Thursday, February 28, 2008

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

I've been slightly in love with Kalle Lasn since reading his seminal work, Culture Jam, several years back. (If you're not familiar with him, Lasn is the mind behind Adbusters and its activist branches, such as Buy Nothing Day and TV Turnoff Week). He's subversive and smart, clever and keen, and never, ever afraid to be angry.

Lasn has a little piece in the March/April edition on "The Reconquest of Cool." It's sharp and biting without being overly drawn-out. I dig the way he calls for a separation of hipness from the corporate- and advertising-driven definition of Cool that is so intricately tied up with consumption. Check this last paragraph, when he calls for an everyday rebellion against commodified cool:

Forget about treating the symptoms. Forget about the hedgemaze of identity politics. Break away from the glorious equality and social justice battles of the past. Instead, liberate yourself from the capitalist mindfuck. Learn to live without dead time. Start generating authentic cool from the bottom up again. The rest will follow.

Full article here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

The Times had an article the other day looking at what is essentially urban nomadism. It's a phenomenon most of us in the cities know well; that push and pull of changing rents and changing roommates and changing addresses, the constant hunt for a good neighborhood/landlord/view that maybe, just maybe, might have the bonus of a killer south-facing bay window (*ahem*) or an easy walk to the post office or a conveniently free cable connection.

This is all strange and faraway compared to the suburban nesting many of us grew up with; the buying a house as soon as you can, the gardening and the settling-in and the stability of a constant address that was supposed to signal Adulthood and Responsibility and Having One's Shit Together. Well, we all see now how reliable and steady the housing situation in the current economy has come to be; no longer is that vision of the McMansion in the 'burbs a steadfast investment and the guarantee of a certain amount of financial security.

It's been a long time since I traded the fantasy of a white-bread, cultivated-lawn, cricket-chirping cul de sac existence for the dirt and the grime and the speed and the energy and the edge of living in the city. I wouldn't trade my renting and my crabby landlord and the whores under my window at 5 am for anything; those things are the same inconveniences that also make possible a quick trot to my yoga studio 2 blocks down and the Whole Foods 2 blocks up and the familiar chatter of late-night voices stumbling home from the bars as I doze off to sleep and the wind slips in the open window, and I feel connected to the world in a way that I simply don't in a sealed-up, uber-safe suburban manse. And there's something about being in the arts, something about people like this Brooke Berman playwright in the NYT article, something about committing to the simultaneous romance and pain in the ass reality of the urban nomad's life. We trade access to the arts for a mortgage and housing security; we trade the rush and spin and creative inspiration of city living for the pleasure of having a garden to dig in and flowers to pot; these are trades with both pros and cons, of course, but at the end of the day, in spite of any sorrow over not growing my own tomatoes or being able to fall into the buzzing meditation of mowing the lawn, I wouldn't trade the perks of walking up the street with an armful of hydrangeas and fresh bread from the market down the block for any of that bourgeois house-owning comfort.

Read the article; it's an interesting look at the highs and lows of city life for the aspiring artist.

Moving Soon To An Apartment Near You (NYT)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

The Lee Friedlander photography exhibit opened last weekend at the SF MoMA. Since I was a few hours south, I missed the Friday night opening, so a lucky window of a few minutes this afternoon and gorgeous spring sunshine meant a walk downtown to catch the exhibit.

It doesn't disappoint. Friedlander is one of the most well-known American photographers of the last fifty years. His subject matter spans the wide realm that is the "American social landscape" - everything from New York fashion week to national parks (you get a lot of Yosemite, Death Valley, etc.) to Route 66 to self-portraits to nudes. The national park work definitely calls to mind a few Ansel Adams pieces we'd all surely recognize.

I found most intriguing Friedlander's interplay with his own shadow and the subjects he photographs. He places himself as voyeur in the photo itself while still observing the action going on in front of the camera, which results in a strangely unsettling and vaguely exciting mix of self-awareness, a postmodern commentary on the nature of reality. And it's all done with a somewhat unbalanced, whimsical sensuousness. There's a silence and a smirk to his work that strikes me as subversive and potentially full of a lot of social commentary on suburbia and nature, bodies and consumerism and politics, just to begin.

I like.

(That's Nashville above, 1963, and Route 9W, New York, 1969/1990s to the right.)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste

Hello, world. Long time.

Sick as a dog. One of my many faults is the utter lack of patience or sympathy I generally have for people who get sick. (Suck it up already!) So when the annual bout of flu makes its home in my body, I figure it's karma for being so totally unempathetic when other people have snotty noses and skip work.

My drippy nose and phlegmy throat and woozy head are having a hard time walking across the room today, so I figure I can at least catch up here and then I won't feel so goddamned unproductive. Lots going on; February's good, always is, somehow, after a dark and wet January, full of theater and books and people and places. And the sunshine finally came out last week, which is another reason for my absence; after the perpetual monsoon that was January of this year, I can't stay inside when these days are sunny and 65 degrees. Hello, California: this is why I drove west, and stayed.

Carrie Fisher (better known has Princess Leia) has a one-woman show running at Berkeley Rep, which I'll get to another time, and I am waiting on a phone call today about a long callback I had yesterday; it was hours of rolling on the floor and wiggling the hips and speaking in a British accent again and trying out my best mezzo belt. My body hurts so much today. But it was good to get back into the game.

So Clinton took California; another conversation, although long fallen to the wayside as we watch what happens with the upcoming primaries. There's major Obama energy here; he took San Francisco county, not surprising, really, given the momentum here.

Last Thursday was the annual flash mob Pillow Fight down by the Ferry Building at Justin Herman Plaza. I was on my way to Berkeley a few minutes before six o'clock, when the action was due to begin. People were flooding out of the Bart clutching pillows and wandering around checking their text messages waiting for the cue to start swinging. It's one of the quirkiest and most fabulously bizarre traditions in the City. If you want more info, go to for photos and whatnot. Here's a YouTube video of the action from the site:

Off to blow the nose.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Random shit I wanted to post that has no feasible connection whatsoever to any definition of "rawness"

I'm reading this article about this buzzed-about up-and-coming online show in the NYT this morning. There's a pic and I'm going, why the hell does that Seth kid look so familiar??

And then I realized: oh duh, he's a Chrome! Shout-out to ex-Chromes in the NY Times.

(Speaking of, Shaun's new show opens on B'way soon ... have you bought your tix for In The Heights yet?)

The Beta Male's Charms (NYT)
In The Heights (on B'way!!)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

So there's this dingy little music store tucked up one level right on Powell Street around Union Square. You'd never know it was there but for the little old-school glass bulletin board thing sporting a few old sheet music covers near the entrance. It's absolutely obscured by the Macys and the H&Ms and Body Shops and Urban Outfitters filling out the block. You climb the stairs and it's this small space stuffed to the gills with charts and scores and librettos, with a practice room in the corner and an ancient cash register at the front. And everyone there can talk music, hardcore. Composers and obscure shows and old jazz, they've got it.

So I'm there tonight picking up a score for a show I'm thinking about doing, and I stumble across Bernstein's Candide, and about lose it right there. Because holy Leonard B. If he hadn't already earned my love just by being a general badass, well, then there was West Side Story to seal it. But then, damn, there's "Make Our Garden Grow."  If there's to be a soundtrack to my life, always and ever, this will be the tune wailing at the funeral (take note, pls).

Let dreamers dream what worlds they please
Those edens can’t be found
The sweetest flowers
The fairest trees
Are grown in solid ground
We’re neither pure nor wise nor good
We’ll do the best we know
We’ll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow
And make our garden grow

So here's my virgin attempt at embedding a YouTube clip (don't hold your breath). This is Lenny B himself conducting a 1989 version with June Anderson and Jerry Hadley (he died in 1990, so this is the December prior). Somewhere around 3:30 when the orchestra drops out and the crushing a cappella harmonies take over, I die a little, every time.

Raw, idiom: 14a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

When people talk about day trips north from San Francisco, they're usually talking about wine tasting. Load up the car, crank up the tunes, and head north into Napa to cruise the main drag, which is dotted with commercial wineries at every intersection, most of which have tasting fees and lobbies crowded with tourists. If you're a little more ambitious, you drive west into Sonoma instead, where the wineries have a much more grass-roots, mom-and-pop style feel; they're often smaller and more personalized, and you drive into Healdsburg or the Russian River Valley in search of great red zins from Alexander Valley or delicate pinots cultivated by the foggy cool air off the river.

And those are fine enough little jaunts for the visitor who can't quite part from her heels or his cell phone.

But what I really prefer, what really gets me going, is what you encounter on the way home south after tasting a few too many wines; that twisting and turning, foggy, sunset ride along the Great Highway through the Marin Headlands. Drive long enough toward the City, and you hit Point Reyes and Muir Woods and the great quiet beauty of the redwoods. It's a strikingly rural contrast to the rush and bustle of the City just over the Golden Gate.

There's a charming little piece in the NYT Travel section today outlining some of the trails you can hit if you decide to skip the wine-tasting and go for the real, fresh-air Marin. Like the writer says, the rustic beauty and the sense of wildness you encounter on these Marin trails is so much like what so many people cross the globe to find. You can find the desolate wind-whipped craggy hills of Britain or the Mediterranean just a short drive away from the City. A nice escape and a dose of nature when you're needing it, for sure.

Make sure to check out the slideshow for some killer scenes from the trail, including Green Gulch Farm, a well-known organic Zen farm that supplies much of the produce to the forward-thinking restaurants about town.

A Wild Ramble, Near the Golden Gate (NY Times)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste

The Times had a quick piece the other day on the camp-tastic musical phenomenon, Jerry Springer: The Opera, that unfortunately came and went last week in the course of two quick performances at Carnegie Hall.

I feel like I've been shoving this show at people for years now, so forgive me if you've heard it already. I first saw this in rough workshop form at the Edinburgh Festival some six years ago - the creators had been tweaking things in preparation for a West End run, and the tickets were unbelievably hot and impossible to get. And worth every penny. I've never laughed so hard in my life.

The show ran for awhile in London before an ill-advised BBC televised version wrought chaos and hellfire at the hands of evangelicals (yes, they have them in Britain, too) whose utter lack of a sense of irony or humor meant outrage and calls of blasphemy. As a result, the planned Broadway run was shelved, and now with a heavy sense of the conservative Midwestern tourist musical-goer informing the decisions being made, it looks like a B'way run isn't going to come anytime soon. I know the show's run in a few bigger regional theaters, no doubt to great controversy, but you should try to see it if you can.

Really, it's brilliant in a lot of ways; melding opera -which was, of course, the common folks' medium back in the day - with the contemporary trash-o-rama scene that was the Jerry Springer show. Somehow, black Jesus in a diaper, pole-dancing, Satan and a chorus line of KKK members get involved. And the conceit of the whole thing, of course, is that Joe Bob and his three mistresses are going at it at full operatic speed. So you get "Fuck you, talk to the hand, cuz the face ain't listening" sung in brilliant baritone with a coloratura response. It's gut-wrenchingly hilarious.

Read the article, see the show if you can. Really a clever queering of the two ostensibly polar-opposite mediums.