Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Introducing Clermont Ferrand, LZ Music Critic

As faithful Lordzim readers know, Lord Zim himself has abdicated the music critic's Barcalounger and abjured passing judgment on CDs. Everything else is fair game, of course, but even up here in the Lordzim aerie, an unmistakable rumble of discontent roils the kingdom.


And lo! No sooner is discontent with content manifest than old friend, international music superstar, devoted legal aid lawyer, and opinionated consumer Clermont Ferrand volunteers to step into the breach and disseminate his views on modern music. Please note that the views expressed by M. Ferrand are his own and do not reflect those of the staff or management.

With that, the Lord Zim Variety Hour is pleased to bring you, the discerning reader, a nosegay of music reviews from our First Official Music Critic, Monsieur Clermont Ferrand.

picked up these new cd's:

bloc party - pretty good. considering gang of 4 only made 1 1/2 good records it is right and just that others continue to make records for them.

brazilian girls - need to smoke much more weed for this one. another nail in the world music coffin.

brendan benson, alternative to love - nice, slightly slimmed down effort from BB.

mekons, heaven and hell (greatest hits) - oui je suis le grand zombie. nice selection from their 10,000 recordings.

Thank you, Clermont. Clermont also wonders -- in fact, joins me in wondering, "what's up with the lack of comments on lord zim? ... i don't comment b/c no one else comments. someone has to break the ice. it's like karaoke."

Well, Clermont, if commenting is like karaoke, what then is blogging? The Annabel Chong Story? Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody shoot your mouth off, try to judge one another, OK.

Curmudgeon No More, Gourmand to the Core

In the interest of countering my recent negativity, here's a ray of pure delight: a link to a great article on a great eatery in New Orleans, a great eating town. Yes, "End of the Lines for Uglesich's?" is a chef d'oeuvre of food writing, but more than that, it evokes a place and feeling and people in a multi-layered portrait of a deservedly cherished diner. And no, it doesn't seem to be the end of the lines just yet.

Why NOLA, why now? My little cousin is going to New Orleans for three days (What? Just three days? Does she have any idea what lies in store? She'll need at least a week!) and I rounded up the creme de la creole for her. Glad I kept such good notes when I was there. This is in no wise an exhaustive list, nor would she be able to use one in three paltry days, even if she were speed-feeding. Moreover, my cousin, bless her faithful heart, was raised kosher and has stayed that way, more or less. Hard to imagine what she'll do confronted by an endless parade of magnificent shrimp and crawfish. There's always chicken, I guess.

Kosher in the Big Easy?

Here's what I sent her.
For a short stay, I recommend the following restaurants, in this order:

>Uglesich's, though you may have a hard time ordering a full lunch without any seafood in it. The eggplant side dish is terrific, but stealth shrimp lurk within, so beware. Expect to wait a while. $
>Nola (make reservations now!) I was deliriously happy with my pecan-crusted redfish. The service is amazing. And I didn't know it was run by the TV chef. $$$
>Commander's Palace for brunch (make reservations now!) Live Dixieland included. Good strolling in adjacent Garden District post-brunch. $$$
>Cafe du Monde for one amazing thing: beignets. So unbelievably good, even if the idea of a mountain of powdered sugar on a hot square piece of fried dough doesn't sound like much. Note that this unqualified praise comes from a confirmed donut-hater. (Snack or dessert) $
>Praline Connection -- really good, but you might be unable to have any of it because of treifness. $
>Old Dog New Tricks -- this vegetarian place is a much-needed antidote to the cooking everywhere else ... if it's still there; the locals scoffed at us for asking about it. On Frenchman Street, itself a worthy destination $

The Art Museum is a very pleasant surprise, and the bus trip out to it is a good way to see parts of the city you'd otherwise miss.

Just three days. Tsk tsk tsk. O, to be a tastebud on that tongue. Or better, to be that whole tongue. No, wait. That's still not right. OK, scratch that. To be in New Orleans once more, tying on the feedbag.

That'll do, pig.

Monday, March 28, 2005

You Really Get It

Just back from an evening of confessional first-person readings. Sedaris fallout. The long tail misconstrued. Whatever it is, it's everywhere. Sit n Spin. Word-a-Rama. Melt in Your Mouth. Online,, the L.A. touchstone for so many of these writers. On-air, This American Life, the fountainhead for such stuff nationwide.

A lot of what I heard tonight was funny, touching, well-paced, shockingly honest, and delivered with supreme aplomb even as hysterics erupted just feet away. L.A. is full of smart folks who lack adequate outlets, and the ones who make it through these home-grown filtration processes deserve to be on stage. For the most part.

But what I'm struggling with is the relentless confessing. It's true that the surest way to touch someone is to expose yourself in some way. (Flashers explained.) And now that the first-person memoir is all the rage, everyone has an embarrassing or heartbreaking episode to share with a roomful of strangers. These are This American Life's farm teams.

Who am I to complain? Who's complaining? I'm just unnerved by all the opening up and bleeding. Does a tireless skirter of the real have standing to toss pebbles at brave souls willing to share?

* * *

You just don't get it. He just doesn't get it. Dare I say, dare I hope that phrase reached its apogee a few months ago? Or maybe I just don't get it. Or get out enough.

How do I hate "get it"? Let me count the ways.

>It is imprecise and lazy.
>It is snotty and self-important.
>And smug.
>It means to suggest a shared understanding between the speaker and the listener, a tight bond invented to exclude whichever poor clueless unfortunate is the object of scorn and dismissal.

Its sloppiness reminds me of the similarly vague and outdated "hip," which only the most unhip abusers of slang still use. People who persist in saying "hip" will tell you it's as timeless as "cool," but I don't think so. Putting aside "cool"'s own dubious immortality, that's like saying a Kangol cap looks as sharp, fresh, phat, and bad/good on a 47-year-old endodontist as it does on a 17-year-old anything.

Or maybe Kangol is just as over. And some 47-year-old endodontists probably are cooler than some 17-year-olds. Heck, what do I know? Everyone knows I just don't get it.

* * *

And now, ladies and germs, chers auditeurs, brothers and sisters, and all the rest of you, welcome to my point. Journey back with me to yesteryear if you will, to a momentous night in 1986 when all Hollywood crowded into one great big auditorium and the rest of America crowded into millions of little living rooms, raptly squinting at our Good Life proxies as they milled and preened for us. And on that night, amid the de rigueur glitz and glamour, we all chalked one up for Quisp. "We" won. "We" was one of us, more or less, an unassuming star we'd all grown up not quite adoring but certainly liking for her realness. And what did this paragon of the genuine say when she won?

"You like me! You really like me!" *

With these raw, genuine words, Sally Field sealed her place in the cultural firmament as America's sweetheart, a gosh-darn real person who'd won an Oscar for the rest of us back home. (Oh, excuse me. An Oscar®.)

But if we could hold a 2004-speak decoder ring up to the TV speaker (because that "get it" phrase is "so last year" (which phrase is itself so last year)), what would we hear?

"You get me! You really get me!" And that's all most of us want, to know that someone other than our blood relations really "gets" us. And that's why the frustrated, the tricked in love, and the ill-groomed are so willing to stand up in front of strangers and spill their well-crafted tales of personal trauma, leavening the pain with laughter the way Morrissey makes sad songs sound so pretty.

Every day really is like Sunday when you just don't get it. But don't worry. I like you. I really like you. It's me I can't stand sometimes. Like when I get all stentorian and self-righteous as I just have. I guess these are the outbursts that make people call me opinionated.

* It turns out that Sally Field didn't actually say the famous quote above upon receiving her award. Here's what she really said upon winning her second Oscar in 1985:
"I haven't had an orthodox career, and I've wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn't feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!"

In case you think this topic much overdone and poor Ms. Field raked more than necessary over the coals for her effusiveness, note that she starred in a commercial in which she mocked herself. Says,
"We loved her great commercial for Charles Schwab, shown at the Oscars in March 2000: She's in the Schwab office going, 'You like me, you really like me, you really really like me!'"

Extinct, exhumed, extruded

Dinosaur Bones: As seen on the back of a big rig, somewhere in California's Central Valley. Another I-5 moment. Posted by Hello

A Porch with a View

Sunlight cuts through clouds over the Hollywood Sign, seen as a cluster of white letters under the Mt. Lee communications tower.  Posted by Hello

Crazy and Responsible

Just read James Surowiecki's "Local Zeroes" piece on renegade CEOs in the current New Yorker. When I think of the corrupt incompetent who destroyed the dot-com I used to work for, I like to remember him as he was at the penultimate company-wide meeting, the one before he had to explain to us that he'd alienated our major shareholder and wouldn't be able to pull the freshly overstaffed firm out of its nosedive.

No, I like to focus on the positive (really I do) and think back to that sublime moment when he stood before us, bland of mien and flat of voice, mustering all the inspirational powers at his disposal, and called upon us to "create content that is wild and crazy and responsible."

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Witless Sampler

Unfinished thoughts hovering around like crane flies (see archive), buzzing and tumbling down the ventilation shaft and finally emerging uncertain into the harsh light of blog. Which is where you come in.


(perusing blog)

Damn. No new photos. (mumble, mumble) Oh jeez, he's back on crane flies. What is it with this guy? Squirrels, sloths, crane flies ... it's been two weeks now and I don't even know if he has a girlfriend. Or tats. What the hell is a "big-ass conceptual leap"? This guy is so full of himself. Bored Whim. Where's that "Next Blog" link? Think I'll just --


The Birds

On Friday two birds showed up in my house. They weren't sightseeing as a couple; in fact, they were about four hours apart, but both had trouble leaving. It wasn't the home-cooked meals and free cable (though one of them picked up enough spiderwebs on its feet to knit a pair of booties), it was just that they couldn't remember where they'd come in. Nor could they sort out the difference between an open window and a closed one. And of course they were terrified. They flitted madly, smacking their little birdbrained heads into walls and ceilings and flinging themselves against the closed windows, scant inches away from open ones.

And that is why I am committing this scene to bloggery. Picture if you will the guest room. There am I, standing at the door, darkly regarding the dark bird. He regards me back in a like fashion. The sparsely furnished room suggests a terrarium because, just outside, two overgrown oleanders obscure the vista with sun-dappled green leaves. No curtains mar the wide windows -- a plus from the avian perspective. On the other hand, it must be very confusing. "Here am I," thinks the bird, "and there is the branch. If I just fly hard enough I will get there. Ow! Let me try that again. Ow! I must be doing something wrong. Ow!"

I've cranked open the hinged parts of each window, but the featherweight continues to bang his head only against the immovable panes. By the time he'd managed to find a way out, he was so focused on his crazy fluttering and colliding that instead of catching his breath on a branch or lighting out for the wide open spaces, he continued to struggle against the pane -- even though he was already outside. The world at large welcomed him, but all he could see was the former obstacle under his nose. Eventually he turned his head and saw opportunity, and only then did he go.

Culture Vulture (again!)

Attended the final, run-closing performance of "As You Like It" at the Ahmanson this afternoon. That's the play that gave the world such deathless phrases as "All the world's a stage ...", "laid on with a trowel," and ... and ... memory fails me. (That's probably in there too.) Remind me never to try that again without rereading the play first. The woman behind me said she'd only allowed herself to buy the ticket after she'd finished rereading the play. Smartypants. My assorted comprehension issues notwithstanding, it was very well-staged. Reading the play just now I saw humor in lines I'd never otherwise have noticed on the page.

Leaving the theater, I passed the loading dock, where an enormously long truck was already receiving an engorgement of costumes and scenery.

Crane Flies Part Three

An especially active crane fly missing a foreleg is hobbling across my desk, avidly applying its proboscis to the glass. Maybe they don't starve in here after all. As much as I'm rooting for them, I was thinking the birds might have enjoyed a few, if they'd just been able to stop whacking their heads against the windows.

And I finally figured out why I'm so interested in these sad, gangly, doomed visitors.

Overlit Crane Fly  Posted by Hello

Music Theory Part 2 (Counterpoint)

In reply to my audience participation concerto (see below), K has kindly lobbed this onto the podium:

As much as I liked your idea of the audience-as-musicians idea, I have been throwing this one around for years. Have I ever told you about it? You would record a live concert and instead of putting the actual "music" played on a CD, you would have the mikes turned toward the audience and have tracks like this instead:

Pre Concert Rustle (featuring candy wrappers, mumbling, coat removal and program flipping)

Lights Down Hush Up (last minute coughs and shushes accented by a tardy cell phone silencing)

Movement A to Movement B (confused premature clapping, quickly hushed)

Movement B to Movement C (scattered relieved coughing and nose blowing)

End of Piece (clapping and murmured comments)


The Weight

My god, this blogging business is a huge responsibility. The moment you tell someone you have a blog (or, more likely, the moment someone else points out that you have a blog (because you had to go open your big mouth and tell them, of course)), you're suddenly assumed to be the junior varsity society reporter, covering every spit and snit your friends, your friends' friends, and all your sundry new acquaintances might choose to have or throw.

And while the novelty is a kick -- yes, to be the last on your block to have a blog -- the explaining is more of a kick in the head.

OK, so where was I that I have to rant so? I will start at the beginning. JV social cub reporter reporting for duty, SIR!

Friday night: big party for A's birthday. Lots of art folk. Lots of drinking. I mean, shocking amount of alcohol consumed. Who knew bourbon was back in style? Who knew Scotch had fallen so far from favor? Who eats so much cheese? Everyone should have a human finger on hand to slow down the rate of consumption.

But I digress. Far better that guests balance booze with food. That party concluded around 3:30am, and then cleanup and bedtime reading took me to 5am, at which point I was racing the dawn's early light to fall asleep. Somehow, I managed it.

This afternoon, I drove the hourlong trek to P's beach shack. Sun out, top down, radio on, traffic at bay ... the euphoria bordered on a post-sex well-being. Upon hearing my rapturous description, P suggested I need to get out more.

That event was just ... fine. Nothing quite like reconnecting with former co-workers you never really connected with in the first place. I constructed an 11-ingredient guacamole. Kept me busy. Later, gossip caused issues. Lashon hara (Hebrew for the "evil tongue") that painfully wise concept from the Talmud, proved itself the better path yet again. Or would have, had I managed to keep my tongue still. In brief, the idea is that one should never speak of anyone else for any reason. At least that's how I understand it. It's far safer.

Well, I just typed 200 l's in a mini-blackout moment, so it's time to call this quits. I yam what I yam, and what I yam is tired. I'd happily keep up the chatter, but I'd even more happily slip into my 25,000-thread count sheets and let my subconscious do the walking. Sorry, Charlie. News of the Swink party and the Jimmy Z show and my slinking around the side of a well-lit deserted house in search of the final vestiges of a Saturday night party ... all that will have to wait. Maybe ... forever.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Own Your Own Sins

And speaking of Jacques Brel, when I was a young high schooler in Arizona, my window overlooked the campus "Quad." I made a habit of pointing my tiny but powerful speaker out the window, turning my stereo up to 10, and playing the circus-y horn fanfare that opens "Les Flamandes," a song by Jacques Brel (I got that record from my mom -- pretty heady stuff for a 14-year-old, in retrospect. Les Flamandes dansent sans rien dire, you know).

My thoughtlessness -- OK, flat-out obnoxiousness -- would annoy the entire peaceable kingdom of 130 kids and overseers. The glee this gave me! I still remember hiding under the bed the day one of the art teachers (the married one who slept with his female students) came charging across the "Quad" to tear me apart, so fed up was he with my unfunny little joke. Seems I had to hide under the bed more than once to evade people who wanted to kill me for my dumb pranks. Ah youth. Wasted on the young. What an idiot I was.

I was astonished one day when a more tolerant teacher said he was only annoyed because I'd never played the whole song. And I was astonished yet again, decades later, when I heard that the aforementioned sex offender had found Christ and repented of his evil behaviors. And is in fact now a headmaster at some other school.

I mention this not in the vein of gossip, but to highlight two things:

1. That adults had no respect for kids in the 70s. Apologists tell me that what adults lacked in those dark hippie days was awareness, that "those were different times," and that "we were all still finding our way." Dickheads. When I was eight I smoked pot with the 40-year-old who lived next door to my friend's family in Topanga, the most hippiest shire. He wasn't a sex offender; he just didn't see a problem with sharing a joint and a beer with little kids. I'd like to dismantle that amoral fuck, but he's probably dead anyway. My little pot-smoking friend of yesteryear is. Snatched from the hippie shire in the very flower of his aimless youth.

2. That no matter what the Military-Industrial-Religious Complex tells you, finding your moral compass in a musty book doesn't erase past behavior. Fine, wash your own sins away, but what do you do for your victims? Send an e-card? "Dude. Found Christ/Mohammed/Torah (insert yours here). Don't call here any more, OK? The new me isn't responsible for the old me's sins."

OK. I confess. We weren't speaking of Jacques Brel.

P.S. That's the Old Me confessing. Don't hold it against the New Me.

Night and Blog

Tonight I attended a lecture and musical performance at the Getty. GRI chief Tom Crow spoke rivetingly about Morton Feldman and Mark Rothko and the Rothko Chapel and the Feldman piece it inspired. I imagine that Crow's classes at Yale were great; he even timed the slides tonight to punctuate his jokes.

Four pieces by Feldman, starting with the Rothko piece after the talk and then, following an intermission and the departure of all but one member of the choir, compositions entitled Willem de Kooning, The Viola in My Life, and I met Heine on the Rue Furstenburg.

I'm impressed and a little mystified by people who can truly focus on and appreciate such stuff. When all else fails, I tend to focus on my breathing so as not to fall asleep. Or on whether the violinist is falling asleep. Or on how appropriate certain kinds of coughing can sound in the midst of the music. After one well-timed, one-note eruption from the peanut gallery, even the nervous cellist cracked a smile. Music to Have ADD to.

Gosh, I come off like a big fat Philistine, don't I? I did enjoy the work in my limited fashion. I enjoyed Tan Dun's "Water Passion After St. Matthew" at Disney Hall last night more, but that one was easy to love. Like a highbrow Laserium show (minus the lasers and the Pink Floyd and the pot).

Here are some of the more interesting things that crossed my mind tonight. Why? To get to the other side, silly.

1. Hi and Lo

Did the composers who scored '60s and '70s detective shows (e.g., Mission Impossible and Mannix) study with giants of modern music before using their skills to heighten the tension of waterfront foul play, international diamond thievery, and car chases? The textures are strikingly similar. Short sharp flute arpeggios, woodpecker percussion, soft-attack oboe notes, and atonal vibraphone excursions. Etcetera. Somebody run out and fetch me a thesis. The perfect place to do research is just down the street -- the Musician's Union on Vine near Melrose. Several pinochle games' worth of retirees are waiting to reminisce at this very moment. Call now -- senior citizens are standing by!

2. Everyone's Invited!

If a cough can fit right in, why not channel the audience's contributions? It was mere months ago that I experienced a few performances of spatial music, a form wherein some of the musicians do their jobs while stationed out in the audience. Let the audience pull its own weight, I say. Some people just can't keep quiet, between the gum wrappers and the rustling and the whispering and the purse zipping (are you listening, seat D 104? I'm talking about you.) I'd like to witness a performance that requires focused audience participation.

First, announce to the audience that everybody is a performer. No kumbayas or air guitar, please. There is real music played by real people with instruments, but at a certain point in the piece, a word or phrase appears on a screen above the stage. Red. Top. White. Om. The first words are short enough that the group pronounces them in unison. Once the group has the hang of it, introduce an element of abstraction, such as images or areas of color, increasing the complexity until the unanimity is lost. Then reintroduce simple words. Restore the unison. Then turn those words sideways: the word green written in bright orange. An image of the U.S. flag. Etcetera. Not sure how to end it. Maybe a cathartic group scream.

(And if they won't join in, take a page from William Castle's book and electrocute them. Make them suffer for someone else's Art.)

Are both of these ideas old hat? I live in a vacuum. Hep me somebody. Use the comment field.

After the performance, I was on my way to the parking lot when I stopped. Never seen the Getty at night. Let's see how far I can get, I thought, leaping lightly up the deep stone steps to the plaza. Speaking of international diamond thieves, I was dressed in black and charcoal gray, so if anybody had seen me they might not have seen me. But if they had seen me when they saw me, they might have seen me as someone up to no good.

(We interrupt this irregularly scheduled narrowcast to bring you one of the best lines about L.A. ever committed to film. In "The Limey," Luis Guzman is standing on a poolside deck outside a fancy Hollywood Hills house. He gestures vaguely westward through a soupy haze and offers, "You could see the sea if you could see it.")

Perhaps because access to the Getty campus is so well-controlled at the bottom of the hill, not a single security guard materialized to arrest my progress. Mind you, I wasn't whooping and doing cartwheels down the promenade, but the only people I saw were janitors. Two of them. My initial objective was to reach the far edge of the main level and perch there absorbing the city lights on this unusually clear night. When I reached the railing, however, the garden yawned out below me and I realized I'd never actually explored it. I had no idea how far down the pathways might go or if my after-hours actions were actionable, but the absence of "No" drove me forward. I slunk along the zigzagging stone walkways, noting by the trickle in the artificial gully below that the fountains must shut down after hours. Once again I arrived at an apparent endpoint and a railing overlooking the mid-lagoon topiary maze. Then I noticed that the paths circumnavigate the pool and extend through the lush plantings. I pressed on. I vaguely compared and contrasted the famously frictive architecture and landscaping. Would I want to be a gardener there?

Two impressively bushy brugmansia trees (aka the lovely and poisonous Angel's Trumpet) drew me close. Their broad canopies refuted the wisdom of my own brugmansia's recent savage pruning. Stanching regret, I expected to swoon at the perfume cloud that must hover around such well-developed specimens, but found the trees curiously discreet. No, it was sociable garlic that dominated the night air, even trumping night-blooming jasmine. For the second time in a night I was breathing deeply, this time not to stay awake but to identify the strongest fragrances.

If we dream four out of five dreams each night in black and white, my sojourn in the garden might as well have happened from the comfort of my own bed. Drained of color, the garden was all texture and fragrance and mystery. Even the most brilliant daytime colors were just shades of gray under the light pollution. For all the frenzied hours Monet spent capturing the light on haystacks, he didn't stay up late nights worrying about shades of gray.

At one point, I turned from left to right and half-saw or felt a strong presence at my left elbow. My heart about jumped right out my mouth, but there was nothing. Nothing I could see, anyway. Did anybody die building that city of art and commerce? I kept moving. Inhaling deeply, sticking my snoot into flowers, treading softly on the decomposed granite walkways, I eventually made my way all the way around both sides of the lagoon and back to a set of well-lit steps. Yes, I engaged in more light leaping, thank you. The rough stones look disarmingly like the walls of Jerusalem's Old City. The smooth ones look like the walls of Jerusalem's new city. Heading back across the plaza to the tram stop I wondered if Getty scholars can stay late in the library and if they do, do they take midnight walks by the stilled fountain?

And because my exceedingly kind hosts at the Getty sometimes let me park at The Top of the Hill ("TOH!" cry the guards as I drive away), I was able to skip the tram and get into my car to drive down the hill. I dropped the roof to enjoy the clear night sky. Once I reached the unpoliced road downhill, I silenced the radio and extinguished first the headlights and then the motor itself. It was pure bliss, just the wind and trees and sky and freeway noise rushing past.

Or it might have been, but 10:30 is some kind of rush hour on the Getty access road, and I had to keep turning my lights back on to avoid colliding with shuttle buses. Yet even before the first of the four-ton killjoys hove into view, I was troubled by my failure to achieve vehicular satori in those few precious moments when everything was still perfect. I could have coasted all night, but after the interruptions, I just wanted the hill to end.

Yet as I neared the bottom, a tiny Disneyland thrill redeemed the trip and erased my chagrin. Much as one welcomes the return of civilization at the end of a ride that's outlasted its novelty, like Autopia or Storybook Land (note recent mini-atrocity), I was mysteriously cheered by the gleaming yellow lights of the final approach. The effect simulates an amusement park. Intentional? Guards waved me through. The light changed almost immediately, and I was back in the real world, speeding home in my toy car listening to the Art of Noise.


Monday, March 21, 2005

The Big-Ass Conceptual Leap Explained

I was so intrigued by the Streits matzo ad I showed a few posts back that I wrote to the company Friday and asked about it. A kind fellow on the Streits payroll wrote back today:

"The 'ad' was really a satire done by Heeb magazine without our knowledge. We got so much positive e-mail that we paid to have it run again. While we wouldn't use it as a mainstream campaign, the readers of Heeb appreciate it."

Hmm. The readers of Heeb appreciate it. While part of me welcomes this demystification, I am bitterly disappointed to learn that there will be no further ads in the campaign. I was looking forward to an exploitation of the kishkas-chitlins connection, as well as a knowing riff on the virtues of fortified wine.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Core Samples

Sample the First:

Tour the Blogosphere in all its warp and woof via the "Next Blog" button. This unassuming link, located in the upper-right-hand corner of this and all blogger blog pages, is your world tourguide.

I was looking at my traffic numbers (which are pathetic but that's OK and not the point), and saw that all my visitors today had come from other blogs. Other blogs so unrelated to mine that they could only be connected via a randomizer. Sooo, I embarked on my own brief Bloggyssey. Sole rule: must progress via the Next Blog button.

In my wanderings I found Gardenpoet, a liberal-minded mom who reads a lot and works in marketing, and I enjoyed the jejeune ravings of Sugarlounge, a self-anointed "relatively comical young black man" who writes about being a teenager (fashion, dating, self-discovery) somewhere in England. Clicking right along, I glanced in on an Arabic poet in Australia whose name I've forgotten (when did my PC learn to display the Arabic alphabet?), and a depressed soccer-playing twerp of a girl, and a worried grad student, and a daffy Grecian who lives in Chile and doesn't shower as much as he'd like to ... and about a million gibberish-stuffed marketing sites created to improve search engine rankings by linking to other sites.

And the Next Blog button links keep changing. Oblique Strategies Gone Wild.

Sample the Second:

"Easy." Rented this spectacularly good movie last night and found that I know or used to know or work with the editor, the music supervisor, the music consultant, and the unit publicist (formerly a snooty entertainment journalist). And I don't work in movies. But having lived and worked here for two decades, I've accreted endless acquaintances, and an independent feature made in this city turns out to have employed several of them.

Sample the Third:

MOCA openings used to serve a mnemonic function, stirring up half-forgotten former neighbors and co-workers and friends from the silty depths, but as more of my contemporaries recede into the middle age distance, the crowds grow younger and less familiar. (And over the deafening ambient chatter they silently scream "What are you doing here?")

Feh. The blog is going steadily downhill as I become less of a writer and more of a blogger. It's been drizzling since last night. A milky cloud bank has settled in above the Pass and obscured the Hollywood Sign. And I am off to practice spelling or grammar or reading with Victor, Jose, Josito, Fanny, et al.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Traveling south on I-5, somewhere in central California. Months ago. From a moving car.  Posted by Hello

The French, The Goat, The Jazz, The Cracker

This unusual site shows off a French production company that looks like a fun place to work. As if that weren't enough, they did a terrifically French site for Veuve Clicquot -- it's both beautiful and hard to navigate. Far be it from me to chide design genii for valuing form over function. As long as I'm not working with them. N.B.: Both sites require Flash. Sorry, mom.

Just enjoyed two nights of entertainment, thanks to the glories of season tickets. Saw Albee's "The Goat or Who Is Sylvia" tonight at the Taper. The wife was amazing; she'd make a great Medea. Midway through the intermission-free play, two couples got up and left, which is apparently common, given that the drama revolves around "goat-fucking" and what it does to a marriage. The term "goat-fucking" is trotted out repeatedly, along with "goat-fucker" and "You fucked a goat!" during the early, funny scenes. Like Albee's earlier "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," the play begins with comedy, turns bitter, and then escalates to raging tragedrama. Much like Woody Allen's career. (Damn! A gratuitous celeb mention. Sorry.)

Hey. My reviewing days are well behind me. Expect nothing here. Even as a critic I hated having to label and categorize others' work. All I'm doing in this venue is ... is ... is ... wake me up when it's over.

And the previous night, I witnessed Sonny Rollins in concert at the semi-sanded Disney Hall. Despite the crowd-pleasingly uptempo tunes that dominated the latter half of the set, it was among the most absorbing jazz performances I've experienced in a while. Truly amazing playing. It even silenced the couple next to us, who were so preposterously vocal during the Charlie Haden-Ornette Coleman show a few months ago. That night, especially during Haden's mellow opening set, our hefty neighbor brandished his water bottle menacingly, muttered at the stage (from the balcony!), and generally carried on from the moment he sat down to the moment he left early. How did Mr. Finicky here cope? By pretending I was in a divey jazz club and trying to bank all the witticisms and eructations.

Speaking of eructations, here's something that made me laugh out loud and blink in disbelief. It's the best ad I've seen yet for a product with such limited appeal. And yes, that includes the sad and pointless Vertu phone.

Ahem. Please stand by while we install Picasa 2 and Hello so that we may bring you, our loyal reading public, this most compelling image. Go ahead -- walk around. Get a PepsiOne. Phone home. We'll be right with you ....

Et ... voila!

Streits Cred: Creating a black market for matzos. Posted by Hello

OK. So who's the target? Does Streits really think anybody but Passover-obliged Jews will buy Matzos? Why would anyone but Passover-obliged Jews buy Matzos? It's the freaking Bread of Affliction, for Chrissake! It ain't s'posed to be tasty. I guess you could liken it to soul food, which is also a response to privation. But they aren't even pitching the marginally edible onion or egg varieties. Is this ad an attempt to reach out to the same "hip" Hebrew 20-somethings who wear "Yo Semite" t-shirts and read Heeb magazine? It's so naked and yet tricky; ergo, so brilliant. Is it in poor taste? Jeez, how would I know? As if I have any sense of what constitutes poor taste. Jigga, please.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


March 17, 2005

That date. It looks like science fiction. March 17, 2005. So cold. So inhuman. Might as well be a post-nuclear date, like an After Man Destroyed the Skies kind of cheeriness. Or to be more specific and less referential, here we are, and it's still winter, but it might as well be spring (thanks, Frank!), which makes it seem colder and -- dare I say it? -- crueler still. Still. Then 17. A prime number. Nothing cuddly about prime numbers. Hired momentum killers who know no parents, know no mercy, know no allegiance to nothing. One notion indivisible. Murderers of time.

And then there's the clincher: 2005. OK, you out there reading this may think dates that terminate in zero-anything are normal, but if you're old enough to remember laughter (does anyone remember laughter?) or Rock Rock Rock 'n' Roll Radio or Seattle before grunge or a time before mommies just HAD to drive SUVs because they're so much safer for the family, then you must remember wondering what the next century would be like. Scuse me, the next millennium. You must remember this.

Yes, yes, yes ... I fully realize that the time for millennial lamentations has come and gone, and that it all happened about five mindblowing years ago, but this is my blog and I'll ramble on about what I want. If you think this is just so much crying over spilt years, go get your own blog. Incredible how easy it is. Three minutes to the global launch of K-EGO, your very own tower of trash power blogcasting across the universe in 5/4 time. Gosh, the future holds so much in store! One day, maybe March 17, 2005, we'll all control the media! No more corporate giants bestriding the media landscape. No more concentration of power. No more Mr. Man to tell you what to think and where to go and how to eat. Just social networking services and podcasting and documentary films to show everybody what's happening down on the street! It's a Youthquake, baby! Straight outta Cupertino via Cambridge via Oceania!

It's ... March 17, 2005.

Yours Very Truly,
Winston Smith

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Minister of Funny Walks is at my gym ...

... every day. I spend an insufficient number of hours each week engaging in painful, repetitive behaviors at one of Hollywood's temples of vanity. I'm not very good at using the equipment, but I maintain a certain dignity. Many of the adept bodybuilders cast such trivialities to the wind, however, and may be observed taking ridiculously long, slow steps across the rubber floor. I suspect the exercise benefits their legs, but I like it because every time I see one of them come stomping through in slo-mo, I start to laugh. I have not yet been squashed like a bug, however, because I am laughing on the inside. One of the hotsteppers brings his arms into play as well, swinging them slowly around him with each advance, as though to show off all the faces of a large invisible polyhedron. Even some of the regulars are taken aback by his display and allow themselves a few unprofessional sniggers. The Minister of Funny Walks does have almost textbook definition, but who really needs to see every bulging vein and quivering muscle fiber? What ever happened to a little mystery?

Ok, next topic.

The astute reader will doubtless have recognized by now the absolutely trivial nature of everything in this blog. Voyeurs looking for details of my recent romantic travails may as well change the channel. See the "next blog" link in the upper right corner of this page? That's the one you click if you want lurid perspectives on the comings and blowings of strangers.

Nope, the sole purpose of this soapbox is to allow me to vent my spleen on topics such as traffic, vermin, pop culture, and the seven deadly sins.

Let's start with Sloth. The Three-Toed Sloth, to be specific. During an Amazon adventure early last year, I met a small family of Indians who had adopted a female sloth as a pet. She moved even more slowly than the aforementioned high-stepping bodybuilders. In fact, she moved as I imagine an opium-eater would -- like she viewed the world as a waking dream.

She was very compliant, as well, perfectly willing to be pried off her tree and affixed to tourists. Unlike the petting zoo prostitutes we cultivate here in America, she required no extra treats for such friendliness. In fact, she was polite enough to put aside her fiber-rich snack of leaves just to hang on. She may have been terrified, but she carried herself well for someone with just 12 toes. Since you ask, each of the famous three toes per foot ends in a long, sharp claw, but it's hard to imagine a sloth using these raptor-worthy weapons in a fight. It's hard to imagine a sloth fighting at all. Or staying awake long enough to remember what the fuss was all about to begin with. As the sloth settles in on the human host, her long arms, covered in short gray fur, wrap around the host as her claws close deliberately and forcefully, stopping just short of a painful grip. I still don't know how the sloth fends off predators. It's all well and good to play possum when a jaguar comes after you, but that's a pretty hard game to keep up as the cat tears open your abdomen and rips out your guts. Must look this one up.

Another friendly Amazonian we met makes custom condoms. He taps rubber trees to collect their sap, boils and processes it, and then drips the white, sticky latex over absurd penile effigies made of wood. The dirty sleeves that form on the dildoes are thick enough to eradicate not just unwanted pregnancy and disease, but sex itself. The Moral Majority is on the march.

There. We've gone from Sloth to Lust, and had a pleasant travelogue in the bargain.

A word about crane flies. They've been on my mind these past few weeks because the house is full of them. (I had to google "giant mosquito" to figure out what the hell they are.) I realized yesterday that the house is full of them because Clarence, that knight-errant of the squirrel kingdom, dislodged the screen over the stove (see earlier post for details). The crane flies -- often misidentified as non-sucking male mosquitoes, owing to their similar legginess and failure to suck -- hover around the exterior of the house looking for warmth. Upon discovering a hint of domestic vapors, such as may be issuing ironically forth from my bachelor kitchen, they buzz and tumble down the stove vent in pursuit of its source. Once inside, they have nothing to do but get into trouble. They fling themselves against lightbulbs, settle foolishly into active sinks, and fall prey to the daddies longlegs (note agreement of subject and modifier!) whose hazy webs keep the moth population down. I'd like to restore these lost crane flies to their native habitat, or even feed them something so they don't starve to death in my house, but they will have nothing to do with me. Who can blame them? Maybe if I put out saucers of bourbon they'll drink themselves to death like the derelicts they've become.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Fashionweek shmashionweek

Left home at nearly 10 last night to take the uncharacteristically clear 101 downtown to MOCA, where I met S. at a dopey fashion show. (I just have to stop and crow about how wonderful it was to drive at speeds over 25 mph on the Hollywood Freeway. LA traffic is worth several posts in its own right, but that rant will have to wait. Sorry.) Where was I? Ah. Dopey fashion show. As idiotic as I used to think the music business was, way back when I was wasting my life in it, fashion has music beat hands-down for overall silliness. Of course, there are a lot more pretty girls. And far fewer straight guys to distract them.

I know a guy who started a fashion trade paper in Manhattan 20 years ago for the express purpose of meeting babes. He ended up selling it for a lot of money, rumor has it. Reminds me of Ahmet Ertegun, a Turkish diplomat's son who found himself short of cash in college and started "a small record label" to remedy his impecuniousness. That label? Atlantic Records, the early days of which are re-enacted in last year's "Ray." The weedy guy from "Revenge of the Nerds" played Ertegun in "Ray," appropriately enough.

At one point in the show last night, a live horse was led in circles around a collection of hay bales, old luggage, and fresh faces. He didn't seem very happy about it. The acoustically live warehouse space made the deafening music even boomier and more assaultive. Komar and Melamid escorted a live elephant onstage at the vastly more staid LACMA a few years ago. It was no ordinary elephant, however; this Picasso among pachyderms had learned to paint canvases holding a brush in its trunk.

Perhaps some of last night's featured designers have been subcontracting their work out to Indian elephants. Speaking of Indian elephants, I have to get ready for yoga.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Uzbekistan! Squirrels!

After perhaps the best yoga session I've ever endured -- just five of us in a dark screening room at the Chaplin-A&M-Henson lot -- L and I went up the street to Uzbekistan for lunch. What a revelation! I veered away from grilled sturgeon at the last minute and ordered home-smoked salmon instead. L, who's from Russia, pronounced it the best she's had in years. Lobio, a salad of tender kidney beans, thin-sliced white onions, walnuts, and dill, was equally good -- addictive, even -- and the Eggplant Samarkand surprised us both. Imagine an insalata caprese in which pale green, lightly grilled eggplant slices are interleaved with sliced tomatoes in place of mozzarella, the whole surmounted by millions of bits of chopped raw garlic and dill and parsley. You can't imagine. Don't bother. Skip it. I won't go on about the spiced cream cheese or the freshly baked bread -- I'll only say it resembled a bagel with a floor on it -- and I won't even mention L's disappointing lamb dumplings. I will devote a moment to a rapturous description of the most impressively varied pickles platter I've ever seen whisk past me, and then pay brief homage to the Fred Flintstone monument of roast lamb leg that made a momentary stop at our table en route to its doggy bag future.

But what I really want to write about here is squirrels. Not all squirrels, just my squirrel.

Is he really mine? Of course not. Who has a squirrel? A ferret, maybe. But this character is no ferret. I used to think he (or she -- let's be fair) was a rat. That was before I'd actually witnessed the devastation he'd wrought. Let us recap. I leave home for two weeks. While I enjoy glorious unseasonable sunshine in Oregon, rainstorms of biblical proportions afflict my hometown. At some point in that wet fortnight, this ... critter clambers from my roof and into the vent above the stove and drops -- whoosh -- six feet or more. At the bottom of the chute, he/she/it -- let us call this animal Clarence, shall we? -- lands on a grimy, dusty, bug-flecked rectangle of window screen and keeps falling, taking the grime and the dust and the dead bugs down with him, now freefalling through space, and bang! onto the griddle, where everything explodes in a flurry of filth and wet fur.

Fortunately, I am not cooking when he makes his entrance. Else it might look like a scene from the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers featuring Fat Freddy's Cat. (Catbert's evil ancestor, for those of you who never knew the FFFB or FFFBFFFC but keep an eye on modern comics.)

So he falls, he lands, he scores. He gathers his wits about him, our enterprising interloper, brushes himself off, and commences an inspection. He charts the terra incognita of my kitchen. Like Lewis and Clark, who chopped down trees and robbed Native Americans while mapping their way across this great continent of ours, Clarence knocks plants and glasses and antique milk and Pepsi bottles off the broad kitchen windowsill, doubtless twitching his glossy tail as he goes. He pees and poops as he goes too. Everywhere he goes. A very thorough fellow, that Clarence.

He soon tires of the kitchen and makes his way into the living room. There, he has a moment of discovery that rivals Lewis and Clark's own momentous arrival at the Pacific. But instead of rounding a bend and seeing the glorious blue ocean stretched out before him, he hops onto the coffee table and comes upon a broad, deep bowl filled with nuts. After years of struggling with foul acorns and the occasional grub, Clarence has chanced upon an absolute jackpot. He falls to feasting, cracking open first an almond, then a walnut, next a filbert, now a brazil nut, back to the almonds ... and eventually, regretfully, little by little, he slows down. His tiny midsection is swollen almost beyond recognition. So he pops a whole hazelnut into one cheek and starts to plan. In fact, he starts to squirrel away his new trove, nut by nut.

The fruits of his labors were not immediately apparent upon my return. What was clear was that he had climbed the dracaenas and toppled the tallest of them; scampered all over my desk and printer, leaving grimy footprints and nastier pellets around my office; and finally chewed a massive fucking hole in one of the living room windows. It was through this that he escaped. Yes, Clarence repaid my hospitality with a pile of wood chips and a ruined windowframe.

So how did I know Clarence was not a rat? When it rains it pours, and when vermin invade, they bring friends. Throw a party -- you'll see. In my case, a column of ants commandeered half the house, ferrying crumbs and grains of sugar from the kitchen all the way through the dining and living rooms to the front door. I suspect rival ant gangs put down their pincers to make the most of my deserted house. One of them -- either the Backyard Thorax Boys or the Frontyard Hill Gang -- set up a command and control center in the split leaf philodendron, a sort of winter palace for their fat and happy queen. I only discovered this unlikely ant nexus when I finally accepted that yes, I'd have to clean up the wreckage of the windowframe. Just about to start that process, I picked up the plant and ants swarmed up my hand. Recognition dawned slowly but dawn it did, and I hastened to the backyard, plant and ants in hand, to irrigate the pot and possibly flush the visitors back to their habitual outdoor haunts.

As I stood there, training a hose on the potting mix, a walnut bobbed to the surface. Then another. Then another. They were rotten and moldy, but they were clear evidence of a squirrel's paw. I was a little relived to discover that it had not been a rat, but rather a cute and fluffy squirrel that had trashed the place. Less Bubonic, somehow.

Fast-forward a few weeks. I still haven't fixed the window because I've been waiting for the weather to improve and ... well, for one really good reason. Any one. You got one? I mean, why bother? Controlled entropy is the byword of my house, though my mom prefers to invoke Tobacco Road, and a little thing like a ruined window frame is hardly enough to change my slide. But a fresh series of visits from Clarence just might do the trick.

And so. Three days ago, I came home to find small piles of dirt beside all the pots in the living room. And within each of those pots sat the remains of walnuts that had grown moldy and inedible since their interment some weeks ago. Clarence had returned via the hole in the window! So adept a camouflageur was he that he'd hidden nuts in all the potted plants, and I hadn't even noticed. But I noticed his return visit. More pellets. More dirt. He was driving me nuts.

So I boarded up the window and swept the living room yet again. Now I'm hoping Clarence or Clarissa has moved on to more outdoorsy pursuits. For my part, no nuts will darken my coffee table again -- it's just too risky. If I wanted a pet, I'd get sea monkeys. Or an ant farm.

So now, I have just one question. Does anyone out there know a good window person?

A test.

Being the daily will of Lord Zim, a man of sound mind and body. Bla bla bla.

Hm! Seems to be working.