This film was was made and released in 2014/2015.

This film was was made and released in 2014/2015.

Five Stars

I was pleasantly surprised! It sat on my shelf for a while until I got around to it. I’m glad that I did. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be – it’s not a political correctness polemic.

It’s surprising how taboo this subject seems to have been.  The film – the director/writer/producer/actor’s personal journey – is therefore fascinating. It explores some of the mechanics of voice; the cultural meanings; and the misogyny behind this question.

Ultimately, very much an affirmation for being yourself; for being queer, even.

 

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The Detroit duo

The Detroit duo “The Whiskey Charmers”

Here’s some music to sink your teeth into!

A friend told me I should check out the debut album by the Whiskey Charmers, an alt-country duo from Detroit. They wouldn’t tell me about it; they said to just listen for myself. That piqued my interest. So I downloaded it from their Bandcamp site.

As I was listening to it, my critic was in high gear. I was curious what they were up to. I was trying to get a handle on it.

At first, I thought, wow… I would’ve liked to have been involved in the production of this album. I’d have some good suggestions.

A line from the first song really jumped out at me: “But then you looked at the horizon – and you vanished into thin air”. Nice… A pretty evocative image. I’m sure we’ve all known a few people like that.

The next song was about a vampire… Hmmm… Okay, I’ve never really been that into vampires; haven’t understood the attraction and fascination. I remember how as kids, my older sister always loved to watch the soap opera “Dark Shadows”, about the vampire Barnabas Collins. I get it now – he was mysterious and sexy…

The “Neon Motel Room” has “a nice little quaint highway view.”

The song “C Blues” got my pulse going. It was a nice musical change of pace. Though very short, it seems like a good genre for the duo.

“Can’t Leave” has some very nice guitar figures that really grabbed me. Kind of Spanish/arabesque stuff like John Cippolina might’ve played.

I listened through to the end of the album; and then started from the beginning again.

I thought about production. What does that word mean? Everybody involved with the making of a recording is – in some sense of the word – ‘producing’ it. I marveled as I thought about how much is actually involved in putting out an album like this.

And as I continued to listen, it started dawning on me what was going on here.

It’s a dramatic, spooky, thematic collection of songs; nicely woven together. It has, in fact, been produced just as it should’ve been! The album continues to grow on me.

Saints and sinners; rattlesnakes; vampires; rusted chains on feet that have been there a thousand years… ghosts maybe? The singing, the low key ‘production’… All very nice. I could listen to this album over and over. I continue to do so. It’s a kick.

Okay, one reviewer called it country noir. Nice. That’ll do as a label. Kind of Goth, even – but with a sense of humor, imagination and a light touch. If it is in fact country music… Well, what a great way to mix up genres! This is original and fresh.

Also – there is a tradition and precedent in country music. Much of the country music from an earlier era – The Louvin Brothers’ “Knoxville Girl” comes to mind – came from traditional English, Scottish or Irish ballads. And we all know how the Irish love their ghost stories, right? Listen to “Sit Down By The Fire” by the Pogues for the modern equivalent.

One of the first songs that grew on me is “Vampire”. It’s such a great metaphor for how a moment’s passion can lead to a lifetime of misery. But what I love most about this album is how well the songs all go together as a whole.

Check it out! For your listening pleasure! Lullabies for the dispossessed! (Or even for the
possessed!)  Now available:  “The Whiskey Charmers”

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Bandcamp Download and Streaming Link:
https://thewhiskeycharmers.bandcamp.com/releases

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Website:

wwww.thewhiskeycharmers.com

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subway art

“Training Days: The Subway Artists Then and Now” by Henry Chalfant and Sacha Jenkins

A must read primer on graffiti art, if you have any interest in it at all. Maybe even if you don’t. It really gets you inside the minds and motivations of the kids that put their safety – and more – on the line. First person accounts of what it was like in its heyday. Includes a glossary.

These kids were outlaws who fought to make a space and identity for themselves; sometimes (if not by definition) making wry comments on society in the doing of it.

Co-Author/Editor Henry Chalfant was one of the most important people (if not the most) to document this phenomenon with his photography.

Some of the pictures are kind of tiny. “Subway Art: 25th Anniversary Edition” by Chalfant and Martha Cooper has many of these same pictures in a big coffee table book format.

Another book I’ve seen that I like is “Freight Train Graffiti”. It’s impossible to look at these pictures for any length of time and not improve your own handwriting… These people are heroes to me. Delve beneath the surface to see the beauty, if it’s not in fact obvious to you at first. The level of courage and dedication is high…

What do I like about the graffiti in this book? I like the way it was done with a certain code; working within artistic strictures. There’s some amazing artists. I’ve seen enough on the streets and freight cars of Seattle to appreciate this.

A lot of it was done just to get one’s name up in the public eye. But it couldn’t necessarily be legible. Artistic, yes – but often legible only to the few or the knowledgeable.

Also, to be legitimate, many writers felt that you had to steal the paint. And there was so much more of a technical aspect to it than you might think.

I’m not looking to make any converts. But I think you’ll have to read and digest this book if you want to know the ‘ifs’ and ‘whats’ of the social and artistic impact this movement had.

the book

the book “Freight Train Graffiti”

K2 Siren of the Himalayas

Fantastic movie! Gets inside the head of climbers like nothing I could’ve hoped for.

For me, the expedition leader Fabrizio Zangrilli is the star of this movie. His levelheadedness is powerfully instructional. But he wasn’t the only star. You grow attached to this hardy, fearless crew. Emotionally powerful – I cried.

The extras are a must-see. A great concept/vision for a film; and flawlessly executed. A real achievement.

4 1/2 stars out of 5.

Jimi_All_Is_by_My_Side_poster

When this movie was shown at the NW Film Festival last year, there was some mystery around it. The people I asked about it seemed to think there was something… maybe a little… off about it. But they wouldn’t say what!

Yeah. For me, there were one or two shockers. I’m not going to say, either. But I’m very troubled by the way this movie – which apparently got a lot of its info verbatim from Charles Cross’s Hendrix bio “Room Full Of Mirrors” – might function as yet another meme about Hendrix. The man is 45 years dead… and still the vultures circle. Incredible, just incredible! See the movie and then do a little research on the internet; if anything strikes you as questionable. For me it’s a cautionary tale about believing everything that you’re told.

I liked it inasmuch as it renewed and re-piqued my interest in Hendrix. Linda Keith was portrayed as very influential in shaping Jimi’s professionalism and in encouraging him to be a bandleader/artist in his own right. For me it brings up questions about the star-making process. It seems like an interesting question: if Hendrix hadn’t been ‘discovered’, shaped, molded, etc. (if indeed he was), then what would his artistic career trajectory have been? I think our musicians and other artists get commodified – it’s an occupational hazard. They sometimes sacrifice themselves – or get sacrificed! – in order to share their own unique vision with the world…

Andre’ Benjamin’s performance was uncanny, simply brilliant.

I liked the sense of getting a window onto the groundbreaking artistic milieu and zeitgeist that was London at that particular time. The film captures some aspects of it very well.
I had a big objection to the way that the Devon Wilson character (Ida) was portrayed – as some evil Svengali of romantic intrigue. Phony, sensationalistic and objectionable, in my opinion. There’s more of this kind of portrayal of the women in Hendrix’s orbit.

At any rate, after watching this, I did a little research on the internet, listened to some of my favorite Hendrix tunes and had a bit of a cry for the man and his music. Then I picked up Cross’s book, which I’m reading now – with a healthy dose of skepticism.

I guess for me it was a vehicle to meditate on the man and his music… 3 1/2 stars out of 5.

I think Dave Edmunds is one of the great under appreciated talents of roots rock ‘n roll. How would I describe his music?

I like upbeat, up tempo rock music – a lot. I like virtuosity on the guitar; clever songwriting; expressive singing; and good interpretation and arrangement of others’ work, where it eclipses the originals or adds something ineffable.

I saw him play at a nice small auditorium during one of Seattle Center’s Bumbershoot festivals, some years back, playing solo with just an acoustic guitar. What a talent!

I put together a playlist on Spotify called Edmunds, Lowe and Rockpile. Some of my favorite, stand-out tracks from the playlist are: Standing At The Crossroads; Born Fighter; Home In My Hand; Halfway Down; It Doesn’t Really Matter; I Love Music; Girls Talk; Almost Saturday Night; Three Times Loser; When I write the Book; and You Ain’t Nothin’ But Fine.

Nick Lowe is a great talent, too. I love his voice; he’s a fantastic singer! He brings a great sardonic sense of humor to his singing and lyrics.

Rockpile and some of Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe’s ‘solo’ work are all basically the same band. Nick Lowe played bass and sang. Edmunds sang, as did guitarist Billy Bremer. Terry Williams played drums. Wow! What a band! They put out an impressive collection of work.

I like trying to guess whether it is Lowe or Edmunds singing on some tracks. Their voices are sometimes similar; and sometimes have their own interesting nuances. This is particularly evidenced on their note-perfect interpretations of Everly Brothers tunes. It’s obvious to me that they influenced and complimented each other tremendously, as musicians.

The Blasters – including the brothers Phil and Dave Alvin – and the solo work of Dave Alvin – also rate high on my current play list. I also made a playlist for them on Spotify: The Blasters and Dave Alvin.

Dave Alvin is one of the primo, number one, undisputed great writers of Americana music. And he’s always a threat on guitar! He’s collaborated as Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women with two of my favorite female singers – Christy McWilson of The Picketts (check out their 1993 album, Paper Doll) and Laurie Lewis (Another fine songwriter! Check out her albums Earth and Sky: Songs of Laurie Lewis and True Stories.)

Phil Alvin – what can I say?! He’s one of the classic vocalists of the Americana genre. His voice conveys excitement and joy. It’s a little similar to Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Malford Milligan of Storyville. Very expressive and soulful. One of my current faves.

Finally, a word about John Doe. I saw him do a free short set at Easy Street Records in Seattle, around the time of his solo album Keeper, in October 2011. Wow. As a fan of the band X‘s album Under The Big Black Sun since the early ’80’s, the great dissonant blend of his and Exene’s voice – and the great instrumentation – was a part of my DNA.

He had another female singer with him. It was all acoustic, I think. But wow. That voice! His presence! It made me think I’d died and gone to heaven; moved me to tears; and made the hair stand up on the back of my neck – all at once! I was working hard and didn’t have the energy to go see him at The Tractor Tavern later that night. But I just want to testify! – if you ever get a chance to see him solo – do yourself a favor – Go!!

Check out my playlists at Spotify –   Search for:  Amy8Trak and then click on fair_choice for additional ones.

howl

Five stars out of five.

This puts many of the other films about the Beats to shame. Make sure you Don’t… Miss… This one, if you’re a fan.

Well, okay. I’m a big Ginsberg fan. I loved James Franco’s portrayal/characterization. It’s very believable, in a lot of ways. Even if it was only because I wanted to believe it. Everything was well researched and thoughtfully put together.

It had a clear point of view about Ginsberg – I liked that. Maybe they gilded the lily, somewhat – but so what? Ginsberg stands up to it. He deserves to be romanticized.

What comes through, though, is: self assurance; belief in self; an inspired authority about writing; and a human quality.

The film itself is quite an achievement. Filmed on a shoestring budget, it captures the mood and flavor of the times and subject. It distills things down to a few essential events, ideas and elements. It incorporates courtroom drama, ‘interviews with Ginsberg’, ‘flashbacks’ and animation – all very effectively, masterfully. Great stuff for film buffs and students. And hey. It’s just a really good, fun movie.

If you’re interested in writing, you’ll want to see this. Listen to the commentary, too! Virtually every bit of dialogue was culled from interviews and court records.

The court scenes – kind of unbelievable! But it wasn’t so long ago. Coming out of the McCarthy era and the repressed Fifties, the uproar and trial over the publication of Howl was a game-changing watershed in American law and free speech.