Weekly digest (9/16/11)

Every day now, I get ready for the Bay’s version of a summer, which usually appears in September or October. And yet – nothing.

  • Read it. I started The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, which chronicles Ernest Hemingway’s first wife while they were living in Paris, during the era of the Fitzgeralds and Gertrude Stein and The Sun Also Rises. I know already it’s going to be heartbreaking, but the writing is clear and gives a clear vision of a determined young writer and the wife in the background.
  • Saw it.  If you’ve lived in San Francisco for some time, try giving Vertigo (Hitchcock) another viewing – or a first viewing if you’ve never seen it. The vintage shots of the city, with a taut, crazy-as-nails storyline, makes it for perfect for a rainy afternoon.
  • Heard it. Alabama Shakes has an EP out on Bandcamp. For $4, you’ll get 4 songs that will remind you of a twangier Janis. Highly recommended!!

A.V. Undercover

There is so much great content out there online. This is both a gift and a curse, as you can get totally caught in a vortex of hyperlinks, a wikihole, a YouTube orgy.

Things slip by. This is inevitable. Don’t beat yourself up.

And yet! I so love the AV Club, and yet had totally skipped over their AV Undercover feature, in which bands stop by to record 1 of 25 cover songs, crossing one off the list each time.

I was sold when I heard Sam Bean of Iron and Wine doing George Michael.

Iron And Wine covers George Michael

Peter, Bjorn & John & Otis?

Peter Bjorn And John cover “Try A Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding

This is the second list that the AV Club has done, so there is ample opportunity to get splendidly lost.

Weekly digest (9/9/11)

This week certainly kept my head spinning. When’s the next day off?

  • Read it. I’m reading Judith Thurman’s biography of Isak Dinesen, and it’s amazing – clear, concise, and just as readable as the works of the author whose life it describes. Highly recommended.
  • Saw it. Caught The Red Violin finally. I have had the soundtrack for years, which means the musical themes were eerily familiar.
  • Heard it. More old music  news for you – the new Cut Copy is fun and bouncy!

Weekly digest (9/2/11)

Ah, the distinct promise and power of a long weekend: so many plans laid, only to be easily waylaid by a tv show binge.

  • Read it. I re-read Neil Gaiman’s first volume of The Sandman again and was impressed again by the strength of the story and some pretty creepy art.
  • Saw it. Ah, I watched Hitchcock’s Vertigo for the first time since living in San Francisco. So many locations I recognized! And such a taut, haunting film.
  • Heard it.  Wow, pretty late to the game on this one, but Foster the People is so fun! I dig!

Cultural Itinerary: Los Angeles

My mom moved recently from Hollywood to Santa Rosa, leaving me with no official reason to head down to L.A. anymore. So of course I get to thinking about how much I will miss parts of that rambling, celebrity-infested, trafficky, beach-y, beautiful city. I decided to honor it with a Cultural Itinerary – not gospel, not complete, but how I choose to remember it.

Read it. 

  1. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, by Peter Biskind. Hollywood movie-making became very interesting in the period of late 1960s to the 1970s (think The Graduate and Easy Rider), only to be overtaken by the blockbuster, evidenced by Jaws and Star Wars. Biskind doest a fantastic job of connecting all the dots of the larger-than-life characters, shifting creative projects, and the nasty business of making movies.
  2. The Long Goodbye, by Raymond Chandler. It’s possible to imagine that everyone in Hollywood is or has been on some end of a private investigation, for there’s something undeniably noir about the seedy, desperate fringe elements. Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel takes the private eye Philip Marlowe all over L.A. investigating a failing writer while trying to defend his friend. It’s a great introduction to the genre.
  3. The Peculiar Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender. Now this wasn’t written when I lived there, but when I read it a few years ago, I was struck by a certain melancholy chord in the novel. Bender’s magic-realism version of L.A., where a young girl is able to taste the emotions of those people who made the food she eats, captures the daily  lonelyhearts of the city’s (slightly) normal center, rather than its intense outskirts.

See it. 

  1. Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott. Los Angeles gets much flak for embodying the worst of suburban sprawl and urban overconsumption. The 1982 film version of a Philip K. Dick story is not only groundbreaking for the science fiction tropes it created (man vs. AI), but also because of the image of a futuristic L.A. it depicts – smoggy high-rise buildings with commercials broadcast on them? It’s hard for any resident to say that it couldn’t be just so.
  2. Clueless, directed by Amy Heckerling. Backstory? I went to a West L.A. private school just as Clueless hit theaters. We totally soaked up Cher’s Beverly Hills High School lifestyle, from fuzzy pens to “as if!” (though thankfully avoided some of Dionne’s more questionable hats). My pre-adolescent obsession aside, Clueless is one of the smartest, funniest films aside, made even more enjoyable by the wink-y L.A. asides.
  3. Boogie Nights, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Film-making is the most high-profile industry in Southern California – including not only big-studio action movies and small independent movies but the incredibly successful pornography industry in the San Fernando Valley. Boogie Nights is a twisted version of the “star is born!” trope, with Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlburg) turning into the star Dirk Diggler in the midst of excess. A most awesome soundtrack, too.

Hear it. 

  1.  Midnight Vultures, Beck. Beck was an original poster child from the L.A. post-grunge scene (and came to represent it with “Loser”). He first got his start being played on the taste-maker station KCRW, and several folk-rock-alternative (remember that word!!) albums that made his name. For me, it’s always going to be the slow-jam-heavy, funky and freaky Midnight Vultures, from “Hollywood Freaks” to “Debra,” that makes me think of Los Angeles.
  2. Sublime, Sublime. So I, uh, grew up in a beach town. And pretty much from 7th until 9th grade (when I discovered pop-punk, natch), this was somewhere on my CD player’s rotation. It’s the mix of ska, reggae, surf-rock, with some deeply-rooted Long Beach roots. Was I beachy at all? No. Did it matter? Not at the time.
  3. Crosby, Stills & Nash, Crosby, Stills & Nash. I learned to drive enjoying the sounds of the now-defunct classic-rock station Arrow 93.1, so I have many memory cells devoted to recalling Bad Company lyrics. Crosby, Stills & Nash’s 1969 album represents the best of the California sound coming out of Laurel Canyon at that time: free, wheeling and easy. I personally still love driving to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”

Weekly digest (8/26/11)

Time to take a mini-break and head down to Healdsburg (and sunny weather!) for a wedding!

  • Read it. If you’ve read the first one (The Magicians), Lev Grossman’s The Magician King picks up neatly on the fantastical fandom of fantasy books. It manages to both capture the escapist nature of the literature as well as the harsh realities people hide from.
  • Saw it. I rewatched the Triplets of Belleville and was struck again by how quirky and abrasively charming it is.
  • Heard it. Been listening to some Girls as I bought tickets to see them in October!

Weekly digest (8/19/11)

Funny how even if you aren’t going back to school, the spirit (or maybe the marketing) is infectious. I just spent fifteen minutes shopping for new pens, and considering if maybe I need some new binders.

  • Read it. Another delightful M.F.K. Fisher book – this time How to Cook a Wolf, her meditation on cooking during wartime scarcity and the following prosperity. She has such a fundamental respect and admiration for food, it’s contagious.
  • Saw it. Louis C.K. was hilarious. I highly recommend seeing him live or watching his show if you don’t already.
  • Heard it. Taskaki Miyaki has an awesome lo-fi sound, and even better, a free mini-EP.

Pickathon (8/5/11-8/7/11)

I first heard of Pickathon from listening to the Roadhouse over on KEXP. It’s a festival concert in Happy Valley, Oregon, held in on Pendarvis Farm. The line-up is mostly Americana roots acts, some more on the indie-rock end and some on the authentic twang end.

Mad and KO and I road-tripped from our happy Bay Area home to Happy Valley (with some stops at the awe-some Oregon dunes and Portland). The concert is held actually right outside of Portland, on a huge private farm. Although we knew it was camping, none of us really realized how much HIKING we would have to do (would I have brought four pairs of shoes? Probably not). There was some huffing and puffing as we got all over our stuff to a campsite.

Once we did, we got to explore the very cool kite-like tents over the main stages (seriously, half of my photos are of the tents). There were two main stages, with other scattered in barns and in the forest. The Woods Stage, located deep in the woods, was the best venue. There’s nothing like hearing a band playing good music with sunshine creeping through the trees.

Another awesome thing about Pickathon? The concert is totally sustainable. You could either bring your own plates and cutlery, or you could rent some for $10 (and keep the set for $5). The food was really tasty – I had a biscuit that knocked my socks off. I would say that there’s really no need to bring any camping gear as the prices are all pretty low. And unlike some concerts, water is free and plentiful.

So what about the music? I came away with some new bands that I loved. The Fruit Bats totally nailed it with fun indie-folk at the Woods Stage. The Pine Leaf Boys were right after, and I discovered zydeco is really, really fun live. Pokey Lafarge is just the right mix of kitsch and homage to “riverboat soul music.” Alela Diane‘s voice with her band, The Wild Divine, was just as gorgeous as on her albums. I fell asleep during Bill Callahan’s set, but his epic voice reached all the way to our tent.

All in all, a super-fun experience, and a welcome, low-key alternative to the festival scene.

Want more? 

Check out the Pickathon website to see about 2012. And look at my photos below!

Pickathon, main stage

Pokey Lafarge (8/6/11)

Sonny and the Sunsets (8/6/11)

Woods stage (8/6/11)

Fruitbats (8/6/11)

The Pine Leaf Boys (8/6/11)

Alela Diane and the Wild Divine (8/7/11)

Wye Oak (8/7/11)

Top 5: Country biopics I’d like to see

I do like a good biopic. From Walk the Line to Ray, it’s pretty easy to get wrapped into a fictionalized, more drama-filled version of the life of an artists that I love and respect. For that reason, it’s fun to play the game “Make that biopic!,” in which I create my dream-team line-up of biopics I’d totally watch. And it just so happens that all of them happen to be country music super-stars. Bonus: I cast them!

1. Hank Williams

Hank Williams I was a rambling, gambling man. He pretty much defined the country singer-songwriter: rough life, sad songs. He was addicted to pain killers and alcohol, was a devout, torn Christian, and was dead by the age of 29. Christian Bale has the intensity to do old Hank proud.

Hank Williams, courtesy Mxdwn

Christian Bale, courtesy Judy Halone

2. Waylon Jennings

Waylon Jennings is another country music star deserving of a cinematic coverage. His life story is almost too bizarre to be believed. He grew up in Texas, became friends with Buddy Holly, almost ending up on the the plane that crashed and ended Holly’s life. Instead Waylon become a country music sensation, singing about hard luck times that he lived and breathed. Bonus: you’d get to have someone play Willie Nelson, one of Jennings’ close musical partners and a fellow Outlaw. Jason Lee, who did hicks right in My Name is Earl, would play a mean Waylon.

Waylon Jennings, via Yahoofs


Jason Lee via Film School Rejects


3. Dolly Parton

Another fine rags-to-riches country story. Ms. Parton grew up in Appalachia, one of many children. She made it as a songwriter in Nashville, co-starring on the Porter Wagoner Show, and managed to make herself an independent millionaire by keeping the rights to all her songs. I’d love to see the sunny, optimistic star played by the similarly happy (if not endowed) Kate Hudson

Dolly Parton, courtesy whicdn.com

Dolly Parton, courtesy whicdn.com

Kate Hudson, via Celebtv

Kate Hudson, via Celebtv

4. George Jones and 5. Tammy Wynette

What a pair. Depending what you read, he drove the lawn mower to town to buy liquor when she hid the kids. He sang “White Lightning,” she sang “Stand by Your Man.” Their marriage was six years of hell and heartbreak, with two of country’s saddest singers. Call me crazy, but I can see Jim Carrey as the tyrannical George, and Laura Dern as the sweet but sorrowful Tammy.

George Jones & Tammy Wynette

George Jones & Tammy Wynette

Jim Carrey

Laura Dern











Want more?

I’ve written about it before, but Nathan Rabin has the most amazing series (that is turning into a book!) at the AV Club. He takes the anti-country music fan’s tour through these artists’ work. I’d suggest reading them all: Hank, Waylon, Dolly and George & Tammy.

Also, I made a Youtube playlist for your enjoyment!