic Bound For Glory (Woody Guthrie = David Carradine?). The script is sometimes romantic, sometimes disturbing, ultimately tragic, but always well written. It’s ably directed by Karel Reisz, whose career was otherwise unremarkable, but the real strength of the film lies in the top-notch performances by Lange and her co-star Ed Harris, who plays her 2nd husband Charlie Dick.

The most controversial aspect of the film is the tumultuous relationship portrayed between the two. After leaving her first husband Cline gets into a passionate and abusive love affair with Dick (and he certainly is one). While Ed Harris begins as convincingly charming he quickly becomes barbaric. The scene of Charlie Dick beating up Patsy is deeply disturbing. You almost wish her name was Patsy Corleone instead so that he could get his comeuppance from an enraged James Caan. The worst part about this plot point is that it is perhaps completely unnecessary. Many of Cline’s real life band mates, country contemporaries, and her own Mother claim that despite their relationship being rocky it was not so brutally abusive. No one can say for sure how their marriage really was, but if this is one of the classic pitfalls of the rock movie genre, it is a crueler than average misrepresentation.

The music is dubbed, with Lange lip-syncing to Cline’s original tracks. I personally don’t mind that. I don’t want to heat Joaquin’s Cash impression, I want to hear the Man In Black. Despite not actually singing, the performance scenes are still smoky, sticky barroom style perfect. Reisz does a fine job of capturing the sexy side of the Country circuit scene. Many people argue that the chronology of the songs represented is inaccurate, but they make for fine listening. The tragic and sudden ending of the story is unfortunately accurate enough. Cline, like so many other rock legends, met her maker far too soon in a plane crash, chronicled in frighteningly abrupt fashion in the final moments of the film.

The true redemption of the movie is Jessica Lange. Lange is always gorgeous, but as Cline; clad in sequence and fringe and an “Aw shucks I just wanna sing and drink whiskey” attitude, she is stunning. She plays Patsy with an underlying rebelliousness that makes you re-evaluate the woman with the honey dripping voice. If you hadn’t listened to “Walking After Midnight” in a while and had somehow forgotten, Lange’s portrayal reminds you of a simple yet life affirming truth… Patsy Cline was a total bad ass.

In this film, however, that’s not enough to keep her from getting beaten to a pulp and crashing a plane into the side of a cliff.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Lilly Hiatt & The Dropped Ponies - Let Down

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On October 23rd Lilly Hiatt & The Dropped Ponies released their debut record, Let Down. Lilly is a child of Nashville through and through and it shows on this impressive collection of country tinged rock n roll. Produced by Doug Lancio (whose work with Jeff Finlin and Patty Griffin is easy on the ears to say the least) this ten song collection is Hiatt’s first effort with her Dropped Ponies. She formed the group three years ago with guitarist Beth Finney, honing songwriting chops and crafting a collection that is more polished and mature than most debuts. I was lucky enough to have a few moments of Lilly’s time as she geared up for the release to talk a bit about Let Down, forming the Ponies, and how heartbreak and hangovers can be a songwriter’s best friend.

“I was newly single. Partying real hard and getting fucked up,” Hiatt recalls her band’s humble origins, “I went to a party at this guy’s cabin and a girl shows up with a guitar, orange crush, and vodka and says ‘Let’s Drink.’ I got her number and courted her.” That’s how Hiatt met guitarist Beth Finney, whose work on Let Down is exemplary. “Beth was the first person to hear my stuff and not take it to a twangy place. In terms of sound, I knew I wanted a little edge, I didn’t want to be just another Americana band.”

Finney’s range as a guitarist is broad. Often mellow, sometimes fuzzed out and crunched, but always assertive, dovetailing with Hiatt’s verses to make a cohesive sound. “People Don’t Change” and “Angry Momma” are perfect examples. The melancholy of Hiatt’s words are supported by a subtle solo in the former and a sharp gut buster in later. Both stick with you long after the tracks end. “Beth’s guitar conveys a lot of emotion and we met at that weird spot when hangovers stop being funny and things start getting sad.”

Filled out by Jon Radford on drums and Jake Bradley on bass, the Dropped Ponies are a tight band, maintaining a coherent sound while experimenting with many different styles. “A band helps you solidify structure,” Hiatt explains, “It opens up more possibility for your sound. They make it rowdier.”

Perhaps the most traditional track on the record is “Knew You Were Coming”. A slow, somber ballad with a beautiful, spacey Lanoisesque guitar part is the strongest on the record. Lilly sings as sweet as Emmylou but with the dark lyrical cleverness of John Prine.

I thought about touring and I thought about school,

I thought about drowning in the swimming pool.

It’s a song about the march of time and a lineage of women in their various emotional stages. “I remember writing it and thinking it was nothing. I had just had a shitty summer and I felt so vulnerable cause it was so straightforward.”

It’s a testament to Hiatt’s songwriting skills that such a tender track is followed up by the barn burning album closer, “Big Bad Wolf”. The wry humor that makes the inward reflection of “Knew You Were Coming” so poignant is the same trait that makes “Big Bad Wolf” and its barbs so blistering.

I never really thought you were my better half, More just something fiery sneaking up my calf.

At first I was the host, the perfect southern belle, Now every single part of that is shot to hell.

Hiatt isn’t a punching bag. She has taken her licks but is quite capable of dishing them out as well. “Guys drive me fucking crazy. I was pissed off and blurted that song out. I took it to Beth and she immediately brought it right to that level.”

Whether born out of anger or love, Hiatt’s songs consistently hit the mark. “I’ve always been a weirdo with compassion,” Hiatt explains, “People are exciting and I’m fascinated by them. But I’m a bit of a loner.” This dichotomy provides a tension throughout Hiatt’s songwriting. Lonesome observation of the sadder aspects of life mixed with a stalwart resolve to brush off and move on. “Morality is substantial to me. It’s what all things come down to. The right amount of hopeful and the right amount of solitude.”

Lilly Hiatt & The Dropped Ponies debut album Let Down is available now from Normal Town records.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thunderbird Jam - The Jesus & Mary Chain feat. Hope Sandoval - Sometimes Always (1994)

Sometimes (always) there is a jam so simple and familiar, without any pretense or desire for originality, that it immediately ingratiates itself upon you and inspires non-stop repetition for weeks on end.

“Sometimes Always” is just such a jam. The first single off Stoned & Dethroned, the fifth album by Post-punk brothers in arms The Jesus & Mary Chain, is a mid-tempo head bobber about a dysfunctional relationship (what else could a 90’s song be about?). Sung as a duet between Jim Reid and his then girlfriend, Mazzy Star front woman Hope Sandoval, the song comes off as intimate and confessional even though its lyrics are some of the most straightforward, simple, and universal ever written. Seriously, they actually rhyme Back with Back and That with That in more than one verse. The moral of the story is; never knock simplicity.

In this case it’s all in the delivery. Reid’s cocky, spaced out vocals cut through the bullshit, singing such swaggering lines as “I always knew you’d take me back” and somehow managing to make it sound sweet. Sandoval’s famous voice is as sensual and soft as ever, inspiring heart palpitations when she sings a line like, “Oh you’re a lucky son, lucky son of a gun…” Good lord, Hope. Put me out of my misery and marry me.

In the midst of these elementary, lovelorn lines comes William Reid’s bright, slashing guitar, grounding the love song in the fuzzed out pop sensibility that had cemented Jesus & Mary Chain as heirs to the “authentic” rock’ n ’roll legacy since the late 80’s. It’s what makes this song fit so well not only within their own canon (Head On, Just Like Honey) but the overall sonic landscape of 90’s rock (Gin Blossoms, The Breeders).

Give this song a spin, but be forewarned… you won’t be able to stop playing it.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Sort of Travelogue...

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Just yesterday, myself and my friend Rosa McElheny put up a few pieces of work at the Thunderbird Hotel in Marfa, TX (pretty rad coincidence, eh?). McElheny is an illustrator from Boston. Her series of landscape drawings, made along Texas State Highway 118, walk a fine line between abstract and accurate. The images are simultaneously interpretive and precise, pulling you further into the desert the longer you look at them. My pieces in the show are a sort of travelogue, a series of photos taken in Nevada, Colorado, New York, San Francisco, and Texas. Accompanying the photos are objects gathered from these places, memories of friends and adventures heavily attached to them. The show will be up through the month of September so if any of you end up passing through, please check it out!








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Friday, July 27, 2012

Got You Covered: Welch & Rawlings

Got You Covered: Welch & Rawlings from cwellslovell on 8tracks.

Its been a rainy Friday in West Texas and this welcome break from the heat has inspired a temporary sonic obsession... Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. This incredible duo pretty much single-handedly made bluegrass and folk f'n rad again after their incredible contributions to the Oh Brother Where Art Thou? Soundtrack garnered them mainstream success. They've collaborated with Ryan Adams, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, Mahatma Gandhi, Charlie Chaplin, and...errr... well anyhow, they're total bad-asses.

My favorite thing about them though, is that they cover ridiculously great songs and totally KILL IT. 80's pop, 90's alternative, 70's classics... they don't discriminate, they dominate. So, in honor of Marfa's rainy weekend, I have scoured the interwebs and created a short collection of my favorite Welch & Rawlings reinterpretations for you. I got you covered, Thunderbirds.

GW & DR - Queen Jane Approximately (Bob Dylan)

GW & DR - Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young)

GW & DR - Black Star (Radiohead)

GW & DR - Billy (Bob Dylan)

GW & DR - Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper)

GW & DR w/ Rilo Kiley - Stop Draggin My Heart Around (Tom Petty)

GW & DR - White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane)

GW & DR w/ Norah Jones - Loretta (Townes Van Zandt)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Thunderbirdin' por Un Ano. No big shakes...

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Feliz cumpleanos, Thunderbirds! I've been tending bar in this corner of the internet for 365 days now. While it's a small accomplishment, its one I'm damn proud of. In the last year a lot has happened. From the limited online release of my first documentary film to my literary debut with For Anyone Who Ever Had A Heart...

I've been able to interview some amazing writers, photographers, musicians, and profile some of my favorite works of cinema and rock n roll. There is plenty of amazing art in this crazy world and it has been a real honor to share it with you all.

Even with all that, I can safely say, year two will be even better. I'll have feature stories on some amazing new bands coming out of Nashville, Austin, Marfa, and San Francisco. I'll have some interesting interviews with artists from nearly every medium. I'll be displaying some of my latest photography, producing a trilogy of one act plays, and sharing some sneak peeks of my follow up book, Cuts & Bruises, currently being written in the desert of West Texas.

Thanks for reading, Thunderbirds. This myth is only getting bigger...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Stop Time - The Photography of Rachel Walther

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“That was taken in the back of a 1975 Dodge Dart. I bought it on September 11th, 2001”, the artist remembers while reflecting on a particularly striking self-portrait.

“Wow. In the morning? Before the attacks?” I ask.

“Nah. In the afternoon. Afterschool”, she admits. “I guess for us it didn’t stop time.”

Stopping time. The impossible act that every photographer attempts every time they click the shudder. In the case of Rachel Walther, she is able to hit the mark more often than not, creating images that seem to exist outside of their contemporary origins in an ambiguous temporal space. “I inherently like things that are timeless” she says, “I guess it comes out that way in the photos because its how my brain thinks.”

Walther grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. Her father was a location scout for the film business and “always had photography equipment lying around”, her mother had artistic ambitions but never pursued them professionally. “‘Don’t be like us’ they would tell me. So I propelled myself out of Phoenix.”

She attended the Art Institute of Chicago, and was accepted for an internship at the Chicago History Museum, archiving photos and soaking in the rich architecture and history of the Windy City. “I would pour over microfilm for hours and hours. Searching through pictures of old Chicago bars to get an address for a photo taken in front of the ‘Shamrock Tavern’ or something.” Though financially strapped and without a social net, the time in Chicago was instrumental to shaping her photographic eye. “Most people are influenced by their peers. I think because I was isolated there socially… I stayed in this tunnel of being influenced or having a sensibility of the past.”

Walther returned briefly to Phoenix and began capturing her hometown in a series of intimate and melancholic images. Friends, family, houses, they all take on their own sense of character and time. “I like getting the very day to day” Walther describes, “The nice old house that is still jerry-rigged, trashy, and threatening. Regular folks doing their thing. Not royalty or paupers. They get caught up in drugs or they have kids. Either way you never see them again…”

Walther’s document of this distinctly southwestern atmosphere acknowledges a dark streak of decay, be it physical or moral, while also providing a sense of immortality. An underlying tone in her images leaves you feeling anxious or unsafe. They tap into the precarious, uncomfortable aspects of the enduringly common.

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It was during Rachel’s next artistic adventure that I first met her. In winter of 2011 I moved into a small one bedroom in-law at Ocean Beach, San Francisco. Walther lived a few doors down in a gorgeous blue and yellow beach house. She had moved to San Francisco in 2008, and was hoping to get a job with Noir Fest, a traveling film festival focused on screening rare noir films from the 40s and the 50’s. She had worked in the Video Department of Amoeba Records for three years, and currently held a part-time job at one of the last remaining VHS rental houses in the city, while working full-time at Photo Works, a specialty film and camera supply shop on Market Street.

She immediately stuck me as a wholly original presence. Beyond the interesting (and damn near enviable) occupations she had, she also retained a near encyclopedic knowledge of a wide breadth of obscure art from decades past. From early Rip Torn films to the novels of Jim Thompson (before it was cool), and our mutual adoration (you could call it an obsession) with the plays of Sam Shepard and photos of Bruce Davidson, I quickly become lost in an endless labyrinth of artistic dialogues. Even with her quick wit and rapid-fire discourses, there would never be enough time in the universe to discuss all that Walther seemed to know.

And than she showed me her photos.

In San Francisco, Walther began a series of digital collections. When I asked if photographing in the digital medium seemed unnatural to such a retronaut she replied, “I’m not a super purist. I just want something to be interesting. Even trying to capture a document of the past, digital is an incredible tool” Of course there were logistical factors as well, “In some of these old places where they’re not to keen on you taking pictures, you have to be quick.”

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For the first of these digital collections, Walther photographed the plentiful but hidden movie houses of the Bay Area. Some still meticulously kept in all their Art Deco glory and others with the bruises of economic decline in plain view. As a filmmaker, this series and in particular this one image of the Piedmont Theater in Oakland, CA is such a mind-bending treat. This image is trapped somewhere between 1985 and 2010. The marquee displaying films made over various years and the theater displaying a sort of stalwart dignity in the face of advanced age. It’s just a movie house, but it’s the neighborhood movie house and plenty of laughs, tears, and make out sessions have occurred in the flickering light of its screens.

Walther also began a series documenting the wildly erratic architecture of the Outer Sunset neighborhood in San Francisco. In its infancy, The Sunset was merely a collection of decommissioned cable cars turned flophouses spread out across the sandy dunes of Ocean Beach. Over the years as the city spread farther out and “progress” flattened the land, row after row of houses of every shape, size, and color scheme proliferated across 16 streets and 30 avenues. For as vast and ever changing a neighborhood as it is, the Sunset maintains a tight-knit and timeless quality. Narratives seem to pour out of every window and radiate from every salt battered building. It was a fertile stomping ground for the rich and evocative imagery of Walther’s eye. “I love the colors out here and the little knick-knacks everywhere. It’s visually engaging enough to be interesting but not so fucking loud. It gives you space to breath.”

Walther’s images of The Sunset certainly provide breathing room, with homes seeming to fade into an ocean of sky. They are lovingly felt but still retain the shiftless chronology of her previous works as well as a subtle sense of foreboding.

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Occasionally time passes slowly, mostly it seems to fly right by. The images captured by Rachel Walther seem to exist in a world between, one of infinite temporal possibilities and a complicated emotional range, much like the artist herself. While she is a young woman, Walther maintains an old soul with an artistic integrity and breadth of knowledge uncommon in those twice her age. I feel fortunate to already be a fan, now I can sit back and watch as her work grows richer with the passing of time.

www.rachelwalther.com

Monday, June 11, 2012

7 From The 70s

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Recently Paste Magazine made a monstrous list of the 70 Best Albums from the 1970s. Despite the sweeping scope of their list, the relative lack of deep cuts was a bummer for me. So I made my own damn list. A list of 7 of the most underrated records from the most incredible decade of rock n roll. The Seventies was full of stunning debuts and unlikely comebacks. The production was crisp but warm, uncorrupted by the impending 80's synth disaster. The songwriting was still steeped in classic rock tradition but with a bite and darkness of a Post-Vietnam/Watergate America. In fact, the circumstances that birthed some of the greatest (yet often overlooked) music from the 70s are startlingly similar to our current economic and social conflicts. Its no big surprise then that the artists on my list are finally getting their due not from the audience that first heard them, but the sons and daughters of a new, frustrated American generation.

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Fleetwood Mac - TUSK (October 1979)

The White Album of the Fleetwood Mac catalog, and follow up to the insanely successful Rumors, this was the most expensive record ever made at the time costing over 1 million bucks! Which is actually pretty ironic considering most of the record sounds as if it were recorded in Lindsay Buckingham's basement on a 4 track tape machine at 3am after an all night coke binge. Oh wait... that's cause it was! Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie spent their time and studio dollars crafting polished, tender ballads like Nicks' "Sara" and McVie's beautiful "Over and Over". Buckingham, on the other hand, holed up in his home "studio" listening to punk records and making track after track of fuzzed out, whack attack pop tunes. His contributions to this amazingly scattered album are not only the most exciting, but also an incredible addition to the repertoire of a band that already had its fair share of stylistic shifts.

Taken as a whole, this album is the sound of amazingly talented musicians indulging in their own excess and basically fighting with songs. While Rumors addressed the inner conflicts of the band with a cohesive sound and narrative (Go Your Own Way, Dreams), TUSK was every man or woman for themselves and the result is one of the most exciting and addictive albums of the 1970's. Once you start playing this record you simply won't stop. As a friend of mine once said "TUSK...it's always on."

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Warren Zevon - Excitable Boy (January 1978)

The Zeve has long been a line in the sand for rock aficionados. If you don't like him... something is wrong with you. After struggling for over a decade as a session player and songwriter, the early 70s found Warren Zevon briefly expatriated to Spain to reassess his musical prospects. This sojourn would prove fruitful, as he met a former CIA assassin on whom he based his hit song "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner". Upon returning to America Zevon fell in with a crowd of other struggling unknown musicians in Los Angeles, including Lindsay Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, and Jackson Browne. By the end of the decade, they'd all be household names.

Excitable Boy is Zevon's second effort produced by Browne and featuring members of Fleetwood Mac. It was bolstered by the success of Linda Ronstadt's cover of "Hasten Down The Wind" from his previous record and the commercial success of the single "Werewolves of London". The record is full of sardonic swagger and cynical societal commentary. Zevon was a songwriter comfortable in the dark places of the American character; writing songs about psychopathic rapists, government sponsored assassinations, and lovesick heroin addicts. To temper these heavy trips he would write incredibly sincere and original ballads like "Tenderness On The Block". Zevon was a fiercely individual songwriter who never shied away from speaking his mind. Two years later he would release Stand In The Fire, a live album featuring many of the hits from Boy and his self- titled debut. It plays almost as a predecessor to VH1's popular Storytellers program, as Zevon's banter between songs (sometimes smack dab in the middle of them) is as raw, intimate, and honest with the audience as any artist I've ever heard. He was a national treasure, deserving to be on the top of anyone's best of list. I'm talking to you, PASTE!

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Dennis Wilson - Pacific Ocean Blue (August 1977)

Leave it to the rebellious drummer to release the only truly great solo Beach Boy's record. Dennis had always been the rowdy Wilson brother. He didn't have the genius of his older brother Brian, nor the incredible voice of his little brother Carl, but what Dennis did have was SOUL. While the late 70s saw a marked decline in the quality of Beach Boy's group efforts, Pacific Ocean Blue stands as a testament to the enduring power and allure of "surf rock".

Dennis Wilson had been partying hard, chasing thrills and women since the early sixties and it was catching up with him. In 1976 he finally settled into the studio to write and record a solo effort. The product of this was a stirring, languid collection of tunes that was at once raging and reverent of everything related to his Pacific based lifestyle. Many people write off the sound of this record as silly or excessively produced. I find it quite the opposite. Wilson's sincerity radiates from every line, so that even what he may lack as a lyricist he more than makes up for as a performer. The vocals are coarse and husky at times, but all the better for a record that deals predominantly with regret and reflection. The record takes stylistic turns towards atmospheric ballads, sunshiny pop, even some acid jazz for good measure. It's a big, blue, beautiful mess that will tug at your heartstrings and make you want to boogie board.

Dennis drowned six years later before he could finish recording the follow up, Bambu. That's just really sad.

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Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band - Garden Party (March 1972)

Ricky Nelson was the quintessential 50s teen idol. His family was immortalized in The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet and he became a rock n roll idol in 1957 when he tried to impress a girl by learning some Elvis song's and his father got him a record contract. He would go on to release almost 30 records over the next 15 years and influence an entire generation of young songwriters, including Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, John Lennon, and George Harrison.

In the 70s, Ricky was the one being influenced. He had a notorious drug habit sure, but it was his absorption of the new rock sound that really made waves. He covered Dylan's "She Belongs To Me" in 1970 and had his first charting hit in a decade. He went on to pioneer a new harder, country sound by incorporating aspects of the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and psychedelic folk imagery into his tunes. While this made for refreshing new music it didn't necessarily go over well with an audience who last remembered him as the slick haired, pin up boy from TV and mall tours. In an infamous 1971 concert appearance at Madison Square Garden, Rick (as he now preferred) Nelson was billed alongside fellow 50s icons Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Bobby Rydell. The long haired Nelson (accompanied by his band of hard rocking hippies) eschewed his old hits and instead played their new material, including a cover of the Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman". There were pockets of booing from the audience and Rick bounced. Leaving the arena and heading home to write a hit song about the debacle.

Garden Party is as fine a collection of barn burners and ballads as anything put out by The Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd in the 70s. The title track is a fun, jaunty hit peppered with pop culture references. Not only a cathartic retelling of the MSG appearance but also an affirmation of Nelson's place in the rock pantheon. "You can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself." he sings. And by sticking to his guns, Nelson manages to do both. While the record features a fiery cover of Chuck Berry's "I'm Talking About You", most songs were original compositions by Nelson and his Stone Canyon Band. Some are straight up make out jams. "Nighttime Lady" and "Palace Guard" especially are perfect songs to pop on after splitting a bottle of cheap wine with your honey. All in all this is a criminally forgotten record that cemented Ricky's legacy and gave back to the generation of artists he inspired.

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Neil Young - Chrome Dreams (1977)

Chrome Dreams is the masterpiece that never was. Neil Young has a history of creating relatively perfect records and shelving them. Such is the case with this incredible collection of songs that would end up chopped up, re-recorded, and spread out across a half dozen lesser albums over the next twenty years. While Young has never officially acknowledged the bootlegged acetate labeled "Chrome Dreams", his release of 2007's Chrome Dreams II was a wink and a nod to the legions of fans for whom this record is the pinnacle.

If you're a Young fan you've probably heard most every track on this record. The blistering opener "Like A Hurricane". The Rust era hits "Sedan Delivery", "Powderfinger", and "Pocahontas". Even an early version of Ragged Glory track "White Line", called "River Of Pride" here (and the far superior version). Tucked in with these amazing cuts were songs that would remain unreleased except for live performances, like the heartbreaking ode to Jack Nitzsche "Stringman" and the reflection on Young's divorce "Give Me Strength". Like most of Young's 70s output, it is an emotionally heavy collection of songs, but it isn't overtly gloomy like his earlier "Doom Trilogy". Its a well paced, well sequenced collection of songs that would most certainly have been a career defining work. But alas, such is the story of the Seventies; the things that might have been.

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Karen Dalton - In My Own Time (1971)

Of all the albums to come out of Woodstock, NY in the late 60's and early 70's (Music From Big Pink, Tupelo Honey, New Morning, etc.) this record captures the splendid isolation and simplicity of the lifestyle the best. Dalton's voice sets her apart, for while she swapped songs and boozed it up with Van, Bob, and The Band she out sings every single one of them. This collection of covers was produced by Harvey Brooks who had played bass on "Like A Rolling Stone" and Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew". The warmth of his production radiates off of this record and provides the perfect foundation for Dalton's incredible interpretations of songs such as "When A Man Loves A Woman" and the traditional "Katie Cruel".

While she had a penchant for self-destruction that would keep her from ever achieving the recognition she deserved, Dalton's two album legacy can hold up to careers three times as prolific. Dalton was infamous for her shyness and vices and it certainly comes through in several of her performances, but the most interesting tracks on In My Own Time find her powerful and seductive, tackling soul hits like "How Sweet It Is" and "One Night Of Love". The album's opening "Something On Your Mind" and closer "Are You Leaving For The Country?" act as thematic bookends, reminding us that all the stress and fears of American life are just one quick trip to the sticks away from total evaporation. They are arguably two of the most beautifully recorded songs of the entire 1970s. Don't believe me? Than do yourself a favor and buy this record immediately.

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John Prine - John Prine (1971)

What can you even say about this record? About this man? John Prine is one of those magical writers who is a character that only he could write. The Singing Mailman who served in Germany during Vietnam and came back to play the Chicago cafe circuit, writing songs so good that Kris Kristofferson once said, "We'll have to break his thumbs". The fact that this is his first record, made when he was 25, and that every single song is flawless... it would be enough to make even the most seasoned songwriter hang his head and cry. Covering a vast gambit of themes, from drug addled Vietnam veterans to corporate exploitation of the rural south to lonesome senior citizens, Prine came along and wrote the great American novel of the seventies. It just happened to be a rock n roll record is all. While he has gone on to release four decades worth of top notch material, it is this first collection that is truly incomparable to anything else. Contemporaries like Zevon, Newman, and Dylan were either too cynical or self-absorbed to fully articulate the soul of 70s America,but Prine's humor and empathy yielded a more well-rounded portrait and infused it with an invaluable ingredient...hope. Sure we had boys coming home from a horrific war and shooting up. Sure we had a generation of elderly American's nearly forgotten by the grandchildren they simply didn't understand. Sure we had broken hearts, busted bank accounts, and bruises to boot... but we also had jokes. And John Prine can tell em like no other. Take the albums opening track "Illegal Smile", with this gem of a first line...

"When I woke up this morning, things were looking bad. Seemed like total silence was the only friend I had. A bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down and won and it was 12 o'clock before I realized I was having no fun..."

Its lines like this that are peppered throughout Prine's catalog, making you chuckle and crack a smile no matter how many times you hear them. Reminding you that no matter how hard the times are, its best to just go ahead and have a laugh about it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Good Day, Sunshine!

Last month I was invited to read an original piece at The Make Out in San Francisco's Mission District.

I was one of nine local writers participating in "Write Club SF: Literature as Bloodsport". As you can already imagine, it was not your average poetry reading. There was no berets, no bongos, no roibus tea. Instead it was rambunctious and inebriated and lots of fun.

The writers were given one word topics with which to write about and then pitted against another writer with an opposing topic. For example, my piece was about Day while my opponent read about Night.

I had an absolute blast writing and performing this piece. I sure hope you have fun listening to it!

Write Club SF: Day Vs. Night

2004 And The Music That F'd Up Our Lives...

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This past weekend was Record Store Day 2012. All over the country independent record retailers had exclusive 7" vinyls and limited edition re-releases that left audiophiles mouths watering. I looked over the seemingly limitless options (Dr. John's Locked Down, Alabama Shakes Third Man Live Series,etc.) and felt a surge of excitement. But it still paled in comparison to the staggering string of sensational record releases eight years ago.

2004 was a monumental year for my philosophic sonic development. Not only was I turning 20 (my raging hormones and youthful rebelliousness at their peak) but there was also something of a musical zeitgeist occurring. Pop music was still reeling from the boy band/ teen tramp holocaust that was Justin & Britney. Facebook wasn't yet ubiquitous. Bush was heading towards a 2nd term (causing many of us to research expatriation to Canada). We were all thirsty for emotional authenticity in the wake of a post 9/11 world turned upside down.

It was against this back drop that seasoned artists like Wilco and Modest Mouse made ambitious journeys into the "mainstream" and unknown upstarts like Joanna Newsom, Arcade Fire, Regina Spektor, Kanye West, and The Killers exploded onto the scene with mind blowing debuts. Most of the releases in 2004 would prove to be bold and unique, expressing the frustration and fear of the day through a prism of love and longing. It was rock music that challenged us to reexamine ourselves. Albums that surprised us with their cohesiveness. Music that dared us to dance and sing with unabashed abandon and a courage that we the audience (and they the artists) would never quite find again.

So without further ado, here are some of the lyrical gems of 2004. The lines that really f'd up my life... in a good way.

"Language is the liquid that we're all dissolved in, great for solving problems after it creates a problem..."

"Since there's no one else around, we let out hair grow long and forget all we used to know..."

"I know I won't be leaving here with you..."

"And all that I want and all that I need and all that I got is scattered like seed and all that I knew is moving away from me and all that I know is blowing like tumbleweeds..."

"I'm going away where you can't look for me. Where I'm bound you cannot come. No one is ever gonna take my life from me. I lay it down, a ghost is born..."

"I'd sacrifice money and heaven all for love. Let me be loved, let me be loved..."

"We livin' the American Dream. The people highest up got the lowest self esteem, the prettiest people do the ugliest things..."

"No one will notice we're gone cause we don't have a job to keep. They'll just say that we're being lazy. Sex crazed, sex crazed, crazy..."

"Wrap me in your marrow, stuff me in your bones, to sing a mending moan, a song bring you home..."

"I've got soul but I'm not a soldier..."


Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Forty Eighths Art Party @ Workshop!

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Tonight's the night, folks! If you're coming to San Francisco be sure to wear some hot duds and head on over to Workshop (McAlister & Baker) at 8:00pm tonight for The Forty Eighth's Art Party!

I'll be releasing my book, For Anyone Who Ever Had A Heart...

Matt St. John will be showing his paintings and prints, chockful of color and whimsy.

Jacob Feldman will be displaying his psychedelic illustrations and his hilarious, high concept poop joke comic strip, "Funny Shit".

Robbie Kayson will be heading up the crayon table, leading a series of drunken drawing games.

There will be food, booze, dancing, and a raffle! Head on over and check it out!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Thursday Thunderbird Jam: For Anyone Who Ever Had A Heart... (The Soundtrack)

For Anyone Who Ever Had A Heart... from cwellslovell on 8tracks.




It's been a little while since the last installment of Thunderbird Radio but today I have something special y'all. A lot of books don't have soundtracks. Mine does. The music in this collection is inextricably linked to my experience of writing this book. Some directly inspired specific pieces while others provided me with the crucial moral support needed during those long, late nights hunched over my keyboard, fussing over a sentence.

So here goes, grab your headphones or jack up the volume. Let's take a trip together through these twenty tracks...

1) The Velvet Underground - Sweet Jane
2) Pearl Jam - In My Tree
3) Nirvana - Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam
4) Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - The Wild One, Forever
5) Harry Nilsson - Mother Nature's Son
6) Alex Chilton - Hey! Little Child
7) Bob Dylan - Dark Eyes
8) The Band - Ophelia
9) Spencer Wyatt Big Band - Stranger On The Shore
10) The Replacements - Treatment Bound
11) Jackson Browne - The Pretender
12) The White Stripes - Sister, Do You Know My Name?
13) Joanna Newsom - Good Intentions Paving Company
14) Richie Valens - Sleepwalk
15) Brad Mehldau - When It Rains
16) Janis Joplin - Me & Bobby McGee
17) Etta James - Trust In Me
18) Carl Perkins - Blue Suede Shoes
19) Nick Drake - Horn
20) Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Walls (Circus)

For Anyone Who Ever Had A Heart...

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For Anyone Who Ever Had A Heart... is the literary debut of Cory W. Lovell. Published by Star Chamber Press, this collection of poetry, prose, and Polaroid photography is a deeply personal work four years in the making. Made up of snapshots, yarns, and one-liners, this book is part pop-fiction, part confessional, and part dreamscape.

For Anyone Who Ever Had A Heart... is available now at the following online retailers.

Amazon.com

Createspace.com


For Anyone Who Ever Had A Heart... will be available in select cities beginning Friday, February 17th.

Saratoga Springs, NY

Lyrical Ballad 7 Phila St (518) 584-8779


Chicago, IL

Kitchen Sink 1107 W Berwyn Ave (773) 944-0592

San Francisco, CA

The Booksmith 1644 Haight Street (415) 863-8688
Green Apple 506 Clement Street (415) 387-2272
Needles & Pens 3253 16th Street (415) 255-1534


If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, please join us on Friday, February 17th at 8:00pm at Workshop SF to celebrate the release of the book as well as enjoy illustrations and paintings by fellow Sunset District artists, Matt St. John and Jacob Feldman.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Friday Film Pick: This Is NOT America – David Kleijwegt (2000)




In February of 2000, a young band from Kentucky toured Holland and it was filmed for Dutch Music Television. That band was My Morning Jacket and the film was David Klejegt's This Is NOT America. With the exception of the 2006 concert film Okonokos, it is the only film produced on the band and to this day the only film including interviews with its founding members. While the lineup of the band has been completely overhauled (only bassist, Two-Tone Tommy, and singer-songwriter, Jim James, remain) the film has only increased in relevance and beauty over the past 12 years.

In early 2000, My Morning Jacket had only released one album and had only performed live on perhaps two dozen occasions. For a band now known for its epic stage show and a string of off beat, genre bending recordings it is hard to imagine how different their lives were back in that snowy millennial winter. While their first record, The Tennessee Fire, had begun to be circulated in the American south, it was in the Netherlands that the band really broke. There never seems to be any real rhyme or reason for crossover appeal of American rock artists abroad. Why Idaho bard Josh Ritter is worshipped in Ireland yet remains obscure to mainstream audiences here in the States, will never be understood by me. In any event, in order for My Morning Jacket to reach their most fervent fan base, they had to fly halfway across the world to Holland.

The film has a beautiful look to it. The heavy use of atmospheric b-roll (foggy Euro highways, sleepy looking neighborhoods, cobblestone clad Dutch sidewalks) to underpin the band's commentary creates an immediate atmosphere of calm and receptiveness. You're just as happy to listen to Jim James talk about his favorite breakfast bagel as explain the timelessness of The Rolling Stones, because it looks great either way. Also Kleijwegt chose not to use complete performances, sometimes entering into a song halfway through a raucous guitar jam. This blend of quiet, pensive moments and distorted barroom bravado establishes a pace that makes the most of its relatively modest 40 minute running time.

The film also takes special care to give each member of the band their own defining moment. Drummer, J. Glenn, reveals details of his family's modest tobacco farming roots as he sanitizes his latest tattoo in a hotel bathroom. While the infamously silent Tommy Blankenship maintains his quiet cool throughout the film, he and guitarist Johnny Quaid act almost as comic relief, fooling about in the background of most shots. It's obvious that at this point in the band's dynamic, they provided a much needed pressure valve for these wayward Kentucky boys so far from their home. Of course it is the baby-faced frontman, Jim James, who steals the show.

James, more so than most songwriters of our generation (with the exception of maybe Win Butler and Regine Chassagne), has had an aura of magical divination thrust upon him. As if his songwriting and vocal talents were cosmically bestowed, as opposed to a result of relentless hard work. While it's obviously not true, the myth of this ghostly voiced young man was already being encouraged here. In a kaleidoscopic, slow motion sequence, James explains his lyrical inspiration by recounting a rather disturbing and psychedelic dream; “The worst dream I ever had I was on a playground and I was running up a slideboard with a fork in my hand. At the top of the slideboard was this poodle barking and I took the fork and stuck it in its eyeball.” This terrifying narration fades into a haunting rendition of “I Think I'm Going To Hell” with James standing alone in front of futurist Dutch columns lit with red and orange and yellow. It's an incredible and simple visual that was no doubt unplanned, as are most of life's most transcendent moments.

It is in this respect that This Is NOT America remains such a vital and enduring portrait,above all else it is candid and spontaneous. It is a snapshot of a band so early in their career that they have no expectations for it. With no map to guide them in this foreign territory, they allow themselves to be themselves with no hint of pretense. My Morning Jacket would never be this particular band again. They'd become something else, something more ambiguous, away from the public eye.




Monday, February 6, 2012

Deer Tick: To The City Of Sin! (2008)

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In autumn of 2007 I was given a copy of “War Elephant”, the debut record of Providence, Rhode Island rockers Deer Tick. Once I popped it into the player I couldn’t take it out. I spun that disc non-stop across America, driving from Saratoga Springs, NY to San Francisco, CA with its melodies guiding me through. It spoke to me as a refreshingly traditional collection of music, a product of the 21st century, for sure, but very much rooted in the country, blues, and grunge of decades past. I e-mailed the lead singer and songwriter of the band, John McCauley, and thanked him for the quality music. He was kind and gracious and that was that. But I just couldn’t get the damn songs out of my head and one morning I woke up with visions of a film in my mind. I was humming their track “Little White Lies” and imagining following them over rolling hills and through dingy, dark bars. I knew these visions wouldn’t go away until I asked John McCauley if he wouldn’t mind me touring around with them for a few months. They wouldn’t stop until I made myself a movie. Nine months and $3,500 later....I did just that.

Deer Tick: To The City of Sin! was my first film. It was my thesis project for a bachelors in Cinema Studies and Film Production and also the greatest adventure I had ever been on up to that point. I look back on the whole process, four years later, and realize that I was pretty much the luckiest S.O.B. in the world. All the pieces fell into place. I got all my equipment for free, I was able to get the time off from school and book crew members in various locations to help, I had my partner/co-producer/girlfriend (independent film crews wear many hats) on the road with me and I was following one of America's fastest rising and most bad-ass rock'n'roll bands! It was an indescribably magical time in my life and hopefully the film captures some of that.

My executive producers, Mary Arbuckle and Allan Nichols, went above and beyond their roles. They spent hours with me talking about every facet of the production and I will never have such amazing mentors again. The film was tremendously well-received in it's initial release. It's premier was attended by Rhode Island's own Bobby Farrely, writer and director of There's Something About Mary, who went on to use Deer Tick as a substantial contributor to the Hall Pass soundtrack. The film was an official selection in the Green Mountain, Lake Placid, and Vermont International Film Festivals. At VIFF, I was awarded the James Goldstone Emerging Filmmaker Award for my directorial debut. It was a pretty wild ride.

Deer Tick has since gone on to release another three critically acclaimed albums and tour extensively all over the world. They have gone through some personnel changes and relocated their home base but this is where they came from, my film shows the beginning of their journey. No one else will ever get to capture them at the point at which I did and thats pretty special to me. Now I can share it with you. For anyone who is already a fan of Deer Tick, you're in for a real treat. You'll get to be on the road, in the motels and greenrooms, and most importantly On Stage with them for about an hour and ten minutes. Anyone who hasn't yet heard their music... oh man. I'm even more excited for you because you're about to become a fan.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Thursday Thunderbird Jam: Neil Diamond - Hell Yeah (2005)



A wise man once said, "There are two kinds of people in this world, those that love Neil Diamond and those that do not."

Anyone who knows me also knows that I fall unabashedly into the first of those categories. The Diamond isn't a joke, he ain't a novelty act, he's the real deal. It's the world around Mr. Diamond that has changed, not him or his abilities.

Look no further for proof than this past year... Neil was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame (AGAINST the wishes of the rather fickle and short sighted nominating committee) by an overwhelming write in campaign from his steadfast fan base. His acceptance speech went a little something like this... "I know some of you don't want me here, but I don't give a shit."

That night he was inducted alongside Alice Cooper and Tom Waits, just another bad ass songwriter.

Not 6 months later he was a Kennedy Center Honoree, with Raphael Saddiq, Lionel Richie, and Smokey Robinson paying tribute to his one of a kind songwriting. He sat between Yo Yo Ma and Michelle Obama, just another national treasure.

Despite all this, when I tell my friends how die hard a fan I am of this amazing artist they inevitably scoff. They only seem to remember his somewhat out of place appearance in The Last Waltz or Will Ferrell's classic Storytellers skit on SNL (which I admit is one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen). But today's Thunderbird Jam should change all that.

In 2005, after about three years of trying, legendary producer Rick Rubin convinced Neil Diamond to make a new record of exclusively original songs. He asked him to harken back to his Tin Pan Alley days, writing simple and lighthearted pop songs that showcased his wit and guitar stylings.

The result was 12 Songs, arguably his greatest record since 1969's Touching Me Touching You. 12 Songs had playful melodic love songs like "We" and "Delirious Love" but also included one of Diamonds most profound and career defining statements entitled, "Hell Yeah".

Sometimes a songwriter will draft his own sort of epitaph. They are somber and sober, but also uplifting and definitive. Sinatra had "My Way". Dylan has "Not Dark Yet". "Hell Yeah" is Diamonds.

So if they ask you when I'm gone
Was it everything he wanted?
When he had to travel on
Did he know he'd be missed?
You can tell them this Hell yeah he did!


Neil sings this song with a simultaneous sense of accomplishment and modesty. An aging poet comfortable in his skin and confident in his art, in spite of the fact that most people consider him a punchline.

Its a truly touching song and on the inevitable day that Mr. Diamond leaves this Earth, I'll be blasting it up to the heavens. Hell yeah, Neil. Hell yeah!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ten Years Gone... Saratoga class of 2002 artists on a decade of following their passions.

A few weeks back my inbox was inundated with a slew of emails regarding the impending ten year reunion for the Saratoga Springs Senior High School Class of 2002. I immediately got chest pains, strained breathing, and couldn't stop looking at the streaks of gray hair that had formed on both sides of my ever-aging head. Needless to say, this event had snuck up on me. After the initial shock wore off I began to think about the past ten years and what they had meant to me, the personal struggles I had endured and the artistic growth that was born out of it. I wondered about my peers and what their lives must have been like over the past decade. Specifically, those of us that had gone to college for and/or worked in the arts. Those of us that had chosen (against endless warnings by teachers, guidance counselors, and parents) to pursue writing, painting, illustrating, acting, photography, and music. Those of us that had followed our faith and passions and ran face first into a perfect storm of economic, societal, and technological changes in all of our respective industries.

What was their journey like? Had they felt appropriately prepared by our high school experience for the challenges they currently faced? How had their artistic style progressed since our modest beginnings as Saratoga Blue Streaks? I didn't want to wait until this reunion to find out so I just started asking. Here are some of their stories.


Sean Lyman Frasier

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At Saratoga I was titillated by the immediate response of shaking heads. It was a desperate "look at me" strategy that matched my insane T-Boz haircut and made it completely obvious that I didn't trust my talent to make an impression. Now my art has grown from the desire to shock or puzzle to something actually resembling a personal style that I'm proud of, a style that somehow smashes understated drama, wry humor, Southern Gothic, and realistic horror together and precariously toys with tone.

In high school I remember the total support of the faculty to find my own voice and have fun exploring each medium. There were many teachers who gave me that freedom but the two that impacted me most were Mr. Eric Hotaling and Ms. Rabine. Mr. Hotaling was the sort of 'Cool Hand Luke' of art teachers and allowed open dialogue with each student. When he lead a class it was by example, not because of some obvious hierarchy. It surprised me in no way when I first saw a photo of him on Facebook riding a horse with some gorgeous sun-baked landscape behind him.

Ms. Rabine really pushed me past my comfort zone and was one of the first educators to persuade me to work on my public reading skills. I always thought of writing as a solitary art and I suppose for rare talents it can be. But sharing work and exciting people about it is just as important as the work itself when you start looking at the business side of things. I've never been great at being my own hype man but I've significantly improved from my days of inaudible mumbling and Ms. Rabine's encouragement was a huge part of that.

The school as a whole just offered a variety of courses that allowed me to explore the full spectrum of artistic expression. They were all important in shaping my attitude towards art, and for better or worse, how playful I could be with each medium. Now, whether I deserved to or not, I enjoyed massive amounts of praise from the faculty and my peers alike. Then I moved to the big city and the realities of post-grad anonymity forced me to face the facts: There is no shortage of talented people and nothing would come easily.

I turned my attention back to screenwriting full-time and switched to working nights, from 10pm to 8 in the morning, because it offered the chance to write while earning a steady paycheck. Two years later, I still live like a vampire and sleep during the day (which should surprise nobody who remembers me at Saratoga with fake fangs and Gothic make-up) but the sacrifice has definitely been worth it, as one of the scripts I wrote during those overnight shifts was a semi-finalist for the Nicholl Fellowship. It directly inspired over 40 agencies and production companies to request my script. Now I can say "my agent is reading my latest script," which makes me sound like a total scumbag, but kind of awesome too.

Right now I'm working on a few screenplays, including my first venture into the intimidating and terrifying realm of family entertainment. But each year I try to do something I've never tried before, whether it's writing a feature-length script in 30 days or writing a screenplay with no deaths in it. Nobody else is giving me guidelines, so I like to restrict myself sometimes and see what comes out of it.

Since graduating from Saratoga High, I've averaged a feature screenplay a year, published a few chapbooks of poetry, creeped people out at readings across New York City, and finally felt I paid my dues long enough to refer to myself as a writer. That last detail is my largest accomplishment. I really just want to share stories with people on a screen, the scale doesn't matter to me. If I can't live off it I will still do it, because that's how I'm wired, and that's what makes me happy at the end of the day.

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/slfrasier

Elizabeth Callen

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My music has become a lot more focused in 10 years time. It's all I think about. My style started out a bit folky, but I've become much more Alt Rock/Pop. I have been writing catchier hooks with each album and play more electric and lead guitar. I listen to so much music - on the radio or at venues in NYC. Many of my friends are people I've met through the musical community.

I formed my main group, The Callen Sisters, in 2006 in NYC right after graduating college. I was finally fulfilling my lifelong dream of playing music and living in the city. We were signed to a major label imprint but the deal fell through after a year. My failures threatened my confidence as an artist. After my record deal fell through I spent a long time reflecting on my music and the industry. What happened then was I started taking more risks. I had failed once and it was liberating. I grew musically because It made me try new things with the style of music I was writing. Now we are back in the studio writing for our third record!

I just joined a second band this summer. It's an all-female rock band called Porsche. We are being managed by a former member of Alicia Key's management team. I found this last gig on Craigslist of all places. You never know what you're going to find on that site! I also got a gig managing the NYC-based jazz band the Jordan Young Group. Wearing the new hat of "music manager" has been a lot of fun. My successes have validated my choice to pursue music. They have made me want to continue down this path and continue to create and have also shown me I didn't need to make a "sensible" choice back in high school.

Mr. Jacobsen and Mr. Beaubriand, gave me a solid musical background. Learning to read music and play in an ensemble was invaluable. The music theory classes offered at our school were great, too. Mr. Vredenberg was an amazing teacher. I passed out of two years of college music theory because I learned so much in his class. I also remember playing at Caffe Lena in high school. That opened so many doors to me. Performing with friends also helped me gain confidence - namely my sister, Jessie O'Brien and Justin Joyner.

In ten years time I would love to say that making songs is my only source of income!

http://www.thecallensisters.com/
http://www.facebook.com/thecallensisters



Justin Joyner

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I like to call myself an entertainer. In the entertainment business, the paramount goal is to please the audience. I'd say that over these 10 years, I've learned by doing, and also by watching other bands in the business. There is no "how-to book" in such a field, so one must be passionate about it in order to succeed. Through the years, I've developed my own style which is unique to the entertainment business in this area.

I am in GRAVITY a four-piece club/event/wedding entertainment band. This band started in late 2005, formed with drummer Will Railton, who also went to Saratoga High. Song selection and presentation of the band is most important, we play no original music...original music does not have much of a place in the business we're in. My art is taking a song you hear on the radio, putting our own twist on it, figuring out how to arrange it for a four-piece and presenting it in such a way that pleases the crowd and gets them singing and dancing. In that way, it becomes original. Trust me, it's much easier said than done!

In the early years of the band, successes and failures were more polarizing. Failures would really dig into me, and successes would make me the happiest person in the world. These successes and failures still happen, but I'm much better at handling them in the sense that I'm able to put them in perspective and to see the "big picture”.

I do not strive to become a "famous celebrity rock star". I guess I once did. But my passion is now in this "vendor of music" business, and having bigger success in a limited geographic radius. I want to build an entertainment company which offers several bands and DJs, in an effort to become a one-stop-shop for entertainment for clubs, events, and weddings.

The more time goes on and the older I get, the more appreciative I am to have been a student at Saratoga. It hasn't hit me until recently how there really were some talented people that I was surrounded by, and these people impacted me in ways that were not apparent at the time. I also believe that many of the teachers at Saratoga were some of the best we could have had. It's interesting because if I were asked this question 10 years ago, I wouldn't have thought this way necessarily.

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Jacob Feldman

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The style of the material I’m producing now was all but non-existent ten years ago. In fact, it only really existed in the margins (and maybe more than margins) of my high school and college notebooks. Everything that I’m doing now has its origins in the doodles I would produce during class. My stylistic evolution continued in Grad school, where I further cultivated my doodlish nature. During this time I increased the intentionality behind what I was producing, moving from the pages of my school notebooks to independent creative efforts where I would sit down and just draw. Now, I do more “sitting down and drawing” than doodling, so whatever the future evolution of my art may be, the current one seems to have completed a full stage.

Currently I’m gathering work for my first public art exhibition – an art party myself and some friends are in at a gallery in San Francisco. I’ve only been seriously illustrating for about two years now, so the prospect of presenting my work and asking people to pay for it is terrifying, but damn exciting too.

For me, the work I’ve been doing is about creative expression for the sake of creative expression. So, with this art party I’m shifting from untethered creativity to trying to create a product of a certain sort – still though, I’m making a concerted effort to keep in mind that people don’t want to buy a product; if they’re going to buy it, it’s because it’s satisfying art.

The time I spent in the Saratoga High School Art Department was influential. When I draw, I work to include well executed elements of line, color, shape, contrast etc. into what I produce to help ensure a strong piece. The art department acted as the bedrock on which my future artistic ventures were built; independent, but integral.

I try to never attach the concept of “failure” to my art – it’s never a failure. It may (and invariably does) have shortcomings, but it’s not a failure because, as I said before, I revere creative expression for the sake of creative expression. By sticking to this creative philosophy, so long as I have created anything, I haven’t failed. That aside, the shortcomings of my art have given me a great outlet for further cultivating myself as a human. Every time I succeed or “fail” at an artistic endeavor it gives me more clay with which to sculpt my humanity.

As long as I’m still creatively expressing myself, I don’t care what happens in the future.



Annarosa Mudd

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For the first half of the past ten years I was training in acting at The Stella Adler Studio through NYU. It was the best possible program for me. I did an intensive theatre arts program in Bangkok, Thailand and a film acting workshop with casting director, Deborah Aquila, in Los Angeles. All of these experiences richly enhanced my imagination and my life, and therefore my work. Once I was out of school, I struggled with supporting myself in New York City and trying to maintain my artistic pursuits. It took a few years to even get myself to an audition.

I'd characterize my failures as the times that I was too scared or felt incapacitated to do or make anything. For whatever reason I couldn't just get out of the damn house and get myself seen and heard. Then of course, one or two auditions that were just horrifying, but that's usual actor stuff. The successes I've experienced have mostly been due to simply making a decision to do something and actually doing it.

There's also just that magical state of grace that I think every artist knows when they see it, but it's difficult to grasp and even more difficult to explain. My favorite term for it is 'the subtle knife' (and, yes, that is a book by Philip Pullman). Anyway, it's being centered and really listening to yourself, trusting your talent and your instincts and then just getting really brave. That's where success lives I think.

I finally auditioned for The Michael Chekhov Theatre Company and was accepted. It was a really neat little community and I met some pretty incredible people. I finally got to do Shakespeare, appearing in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Love's Labour's Lost and playing my favorite character of all time, Beatrice, in Much Ado About Nothing. Soon after this I signed with Cinematic Management, and went out for some much higher profile auditions. I was still feeling a bit limited and stuck in New York though. California was the answer. Ever since I got here I've felt a huge wave of freedom to just make whatever I want.

I'm working on raising money for a feature film that I wrote with a friend who also went to Saratoga High. I'm going to be starring in the film as well. It came about when I moved to the Bay Area and my friend expressed that he was interested in getting a female voice attached to the script. I really loved the story and the characters and the overall tone of the film and was excited to be a part of it.

Saratoga was such a special place to grow up in. Being there had everything to do with my training as a ballet dancer. I even got to perform with the New York City Ballet when I was 10. Intense dance training all through high school was extremely developmental for me as an artist. I still see things as a dancer I think, and that will always influence me first. I've heard of film directors who are also choreographers and that totally makes sense to me- it's very similar work.

Then there was the Spa Little Theater. I did a program with Michelle Yergin which totally solidified my desire to be an actor. I got lucky senior year of high school when the first New Visions Theatre Arts program was made available. I auditioned for that, got in, learned how to audition for college, got in to NYU early...and well the rest is history.

For being a tiny little place in upstate New York, Saratoga had a wealth of things to see and be inspired by. Right now I'm developing a screenplay based on a ballet piece I saw at SPAC, that I went back to see night after night. I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a place like that.

In ten years, I can see having some sort of production company with my friends. We'll make rad movies and find brilliant artists to work with. I'll be acting and probably producing. And if I'm not dancing, then I'll be in trouble.


Clifford Washington

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Right now I am freelance designing in NYC and working on an art exhibit at Spring St. Gallery in Saratoga coming in late February. I'm always looking for new work in graphic design or illustration. Whether its book illustration, editorial illustration, web design, logo design, or advertising design.

Saratoga High was my introduction to formal drawing, painting, and graphic design training. Teachers like Mr. Hotaling and Mr. Fantuzzi really helped refine my abilities before I went to college. Also unlike a lot of inner city schools in NYC, we were fortune enough to have access to Apple computers, which were instrumental in my development as a graphic designer. Over the years my art has definitely progressed from the Drawing and Painting and Senior Seminar classes in High School to where I am now. From a shear technical side my ability to accurately draw and paint objects or people or animals has grown a lot. But also my knowledge of the elements and principles of design.

My paintings are how I express myself to the world, whether it be about music, sci-fi /fantasy or socio-political themes. I am just at the point now of developing a style, because for a while, even in college, I was bouncing around a lot of different styles. I felt like I didn't want to be held back by adhering to a specific one, but I found it only confused people to not have a theme or particular direction for my work.

The success of my art has built my confidence in my abilities, and the messages/ themes that I try to get across in my paintings. My failures have taught me that its not weakness to seek help if I'm not sure how to proceed in my career. My failures have also changed my work ethic. I work 10 times harder now then I did in high school or college, because to go where I want to go in my career, my focus has to be laser-like.

10 years from now I'd like to be one of premiere Illustrators in America, and hopefully have my own creative studio handling design, branding, and animation.

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