Sunday, March 30, 2008


I have been interested in inadvertent art for years, the way that sound and vision not created for the purposes of aesthetic enjoyment can sometimes be delightfully beautiful. The minimalist tapestries of printer self-tests. The voice synthesizer announcements in subways. Warning signs and hazardous-waste labels. I remember being fascinated by industrial signage catalogs at a young age. Tibor Kalman's book (un)Fashion is a great document of these principals applied to clothing. There seems to be a sort of subconscious aesthetic at play in the most pragmatic of designs, almost as if even in our most mechanistic, problem-solving artificing there is a dream of beauty that we cannot help but express.

I've used the word "testpattern" in my e-mail address for something like eight years now. Television test patterns, or test cards, were created for the most pragmatic of purposes: to tune and align the images being sent by a television station. As such, they are very rationally ordered images, clearly presenting elements of contrast and detail, focus and alignment, and of course color and hue, once those became important factors in broadcast. I'm sure that all of the test patterns used over the years by various TV networks all had designers. In fact, the original art for perhaps the most iconic test card of all, the RCA Indian Head was discovered in 1970, and now belongs to a private collector of historical television ephemera. Nevertheless, each one seems to be somehow undesigned, created for single-mindedly optical purposes, with little real consideration of aesthetics. I think that in this purity of purpose they manage to become almost like secular mandalas, abstractions that draw the mind in and allow for the cessation of thought. I spent this morning collecting a few images of test cards that I found particularly appealing, and I thought I'd share them with you. I don't propose to make any analysis of the images, or provide any historical context. If that interests you, this is one of many good starting places. And if you long for the comfort of a piercing sine wave tone to accompany them, go here or just search for test cards on Youtube

The Cokesbury Stunt Book

I found this book at a thrift store in Columbia, SC. Arthur Depew was a loyal member of the West Palm Beach Kiwanis club. This useful 1934 manual contains 600 stunts, japes, and hilarious suggestions for all of your service club meeting needs, whether you be Rotarian, Kiwanis, K. of C. or any other white male brotherhood:

My favorite part of the so-called "stunt" entitled "K. K. K." is the suggestion that robes be "secure[d]" from the Klan, as though the intended audience of the book generally won't be lacking such contacts.
There are a few more amazingly offensive pages in this book, but the rest are crashingly boring, miraculously unfunny party ideas that make me wonder why anyone ever joined a service club in the first place.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I promise to do sit-ups all day Sunday

For those of us who are truly serious about loving food, those of us who think of bicycle chains and dark alleys when we hear the word "Foodie," Atlanta may be one of the Holy Cities of our faith. It is definitely true that great Southern food can be found in just about any city in the country in which a sizable population of Southerners resides. People tell me you can get good barbeque in Oakland, for instance, and I've found at least one good soul food place in SF. It is also true that scattered throughout the cities and tiny backwoods towns of the South are more great meals than any one human being could ever imagine to sample in a lifetime (even if said lifetime managed to escape curtailment at the hands of the attendant cholesterol that this cuisine proudly assaults its acolytes with). Each state, each subregion, each city, each cook has their own techniques, tricks, and preferences. And there is of course the omnipresent racial divide. The same dish is sometimes quite different when filtered through the cultural lens of either side of the melanin line. More talented writers on food have addressed the issues of race in Southern cuisine, and I certainly am not qualified to wrassle that sack of porcupines. Anyway, more germane to the point of this writing is that Atlanta is an embarrassment of riches for the discerning omnivore. The sheer size and historical density of the city, coupled with its citizens' sense of pride in their heritage has resulted in a bewildering array of culinary seductions. I have had the chance to sample a few of them.

The photographs accompanying this post were taken of my meals at Mary Mac's Tea Room and Paschal's Restaurant, both of which are Altanta institutions. I also had barbeque at Daddy D'z this afternoon, and I forgot my camera. These were the three best meals of my visit, and I think that what I have to say here will be mostly taken from those experiences.
Above you see our first course at Mary Mac's: fried crawfish tails and fried okra. The sauces are a vaguely spicy jalapeƱo cocktail sauce for the mudbugs and a lovely creamed horseradish concoction for the okra. These dishes were good. It's definitely possible to screw up crunchy fried things, but it's hard to make them really outstanding. The okra was fresh. The crawfish tails were probably frozen. Whatever. They were delicious. What is not documented in the photograph is the amuse bouche of a cup of potlikker and cornbread that we received upon making our order. That was divine. If you haven't had potlikker before, it's essentially the broth left over from making collard greens. The potlikker at Mary Mac's was subtle, porky, and delicious. Salty enough to make its point without destroying the vibrant flavor of the greens. It was intense enough that I elected not to order the collard as one of the sides with my main course, the fried chicken:
I wish that my camera could convey just how perfect the above meal was. The chicken was simultaneously somehow rich and greasy and dancingly light and crisp. It sat with me for hours afterwards, a gastronomic satori radiating out from my stomach. I have had better fried chicken. Frenchy's in Houston, for instance, has a far more flavorful batter. But there was something about the combination of comfort-food richness and sure-handed execution that made this bird stand out. I'm sorry I wasn't able to try the lauded buttermilk-marinated yardbird at Scott Peacock's Watershed in Decateur, but I am pleased with my choice.

The sides I chose for it, the mac and cheese and the hoppin' john were equally stellar. The mac and cheese had a wonderful curd-like consistency, perhaps from the use of ricotta or cottage cheese. The hoppin' john made me wish that I had forgone the rest of the dinner and just eaten a bowl of these black-eyed peas. I think that more traditionally, hoppin' john is a sort of bean stew, the way that Cajun and Creole cooks make red beans and rice. At Mary Mac's, it was a spoonful of their side order of black-eyed peas over rice. THAT DIDN'T FUCKING MATTER. These little guys were gorgeous. After my first bite, I bewailed my misfortune for having involved rice in the equation, and my dining companion
generously offered to let me finish hers. Predictably enough, she had plenty of that vile carrot and raisin salad left over (I'm sure it was wonderfully executed), and like six beans. Can I tell you? Can I convey the perfect love with which this humble legume was treated? Cooked just enough--firm but tender. Salty, and with an understated hint of pork, floating dreamlike just under the surface of the flavors. This is a wonderful example of how a minimum of ingredients, lovingly handled, can come together in a symphony of flavors that rivals the heights of the most exalted culinary baroqueries. These beans alone make Mary Mac's worth visiting, and that's saying something, as the rest of the meal was pretty damned sublime.

One jarring note at Mary Mac's was a tiny aspect of the decor. Among the various autographed celebrity photos and newspaper clippings was a little cluster of stories about Georgia's controversial governor, Lester Maddox, who rode to political success upon the basis of his violent opposition to segregation, famously defending his Pickrick restaurant from black activists, ax-handle and pistol in hand. Apparently, in his later years, Maddox enjoyed celebrating his birthday at Mary Mac's, and a few society-pages clippings chronicle these events. Maddox is a central figure in Georgia's history, and one can argue that his governorship was extremely beneficial to Georgia's African American population. However, he is still a controversial figure, and enshrining him in an establishment where the ownership is white and a large percentage of the employees black is a decision in questionable taste at best.

No such greater socio-political quandaries taint the meal at Paschal's, which is a good thing, because Paschal's needs all the help it can get. It's not bad, mind you, but when compared to Mary Mac's, it comes across as a bit bland. This is a shame, as Paschal's is one of the oldest and most successful black-owned restaurants in Atlanta. In the '50s and 60s, it was a favored meeting place for Dr. King and his aides. The founding Paschal brothers were known to post bail for jailed protesters, and to extend their hours to offer a meeting place for their families to welcome them home. With such a rich and honorable tradition, it is a shame that Paschal's only satisfies, instead of impressing.

This is the Paschal's gumbo. It wasn't by any means bad, just awkward. What seemed like at least two whole bell peppers, cut into quarter-sized pieces floated in the broth, rendering it more of a pepper soup than anything else. Wisps of boiled-to-death chicken floated like faint memories through the startlingly red liquid (over-liberal Tabasco, I'm afraid). Now, I grew up in Louisiana, so maybe I just don't understand the subtleties of Atlantan variations upon Creole cuisine. And like I said, this soup wasn't bad. It just wasn't what I would hope for from a landmark restaurant.

The sides faired much better. Although the mac and cheese lacked the intriguing texture of Mary Mac's, it was very well done, with a perfectly cheddary flavor. I'm afraid that the black-eyed peas were a disappointment after my earlier meal. These were most likely canned, and a bit overcooked. Not at all bad, but not the lethally-focused weapon in use a Mary Mac's. The collards were excellent, though. I suspect that brown sugar is a part of the recipe here, which played up the flavor of the greens rather than the pork, and was very successful.

The chicken-fried steak was just so almost-there as to be heartbreaking. I mean, look at it: the apex of what Brown Food should look like. And yet. And yet. Underseasoned beef, too loose a patty. Batter too quick to wilt under the onslaught of gravy. People, I can't get edible chicken-fried steak in California! What are you doing to me?!

Paschal's seems to have extended its operations very successfully into the catering market, and this can certainly explain why the flagship kitchen belies their reputation. It's tragic, though.

My last meal out in Atlanta was a mess of ribs and a quarter chicken at Daddy D'z on Memorial. This was straight up the best food I've had all week. I can't get good barbeque at home, and this is a constant source of woe, especially since I live a block from the almost-there Lilly's in SF, and the aroma of smoked meat is a constant in my life. So coming to Atlanta had to culminate with smoked meat. After careful research, I chose Daddy D'z, based on internet reviews, and boy howdy am I glad I did. Something about the way everything was smoked (hickory is the wood of choice, as it is most everywhere but Texas) rendered all the meat into a delightfully liquid consistency that flooded the palate with juicy gorgeousness. The sauce was intense, delightfully deep and vinegary. It's hard to use words to describe successful barbeque, but suffice it to say that this was some of the best I've ever had. Daddy D'z sides were also excellent. The fried okra was as perfectly executed as at Mary Mac's, and the collard greens were hands-down the best of the three presentations I managed to sample this week. As perfectly meaty and salted as Mary Mac's, they had the added distinction of some indefinable earthy, smoky spice that I suspect consisted of a mug of barbeque sauce tossed into the pot with everything else. This was surprising, as usually the sides at a good BBQ place tend to be well-executed afterthoughts at best.

So, that's it for Atlanta food. Those of you who live near me will probably taste the fruits of my fieldwork in the near future. Nothing makes me want to cook so much as eating.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Atlanta dispatch #2

I've spent the past few days trying to really come to an understanding of this city, at least as much as one can in a visit as short as this one. I've tried to listen to the stories that the city has to tell the attentive listener, to orient myself in this sprawling southern city, both geographically and psychically. It has been a wonderfully enriching experience. Atlanta has a lot more to offer the casual explorer than I thought it would.

This city is a bit of a mess. There are about 50 different streets named Peachtree: some are Streets, some Avenues, some Centers, some Ways. Each one of these seem to be divided up into a compass point or three, for example, Peachtree Battle Circle NW or S Peachtree Road. None of these geographic markers seem to have any particular bearing upon where in the city the stretch of road in question lies. Another confusing factor is the mutability of street names. Seemingly vital arteries fluctuate from name to name with dizzying frequency. I have been told that this is a vestige of the old color lines in the city, with Black neighborhoods using one name, and paler sorts another. Monroe becomes, simply Boulevard. Moreland becomes Briarcliff Road NE (I have yet to determine if there are truncated bits of Briarcliff Road elsewhere in the city) Capping all of this is the relative uselessness of the MARTA public transit system. A cruciform network of trains connects the cardinal axes of the city, with buses crawling out from the stations with depressing infrequency. The sum of all of these locative complexities is that each section of Atlanta feels very discrete, and travel between them seems to require mastery of a complex geographical hermeneutics, an pseudokabbalah with the Atlanta NFT as its holy text. And no matter how deep in to the intricacies of this system one gets, the shift from one neighborhood to another still feels like a something from one of Jose Luis Borges's jewel-like short stories.

More to come.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Infant Mortality in the State of Georgia: Something You May Not Know

So, our hostess Allison took us to one of her preferred laid-back watering holes this evening, the Mellow Mushroom. The Mellow Mushroom is not, as you may have hypothesized, a club where guys with dreads dance badly to a guy wearing a Phish T-shirt covering "Redemption Song." It is indeed hippy-themed, but is in actuality a clean, aggressively well-lit fast food pizza joint with a decent little bar. I spent the greater part of my visit squinting at the captions on CNN during Larry King Live and what is it, Anderson Cooper 360°, and James Carville looking more like one of Steadman's caricatures of HST than Johnny Depp, or Hunter himself for that matter, ever could, and Carville is repeating the same phrase over and over, about how he said something, and found a colorful way of saying it, and he's glad he said it, and he'd say it again. And meanwhile, these guys at the bar, Bear and Bubba (these are indeed the names I was given), kind of ex-hippy good old boy types, are totally faced and just rambling on at us about all kinds of stuff, traveling when they were young, having five kids, saying the kind of scary-true things that drunks can sometimes say without stopping smiling, and without pausing before the next subject, and me, I have a half a chicken (fried, mind you) in my stomach, with mac & cheese and hoppin' john working, and I am having a hard time (what with James Carville, who also looks like Skeletor with a funny accent) focusing on anything, and then the President is on the TV with an Easter Bunny, and Bubba says how he'd like to have that on a T-shirt. My lady agreed with him, and then Bubba started telling us about the baby and the sheet-rock bucket.

The baby in the sheet-rock bucket. I know you're all wondering how I was going to tie in the title of this post with it's content, and well, here it comes. See, this was an image that Bubba thought would make a great T-shirt. Now, I'm still busy trying to figure out what the hell James Carville is markedly not apologizing for, so I hear the beginning of this in fragments and I don't think I understand it. Surely he didn't just say that a baby in a sheet-rock bucket would make a great T-shirt, right? That makes no sense! What the hell is a sheet-rock bucket anyway? I'm imagining some bizarre baptismal formed from four gypsum panels plastered together, something like that. While I'm coping with this, Bubba is not stopping. He's saying about how you know, if the baby falls in the sheet-rock bucket, well, throw the parents in too. And how it would be simple to make it safer for babies, just make 5-gallon buckets narrower and taller, that way babies couldn't fall in. Get OSHA on it. And rmember, he is repeating the phrase "baby in a sheet-rock bucket" over and over again, and I am starting to get the idea here, that the kind of white plastic five-gallon buckets that you might use in patching sheet-rock are conceivably a danger to small infants, who might fall in head first (he specifies that). I don't know if he means headfirst and drown in some kind of liquid, whether plaster (it's plaster, right? Sheet rock is more or less sheets of plaster, right?) or whatever else may be in the bucket, and how it's a statement about "Darnwism" (note: I am preserving the idiosyncratic pronunciation in the service of atmospheric verisimilitude, not to make Bubba sound like a dumb hick. He was indeed a self-proclaimed redneck, but he certainly seemed to be a rather intelligent man, perhaps a few sheets further to the wind than is beneficial for the purposes of clarity in discourse), it's like culling. And by this point I'm sort of starting to get it, how there would be a white 5-gallon bucket on the front, with a diapered hindquarters poking out of the top (and I confess, I kind of want this shirt right now), with the parents being similarly immersed on the verso.

This is an interesting diptych in many ways. It can be seen as a metaphor for the responsibility of parents for the pitfalls that their children encounter, or for the need for them to face said responsibility. It's certainly a powerful image, and I expect to see it on the cover of a 'zine in the near future. What strikes me most, however, is the resonance that it seemed to have for Bubba. Did this happen to someone he knew? Or did it happen to someone, and he heard about it, and the failure of the parents to prevent this gristly end for their child stuck with him at such a deep level that he goes of on it at great length at the slightest provocation, often in bars, sometimes involving ironically humorous T-shirts. Or is this such a common factor in infant fatalities in Georgia as to be a good target for the shaming power of such T-shirts? I'd think that the rest of the country would have heard about it by now, don't you? Now, don't get me wrong dead babies really aren't funny (yes I do know why; it was stapled to the chicken), but the sheer delirious absurdity of the repeated phrase "baby in a sheet-rock bucket," repeated in an ostinato polyphony with Carville's as-often-repeated "I was quoted accurately and in context, and I was glad to give the quote and I was glad I gave it. I’m not apologizing, I’m not resigning, I’m not doing anything," created this shimmering, hilarious fabric with all of the hypnotic complexity of a Steve Reich composition. Ah, it was a hoot. Thank you, Bubba. Thank you Atlanta.

Mary Mac's Tearoom: A preliminary report.

I may never eat again. Thank you, Mary Mac's.

Atlanta dispatch #1

It's been a classic Chadwick Crawford vs. the South vacation thus far: gallons of beer and a never-ceasing quest for brown food. The winning meal thus far has been my shrimp and grits breakfast with my friend Johnny at the Sun in My Belly cafe in the Kirkwood neighborhood. Tonight we dine at Mary Mac's Tea Room, which has apparently been an Atlanta soul food staple for 60 years or so. A glance at their menu promises utter incapacitation and lipidic nirvana.

Last night our hostess Allsion brought my lady and I to the Chicken Raid at the Northside Tavern, one of Atlanta's venerable blues nightspots. The Chicken Raid is a blues festival honoring Mr. Frank Edwards, a Georgia musician who was a big part of the Atlanta scene. Pulled pork sandwiches and iced tea were set up on a piece of plywood over one of the pool tables. A woman was working a massage table in one corner. A hippie was playing Piedmont ragtime blues on a huge Gibson flattop on the patio. Our stated reason for attending was to see Oliver Wood, who apparently is big shit around these parts. And he is a great blues guitarist, going for tasty riffs over masturbatory noodling. But the band set up was of the model where each song was more or less an excuse for soloing, which I'm sure is hella fun for the band, and for the guitarhead blues connoisseur types who always come out of the woodwork for these things. Me, I start drinking heavily when the jamming starts.

Soon, however, Sammy Blues started his set. He's definitely a member of the blues-musician-as-sexual-predator set, leering and being generally off-color as regards the fair sex the whole show through. He was quite capable of bringing the goddamn funk, though, and the dance floor responded enthusiastically as I mused about Afro-Futurism and the Gibson Flying V (there probably isn't a connection, but if you're interested, just ask. Oh, and apropos of nothing, doesn't the above photograph remind you somewhat of this

Yep, the gold old Sony DSC W70. In anything other than generous natural light, completely useless for documentary photography as the exposure time is so lengthy that one can't help but shake all over the place. But an excellent instant shoegaze record cover generator.

Anyway, Sammy Blues wound things up with a cover of Prince's "Kiss" and then gave the stage over to this guy:

I mean, his backing band played first. Whatever. They were dullsville, dad. Or maybe they were okay. But Robert Lee Coleman totally pwned. Apparently he got his start as a sideman for Percy Sledge, and was a JB for two years, and this level of professionalism definitely came out in his playing. Tasteful, exciting,and totally on fire, Coleman's set was the high point of my night, although Lola Gulley's immediately afterwards was a very close second. Her rubbery, impressionistic barrellhouse keyboard style led her band through probably the most dancefloor friendly numbers of the night, and they were definitely the best party band of the evening.

So yeah, pretty awesome night, although I think I may be done with the blues for a little while. I-IV-V chord progessions can get a little samey, you know.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Oh, and if you must ask, Atlanta is quite nice

happy Easter from Atlanta

Posting this was more work than it was worth. I love you!

This dude is ruuude.

I found this on Turbanhead today, and that's what we do on weblogs, take things that more creative persons have posted and post them on our own sites, just for the semblance of productivity. But seriously, that is a fly-ass Sikh.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

So, I got this from BoingBoing, which means that everyone in the universe has already seen it, but if you haven't, then you must, as it may be the cleverest time-travel short story ever.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Palookaville #19

So I have no idea why I keep buying Palookaville. Issues of this title are released so infrequently that I completely forget where I put the previous one by the time a new one is out. If I valued my sanity, I'd just wait until all of the Clyde Fans strips are collected. But I can't. Each issue is such a beautiful object. Seth may be one of the two or three best brushes in comics. Each line has that wonderful plasticity, that amazing "this can't be done by a human hand"-quality that he has absorbed from the best of the New Yorker guys. His design sense is perfect. Each page is a sublimely balanced composition. And nobody can rock one-color like Seth. Melded perfectly with this formidable graphic talent is a staggering storytelling ability. Clyde Fans has been one of the saddest things I've ever read. Seth has this way of making quiet, tragic moments searingly intense. He is such a master of the minimal moment, volumes conveyed in a single, virtuosic gesture. The last six pages, in which Simon Matchcard sits on the bed in his mother's room cataloging the objects around him are breathtaking. In five pages of 24 panels each, Matchcard considers the clutter of a lifetime and the memories attached to each part of it. His mother is senile, and the rest of this issue has shown Simon and his brother Abraham committing her to a home. Each object is simply but fetishistically rendered, and the accompanying narration assigns each its place in the mosaic of Mrs. Matchcard's life. Whoah Seth.

Scott Pilgrim makes life better

That is Scott Pilgrim. He is a character written and drawn by Bryan Lee O'Malley. His exploits are the substance of (to date) four digest-sized comics albums, and they are really some of the best work in any media being published today. I was working out this really extended metaphor where Chris Ware is analogous to Henry James, Ivan Brunetti to Kafka, and Joe Sacco to John Dos Passos (and all of these comparisons hold up when you think about it, sort of), but I couldn't come up with a comparison in the modernist pantheon for O'Malley. There just really isn't anyone like him. Substantially, Scott Pilgrim is feather-light. Video games, early 20s romance, rock and roll. In-jokes and goofy dialog. It's just something about the execution. O'Malley's brushwork makes his cartoony characters graceful and poignant, and he has a knack for including subtle differences that render his very simple faces instantly identifiable. His writing is dead-on, giving each of the cast members a depth and presence that extends beyond the page. And the jokes! It's just so perfectly pitched. I'd quote something to try to convey that, but the writing is so intricately bound up with the expressions of his characters, in the context of the ridiculous fight scenes and endless hanging out in bars and late-night taco joints. So really, what I'm saying is that I'm telling you that Scott Pilgrim is really, really good, but I can't tell you exactly why. It's just something magical. And when the next volume is released, like next year or whatever (I predict that I will reread the entire series at least twice in the interim) it will be like my birthday.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

sketchbook page

So here is a page from my sketchbook, pencil roughs for something I'm sort of half-assedly working on, cleaned up in the GIMP. I'm pretty amazed at how cleanly I managed to crop and paste heads around.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Q: Why is The Web Good?

A: Because John Campbell is on the web.

Seriously, the web is good because things like his Stevie Might Be a Bear would only be available as tiny mini-comics that only his friends knew about in the town where he lives otherwise. Thank you internet.

Monday, March 10, 2008

"My imagination is beyond the civilization in which we live"

My Name is Albert Ayler is one of the most beautiful and transformative films I have ever seen. It is very rare for a movie about an artist to enrich and deepen the viewers appreciation for its subject. This is precisely Kasper Collins's accomplishment. After seeing this film, Ayler's music makes more sense, what he was trying to accomplish becomes clearer. The world itself seems a somewhat different place, or maybe seeing it in the context of Ayler's music makes the world make a little more clear.

The film is a member of the class of documentaries that I think of as poetic. Although it has a good amount of biographical information, the focus is much more upon creating a visual space for Albert to explain himself to us--both through his music and in his own words, taken from radio interviews and other archival sources. His voice is gentle, almost shy. This makes even his most grandiose statements come across as simple truths. Music is the healing force of the universe. If people don't like it now, they will. His conviction is infectious. Interviews with friends and family root Albert's visionary musings fairly firmly in the context of his time. A wonderful device Collins utilizes is to show some of his interviewees wearing headphones, listening to the music we hear on the soundtrack, smiling and sometimes weeping. The film leaves several loose ends of biographic fact dangling, and it is almost entirely without any attempt to place Ayler's music in the greater context of jazz and how it reacted against that, but I don't find that to be a failing. Giving us more information would have gotten in the way of the music.

The visual fabric of the piece consists of a collage of television appearances, still photos, and vintage stock footage (to set the temporal and geographical tone), threaded in with the interviews, all given rhythm by the ubiquitous, repeated usage of the footage of Ayler from Michael Snow's New York Eye and Ear Control that the above still is taken from. A silent, shirtless Albert stands in front of a black background, staring at us, a gentle smile playing at his lips. This image is repeated in a manner reminiscent of the motives Ayler used in his compositions: out of the formless chaos of some of the most brutal, bleedingly free jazz playing of the sixties, the horns lock in together and bring out some gorgeous, golden bit of melody, often a quote from a march or other martial composition, anchoring the piece and giving it this beautiful texture of sanctity. Although it of course does not quite meet the heights that its subject achieved, the film manages a similar sort of structure.

Albert Ayler's music is about complexity and coherence, nature and the world. In the crashing morass of sound that his groups achieved is all the complexity of a dynamic system, the crash of surf or the flight patterns of starlings, in the bell-clear melodic passages all of the glorious beauty of a human being somehow managing to mean something more than meat, to ascend into sublimity. This movie helped me to appreciate that a little more, and it's something to treasure for that accomplishment.

For the two people who actually read this thing: Go see it at the Red Vic before it leaves. It's there until Tuesday.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

well it was wednesday, and so i went to the comic book store (like i do) and i got some things and i thought i may as well write a little about them

The BOYS #16 So, The Boys is something I basically feel guilty about picking up every month. It is so much Garth Ennis at his very worst, dick-jokes, decapitation gags, sexual degradation--in other words, Ennis writes like a eight year-old boy on sugar overload after sneaking in some early '90s USA Up All Night. And yet. And yet. There is a heart here that keeps me coming back. At his best--his Hellblazer run, War Stories, some Hitman, Dan Dare--he has a real knack for capturing pathos and human dignity in his characterizations. Apart from Billy Butcher, who is shaping up to be yet another writer-from-the-British-Isles Brand HARD MANTM, the characters in this title are fairly well-written. Wee Hughie's blossoming (and no doubt, tragedy-bound) romance with a young superheroine is almost delicately written. The odd relationship between the Frenchman and the Female is actually developing into something almost touching. I'm still going to feel a little cheap every time I pick this title up, but I somehow keep doing it.

The Twelve #3 So the idea here is to dust off a couple of (well, twelve) WWII-era superheroes, mumble something about the Nazis having had them in suspended animation for 60 years, and plonk them down in the present. Well, in the Marvel Universe present, I suppose, but the Hulk hasn't stopped by yet. It's a cool idea, yeah, but with J. Michael Straczyski writing it could have just been another chunk of superhero soap opera, only with people getting called "Fella" a lot. Because dudes from the '40s call people fella. And, yeah, there's some kind-of-silly writing going on here. But Chris Weston is drawing it. And that makes it okay. Chris Weston draws a guy wearing a stupid costume, yelling about, i don't know, Zombie Masters or something, people shut up and listen. His rubbery faces and nice fabrics give the whole thing a certain gravitas. (Chris Weston draws people like they are animatronics, but with real fabric.) So yeah, this is working out for me.

Justice League: The New Frontier Classified So I will buy a book of Darwyn Cooke drawings of toast, maybe with the toast having little witty hard-boiled dialogs in speech bubbles. Darwyn Cooke is probably my favorite guy who does superheroes, and one of my favorite storytellers in the medium. This is a nice coda to The New Frontier, Cooke's glorious exploration of the major DC comics characters of the Silver Age in the context of the actual historical events of the time that spawned them. The first story, "The Greater Good" is basically a long Batman-Superman fight scene, with Wonder Woman acting as peacemaker, and how can you hate on that? The story also explores the murky morality at play in Superman's status as an avatar of Americanism. He really gets the big three DC characters, what makes them work and what makes us like them. And I love the way he draws Wonder Woman. The second story, "Dragstrip Riot" is a well-scripted teen hot-rod movie pastiche, starring Robin and Kid Flash, drawn by David Bullock. It's a nice attempt to break out of the main New Frontier style while remaining within the basic tone of the era. The last story, "Mother of the Movement" is a well-meaning attempt to confront the misogyny of the era, featuring an outraged Wonder Woman and a game Black Canary taking on a Playboy Bunny Club. This is the only dud in the book. Wonder Woman is scripted pretty flatly, coming across as obtuse and shrewish, and well, it's just a short gag strip that doesn't work out, although the J Bone art is nice, as usual.

Young Liars #1 David Lapham writes stories about interesting, mostly sympathetic if somewhat (scratch that, really) dangerous people to whom BAD THINGS ARE GOING TO HAPPEN. His Stray Bullets is basically a book about how being in danger of getting killed is pretty exciting, and Young Liars promises more of the same. Fights, chases, shennanigans, all drawn and scripted by David Lapham. This is going to be so good.

another thing i like

I bought this shortwave radio at Goodwill last week, and I must say that I am mostly disappointed. Instead of the crazy newscasts in unknown languages and cryptic numbers stations that I was eagerly anticipating, I get mostly squelch and static. But we do what we can with what we're given (or purchase for 7.49), and so I am learning to enjoy the odd accidental collaborations that I stumble across. For a few minutes, a piece from a Chinese opera is mangled by ionospheric artifacts, the gongs splashing strangely, as if Joe Meek had been engineering the session, the erhu shattering in and out of audability. Later, a commercial break on what might be a Spanish language radio station, the voices boiled down to a one-note stutter, the only hope for identifying what language is being spoken is by listening to the rhythm of the words, until the fickle kami of radio waves causes this station too, to melt into pink noise.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

a thing that I like

So I have this plastic "Nickel Coffee" cup from the Texas-based Whataburger fast-food chain. I think it is probably from the '80s, but I can't be sure. The mug design is based on the original cast ceramic mugs that the chain used in the 1950s, I believe. Apparently this iteration of the mug was issued with a snap-on travel lid, which is sadly missing from mine. According to rumor, this and a nickel will in fact still get you a cup of coffee at any of Whataburger's fine establishments all over the Southwest of our great nation.

I think the reason that I enjoy this item as much as I do stems from the mental image of a mustachioed Texan retiree, medicine-ball-sized belly slung over a belt buckle branded with the logo of a long-defunct oilfield tool company, straining the snaps of his Western-style shirt.
He is stepping down from an aggressively new Ford F-150 with a gleaming steel toolbox in the bed. Under one arm is tucked a newspaper, perhaps the Houston Chronicle, or in this sadly postliterate age that we live in, more likely USA Today. A pocket protector contains a clutch of retractable ball-point pens, all of them trophies of a life spent working in the petroleum industry. A mesh-backed gimme cap perches high on his head.

The Whataburger is one of the older A-frame models, brown brick walls and glass windows surmounted by a dramatic orange and white striped roof, charging upwards into the unforgiving blue of a South Texas summer sky. The nickel coffee mug dangles from his first finger, bobbing gently as he strides across the heat-shimmering blacktop. He knows the name of the lady behind the counter who will pour his coffee. There is no question of him being hassled about ordering breakfast, or for taking up a table for the two or three hours that he will sit over his paper. He'll have one more cup on his way out, which will snug in his crotch as he drives across town to weld something, or take an engine apart, or run electrical conduit in a neighbor's poolhouse, or some other gentle, restful task of the sort that Texan retirees tend to spend their golden years relaxing with.