Saturday, December 7, 2013

Talking A Little Shop ( about the Military Industrial Complex...) - Interviews With Lannan Fellows

The Lannan Writing Residency is a three to eight week fellowship where poets, authors, journalists, and translators are invited to live and work in Marfa, Texas and present their work at the Marfa Book Company. Over the last couple months I've had the immense privilege of interviewing the Lannan fellows for our local NPR affiliate. In addition to reading their exceptional books, its a joy to be able to talk a little shop with writers who are reaching their prime after years of hard work.

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Scott Horton - Interview December 6th, 2013

Scott Horton is a fellow at The Nation Institute and a contributing editor at Harper’s magazine, where he covers legal and national security issues in his NO COMMENT column. Horton is currently working on a book discussing the erosion of democracy by a pervasive culture of secrecy, particularly in the area of national security.

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Nick Turse - Interview October 4th, 2013

Lannan resident Nick Turse is editor of His most recent books are Kill Anything that Moves and The Changing Face of Empire.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Thunderbird Jam: DeBarge - I Like It (1982)

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The other day I was making a mixtape for a girl I dig. Yes, I’m 30 years old and I’ll still make a shawty a mixtape. What of it?! Anyhow, I was choosing some cuts; an old Janet track from 1989’s Rhythm Nation, a little “Into the Groove”, etcetera. Somewhere along the line though, I found myself searching for a tune that got a little more specific. I thought to myself, I really dig this girl’s sense of style. I wish there was a song that mentioned that. Oh, and her hair is so curly and wild! Is there a jam that calls that out? She’s such a sweetheart, doing cool little things for me. There can’t possibly be a song that fits that in there too.

In fact, Thunderbirds, there is such a jam.

“I Like It”, the 1982 hit by Motown family band, DeBarge. DeBarge consisted of sister Bunny and her brothers Mark, Randy, James, and El. El was the main singer and songwriter, his signature falsetto helping to score some much needed hits for the Motown label during an era when they were on the decline. “I Like It” was the lead single from DeBarge’s sophomore album All This Love and it’s a spectacularly smooth jam. Opening with a killer bass line by “Ready” Freddie Washington (this is the dude who laid it down on “Forget Me Nots”/”Men In Black” so he’s not f’n around) the tune has an infectiously melodic horn section and quickly settles into a groove that’s both sexy and sweet. El DeBarge’s vocals on the chorus are perfectly high pitched and brother Randy’s verses have an effortless flow that sit over the thick rhythm section like whipped cream on dark chocolate mousse. The only thing better than the sound is the simplicity. The lyrics of “I Like It” are basically just a laundry list of all the rad things about this babe that El digs.

I like the way you comb your hair,

And I like those stylish clothes you wear,

It’s just those little things you do that show how much you really care.

That’s so bad ass! What’s better than pointing out the most obvious and ordinary parts about a chick that make her so incredible? In addition to this fantastically on the nose chorus are the backing vocals by Bunny, Mark, and James; a repeating harmony that provides a foundation for El to really show off his falsetto chops.

I like it, I like it, I really, really like it.

I’m for it, Adore it, So come let me enjoy it.

There is little room for confusion. I’m pretty sure he likes this chick.

“I Like It” is one of those versatile smooth jams, the kind you can dance to with your lady while y’all are making dinner or the kind you put on when y’all are making out. Or both. Simultaneously. Just don’t forget to turn the burner off before you head to the bedroom. Rookie mistake.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lou Reed Tribute Hour- Marfa Public Radio 10/29/13

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A couple weeks ago I did a tribute hour on Marfa Public Radio in honor of the late, great Lou Reed.

Below is the track listing. Click the link to listen!

The Velvet Underground - Sweet Jane

The Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat

Roses - I See It All

Jonathan Richman - Velvet Underground

Lou Reed - Andy's Chest

Lou Reed - She's My Best Friend

Lou Reed - Legendary Hearts

Suicide - Keep Your Dreams

Lou Reed - Coney Island Baby

Lou Reed - Street Hassle

Lou Reed - New York Telephone Conversation

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Paul Is Not Dead - A brief overview of Westerberg's solo career

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Last Sunday night I was one of the lucky sons of bitches who got to see The Replacements tear through a career spanning 80 minute set in Humboldt Park in Chicago. It was by far the most fun rock n roll show I’ve ever gone to, Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson grinning almost as wide as the 20,000 ecstatic fans that had waited 22 years to see them again. They were stone cold sober but that didn’t make the show any less spontaneous, sloppy, and thrilling. It was still a high wire act, teetering on the brink disaster or brilliance at any point. Forgotten lyrics, snippets of Chuck Berry covers, and Paul leaning over to change the distortion on replacement Replacements guitarist Dave Minehan’s petal. “Get rid of that Cure shit…” he grumbled mid-song. It was everything you could possibly want out of a Replacements show.

Except for one thing.

As I was going through the list of songs that the band hadn’t been dusted off on that stage (cuts from records like Tim, Don’t Tell A Soul, and Hootenanny) the complete absence of another whole era of songs hit me. I realized that the first thing I was going to listen to when I got home was not a ‘Mats song at all but Westerberg’s fantastic contributions to the soundtrack of Cameron Crowe’s Singles. I found myself at the end of the night realizing that while I’ve always been a huge fan of the band, I was now even more enamored with Paul Westerberg’s solo career than ever before.

My first introduction to the world of The Replacements had been a solo Paul track, a cover at that. It was the amped up version of Jonathan Edward’s 1971 pop-folk hit “Sunshine” featured on the FRIENDS soundtrack (basically the watered down sitcom version of Singles). I was in middle school and I would steal my sister’s CD and play that track over and over again, I loved the twangy, jangly punk rhythm and the ragged voice that somehow still sounded smooth. It was bad ass and bubble gum all at once.

By the time I heard Pleased To Meet Me’s “Can’t Hardly Wait” (one of the top 5 greatest pop songs of all time), I was hooked. I was destined to spend the rest of my life loving a band that no longer was. But I still had Paul. I got a copy of his first solo record, 14 Songs, for $3.00 at my local record store. It had the raucous foot tapper “Knocking On Mine” and a cover that looked like a Norman Mailer novel.

I tossed aside my soundtrack of Reality Bites in exchange for Singles, where Paul was alongside Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Smashing Pumpkins. A little later came Eventually and Suicane Gratification, the later record included members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers fresh off work at Johnny Cash’s American recordings. In addition to all-star backers, Paul had the blessing of the president of Capitol Records. Despite all this and top-notch songwriting, none of his solo efforts were commercially successful. Suicane included some of Westerberg's best lyrics, like the incredibly gorgeous "It's a Wonderful Lie", in which Paul sings...

How am I looking? I don't want the truth. Who am I kidding? I ain't in my youth. I'm past my prime or was that just a pose?

Perhaps recognizing that he'd made an image, indeed a career, off of being the slacker has been or perhaps, never was. Is it easier to fail if you convince yourself you never really tried?

Don't pin your hopes or pin your dreams to misanthropes or guys like me Cause the truth is overrated, I suppose. It's a wonderful lie. I still get by on those.

Like a gutter punk Frank Capra, who realized his era of cynical rock n roll idealism had long since passed, Westerberg retreated from the public eye to find a new method for his madness. He even assumed a new moniker, “Grandpaboy”.

Though sidelined with an injury to his fret hand in 2006, Paul began releasing a string of basement recordings. Some were physically released, Stereo/Mono being the closest sound to the Mats he’d ever put out. Others were released online with bizarre cover art and even stranger pricing, these records became my favorite of them all. 49:00… Of Your Time Life, released in 2008 on Paul’s 49th birthday and costing a mere 49 cents, is damn near a masterpiece. It’s actually only 43 minutes and 55 seconds long (an accompanying EP title 5:05 made up the difference) but instead of cutting up the rock into digestible segments, Westerberg just gives it to you in one stiff shot. A little distortion and creative crossfading creates the illusion that you’re rolling the dial on your radio and every station is playing Paul. What you would imagine might be an exercise in patience is actually over too soon. The maybe/kindof/whocantell dozen tracks zip right on by. Jailhouse ballads, stop the wedding laments, and another ode to New York Doll’s guitarist Johnny Thunder, a few decades after “Johnnys Gonna Die”. It all ends with an amazing medley of pop covers that sees Paul channeling Alice Cooper, Paul McCartney, Art Garfunkle, Elton John, and climactically… David Cassidy. Only Westerberg could make the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You” cool again.

49:00 has been followed up by a few other basement tapes. 3oclockreep included lost recordings of The Replacements with Tom Waits, drunkenly singing beloved b-sides. PW & the Ghost Gloves Cat Wing Joy Boys was a six track EP that found Paul getting tender again with a handful of piano ballads. Every now and then he’ll toss out a few singles in between, maybe a vinyl only 7’. It’s an unpredictable mess that seems to have no rhyme or reason, just like the tunes themselves.

Westerberg, despite his lackluster solo success, is fearless. Either that or completely insecure. He’ll have incredible highs of pop poetics and follow it up with an eye rolling punch line. Is he undercutting himself out of fear of being taken too seriously? Or does he simply not give a fuck about putting saccharine sentiment and vitriolic vinegar side by side? Whichever it is, he’s a genius, and an accessible one at that.

Friday, August 9, 2013

More Shop Talk... Interviews with Lannan Fellows

The Lannan Writing Residency is a three to eight week fellowship where poets, authors, journalists, and translators are invited to live and work in Marfa, Texas and present their work at the Marfa Book Company. Over the last couple months I've had the immense privilege of interviewing the Lannan fellows for our local NPR affiliate. In addition to reading their exceptional books, its a joy to be able to talk a little shop with writers who are reaching their prime after years of hard work.

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James Arthur - Interview July 26th, 2013

A conversation with poet James Arthur about his debut book of poetry,Charms Against Lightning, released by Copper Canyon Press. In this interview we discuss his changing understanding of love and fatherhood as it pertains to his poetry.

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Laird Hunt- Interview August 9th, 2013

A conversation with novelist Laird Hunt about his eclectic writing style over the course of six novels, including his most recent book, Kind One, nominated for the PEN / Faulkner Award.

I hope you enjoyed the interviews and if you're interested in purchasing any of the work discussed,follow the links below. These are some incredibly gifted writers producing exceptional work. Don't hesitate, just check it out!

James Arthur - Charms Against Lightning

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Laird Hunt - Kind One

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Painting Is Impossible - An Interview with Christie DeNizio

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Cradle, 2013

“When I was 8 I created my own world,” the painter chuckles and flicks ash off her cigarette, “this language that was based on pictorial symbols, laws and constitutions. I would mess up the paper to make it all seem old. It took so long but it was the first time I actually felt like I was creating something. A new reality through art making.“

Christie DeNizio’s exhibition, In Between: Parts Remembered , premieres this Thursday at the Past Life Billionaires Studio in Marfa, Texas. The young artist took some time to sit down with The Thunderbird Blog for an interview about her work.

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DeNizio, the 24 year old Jersey born painter, lacks even a hint of pretension. When asking her about her artistic process, early influences, and journey as a painter, the answers are thoroughly considered and normally delivered with a scrunch nosed chuckle to punctuate a point. Ms. DeNizio does not strike one as the artistic indoor type; tall and lean, perpetually clad in running shoes, fueled by a steady diet of soda, menthol cigarettes, and Twizzlers. Only the sporadic paint stains on her hair and clothes betray her true ambitions. An exceptional athlete, DeNizio played soccer and lacrosse in high school, as well as leading her basketball team to the county championships in 2006 and 2007. “I was interested in art but my catholic high school didn’t have any classes. I sort of tinkered with it independently.”

DeNizio’s athletic talent was rewarded with a scholarship to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. While she participated in the sports program her first semester, her heart just wasn’t in it. She knew she wanted more. “I knew when, and a lot of artists talk about it but, that one moment…” she pauses to gather her thoughts, “I remember taking my first painting class and you have all these ideas and all these artists that you study and so much theory and suddenly all of that leaves you and it’s just you and that thing you’re trying to make happen. You lose all sense of time. You escape self-consciousness and it’s just beauty and presence.”

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Escaping constraints of time, place, and reality is an ongoing theme throughout DeNizio’s work. Her thesis exhibition at Swarthmore focused on large scale works portraying the destruction and decomposition of cakes. “I was having these re-occurring dreams with cakes” she explains, “Cakes in the background… everywhere. So I went to the grocery store and bought all of them I could find.” The still lives are massive; smashed and rotting cakes on every surface like the remnants of some far gone celebration. “These things were so full of preservatives though they just became rocks.” The show was a success, Swarthmore College purchasing two of the largest pieces for permanent display on campus. Ironically, a year later, the money DeNizio would spend on canvas and paint supplies came from a part- time job at a bakery. “I never even wanted to look at cakes again.”

The next phase of DeNizio’s paintings, a sort of deconstruction of landscapes, would begin to manifest after a short stint in Italy. “I was painting a landscape in Umbria,” she recalls, “I had trucked all my stuff out in the middle of nowhere. Painting from observation, learning how to see, all that technical stuff. Then I suddenly felt very connected… to life and place and tried to translate that into the painting.”

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Fence, 2013

DeNizio lights another cigarette and tries to explain, “I began so worried about the technicalities but soon it just went away. I became less conscious of it all and it became a way to make meaning of the world.” The artist laughs, suddenly quite self-conscious about her answer, “Not in the grand ‘meaning of life’ way. I guess just how one decides to respond to the world.”

DeNizio’s “landscapes” are anything but. “I’m more interested in the abstraction of the landscape than the content of the space.” she explains. When looking at Ms. DeNizio’s paintings, recognizable physical forms may initially capture one’s attention (a rock or perhaps a cacti) but it quickly melts away into a flurry of forms and colors that leave the viewer on unstable ground. What was once familiar is now strange and alien.

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Shelter, 2013

“Painting a landscape is so complex. It’s unimaginably beautiful and chaotic” DeNizio sips from her liter of Diet Coke and grasps at the proper words for her visions, “I take a moment of a place or a shape and bring it into the studio and hopefully make something new out of disparate parts. A sort of fleeting coherence.” The landscapes of West Texas have been particularly fruitful for this process. Since arriving a little over 6 months ago, DeNizio has produced close to 40 paintings. “I grew up in the Northeast so I’ve never encountered this kind of space and light. The lack of external stimuli, like billboards. It’s brought a lot of clarity but also allowed me the space to find a slew of new problems” DeNizio begins to laugh heartily, “That will probably keep me going till I don’t know… I’m 80 or I’m dead.”

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Revolve, 2013

While she has only been painting for four years, DeNizio has developed a discipline that is conducive to a prolific output. Her apartment/studio is wholly devoted to her artistic endeavors. Only the small bed and pile of laundry in the corner reveal the presence of the outside world. “I didn’t start painting until I was 20 so I feel like I’m catching up. I’ve probably produced a couple hundred paintings. Destroyed another hundred. Once I started I just…” DeNizio’s eyes glaze a bit and she shakes her head. Her influences are vast, small Xeroxed reproductions and postcards of her favorite artists cling to her wall by little bits of blue masking tape. “It goes in phases; really into this style or that painter. The late still life paintings of Georges Braque. Sometimes it’s not even in line with my style it just speaks to me. I’m always thinking about Piero della Francesca and he’s nowhere in my work.”

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When asked where her style may lead next, what is on the horizon for this young artist, DeNizio shrugs off speculation. “Do I have to answer that? I don’t know. Painting is impossible so I figure, why not do it forever?”

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Thunderbird Jam: Harry Connick, Jr. – SHE (1994)

1994 was a monumental year for American music. It saw a sea change in rock and hip hop with the release of such albums as Green Day’s Dookie, Weezer’s “Blue Album”, Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication, and Warren G’s Regulate…G-Funk Era. It was also the year that Kurt Cobain shot himself, Left Eye burned her boyfriend’s house down, and The Beatles and Led Zeppelin saw at least partial reunions.

In the midst of this musical tempest, an unlikely pop artist would decide to branch out, making one of the most dramatic stylistic shifts one could imagine and releasing a record that was a near perfect synthesis of the grunge, rap, punk, and funk that was surrounding him.

That album was SHE. The artist was Harry Connick, Jr.

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If you’re still reading this then we must be really good friends. Most people that I try and talk to about this album walk away from me before I can get the “Junior” out. I know what you’re all thinking…

“That Frank Sinatra wannabe who married a supermodel?” Yup. That guy.

“The mother f’r who had all those ABC Christmas Specials?” Yeah. That mother f’r.

“The guy who murdered that chick in the bathroom stall in Copycat?” Yes. But he also kissed on Sandra Bullock in Hope Floats, so cut him so slack, ok?

By 1994, Connick was 27 years old and had been releasing records for the better part of his life. His first two records, produced in the late 70’s when he was just a boy, were Dixieland throwbacks. Him and a group of veteran New Orleans musicians releasing standards, banking on the fact that folks would be impressed by the fact that the piano impresario at center stage was only 10 years old. This may sound like a gimmick but I encourage you to look up Stevie Wonder’s first few records and see how he was marketed at age 12 before becoming the genius that we love today.

Once Connick hit puberty, he only slightly modified his musical style, now he played Sinatra era big band hits; crooning out numbers that seemed formulaic but nonetheless interesting in the anthro-musicology sense. He won over a large audience with the release of 1989’s soundtrack to When Harry Met Sally…, Connick introducing a whole new generation to standards originally made famous by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong. His musical chops were not in question, but how original, how lyrical, how stylistically talented was this guy if all he was doing was rehashing the past?

Fast forward five years... by this time Harry Connick, Jr. has begun a successful film career that will prove to be as cofounding and risky as his recording career. He has married a Victoria Secret supermodel (further infuriating a section of America who hates his good ole boy image) and now he will embark upon a 3 year musical foray that will alienate even his most ardent fans.

SHE was released in July of 1994. It’s a little over an hour of some very strange, very smooth New Orleans funk music, interspersed amongst it’s eleven tracks (each an average of five minutes in length) are brief, grungy experimental spoken word narratives that are borderline industrial- hip hop music.

Connick was backed in this effort by an all- star group of New Orleans funk legends, including most of The Meters. His touring guitarist, Jonathan Dubose, sets fire to several tracks with explosive solos on “Between Us”, “Safety’s Just Danger…”, and an ode to Connick’s mentor James Booker entitled, simply, “Booker”. Connick’s piano playing is never better, the most prominent feature of songs like “Trouble” and “To Love The Language”. The album’s centerpiece is a slow, sultry seven minute jam called “Joe Slam and The Spaceship”, drenched in organ and heavy bass. The songs range from second-line ready parade jams to dark, brooding, and distorted funk ballads. Some sexy love jams are included but the eclectic eccentricity of the album cannot be overstated.

Anyone who loves The Neville Brothers, The Meters, and Professor Longhair will probably eat this album up. But in 1994, Connick’s fans were wealthy retired white folks who wanted to hear Sinatra redux and when he came to town with 12 burly, black funk musicians and pumped up the volume, they didn’t react kindly. Connick’s SHE tour was notorious for walk outs, many of his audience simply disturbed by the lack of swinging dance numbers. In a 1996 interview with AP, Connick addressed the controversy, “I don't like to upset anybody. I did my best to inform everybody that I was going to be changing musical styles, but not everybody got the message and some people were misled” Connick was earnest as ever but also stuck to his musical guns, at least for the moment. “It wasn't World War III. It was just a change in musical styles."

Set side by side with the other hits of the day, the album seems an odd anomaly; perhaps Connick’s desperate effort to ingratiate himself upon an audience more apt to wait in line for the newest Alice in Chains or Dr. Dre album. But now, almost 20 years later, the album can be seen as a talented and multifaceted artist trying to embrace a beloved musical form and realizing that his audience won’t always (to borrow one of the album’s song titles) “Follow the Music Further”. Connick would release one more experimental funk album in 1996, Star Turtle, before succumbing to studio pressure to return to form and churn out big band hits.

Harry Connick Jr.’s career, on screen and in the studio, is a fascinating one; an old fashioned kind of performer living in a modern age where catering to niche markets will fare better than playing a broad range of styles. He’s a guy who can star in films as an alien hunting playboy, a charming romantic lead, or a brutal serial murderer and not bat an eyelash. He can release retro-jazz albums that play well to the masses or unleash complicated heavy funk to folks who could care less. He has a reputation as a perpetual boy next door… a Wonder Bread brother trying to mix it up with real NOLA boys… but he is beloved in his hometown and he was taught by James Booker and Ellis Marsalis. He’s got the cred and he’s got the chops. It’s just that pesky audience acceptance that eluded him.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday Film Pick- David O. Russell's THREE KINGS (1999)

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We live in perhaps the bleakest era of American filmmaking; the bloated summer blockbuster season now nearly 5 long months of YA adaptations and third phase re-boots of franchises not even a decade old, costing an average of 150 million dollars a pop, while independent films are now a quirky crowd sourced caricature of themselves. There is virtually no trace of the subversive, biting cinema introduced in the 1970’s that simultaneously criticized and galvanized American culture.

Living through this dark age of American film, it’s sometimes hard to believe that just 15 years ago, it was a different story all together. In the late 90’s you could still convince a studio like Warner Brothers to take a chance on an indie-filmmaker who wanted to direct an art film action adventure about the aftermath of the first Gulf War, starring two hip hoppers, one first time actor, and a TV soap opera doctor.

But that’s exactly what David O. Russell did and the result is one of the finest films about contemporary warfare ever made. Three Kings, released in 1999, met with rave critical reviews but a somewhat tepid box-office reception. It was completely ignored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences who were enamored with a more domestic (and now quite dated) portrayal of millennial America, Sam Mendes’ American Beauty.

Three Kings takes place in the immediate aftermath of the first Gulf War. The ceasefire has been signed and American forces are being pulled out. Spirits are high and soldiers are partying even though Saddam Hussien is still in power (will remain so for another decade) and will soon begin a violent suppression of the resistance exposed during the short, violent, but media sanitized war. By setting the film in the precarious aftermath, with a ceasefire and backroom politics limiting the capabilities of our characters, Russell is able to expose the shallowness of nationalism and the whitewashing of the war by American media. “Because the war itself, to me, wasn’t very interesting,” Russell explained. “The war was six weeks of bombing. What was interesting to me was the moment everybody stopped paying attention.”

The plot revolves around a rag tag group of enlisted men; new father and boy next door Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), high school dropout and impressionable bone head Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze), and their NCO, a devout Christian and Detroit refugee Chief Elgin (Ice Cube). While trying to reach their post-war quota of Iraqi prisoners of war, they discover a map of Hussein’s stolen Kuwaiti gold in the ass of a captured Iraqi infantryman. Enter George Clooney as disillusioned ex-Special Forces turned media liaison officer, Archie Gates, two weeks from retirement and sick of playing the weapons of mass- distraction game with the ratings rabid American journalists he’s been assigned to protect. When rumors of the “Iraqi Ass Map” spread around camp, Clooney takes control and makes a plan to steal it, making himself and the enlisted men rich.

The plan quickly goes awry when the misfit group, trying to find the gold, instead stumbles upon a group of Iraqi citizens held captive in a torture chamber of Hussein’s Imperial Guard. Faced with the victims of the unrealized revolution that American forces are now abandoning, the enlisted men and officer Gates now have to choose between their pockets and their conscience. Are they thieves or are they freedom fighters? I won’t ruin the rest of the movie for you entirely but let’s just say the ceasefire gets broken.

Three Kings is so many things at once… a fast paced comedy, a satirical look at media manipulation in modern warfare, a brutal action film, and a heartfelt glimpse at the often invisible victims of our Mid- East wars. David O. Russell based the films plot off of a one line synopsis of unproduced scripts provided to him by Warner Brothers. John Riley’s Spoils of War provided the initial inspiration but Russell never even read the script. He preferred to create his story based off of the full color newspaper images in the New York Times. The bleached out coloring of the desert coverage inspired the unique cinematography that sets Three Kings apart from almost every other film of the time period.

Another distinctive characteristic of the film is the rather slow and calculated pacing of the action sequences. Gun battles are often portrayed in slow motion, their destructiveness illustrated with intensely graphic shots of the bullet entering internal organs. In an interview with in 2000, Russell spoke about his stylistic choice, “…one of the ideas was to resensitize us to violence. A bullet is a very big deal in anybody’s life, so I wanted to slow it down to make you feel that each bullet counted in that way.” They certainly do count. There is no gratuitousness to the violence. It is deliberate, sobering, and terrifying.

There is also a constant reminder of American pop culture and rampant consumerism on each side of the war. American forces are shown partying in their pop tents with boom boxes and CD players, watching CNN coverage of the war they are fighting on battery operated televisions. Iraqi forces are shown watching bootlegged VHS copies of the Rodney King beating, hoarding Cuisineart blenders, and listening to Eddie Murphy’s “Party All The Time” in their bunkers. The saturation and appropriation of American pop culture is certainly humorous but can also take a darkly disturbing turn. In one scene, Wahlberg’s Troy Barlow is captured and tortured by the Iraqi Imperial Guard. His interrogation begins with his captor delivering a monologue about America’s betrayal of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, and ends with Barlow being forced to drink crude oil. All these interrogation techniques were taught to them, he explains, by American forces during the Iran/Iraq War.

The film is layered, suspenseful, and hilarious. The excellent script and characterization manages to deliver hard lined critique of American foreign policy without being skewed by a particular political agenda. It’s portrayal of American military personel is the most diverse and un-romanticized since Hal Ashby’s Coming Home and like that film, manages to humanize and sympathize with characters who would otherwise be footnotes to a grander more glorified war film. Ice Cube’s Sgt. Elgin is a multidimensional character, a Christian man who looks at the military as his way of escaping poverty and violence in Detroit. Spike Jonez’ Conrad Vig is a redneck who spouts racist epithets and adores violence, but only because he is undereducated. The economic necessity of their enlistment should bind them closer together but the racially reductive politics of America has driven them apart. Not until they’re faced with a tragedy larger than themselves are they brothers in arms.

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Three Kings is a film that would never be made in today’s cinematic climate. It would be too controversial for a large studio and too ambitious and humorous for an independent production. It was made in that magnificent pre-9/11 period when criticism of our country was looked at as patriotic. When a film with political substance wasn’t exclusively looked at as having a conservative or liberal bias. When it was understood that art and entertainment was pointless if constricted by ideology. When the best plot point was instead, humanity.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Talking a little shop... Interviews with Lannan Fellows

The Lannan Writing Residency is a three to eight week program where authors of any genre are invited to live and work in Marfa, Texas and read at the Marfa Book Company. Over the last couple months I've had the immense privilege of interviewing the Lannan fellows for our local NPR affiliate. In addition to reading their exceptional books, its a joy to be able to talk a little shop with writers who are reaching their prime after years of hard work.

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David Truer - Interview May 17th, 2013

David Treuer is the author of the novels Little (1995), Hiawatha (1999), and The Translation of Dr Apelles (2006); one book of essays, Native American Fiction: A User’s Manual (2006); and one work of nonfiction, Rez Life (2012), and the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, the 1996 Minnesota Book Award, and fellowships from the NEH, Bush Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Treuer is an Ojibwe Indian from Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota.

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Alan Gilbert - Interview July 12th, 2013

Alan Gilbert writes poems and about contemporary poetry. He’s the author of the 2011 poetry collection, Late in the Antenna Fields, and a 2006 collection of essays entitled Another Future: Poetry and Art in a Postmodern Twilight, and his latest poetry collection, The Treatment of Monuments. Gilbert’s poems and art writing have appeared in numerous publications, including ArtForum, Bomb, Brooklyn Rail, Cabinet, and Parkett.

I hope you enjoyed the interviews and if you're interested in purchasing any of the work discussed,follow the links below. I can't recommend these books highly enough.

Late In The Antenna Fields by Alan Gilbert (2011)

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The Translation of Dr. Appeles by David Truer (2006)

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The Treatment of Monuments by Alan Gilbert (2012)

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Rez Life by David Truer (2012)

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday Film Pick- James Gandolfini in Romance & Cigarettes (2006)

“Two things a man should be able to do. Be romantic and smoke his brains out.”

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With the sudden and tragic death of actor James Gandolfini, America has lost one of its greatest and most improbably beloved performers. Traditionally Hollywood is not a place open to 6 foot tall, 275 pound, balding men who don’t even begin their acting careers until their late twenties. But when you’re able to do what Gandolfini did, to act the way he could act… those physical features soon become secondary, almost unnoticed in the emotional subtlety of his performances.

Most people will talk about Tony Soprano, arguably the most popular television character of all time, as the pinnacle of Gandolfini’s acting career. And they’ll be right to do so. It’s one of the most iconic and nuanced portrayals of a modern American everyman; murderous and immoral one moment, tender and lonesome the next, 100% emotional commitment every step of the way. There is not one false moment in the 86 hours of The Sopranos run. The show itself (and Mr. Gandolfini’s performance in particular) deserves every accolade and lavish compliment bestowed upon them.

But it’s not how I’ll remember the guy…

In the spring of 2006 I had the good fortune of attending the U.S. premiere of John Turturro’s comedic-musical masterpiece Romance & Cigarettes. It was one of the best theater going experiences I’ve ever had and left me gut hurt and out of breath from sheer laughter and heartbreak. The half slapstick/ half surreal story of an unfaithful husband trying to win back the affection of his wife and three troubled daughters (all to a soundtrack of classic lounge hits) was like nothing I had ever seen before. Adding to the incredible experience was a post-film Q & A with Mr. Turturro, who was even more charismatic and hilarious in person than any Coen character he’s inhabited on screen. Turturro described his love of the comedy musicals of the late 50’s and early 60’s, how he longed for the AM radio days of growing up in Queens, and how he wanted to tell a story about family. A big mixed up crazy family.

“I was originally trying to cast Bruce Springsteen”, Tuturro said of the film’s lead role, the loveable but adulterous schulb Nick Murder. “But outside of small cameos he never wanted to act in movies.”

Turturro turned to the next most iconic figure in New Jersey… James Gandolfini. Fresh from shooting the penultimate season of The Sopranos, Gandolfini was hungry for something different but didn’t know if he was offered the part because he was right for it or because he was Tony Soprano. “He said “It’s just because I am on the show” and I said “Well, your being on the show helps me economically but after you read it, I thought you were the perfect person for it.”

Gandolfini’s portrayal of Nick Murder turns his infamous Soprano character on its head. He’s no longer the tough as nails patriarch of an affluent and intelligent New Jersey crime family, but a beleaguered Dad in the doghouse of a working class, hilariously dysfunctional (sometimes mentally challenged) family from the other side of town. Despite his character’s last name, Nick Murder doesn’t kill (then again, Tony Soprano never sang). A man seeking romance in his dwindling years, Gandolfini’s Murder is prone to bursting into Engelbert Humperdinck songs and dancing in the street. Joining him in this hilarious romp is a cast so talented and universally loved that the obscurity of this film remains to me, a complete and utter mystery.

Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Mary Louise Parker, Mandy Moore, Aida Turturro, Bobby Cannavale, Eddie Izzard, Elaine Stritch, and Amy Sedaris. Oh yeah and Pagoda from The Royal Tenenbaums is a florist in it too.

While the film’s absurdist humor, elaborate musical numbers, and sudden third act shift into a heavy drama may have left some critics bewildered, no one can argue with Gandolfini’s performance. When his character leaves his mistress (Winslet), Gandolfini achieves a challenging feat; making the audience root for and plead right along with him for his wife (Sarandon) to take him back in her good graces.

“Would you give me one more chance? Please? I'll do anything! Anything! I'll give you anything! I love you. Maybe I don't know how to show it like they do in the movies or in books but I love. I have love to give.”

Gandolfini can beg like no one else and he’s never been more sympathetic. Not many actors can make a character that is so flawed still so loveable and so funny.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thunderbird Jam: Johnny "Guitar" Watson- Strike On Computers (1984)

Johnny “Guitar” Watson was a Houston, Texas born axe man who pioneered contemporary blues and funk guitar styling. Watson had an illustrious career spanning nearly 50 years, mastering guitar in his early teens by emulating his heroes T-Bone Walker and Gatemouth Brown, and playing alongside contemporaries included fellow Texan Albert Collins and New Orleans own Larry Williams. But what sets Watson apart from them is his late career renaissance as a funk hero. While many other blues rockers from his time faded into obscurity or met a violent end, Watson exploded back into the mainstream in the late 80s with a new spin on his unique guitar playing, releasing a string of successful funk albums heavy on sexy, sweaty jams.

Bottom line… Johnny "Guitar" Watson was a gangster of love, a superman lover, and one baaaaad mama jama.

Or at least he listened to Bad Mama Jama. A lot.

In 1984 (two years after Carl Carlton’s unremittingly spun hit) Watson released an album called Strike On Computers. The title track was a note for note replication of “Bad Mama Jama” except slowed down a bit and with all new lyrics pertaining to the social and economic dangers of the computerized automation of America. If this sounds a little odd, maybe even tipped over into crazytown, it’s because it is. The even crazier thing is that the dude actually pulls it off!

Strike On Computers is arguably a better song than Bad Mama Jama. Instead of extolling the virtues of a well-built woman (which, trust me, Watson manages to do enough of as well), Johnny decided to make a catchy funk tune about a topic that people were largely ignoring. This was 1984… the most groundbreaking and popular advertisement was from Apple computers… a riff on Orwell’s Big Brother with a young woman jogging into a dystopian factory and destroying all we ever thought we knew about computers and technology. “They’re here to help you!” was the overwhelming sentiment. “The ‘PERSONAL’ computer.” was what they were selling. But more and more industrial jobs were automated out of existence, those that were left over were being outsourced to countries with cheap labor. With the popularity of touch-tone phones, when you called a customer service number you began to get the run around of robo-calls and menu systems. And it didn’t stop there, when you turned on the radio or went to the club, you were bound to hear music that required little to no human operation of instruments. This began the era of kids who had no fuckin’ clue how to play a guitar or sing a song, but managed to be hit makers anyhow.

Watson took a stand. Strike On Computers had to be made cheap, his resurgence was still in the making, so he recorded most of the song by himself playing nearly every instrument. The lyrics are pretty amazing...

For the benefit of you who thought I was through

Because you haven’t been hearing Guitar too much.

Something was wrong and that’s why your pal was gone

So just for you I did some research…

As my research will show, the music business (and all the businesses) are slow

And there is one thing I didn’t realize…

All them regular jobs, that you and I do, have ALL BECOME COMPUTERIZED.

Watson continues, utilizing the free form spoken word structure of funk (and computer tweaked vocal effects), to decry the Regan administration’s proposed “Star Wars” missile defense system, automation in American manufacturing, and the de-humanizing of popular music. It all manages to be a hell of a lot of fun, especially the last verse where Watson jokes about his craft, his art, his very namesake becoming obsolete.

Just the other day I had to go down to the music store

Cause I didn’t have any guitar strings left.

The salesman said, “Aw Hey, Guitar! I got just the guitar you need to see.”


Johnny “Guitar” Watson would die on-stage, with a good old fashioned guitar in his hands 12 years later. His last words, “Ain’t that a bitch”, are as enduring and pertinent as the rallying cry…


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Thunderbird Jams: Mother's Day Edition

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Moms teach you lots of things. When you’re a wee little one, they teach you about sharing and how to read. When you’re a little older they teach you about pursuing your passions and how to dance with a girl without stepping on her toes. When you’re an adult they teach you about interior decorating your bachelor pad and how maybe you should invest in wine glasses instead of old mason jars. Moms have an incredible amount of patience; when your report card comes and you tanked Math, when you get your 3rd speeding ticket in as many years, even when you call to tell them you’re forgoing that safe job with health insurance in San Francisco to move to the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert to be a novelist and playwright.

Moms are rad. And so today’s Thunderbird Jam (or jamz really) are dedicated to my Momma. These three tunes forever remind me of my mom and make me realize how damn luck I am to have her looking out for me.

The Pointer Sisters- Jump

So my Mom taught Aerobics classes when I was a little kid. It was the eighties and instead of 24 hour gym memberships and iPods, people donned their spandex, met up at the YMCA, and sweated it out to mixtapes made by their aerobics instructor. I remember my mom spending hours sifting through her cassettes and making the perfect tapes for her class. A Prince track to start it off, maybe throw Steve Perry & Kenny Loggin’s “Don’t Fight It” on their to get peoples heart racing, and then when the cardio really needs to get kicked into high gear… The Pointer Sisters. There were tons of Pointer’s songs that I loved as a little kid. Neutron Dance, I’m So Excited, I Feel For You… but "Jump" is the one that will always remind me of how meticulously my Mother crafted those tapes to motivate her aerobics crew.

Roy Orbison- You Got It

One of the single greatest gifts my Mother ever gave me was a love for Roy Orbison. His was the first famous death I remember affecting me. The empty rocking chair in the Traveling Wilbury’s video still makes me tear up. It was 1989 when his last album, Mystery Girl, came out and “You Got It” was a huge hit. It got some serious play in my house and the following year when Pretty Woman hit theaters, the record company was churning out Greatest Hits collections left and right. My Mom had In Dreams: The Greatest Hits. I’ll never forget the crazy surreal album cover. It was a bright pink Cadillac in the midst of an odd blue haze, with a girl in a purple dress wrapped around the leg of some greaser in a black leather jacket. Staring at that cassette cover and listening to Roy’s ghostly voice, everything seemed somehow lovely and haunting at once. This planted in my consciousness, at a very young age, the idea that love and dreams and the afterlife and rock ‘n’ roll were all somehow intricately related. Now, anytime I hear this song (or Roy in general) I just thank heaven that my Mom is as cool as she is, with such exquisite taste.

Lynyrd Skynyrd- Simple Man

What’s funny about this song is it that it isn’t necessarily one that my Mother cares for. Instead, Skynyrd is one of my Pop’s favorite bands. Gimme Back My Bullets and (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd) were albums he loved. I remember digging “Tuesday’s Gone” and “Free Bird” but even though I heard it a lot, “Simple Man” never really stuck. That is until I was in college and felt the restlessness and wanderlust that can set in when you feel like you’ve traveled far, learned a lot, and still haven’t quite found happiness. I was broke and pissed and a few thousand miles away from home when I finally understood the sentiment in this song and realized why I had some incredible parents. See… my parents both lost their folks early on. My Mom’s father passed when she was 16, my father’s mother when he was just 13. They had to figure a lot out on their own and lived with whatever mistakes they made without the approval, forgiveness, or guidance of their beloved parents.

Me? I’m lucky. I have two healthy, intelligent, understanding parents who have always encouraged me to stick to my guns, pursue my dreams, and most of all to seek inner peace and happiness. They never steered me towards more practical or financially stable lines of work. They knew I wanted to be an artist. They never told me not to date someone even if they knew it wouldn’t work out. They knew I had to follow my heart. They saw me take hit after hit and were always there to help pick me up and dust me off and give me a pep talk to go a few more rounds. Having folks like that makes you feel like Rocky Balboa except with two Mickeys in your corner. So now, when I’m in the saloon or listening to the radio and the opening strums of “Simple Man” comes on… I always know how lucky I am to be raised right.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Lazy Stitch - Glen Hanson’s winding journey through the art world...

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On Friday, April 5, Glen Hanson’s exhibition of bead work Blinky, We Hardly Knew Ya will premiere at Studio One in Marfa, TX. While this will be the inaugural show in that space, it is far from Hanson’s first. His journey in the contemporary art world is a long and varied one with more than one wild twist. I had the pleasure of speaking to Glen about his contributions both behind the scenes and on the walls of some of the unique galleries in America.

“I started at Dayton’s Gallery 12 in Minneapolis” Hanson explained, “Back then department stores were different. It was hip to be hip.” Dayton’s was one of the mid-west’s most successful department stores and in the mid-1960’s they were also one of the foremost galleries of the contemporary art world. They introduced America to Joseph Beuys and Twiggy, and showcased works by Warhol, Rauschenberg, and Lichtenstein just a few floors above home wears and the shoe department. “I bought one of Warhol’s Marilyn prints for $120 bucks on my Dayton’s charge card.”

When Dayton Gallery 12 closed in 1974, Hanson began dealing art out of his home, building the beginnings of a vast network of artists and collectors and musicians that continues to grow to this day. “At first there was no money in art. It was just smart people who were friends that helped each other.” One such friend, Todd Bockley, would end up running the Bockley Gallery, showing work by Hanson and other artists for the next 25 years. "I sold him his first pieces of art. He bought them with his saved up lawnmower money!" Hanson helped some local bands as well, playing guitar for transplanted blues musician, Lazy Bill Lucas. “He was really cool. And so perceptive. We auditioned a drummer one night and Bill said ‘He plays like a politician. We don’t need no politicians in this band!’”

By 1976 Hanson had partnered with collector Russell Cowles and opened the Hanson- Cowles Gallery in the warehouse district of Minneapolis. “We were the first gallery in that part of town and I just ran it like Dayton’s because it was all I knew” Hanson explained, “Other galleries would just take 20 or 30 different pieces on consignment. I was taking ads out in Artform, buying wine for the openings, and inadvertently I raised the bar for the art scene in Minneapolis.” Being at the center of a burgeoning artistic scene is always an incredible thing and Hanson’s chuckle while recollecting this special era is infectious. “You know next door was this wonderful French café. By the next year we had a music venue down the way that had Elvis Costello playing his first U.S. tour. Soon enough it’s The Replacements playing a rent party down the street... it was really fun.”

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Like all good things, the Hanson- Cowles Gallery didn’t last long. By 1981, Glen Hanson was working as a corporate art consultant, traveling the world and acquiring pieces for the collections of some of America’s largest corporations. “It was a trend for these major companies to have a collection. It was another merit badge for them. So I was flying all over the world… Milan, Düsseldorf. Living in these apartments in Manhattan that no one else used.” While the commodification and commerce of art was increasing, Hanson was still trying to push the envelope in terms of content. “At first it was real loosey goosey. We could get away with anything. My partner and I… we stuck this Peter Saul painting in the lobby of this giant corporate office. This cartoon duck with money coming out of his ears and dollar signs in his eyes.” Hanson is now grinning from ear to ear, “The C.E.O. was furious. I’d seen his stock drop 20% in one day and he didn’t break a sweat. We bring in this picture and he’s freaking out!”

A few years later, Hanson left the corporate consulting world and found himself at a crossroads. “You know I hadn’t had to make a real decision for almost 20 years. I had just ridden the wave. But now it was either go to New York or Los Angeles and continue to climb the ladder… so I chose Minnesota instead.” Glen went back home, buying a home out in the country and getting a real estate license. It didn’t go exactly as he had planned. “I tried to sell rural real estate during the farm crises… I sort of became a cartoon character.” Soon Hanson found himself with a collection of odd jobs; delivering mushrooms from the farms to the cities, teaching art classes at local colleges, and starting a country-western band. It was during this time that Hanson was also first introduced to the beading process that would be the main focus of his artistic practice for the next two decades. “A friend of a friend came to crash at my house. He lived in a teepee in the Black Hills mostly. He made me this guitar strap from elk hide and taught me this old Lakota style of beading called ‘lazy stitch’.”

Lazy Stitch is a common Sioux beading style that while simple, is extremely time consuming. Some of Hanson’s larger pieces contain 11,000 beads, all individually selected and threaded to make a continual, flowing pattern. “Anyone could do this if they had the patience” Hanson explains, “But very few people do.” The discipline of the bead work spoke to a place in Hanson that enjoyed the simplicity and peace. In 1991, shortly after beginning beading, Hanson joined a Benedictine monastery and was a monk for six years. When I pressed him as to if he had an overarching motivation or spiritual calling, Hanson merely grinned and said, “Like Wittgenstien said, ‘if you ask why you’re looking for a cause or justification.’ I had neither. I just did it.”

During his time in the monastery, Hanson continued his bead work. His first exhibition, Following A Rule, occurred in 1994 and included several lazy stitch pieces. Hanson described the show as “… art about the difference between explanation and understanding.” Just as suddenly and inexplicably as Hanson entered monastic life he departed. When I asked again if he felt he had achieved any sort of spiritual epiphany that led to his departure he quickly replied, “No. No. No. No. No. I just left. I was just ready to go.”

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Returning to Minneapolis, now very much changed from the artistic scene of the late 60’s, Hanson was welcomed as an artist and musician. “It’s weird cause I don’t claim to be an artist or a guitar player or anything. It’s just different stuff I do.” These different things that he did still had a vital place in the close knit community of the Minneapolis art scene, including a new country band that consisted of singers Page Burkam and Jack Torrey, of The Cactus Blossoms.

Soon Hanson began to escape the harsh Minnesota winters by traveling the southwest in his restored Toyota Chinook, a customized camper that he also uses as his studio. Eventually he made his way to West Texas and set up shop in Marfa. The show Blinky, We Hardly Knew Ya is his first in the town and came quite unexpectedly. “I never look for shows. They just kind of happen. It’s a real treat and the whole thing is stuff I’ve made since I’ve been here.” The show is a nod to German abstract painter, Peter Schwarze, who adopted the moniker of a famous American mafia capo, Blinky Palermo, and painted the 1976 series To the People of New York City, which influenced Hanson tremendously.

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Hanson’s bead work is rich and precise. The colors seem to shimmer off of the hides and the level of skill necessary to make them is immediately evident. “It’s like blues or country music. You’ve got 12 bars. I really just enjoy restricted forms.” Hanson’s work still reflects his organic spiritual inclinations. While no longer in the monastery, he still attends church regularly and looks at his beading as another form of prayer. “It’s calming. When things get fucked up I just keep beading and it comes together.” While he has created detailed landscapes and intricate pattern work in the past, the pieces in this show offer a simple and earth tone palette. One set of pieces is entitled The Four Seasons, a group of four small works with shifting, complementary colors. “I made Winter and Summer first before I knew what was happening” Hanson explains, “Then I said ‘Aw fuck!’ and I’ve been beading for three days straight. I finished at 9:30 this morning and came and hung them up.”

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Glen Hanson’s contributions to the contemporary art world have been eclectic and enduring, his greatest being that he is simply still involved and in such a vital way. In a town like Marfa, Texas, where the two aspects of the art world (grassroots local artists & international jetsetters) are in such close proximity, Hanson is a modest man who has seen enough changes in each to exist in both.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Roses - ROSES

Andrew Tobiassen is barreling down the New York State Thruway talking a mile a minute on his phone, hung over, and very excited. Understandably so, seeing as how he just released one of the most infectious sounding pop records of the year. ROSES, the eponymous debut EP of Tobiassen’s new band, was released online February 20th and anyone who bought it right away has most likely listened to little else in the last month and a half. I was able to catch Andy for a phone interview on his drive back home to Brooklyn after a month long tour of the US, including shows in Austin, TX for the SXSW Festival. He spoke a bit about the genesis of Roses, the comfort of touring, and how Harmony Korine and Lou Reed make for strange, yet inspiring, bedfellows.

With its tinny drum machine beats, synth flourishes, and Dionesque vocals, Roses is about as dissimilar from Tobiassen’s former band, Deer Tick, as can be. “I wanted to get away from ‘Alt-Folk’ or ‘Alt-Country’,” Tobiassen explained, “It was important that whatever I did sounded like ROCK.” While he was only lead guitarist for the Providence based rockers for two years, Andy’s experience with John McCauley and crew thrust him into a swirling community of eclectic musicians that have influenced his developing style and helped birth Roses.

“After Deer Tick I was just doing a whole lotta nothing. Working shitty jobs, working at Lady Ga Ga’s restaurant. Living in Brooklyn and just writing tons of songs.” In between odd jobs, Tobiassen would perform one off solo shows and gig with various bands including fellow Brooklynites, The Shivers. A friendship with Shivers founder, Keith Zarriello, developed and Andy began a new stylistic phase. “I basically had a songwriting apprenticeship with Keith. Just over a year of nothing but trying to write a good song. I think I found it.”

While the songs on ROSES are easily accessible and broad enough for near universal appeal, the influence of Brooklyn and the simultaneous agony and ecstasy of urban living weigh heavy on the albums six tracks. Tobiassen sets the tone perfectly in the initial lines of album opener “I See It All”…

There’s some good people in this town. Paper thin walls, Game show sounds.

Broken glass, Road rage. Barking dogs, Metal chains.

“It’s just where I was living. Where I was at in my life for that year. I wanted it to be weird and out there and loving all at the same time. I wanted it to be honest. I wanted it to be… roses.”

Amidst the familiar and beguilingly catchy songs on ROSES, lies a distinctiveness and conceptual originality that is almost a genre onto itself. From the stark black album cover that sports a hilarious found photo of bi-racial/lesbian/80’s romance to the rather unambiguous band name, the aesthetic of Roses, while still calculated and hip, is a welcome breeze of earnestness and romanticism.

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Roses wear its influences on its sleeve while still managing to sound unique. A steady diet of Lou Reed, Buddy Holly, Suicide, and Marc Bolan provided Tobiassen with an eclectic palette from which to pull. “So many of those old guys, they sound like cartoon characters. So otherworldly. So bright and melodic. I didn’t want to make reverb Pitchfork background music. I wanted it to be me right out in front.”

The influence of Lou Reed in particular is quite apparent (Roses first single, before the EP’s release was a cover of Sweet Jane). But its Reed’ s more ethereal qualities that Tobiassen is able to channel and thus create an opportunity for sincerity to meld with sonic experimentation. “Coney Island Baby is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. And you know Gummo? The Harmony Korine movie. It makes people uncomfortable but the thing is… it’s not real. It’s honest but it’s a dream world.” The same can be said of Tobiassen’s songs in which he pieces together the innocence and lovey dovey sounds of 50’s rock n roll with bright, minimal electronic production. “I wanted room to breathe in the music. To have the beats and synth to be natural not oppressive” he explains, “I wanted it to sound like an artifact. Like you found it in the gutter while you were waiting for the train.”

While the EP is only a few weeks old, it has already gained some traction, widely circulated amongst Tobiassen’s network of artists and musicians. When Roses went out on a month long tour the growing popularity of the EP was evident by the last few dates. “We got to Austin for South By and people already knew the words to the songs. It was great.” With tunes this fun and addictive it’s no surprise they’re so well received. The reception has ignited a fuse within Tobiassen. “I feel most comfortable when I’m touring. I don’t want to stop. I just want to re-record the whole EP, add six new songs, and release a beautiful record. This won’t feel real until I have a gorgeous full- length vinyl LP in my hands.”

As a new fan of Roses, I couldn’t agree more.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

POP! - 10 new poems by Cory W. Lovell

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Image by Gary Grayson

Yo, Thunderbirds… its extraspecialfunpoetry time!

POP! is a collection of 10 new poems based on the idea that pop songs are our new hymns. That despite the digital age of mp3s and icloud and all that jam, the basic purpose of punk, rock, rap, folk, jazz, what have you is to bring us closer to God, The Universe, Eternal Life, Spiritual Awakening, what have you. These poems are my attempt at pop songs, sans music. Those of you who are instrumentally inclined are encouraged to put music to any of the poems inside. They’re meant to be sung!

POP! will be available on April 1st at the following stores...

Needles & Pens - San Francisco, CA

Divinyl Revolution - Saratoga Springs, NY

Marfa Book Company - Marfa, TX

OR… just email me at and I’ll happily send you a copy (with a personalized note inside).

Oh I forgot to mention one very important thing… POP! is FREE!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Got You Covered: Frisell & Mehldau

I can't think of any two jazz players alive today who have been able to slip so seamlessly into mainstream pop consciousness as well as Bill Frisell and Brad Mehldau. What Yo Yo Ma did for contemporary classical music, these two visionaries did for jazz. Frisell and Mehldau have transcended genre or niche and gained widespread status as beloved legends.

Both have been working for 3 decades now, each releasing record after record of incredibly beautiful original compositions as well as stunning re-imaginings of classic popular music. Brad Mehldau's two records with pop-producer Jon Brion, Largo and Highway Rider are some of the greatest jazz records of the last 25 years. Bill Frisell's 10 album stretch in the 90's is incomparable in it's consistency and strength. Few artists in any genre are as continuously impressive as these two.

One of the greatest reasons for their massive success and appeal is that they aren't purists. Far from it, in addition to George Gershwin and Charlie Christian, both site influences as diverse as John Hiatt, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, and Brian Wilson. This contributes to a risk taking in their playing that brings many more listeners to the table.

Jazz (especially contemporary jazz) can so often be an isolating and alienating world. The aura of pretentiousness around it is no doubt a self-defense mechanism. A response to accusations that the genre is decades long dead, relegated to one shelf in a record store, and inducing eye rolling or worse yet yawns in most of America. There is an instinct to turn inwards as a genre, as a movement, and call everything outside of that sphere frivolous. But when Mehldau and Frisell turn their virtuosic talent towards familiar and beloved pop compositions, they end up elevating not only the original pop song itself, but themselves by their courage to associate with it.

Bill Frisell - Surfer Girl (The Beach Boys)

Brad Mehldau - Paranoid Android (Radiohead)

Bill Frisell - Julia (The Beatles)

Brad Mehldau - God Only Knows (The Beach Boys)

Bill Frisell - Have A Little Faith In Me (John Hiatt)

Brad Mehldau - Bittersweet Symphony/Smells Like Teen Spirit (The Verve/Nirvana)

Bill Frisell - A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall (Bob Dylan)

Brad Mehldau- Wave/Mother Nature's Son (The Beatles)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Thunderbird Jam: Loudon Wainwright III- New Paint (1972)

There are love songs and then there are love songs. You know what I’m talking about. There is a song like “Maybe I’m Amazed”. Good song, right? Great climactic piano. McCartney belting it out. Good stuff. But love, however universal, lives in the specifics. The intricacies. When we fall in love with someone, we tend to feel like no one in the history of human kind has ever felt quite like we do. We’re the only ones who know how special this whole thing, this whole person whom we've fallen for, truly is. The songs that address that are love songs.

There are a few that come to mind right off the bat; Randy Newman’s aptly titled “Love Song”, that manages to trace a relationship from first kiss through old age and eventual passing away in about 2 minutes. It's phenomenally detailed and beautiful. Big Star’s “Thirteen”, which perfectly encapsulates the feeling of young, rebellious teenage love in perhaps Alex Chilton’s greatest lyric; Would you be an outlaw for my love?

These tracks cut through ambiguity and get into the nit and grit of falling for someone. Loudon Wainwright III’s “New Paint” is just such a song. Released in 1972 on Album III, Wainwright paints a portrait of a not-so-young- anymore man taking a girl out on a date. It’s a song that casts love as a sort of redemptive journey, with simple yet powerful rituals that help us to mine the jewels of life affirming moments from the muck of everyday existence.

It’s good to take a girl in the not so very good world on a walk in the park, until it gets dark.

Take a breather on a bench, it helps to build up the suspense, then the two of you go to a movie show.

He rattles off these relatively commonplace date scenarios like rules, the way your Dad reminded you on your way out the door to be a gentleman.

“Don’t forget to open the car door for her, Son. Pull out her chair…”

“I know, Dad! I know!”

Chivalry will remain alive and well as long as we understand its significance. And Wainwright is able to remind us.

If she’s a woman there’s a chance that she maybe likes to dance. So you go to the hall and you outstep them all.

She takes you home to meet the folks, laughing at all the father’s jokes. “Should we watch TV?” “It’s all right with me.”

Wainwright has always been a self-deprecating songwriter. To the point of self –destruction in old songs like “Unrequited to the Nth Degree”, through to a subtle recognition of his later day (though perhaps undeserved) luck in more recent tunes like “Passion Play”. In “New Paint” he strikes a gorgeous balance, portraying the narrator as a past his prime Joe who realizes that this date just may be his last chance at love, and he ain’t gonna mess it up this time around.

This narrative is perfectly tucked in among the verses, shifting from the third person to the first. Perhaps it’s a silent aside or an inner monologue that the girl on the date can’t hear. Not yet at least. Not till he’s ready to reveal it. Maybe though, it’s this guy just laying it all out there; a brutally honest, cards all in, attempt to let this girl know exactly what she’s getting into. I've listened to this song a million times and still can’t quite be sure. But either way it’s a heart wrenching, gorgeous, and painfully accurate account of a gentleman’s feelings.

Sometimes I feel ugly and old. Excuse me, baby, if I’m acting bold. My head gets hot but my feet aren’t cold. Excuse me, if you will.

Don’t make a hullabuloo. I’m not the hoi palloi. I’ll try any trick and I’ll use any ploy. I’m a used up 20th century boy. Excuse me, if you will.

If I was 16 again I’d give my tooth, I’m tired and I’m hungry and I’m looking for my youth. I’m a little uncool and I’m a little uncouth. Oh, Excuse me, if you will.

Wainwright is a fearless songwriter. To write a love song, I guess you’d have to be.