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Washtenaw Flaneurade
10 February 2009
The Wiggly World of Walter Walrus
Now Playing: David Bowie--"A New Career In A New Town"
More activity means a lot less blogging, apparently. Michigan has been hit by a wave of freak weather which has brought the temperature up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and I think it's made everyone a little loopier than usual, myself included. I may very well be seeing someone again (after last time, I really don't want to jump the gun), the dreams have been getting a lot weirder and narratively richer, and I'm being published again, probably later this year, in The Third BHF Anthology of Horror Stories. I've hardly seen any movies or done any cooking apart from chicken paprikash (still working through my store of sauce from Christmas, as it lives quite comfortably in my freezer), sauteed brussel sprouts and roasted asparagus. Whereas last month was--apart from the engrossing and inspiring national drama--conventionally terrific, February looks to be a much more interestingly and unusually great time. This despite its hosting Valentine's Day, not that anyone should care about that.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 12:42 PM EST
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30 January 2009
Paging David Lockwood
Now Playing: Robyn Hitchcock--"The Bones In The Ground"

Anyone looking for a beyond-awesome experience this Saturday night should head down to the Elbow Room in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where the Tickled Fancy Burlesque Company will be holding court around 9 p.m. with its lovely ladies and gentlemen, as well as alternately stirring and amusing skits and performances.

Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare (1987): The brother told me about this one, also known, it seems, as The Edge of Hell (for the European market), and it went straight to the top of my Netflix. Rock band "The Tritonz," led by Jon (flaxen-mulleted bodybuilder and "Thor" frontman Jon-Mikl Thor), need some peace and quiet to make good on recordings for their record deal, and so their manager Phil takes them to an old farmhouse in Missisauga, Ontario, to lay down some tracks (although the location filming was actually done ion Markham, another Toronto suburb). When one of the band members complains of having to visit Canada, Jon, in the first of many dialogue glories, lauds Toronto's promotion of "the arts." The band's a motley mix of cartoonishly, possibly satirical newlyweds and horny singles (including an alternately Cockney and Australian drummer, judging from the accent and slang). It turns out, of course, that all isn't well in the farmhouse, and anyone interested in watching the movie should follow my brother's advice, stop reading now, and find the thing. The house is infested by demons who did away with the previous owners, and they pick off the band one by one until they have to come face to face with the enigmatic Jon, who confronts the ultimate evil in a magnificently ludicrous plot twist set to some perfect music (do you "accept the challenge?"). A little self-deprecating pomposity goes a long way, and some of the lines really have to be heard to be believed (this is arguably the greatest Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode never made; listen for the "electro-choir, Space Mutiny moments on the soundtrack), but the demons are fun and entertainingly designed, and have some amusing (and even creepy) moments. Thor is hardly the hack one might imagine (he produced and wrote the screenplay); he comes across as a likably goofy metalhead in the interviews on the DVD extras (who refreshingly seems to have a general idea of how far his talent extends), which include shocking footage of his 1976 appearance on The Merv Griffin Show covering a Sweet number. I drank a little too much last week, and so I decided to forgo the 40 of Pabst Blue Ribbon for which Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare positively shrieked. If anyone from Babs' is reading this, though, you could do a hell of a lot worse than show this one for "Movie Night Tuesday" (at which they do, in fact, have PBR 40s for $4.00).

Children of the Stones (1976): I haven't watched Nickelodeon since I was a kid, and when I was a kid, it was nearly entirely devoted to Canadian shows like Pinwheel and You Can't Do That On Television! (the network itself might have started out Canadian) and a few Commonwealth imports. Many of the latter premiered on these shores under the auspices of the series The Third Eye, featuring stories about kids with abnormal powers. Children of the Stones was without doubt the most memorable, with its creepy, possessed villagers and haunting, sinister sarsens, or standing stones, so famous from places like Stonehenge and Carnac. As it's now available on Region 1, I was curious to see how it stood up after thirty years (and two and a half decades after I'd seen it), and it's actually better than I remember. Made for British ITV (the assortment of regional companies, such as Thames, Granada, and Anglia, that function as a commercial counterpart to the publicly owned BBC--in this case, Harlech Television), the seven-part series was written by Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray and directed by TV vet Peter Graham Scott, with episodes of adult shows like The Avengers and The Prisoner under his belt. Astrophysicist Adam Brake (Gareth Thomas, the future star of Blake's 7*) and his teenage son Matthew (Peter Demin) arrive in the bucolic village of Milbury in order to study the possible astronomical significance of the stones, and instantly find things to be a lot weirder than they'd imagined, especially afte rmeeting the mysterious local magnate (Iain Cuthbertson), Welsh poacher Dai (the great Freddie Jones), and (relative) fellow parent-child new arrivals Margaret (Veronica Strong) and Sandra (Katherine Levy). Children plays out like a combination of Doctor Who, The Wicker Man, Village of the Damned, The Quatermass Conclusion, and The Brady Bunch. The Who influence comes through in the striking mix of traditional horror and sci-fi that the plot manages, sometimes mystifyingly but always with enough plausibility to keep the story going; there are some really wild ideas flying around here. The cast is terrific, especially Demin, who the director didn't seem to praise very highly in the extras interview but who manages a very believable performance as an overachieving teenager that doesn't turn bratty or obnoxious. The relationships between the two parents and their children form just one of Children's strong points, especially as the two are often shown as equal in trying to solve the mystery of the village. Some might find the ending a little unsatisfying, but I suspect it was one of those "written into a corner" things with which I can sympathize (and it does work well with some of the show's themes). The wobbly nature of some of the sets and special effects actually adds to the sinister atmosphere, as does some of the innovative camerawork and moody lighting. The location filming in the Wiltshire village of Avebury, using its real-life standing stones, is an incalculable contribution to the series' success. Not far from Stonehenge, Avebury is arguably a cooler version of its more famous counterpart--older, less touristy (although apparently less so every day), and you can actually walk among the stones there. Of particular interest is Sydney Sager's almost entirely chanted musical score (with occasional 70s grooves), cranking the creep factor up to 11 and paying tribute to the stones' Neolithic builders. The thinking was that Neolithic peoples lacked what we would understand as "language" and communicated almost entirely by grunts or unformed sounds (my Neolithic knowledge is somewhat lacking, so I don't know if this theory is still widely credited). It's a great idea, and makes an unforgettable mark on a milestone in my personal visual education and Anglophone kids' TV that I'm happy to find still holds up over thirty years later.

* One of the best books I read last year was Junot Diaz' critically acclaimed The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, about a Dominican-American geek and sci-fi/fantasy fanatic who tries to find love and happiness while statying true to himself. Among many things to love about it--the haunting, sympathetic hero, the fascinating footnoted asides on Dominican history--it actually mentioned Blake's 7, which is awesome.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 10:11 AM EST
Updated: 30 January 2009 10:14 AM EST
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25 January 2009
The Weird Hotness of Candace Hilligoss
Now Playing: The Supremes--"Forever Came Today"

January has been quite the month, I must say. Hardly a day's gone by without some interesting event, mild personal revelation, or weird dream. Add to this the constant irritation of my psycho Russian housemate having his creepy, controlling mother stay in his room for three fucking weeks (which I'm pretty sure is against house rules, as there's only supposed to be one person per room) and it becomes quite entertainingly surreal (all the more so as he was defending his physics dissertation--that must have been something to see), to the point where I can indulge my inner asshole by blasting the above song next door at one in the morning (the song is a masterpiece; the volume less).

I asked someone out on a date for the first time in almost four years (nearly a decade if we're talking "flying blind"). Events are strangely unfolding, so maybe more on that later.

Due to my landlords' son's probable laziness (my landlords are in Florida), I shoveled our sidewalk snow and ice the other day, which should, of course, be the landlord's responsibility, but some Zorro type has taken to scattering leaflets about the ghetto end of Geddes Avenue decrying the tendency of absentee landlords letting their properties go to pot, especially in largely studen-rented areas, and I became irritated to think that my house might have been a public safety menace (the ice hasn't been that bad this year, but you never know). Was that a long sentence? The people responsible for the leaflets are absolutely right, but I can't help thinking that they did this directly after taking some class on political movements, and had some garish paisley light bulb ignite over their heads as a result. I'll be very annoyed if my endeavors make some heroically anonymous character feel worthy of comparison to Emma Goldman, but something really had to be done. It was actually quite pleasant--the sun was out, I got some non-walking, non-work exercise, the passersby were attractive, I had the feeling of taking things into my own hands (I'd call it "ownership" if it weren't hackneyed and legally inaccurate), and I got to watch the rest of Children of the Stones (more on that later) afterward. I'm a little abashed to admit that part of my determination was inspired by President Obama's inaugural speech, but that's inspiration for you.

I've grown into my mustache by leaps and bounds (I have one, by the way). It resembles Wyatt Earp's, although a friend of mine also suggested that I looked like I belonged in some German prog-rock band of the early 1970s, something with which I can also deal. It was partly inspired by a number of co-workers with mustaches, and it feels a hell of a lot more me than the beard ever did. The only drawbacks, really, are eating and drinking fluids with fruit pulp in them (if you can imagine).

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 1:00 PM EST
Updated: 25 January 2009 1:01 PM EST
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6 January 2009
Farting Squirrel Hot Sauce
Now Playing: The Fratellis--"Chelsea Dagger"

If it ever shows up at the grocery store, I'll be partially to blame.

Sarah Vowell, The Wordy Shipmates (2008): Sarah Vowell is a writer and broadcaster who has appeared frequently on This American Life, the ultra-twee NPR oral-story icon making sense of an often strange and confusing world for people who don't get out that much. From everything I'd read and heard of Vowell, I was ready to hate this book with a passion. My idea of her veered close at times to the female version of the proudly mediocre Chuck Klosterman (who's also appeared on This American Life) in the excessive dollops of irony and frequent pop-culture references used to season her work, and her reported stories on the show reveal that she has a voice akin to Sara Gilbert's when the latter did her impression of Jenna von Oy in the Saturday Night Live parody of the NBC sitcom Blossom during the early nineties (a classic sketch probably better remembered for Mike Meyers' Joey Lawrence). The voice issue is hardly unappealing, but everything I'd read about The Wordy Shipmates prepared me to revile it, especially a review by Virginia Heffernan in The New York Times Book Review. The Wordy Shipmates, you see, is an impressionistic analysis of the New England Puritans and the influence they've had on American history and literature. Vowell, a noted history buff, previously published Assassination Vacation, the story of her journeys to various famous assassination sites throughout the U.S., and The Wordy Shipmates promised to be another chapter in her quest to quirkily snark on some cherished myths about our collective past. The first twenty pages or so were profoundly unpromising, Vowell gassing on about how she saw the Puritans during her childhood, referencing Brady Bunch episodes and so forth, with hipster slang cast this way and that, that I was halfway prepared to give up, as I'd already read Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs and really don't want to relive the experience. I'm not sure how to describe what happened next. It was somewhere between instant seduction (maybe unfortunately, I think Vowell's cute, and coupled with the voice, that might have had some effect)* and getting used to the pool temperature. After the first few pages, it just becomes fantastic, Vowell recounting the stories of colonial power-players like Massasoit, John Cotton and John Winthrop, and lusty "heretics" like Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, and making frequent asides to later centuries, when political figures such as Reagan, Dubya and Mario Cuomo bandied about Winthrop's classic "city on a hill" vision to describe America. I fell in love with it, pperhaps largely through Vowell's unabashed personal fondness for many of these people. She feels that the Puritans don't get a fair shake in conventional accounts of American culture, and her vehemence struck a chord, as I share a similar defiant affection for the Puritans' contemporaries (and nominal superiors), the Roundheads of the English Civil War (Harry Vane, one of the condemned regicides of 1660--the men still alive who'd condemned Charles I to death in 1649, makes a surprise appearance in The Wordy Shipmates, as an idealistic young whippersnapper out to make a name for himself in 1630s Massachusetts). One thing Vowell does very well is to expose how human and vivacious the supposedly strait-laced Puritans really were, citing poetry and sermons (the latter for which she confesses an uncontrollable love). At times this book reminds me of one of those sermons, supposedly cool and ironic but with a torrent of affection bursting forth for those marginalized or despised in the historical consciousness, an affection hardly sparing of its beloved's genuine flaws and misdeeds (her accuont of the Narragansett-Pequot War of 1636-37, in which the Puritan colonists revealed a side of combat devastating to the indigenous population is both well-done and bracingly incongruous to the tone of the rest of the book). The chatty style and breakneck alternation of ironic distance and deep emotional identification start to create a gently disorienting feeling, especially by page 162, where she cites Elliott Gould's performance in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973) as an example of the Algonquin spiritual concept Manitou (as understood, anyway, by Roger Williams). By the time she arrived at a triumphant conclusion, I felt quite intellectually ravished.

*Not that it should, really; I've thought Natalie Merchant a goddess for twenty years and only stopped loathing her music a few years ago. 

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 11:28 AM EST
Updated: 6 January 2009 11:33 AM EST
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31 December 2008
I Keep Eating My Moustache
Now Playing: The Temptations--"Ball of Confusion"
I don't really have much to say about the last year, to be honest. In terms of incident, it was arguably more important than '07: I got a new job and we got a new President. Still, it didn't seem as eventful somehow. The departure of a couple of good friends didn't quite generate the gaping hole I feared (though they can never be replaced) and my new job has yielded both new learning opportunities and the possibility of social interactions I hadn't previously considered. I wrote more, I think, than I ever did on a yearly basis and I had four straight stories in a row that I'm now quite proud of--the quality's been more (relatively) consistent than ever. Maybe it all just seems too pat, but that's all the more reason to look forward to this year, which I hope will be a happily interesting one, as I hope it is for all of you. 

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 12:01 AM EST
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28 December 2008
The Cries of Pod Six
Now Playing: Nick Lowe--"Marie Prevost"

Every time I get irritated at being mistaken for homeless simply because I use the library computers (that is, when I'm not down on my hands and knees thanking whoever for not being homeless), I'm treated to a spectacle such as two grown men (who I used to see at the Michigan Cinema Guild) indulging in a "shut up-no, you shut up" test of strength. Sometimes life really does give back. 

Over Christmas, I came into temporary possession of a few Great Lakes area films, made on microscopic budgets and all of them intriguing in their own ways. Regional, transnational holiday personal film fests are fun.

Death (2005): The first of two short (forty-minute or so) features available involving Ann Arbor band Counter Cosby was made in 2005 by Justin Brewer (using a number of recognizable Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti locations) and tells the story of Bill (Aaron Howard), whose grief over his girlfriend's recent death brings him to question the existence of God, the nature of reality, and the meaning of death. This all comes about through his leaving increasingly angry messages on his pastor's answering machine, extended hallucinations and song-and-dance sequences, and visitations by "angels" (in reality mutant humanoids from the future). The movie is well put together, with a storytelling approach that manages to genuinely convey Bill's grief while remaining unsentimental and hilarious. The songs are a mixed bag, but my favorite was probably Bill's realization that he might be dead, which kicks the film into a high gear it doesn't lose for the rest of its running time.

Asshole Drunkard (2006):  Langel Bookbinder of Counter Cosby put together this Hong Kong-style kung fu flick, again using local settings (with a couple of very funny scenes set in the Middle Eastern restaurant Jerusalem Garden, the Vault of Midnight hobby store, and along what looks like the railroad bridge above Washington Street) and taking the merry piss out of kung fu movies in a way that manages to satirize one of the most unspeakably smug towns on Earth (look for a great turn by Death director Justin Brewer during the Jerry Garden scene). Si Feud (Bookbinder) lives with his king fu master's daughter (Anna Chen), who throws him out for his laziness and denies him return until he finishes a number of tasks. Hooking up with Prince Ass of Dingus Province (Aaron Howard again, whose weaselly, sniveling performance really deserves some kind of award), Si Feud shows Ass the "Asshole Drunkard" way in order to build his young student's skill and to best his own archrival, Pak Mei (Drew Schmeiding), whose bitter struggles with Si Feud over a long-ago jar of pickled eggs have hardened into a deadly hatred. A rather more obviously amusing affair than Death, Asshole Drunkard is unforgivably entertaining. Bookbinder does an excellent job of spoofing the braggart heroes of Hong Kong kung fu (and maybe even Japanese films; I was reminded of Toshiro Mifune in The Seven Samurai on occasion), and the supporting cast gives great value, especially Counter Cosby drummer Justin O'Neill as "Hippie Guy," who has a number of scene-stealing moments. Best of all are the authentic sounds used for the various kicks, punches, and slaps of "martial arts," culminating in the final battle with Pak Mei and some pantswettingly funny special effects.

Infest Wisely (2007): As mentioned some time back, my favorite living fiction author is probably Jim Munroe, the Canadian wunderkind whose DIY prowess gave works like Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gasmask (1998) and Angry Young Spaceman (2000) to the world. His multimedia projects are just as interesting, ranging from both print and online zines to the graphic novel Therefore Repent! (2007) and Infest Wisely, a dystopian sci-fi film written by Munroe and directed by himself and six other directors in an episodic format for artound $700. In Toronto of the near-future, a newly-marketed nanotechnology ingested through chewing gum promises to fundamentally alter reality by computerizing the brain. What could possibly go wrong? The spread of the new technology's effects makes itself felt through a now-familiar hipster milieu that only Munroe and, in the US, Andrew Bujalski--and arguably J.J. Abrams at the beginning of Cloverfield--have ever really gotten right. A number of Luddite spoilsports--including a brilliant but socially retarded hacker (Sean Lerner), a hottie lab technician and guitarist (Andrea Battersby), and a smartass grad student (Kevin Hainey)--just don't get it, rising up in various ways against the nanotech onslaught. A cast of both actors and non-actors blends together quite well in a story which I think is a more successful take on issues Munroe examined in his earlier 2002 novel Everyone In Silico (which I found a little too obviously cyberpunk for my taste). Western consumption patterns, advertising, and commercialism take the brunt of some well-deserved satire, with an especially funny subplot concerning hustling artists on the make. Points are made without being hammered, save for a somewhat cartoonish but more-entertaining-for-all-that ad guy (Sean MacMahon). Spaces of time pass between episodes in a peripheral, unobtrusive way, rather refreshing from a narrative standpoint. All in all, Infest Wisely is a fantastic example of thought-provoking, low-budget cinema, and an excellent model for other filmmakers to progress in a similar vein.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 1:20 PM EST
Updated: 28 December 2008 1:07 PM EST
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25 December 2008
A Very Messy Kweznuz
Now Playing: LCD Soundsystem--"Someone Great"

A happy holiday season to all. At present I'm probably cooking, watching movies, writing, drinking, or doing laundry (probably all five), but whatever you're doing, I hope it's a terrific day and week for you. Can't be any better than this kid's, I'm guessing.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 12:01 AM EST
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15 December 2008
Any Girls With Machine Guns
Now Playing: Lightning Love: "Good Time"

It's been my intent to hibernate a good deal more this winter than I have in the past. Every year I make this resolution that I'll stay indoors, save money, cut down on my exposure, get some writing done, try some new recipes, and I never seem to entirely keep it, succumbing to the wholly irrational urge to go outside. There's not really that much sun and I can get vitamin D from whole milk, for heaven's sake. Inspired by the examples of certain co-workers, I think this year's project will be markedly more successful. Not now, though, as they keep putting on sweet shows at the Blind Pig, probably just to put me out of sorts.

Lightning Love and the Friendly Foes: The sister-brother combination of Leah and Aaron Diehl has been around for a while, ever since the demise of the Minor Planets, in which both Leah Diehl and a former co-worker of mine at Chateau Fluffy figured. They play a sort of intimate electro-chamber-pop, in which Leah Diehl's strange, almost robotic voice plays well with the simple melodies and occasionally childlike lyrics. While their appeal certainly can't be hurt by the fact that Diehl is inordinately attractive (no offhand judgment, this, as I know at least two cases in which this is a factor in attracting interest from the curious, probably a la Rilo Kiley and Jenny Lewis), they're a tight,appealing unit, and were certainly much better than when I'd last seen them, opening for Starling Electric. They seemed a little thin but have really perfected a recognizable sound that works great on CD, copies of which they sportingly gave away free with the ticket purchase. I hadn't seen the Friendly Foes before, and they were quite a pleasant surprise, playing the kind of straight-up, shtick-free rock that one rarely sees these days (around here, anyway) outside of acts like the Ultrasounds (maybe a little harder than the latter). I don't count the Hard Lessons, excellent though they can be, as the straight-up rock actually seems to be the shtick in their case. "My Body (Is A Strange Place To live)" was an especial standout, with a nice, anthemic feel to it.

Texas Prison Rodeo and Counter Cosby: There was a bit of a kerfuffle a few years back concerning the aforementioned Starling Electric and their next-door neighbors, when the former lived at the old "White Lodge" on Third Street. One of the guys badmouthed the next door band in the Metro Times and one of the badmouthed wrote in to protest, and shortly thereafter the lads of S-E decamped further west. Working at my present job, I discovered a couple of months back that probably my most frequent co-worker, Joby, was one of the next-door band. So the town's small enough that I can end up working with and befriending one of my favorite band's mortal enemies. I thought this marvelous, and he and my other co-worker Joel have been osmotically working to make me like metal. Some backstory, unfortunately: I've never understood metal, and missed the bandwagon there the same way I did with graphic novels and post-1990 video games. I thought Black Sabbath was all right, but that was about it. My high school's very irregularly produced paper featured a joke quiz one month in the late 80s in which those who won, they said, must have listened to Slayer while those who lost favored Poison. I knew Poison sucked anyway, but Slayer's appeal shockingly eluded me. Watching the entertaining and informative Metal: A Headbanger's Journey on Joel's recommendation started to clear away some of the mystery, but I don't think I ever voluntarily went to hear a metal show until I checked out Joby's relatively new band, Texas Prison Rodeo, opening for Counter Cosby. Featuring Joby on guitar and the infernal, Cthulhu-y vocals of Tavi Lux Veraldi, it was a very committed form of metal (I'd say "intellectual," but that just feels wrong) that had me alternately shaking in my seat and trying to figure out how the hell they did that. Maybe it was simply down to being my first experience with live metal, but it was a great show and I hope to see them again. Counter Cosby have been around for some time; I kept seeing their flyers all over town but never made it to a show. It was my loss, apparently, as they're both very interesting and hilarious. They follow a complex, mathematically-based approach to composing their music that makes for some jarring and arresting melodies (if that's an applicable word). The music in turn goes to support lyrics both wickedly funny and joyously obscene in songs like "Wahmbulance" and "Rickets on the Crotch," all promoted by a paradoxically welcoming stage presence. They' ve even released a couple of movies, Death and Asshole Drunkard, which I'll be watching later this month as part of a planned "local movie day" at my house. After hearing their show and reading their lyrics, it's hard to express how much I'm looking forward to it.

The Tickled Fancy Burlesque Company: Having a bunch of beautiful women ascend stage and then take most of their clothes off to music would seem like a no-brainer of an idea for a show, and I'm a little surprised that it hasn't happened (to my knowledge) around here before recently. Yet another co-worker of mine, who I'll refer to (as he does on stage and occasionally in real life) as "Leonard G. Moustache," has begun working with this local group, which has been around for about a year and which I saw for the second time Saturday night, both out of general interest and because Leonard would have a starring part in the show, if you know what I mean. Tickled Fancy incorporates the traditional elements of classical burlesque with a more modern sensibility that tries to bring a little more comedy and performance to the proceedings. The show starts with the MCs, Chuck Rock and Annie Thing (the latter somewhat resembling a 60s-era Monica Vitti), playing a husband and wife trying to pretend--with the helpful assistance of booze--that they don't loathe each other, doing their intros and then linking the various acts. These differ in style and appeal: a particular audience favorite is Rita Riggs, whose acrobatic ability lends itself to hula hoops and bending coat handers with her tongue, although Lydia Valentine was very good as well. Mabel Syrup's baking routine ("oh, my apron's so dirty!" etc.) definitely hit closest to home, although part of me sniffed at the product she was wasting; still it was all in a good cause. As for Leonard's performance, words fail me. "That mailman's got too many packages! What are we gonna do?" Etc. The audience, as one might imagine, was very responsive to it all; another co-worker (co-workers were unsurprisingly pretty thick on the ground that night) and I actually wound up kneeling atop barstools to get a better look--starting out like Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) but thankfully escaping the fate of Eutychus (Acts 20:9-12). The spirit of the evening set out to involve people, with raffles and calls and response, and thoroughly delighted everyone (certainly me). As Ms. Syrup put in the new local music journal Sound Notions (a very informative reference which proved quite helpful in writing this entry), they're "more vaudeville than burlesque," and the combination puts a new spin on the kind of entertainment locally possible, at places like the Blind Pig and elsewhere. It's definitely the kind of thing we need more of around here.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 12:27 PM EST
Updated: 15 December 2008 12:35 PM EST
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21 November 2008
Marmot's Progress
Now Playing: The Raveonettes--"Love In A Trashcan"

Writing as someone a little skeptical of the widespread "change" the presidential campaign I recently supported promised, I have to say that this is pretty awesome. From my perspective, my congressman's had it coming since he decided to go after Lynn Rivers in the wake of the Republican gerrymander.

This post by Jessi Klein and the surprisingly impassioned (or vituperative, take your pick) rebuttal from Ezra Klein (no relation) really dramatize an argument I've been having with myself ever since I decided to go into the food service industry. I enjoy cooking, and I'd certainly like to improve my abilities and my ingredients. That said, I've long had a visceral dislike of the "foodie" craze that's swept the middle class for the last few years, which seems to have less to do with making good food than showing off some kind of cultural accessory, like playing a video game. I've never seen Top Chef, and I've heard mostly laudable things about Tom Colicchio, but good cooking existed long before the show and doutbless will long after. Part of this dislike, of course, may have to do with my jealousy of the access, both temporal and financial, "foodies" seem to have to excellent ingredients and equipment. Cooking for a living doesn't pay very much (at least for me at the present time) and sometimes tends to leave one exhausted to a degree that, yes, Hot Pockets are, at times, the most welcome form of sustenance.

 On the other hand, the tendency to demonize good cooking and good ingredients themselves, rather than the fetishization thereof, is perhaps more ridiculous. I remember that, a few years back, a number of acquaintances would rag on anything "artisanal" as somehow inauthentic, as opposed to pizza and Pabst Blue Ribbon, just the thing to unwind after a hard day down at the mill or factory or graduate internship. The interest in growing and eating well and local became just one more example of bourgeois decadence. Some of the criticisms, to be sure, were well-directed; for instance, at local grocery stores that had to price higher than the big box places out in the suburbs, a legitimate complaint (if not always applicable in my view) as the nearest decent places to buy food in and around a major college campus were, by and large, only financially accessible to "foodies." All too often, though, this concern simply expressed itself in that aforementioned visceral dislike.

I'm still not quite sure where I stand; I suppose my present exploration of cooking is an attempt to find some kind of middle ground.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 10:28 AM EST
Updated: 21 November 2008 10:29 AM EST
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8 November 2008
Smelling The Ham Of Truth
Now Playing: Of Montreal--"Vegan In Furs"

Listening to the radio and going online over the past week, it's struck me in a kind of rolling barrage how strange the election has made everything. Realizing that sane, centrist, and possibly even liberal policies might actually be possible--infrastructure investment, open acknowledgement of global warming (let alone strategies to fight its effects), narrowing the gap between rich and poor, this diplomacy thing--is a little disorienting. There are going to be hard economic facts to face in the meantime, but if anything, my optimism has increased, to the point where I actually have optimism. So much of my outlook on life had been influenced by the appalling effects of the past eight years, and I suppose I'm trying to wrap my head around visualizing a future again that doesn't involve a post-apocalyptic scenario in which everyone worships Chainsaw Jesus. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has a similar, if more high-minded, reaction. In a way, it's a little disappointing. Had things gone differently, I was provisionally prepared to give up on civic engagement and spend my entire free time watching Harvey Birdman: Attorney-at-Law and eating pizza until I exploded like a punctured zit. So that's cool.

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008): Mike Leigh's a director whose work I've enjoyed in the past but haven't really adored, apart from the Mikado biopic Topsy-Turvy (2000). I'm not a big Gilbert and Sullivan fan, but it was one of the best historical films I'd ever see, the conversational nature of Leigh's dialogue dispelling the portentous stench that hangs around so many films set in the past. Life Is Sweet (1991) was pretty good, although I respected Naked (1994) a lot more than I liked it. David Thewlis' scabrous performance won deserved raves, but my heart went out to Clare Skinner's hilarious control-freak character at the end. Some of his more famous works, like Secrets and Lies (1995) or Vera Drake (2006), I haven't seen at all. When I heard about Happy-Go-Lucky, I was intrigued. Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is a primary (elementary) school teacher in London who manages her life with an infectiously goofy good cheer, no matter what happens. The latter include testy interactions with Scott (Eddie Marsan), her driving teacher, her problematic family, and a handsome social worker she ends up dating. It's hard to describe Hawkins' performance save to say that I felt like I'd been run over by a tank--in a good way. In other hands, Poppy could have become intensely annoying (others certainly may find her so), but Hawkins actually makes her a believable character who just happens to be incredibly nice, which I find more than a little subversive in today's cinema. I worried at times that Poppy's free-spirited innocence might turn farcically promiscuous or misogynistic, but such wasn't the case, and it made the whole thing more fascinating. Her relationships with friends and with those her personality throws off-kilter reminded me of Leigh's earlier Career Girls (1997), in which Mark Benton's mentally damaged character finally turns on the two title characters. Poppy's also no pushover, forcefully reacting when bullied, but refusing to let it alter her general personality. In this she reminded me not of one of Leigh's characters but of Kate Dollenmayer's Marnie in Andrew Bujalski's Funny Ha Ha (2002). Marnie's problem wasn't so much that she was overly nice but that she was listless and apathetic. She never let that get in the way, though, when stakes were relatively high, either when stopping a drunk friend from driving or taking her creepy admirer (hilariously played by the director) to task for potentially violent antisocial behavior. Poppy's much the same, only preserving her happiness rather than her apathy.  The supporting cast is excellent, especially Marsan, who makes his character amusing, menacing, and pathetic at once, but it's Hawkins' show, and she left me dazed.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 5:21 PM EST
Updated: 16 November 2008 1:25 PM EST
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