Saturday, January 31, 2015

Blizzard Season

I live near a convenience store in an East Bay neighborhood (3 stores, actually) and the one I frequent the most has the most awesome, friendly staff, mostly immigrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan, and the general Middle East/Northeast Africa area. They are always very curious about American culture and keen to learn new things.


Today as I got some Limon Pepino Gatorade (I cannot resist), a very tall Rastafarian man was in the store getting some kind of mango drink. One of the store staff asked about the man's long dreadlocks piled atop his head, and the Rasta said yes, he was Rastafarian, a devotee of Haile Selassie. The Rasta left the store and accidentally spilled his drink. He came back in the store and said in a thick perhaps Jamaican accent, "Dropped a mon drink; can I get a next one?" I kept saying this little phrase to myself a la James Franco's character in Pineapple Express.



--And the Rasta reminded me of a great, short interview I read with Daryl Jennifer, bassist of the mighty Bad Brains, from way back in 2aught7 in Altercation magazine:

Altercation magazine: ...Would you agree that [punk; music in general] seem[s] a bit watered down these days? 

DJ: As far as the music, I feel that kids today, as far their rock goes, they rely on a de-tuning. More of a monster sound, to try and come up with their feelings of aggression. Whereas in our day, groups like Dead Kennedys and Black Flag and Bad Brains, we used to play in E. We didn't de-tune to sound aggressive. We used the shrill. So I'm getting the feeling that the de-tuning and more demonic sound that they can get out of their instruments and voices is giving them more of an aggressive sound. So it's makin' me want to tune up (laughs). So I can speak as a musician on that level. They're trying to drop tune to sound hard. 

I mean look at a [Bad Brains] song like "Re-Ignition" or "Regulator." That's straight E, and to me it sounds pretty aggressive. And I don't wanna say aggression in terms of negativity either. I always say our group is like a thunderstorm. Like, when it's storming out, is that something you want to look at as not being positive? Like a little kid that hears thunder crack and is gonna go cry and think of monsters comin'? Or does it sound like glory or creation, which is a beautiful thing? It's the same thing with our music. People shouldn't mistake that because they see me carry the continents of Rasta, or because I play rock music very loud that it's a vibe of negative aggression. It's the lightning crack and the thunder roll. 
(Altercation magazine #20, 2007, pg. 60)

I love Daryl's answer. I do like some de-tuned stuff: Melvins, Godflesh; but I know what he's referring to (Limp Bizkit, cough, Korn, cough). I have a feeling Bad Brains are very spiritual guys, and DJ's answer above even reminds me of some of the thought of Chogyam Trungpa.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ween interview

Every once in awhile I dabble in journalism and music journalism. I recently had an interview published with Gene Ween, aka Aaron Freeman, for Paste Magazine online. Have a read and let me know what you think. I'm wondering if Olive Garden is pissed at me. No extra breadsticks for this boy.

Important errata:

I should've had my bio say that I live with two ragdoll cats and my wonderful, beautiful, supportive girlfriend Claire. Whoops. My bad, Mr. Williams.

My article is featured right next to "Five Ways to Feast Like a Viking." LOLOLOLOL. I'm honored (I have some Scandinavian heritage and would make an awesome berserker), and horrified. The fact that this diet is real is absurd, but then again we have a "Paleo" diet (and 50% of people believe they have a gluten allergy, when only 1% of the population actually does). Anyway, cook up Deaner's Sunday sauce recipe if you want some real food.

Speaking of errata, check out Erase Errata's new album.

My editor on the Ween article was the awesome Sara Bir (nee Sara Ryckebosch). Check out her website.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Oh my God it got Scarpelli: a film and bands review

I started watching DeepStar Six (apparently stylized thusly) on Netflix, another so bad it's good movie. For some reason -- and my research is ongoing, inconclusive as yet -- there were a veritable slew of underwater-alien-military-abyssmal films during 1989 and 1990, with much in common. Most were bad, and even the biggest of 'em, The Abyss, is kinda bad, too. I remember being in a video store (remember those?) in Laguna Beach, Ca, around 1990, and ran into a kindly Life Science teacher from high school, who was looking for a film to rent. He picked up DeepStar Six (VHS!) and my friend Tyler and I just kinda advised him to avoid it, even though we'd not seen it. We could just feel it was bad.

Looks like the German version. The French version's title is funny, something like "Mutant Aquatique...." Aquatic mutant! 

I didn't finish DSS the same night I started, but I hustled my bustles to pay only $5 (before 10 pm) at Oakland's Night Light to see some bands: Wild Wing, ___ (?), And And And (Portland, OR), Foxxy Newport, and my friends and neighbors, Morning Hands -- the light side of the yin-yang that happens to contain 2/3 of the band members of the dark side, the Diesel Dudes. In between bands, I watched -- on silent and with subtitles -- the rest of DSS. 
So here's a movie/show/scene review. 

DSS: Medium-budget deep underwater flick that, formulaically, starts slow, establishing or attempting to establish sympathy/empathy/rapport with the characters, a down-to-earth crew of specialists working on a Navy underwater missile project. Keep in mind this film's from the director of Friday the 13th (the original!). Predictably, once we've gotten to know the characters, all hell breaks loose. Also keep in mind this film was allegedly developed in 1987 and the first to be released theatrically of the aforementioned slew of underwater-alien-military-abysmal films of 1989 and 1990: Leviathan, The Rift (Endless Descent), The Evil Below, The Abyss, Lords of the Deep. And DSS, of course. DSS should have gotten an award for Best Miniatures, though. Truly superb miniatures. Watch it and you'll see what I mean. 

You know, that gasket goop. The ol' gasket goop. Every fuckin' undersea-alien-military-abysmal film has lots of the, y'know, ol' gasket goop. 

Wild Wing: from Los Angeles, eh? Where bands are from doesn't phase me. They were good. Meat Puppets-y cow punk. Good musicians. Fun, loud, straightforward music. The drummer looked like Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum. 

Scarpelli is played by Nia Peeples, who's the required brainy/hot scientist, who happens to wear no bra and a thin shirt in the cold undersea vessel. If I were a sea monster, I'd get Scarpelli, too. 

Next up was a band whose name I didn't catch, but they drove all the way up from Orange County, CA. They were good. Shared a bassist with Wild Wing. A 3-piece with a small effeminate drummer who played the shit outta the skins nicely. The songs were kinda Talking Heads-y (circa Fear of Music) in a nice way. Thumbs up, whoever you were. 

The final survivors of the massacre in DSS are a white man and woman, and the woman is pregnant with a lil white baby. This woman, above, sacrifices herself so that the white baby can live. She kills -- we think -- the sea monster with those life-saving electrical paddles (clear!) and some seawater, but first has to utter a heroic final phrase. I think this was the mom from E.T. (?). If so, when we fall, we fall hard, huh?

Next up was And And And, who had an awesome tour van with a paper mache green ghost from Ghostbusters sittin' in the passenger side. And3 were quiet good. Lotsa guitars, and the singer looked like Zach Galifianakis. Musically, every song was good, and the band that comes to mind for comparison is Grandaddy. They even had one guitarist get kind of keyboard-y tones of out of his guitar, so the Grandaddy comparison is pretty solid. Good stuff. Nice lyrical moments: I saw this in a dream/A machine inside a machine ... All your life plans/Are in garbage cans ... (paraphrasing here)

Three good bands in a row. And I didn't have money to drink, but for some reason the door guy mistook me for a band member, and gave me two drink tickets, so a well bourbon and Session beer were in my belly before too long. At this point, a strange man called Foxxy Newport took the stage, with his laptop and flamboyant outfit, nose ring, and wandering eye. (Sorry, I'm a very honest reviewer.) He launched into a set of strange (to me) rave-emo-techno numbers, sung theatrically. Honestly, he looked like a gay raver skinhead. But he bravely did his thing with passion and disregard, and it was kinda punk rock in a way.

Here's Patrick of the final band of the night, Morning Hands, single-handedly grooving to Foxxy Newport, who had a kind of Jame-Gumb-with-a-heart-of-gold thing goin' on. 

Last up: Morning Hands. They were funny: they'd just gotten off a self-reported "flawless" (technically) tour of the US Southwest, but were plagued by technical problems this night (wi-fi in nature). Doug, Diesel Dudes' singer, fucked up the opening song twice in a row -- then fucked up the next song, too. But the audience was forgiving, Doug smiled through it, and it was fine overall because it was real. I'm not as into Morning Hands as Diesel Dudes, but I do admire the singing and lush electronic production, and Morning Hands are self-described thusly:

Morning Hands is Douglas Du Fresne and Patrick Tabor. They are both over 6 feet tall and over 200 pounds. Possibly California's largest synthpop group.

Patrick, the singer, announced his weight onstage: 230 as of that day. What woman in a band would do that? L7, maybe. 
It was the end of the night, Morning Hands pulled through with soul and humor despite technical difficulties (and Patrick did a fine Woody Woodpecker impression), and a splendid time was had by all.

One benefit we got from the '89-'90 zeitgeist of underwater-alien-military-abysmal movies is wet t shirts. Here she is in DSS like, "shit, now I gotta raise this here baby in me all by myself" -- but don't worry, the baby daddy is a-ok, having defeated the sea monster in one final, predictable water surface battle. I think I've been to this set at Universal Studios, meant to fool the eye into seeming like an expansive ocean. 

DeepStar Six: 1/13/89 (yes! First in a slew of crappy, near-interchangeable movies)
Leviathan: 3/17/89 (I saw this in the theatre with a childhood friend who died mysteriously in his sleep not shortly after; we were the only ones in the theatre, so we sat in the aisle)
Lords of the Deep: 4/21/89 (4/21 bro! Oh wait)
The Evil Below: straight to video on 7/1/89
The Abyss: saw opening night w/ my dad :) on 8/9/89
The Rift (Endless Descent): 3/9/90 (Spain), 5/30/91 (Australia, mates)

Here's to bad movies and good bands! I've only seen Leviathan (long time ago), The Abyss, and DSS, so there may be some more film reviews comin' up in this genre soon! 

Livin' hard at the edge of uncertainty
But that is where you wanna be
... Fight back even when you know you're gonna lose

- Morning Hands

Monday, January 19, 2015

godheadThefto

Thieves and liars are the worst. Regarding the former, some lost soul(s) stole a lot of stuff from Mike Kunka's storage unit in Seattle in October of 2014. Mike was 1/2 of a band I love, godheadSilo (yes, it's stylized like that, precisely). $20,000 worth of musical equipment, clothing, photos, master tapes, a Christmas tree, things belonging to Mike's daughter -- it's just a devastating loss to the items' owners. I always feel bad for working-class musicians who get robbed on the road or in the studio or practice space. Thieves who prey upon musicians are a special kind of scum.  

A lovely day indeed!

MAY 2015

The newest trailer looks pretty fun:




I read the Mad Max: Fury Road script awhile back, and it was pretty good, but I don't know what version of the script that was or how much the finished film is like it. I also heard that this production chewed up parts of Namibia (where it was filmed) pretty bad, and Namibians were pissed. It's one of those situations where, if the film is really good (entertaining, raises awareness about peak oil and water shortage, etc), does the end justify the means? 

An entertaining foray into a desert of Critical Thinking


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Dr. MLK Jr. Day 2015


If people declared open season on cops, there'd be a massive uproar. Why it is more acceptable to declare open season on young black males and -- almost more disturbingly -- get away with it is beyond me and any sane, good person. 

Exodus

I grew up a big Exodus fan. Exodus were/are a seminal metal band who helped pioneer the subcategory of thrash metal, but they just never quite got to be as much a household name as "the big 4" of thrash: Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer. However, Exodus are a pretty amazing band: long, twin-guitar guitar melodies and solos; Bon Scott-esque vocals (from Steve Souza); a fast yet accurate drums and bass rhythm section; lots of punk-esque political and social commentary in their songs.



I first heard Exodus via a friend's loaned copy of Pleasures of the Flesh, but I think it was Fabulous Disaster that cemented my appreciation for this band. Below is the opening track to FD -- check out the intelligent spoken-word intro to this song about the 1971 Attica prison riot:



This is the linguine I was cooking while listening to Exodus' "Pleasures of the Flesh" song. It's long and I got lost in the twin guitar melodies. Whoops. 

Removal

Found a great song called "More Drugs, More Cops, More Prisons" by Canadian punk band Removal. I once saw Removal open for Nomeansno and was impressed with their (Removal's) prog-punk, instrumental approach to music. I've often thought of Nomeansno as the Rush of punk rock (and I do love NMN), but Removal probably better fit that descriptor. This song ("More Drugs...") has guest vocals, and to me it perfectly captures the disturbing contradiction of the "War" on Drugs, when in reality: the more drugs, the better! -- for the cops and Prison Industrial Complex.

Further, I love Removal's name. Minimal and evocative, it means to me a removal from the materialistic, capitalist, uncompassionately competitive, over-governed nature of mainstream, postmodern life. This removal is not easy to pull off, but important to try. 

Dirty Rotten Imbecile Mike & the Boys

Saw Dirty Mike & the Boys at Eli's last night. Great band. I've never had the honor of seeing DRI, but DM&TB definitely had that sloppy, fast, loud as hell, dirty punk-metal sound that DRI came to exemplify. Check 'em out.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Against the Stream


It has been uncomfortable for me, due to essential shyness and an aversion to group therapy dynamics, but I willed myself to check out the Dharma Punx meditation groups in the Bay Area: San Francisco's Urban Dharma, and Oakland Against the Stream (OATS). And you know what? I've found one of the nicest groups of people, individually and collectively, I've ever met.


The OATS group was held in a slightly grungier setting than SF Urban Dharma, but in general the East Bay is a little seedier than parts of SF (although SF has its seedy wastelands, such as the inimitable Tenderloin). The OATS instructor was good -- the first time I've experienced a female leading the group. I sensed a lot of goodness in her. At times she would pause while speaking and close her eyes, which reminded me of a character/avatar in a video game doing nothing. Director David Cronenberg picked up on this for some scenes in his film about the video game of real life, eXistenZ

D'arcy Nader in eXistenZ. Players have to say the right thing to D'arcy, or else he goes into a "game loop" where he's unresponsive. 

I still wrestle with meditating in public/with a group. But if I can get past that, the experience is very therapeutic, and -- whether therapeutic/beneficial or not -- just a good way to check in with one's body and mind. I like how the OATS group leader ended the session with not a wish that all sentient beings be free of suffering, but suffer a little less

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Newsigh; Muslimgauze

Being informed is such a double-edged sword: you want to know what's going on around you and in the world, but then you read about two endangered monkeys freezing to death from exposure at a Louisiana zoo, a bus full of low security prisoners crashing into a train*, and the poor paying twice as much in taxes as the 1%. Sigh.

(*Some of our colder-hearted comrades might not think this is a tragedy, but imagine if a prisoner on the bus was wrongfully convicted? Or just about to be released and had learned the errors of his ways and was looking forward to seeing his children? Or, a prisoner who was like Noah Levine -- a punk rock "monster" (as his father once described him) who went to juvenile hall quite a bit but later became a leading Buddhist helping people? And yes, two correctional officers died as well -- while I don't think that profession ranks real up there as very noble, it is sad as well, because we are all fundamentally equal.)


Also, I noticed that today is 16 years since Bryn Jones, aka musician Muslimgauze, died. Muslimgauze was the moniker of Jones' "one man band," and he heavily incorporated Middle Eastern found sounds and instruments into his largely instrumental albums released on smaller music labels. He was persistently and deeply critical of Israel, a theme that unabashedly shows up thematically in his music, to the point that he garnered, while alive and posthumously, the accusation of anti-Semite. He wouldn't disagree. While I don't think his approach was always the most productive or compassionate, he certainly was internally consistent with his beliefs, and his eye-for-an-eye mentality showed just how much he cared for Arab peoples and Palestine. 

It was said he would play his drums until Palestine was free and/or until he was dead, and, rather suspiciously, a "rare blood fungus" led to pneumonia in the winter of 1998/99 and he died on 1/14/1999. He was 37. 

While it may go against Occam's Razor or sound speculative and even conspiratorial, many fans of Muslimgauze find his death suspicious. While it's possible that a rare, vague blood fungus could kill anyone -- especially an otherwise healthy man in his late 30s -- and the Israeli, or a generally pro-Israel U.S. government, had bigger fish to fry than a vocal, unwavering anti-Israel musician the mainstream did not know about, I and others aren't so sure his death was natural. 

It's hard to leave the politics out of Muslimgauze, but his music (and the music's above-average packaging, often incorporating Arabic lettering and design sensibilities) can be appreciated solely from an aesthetic standpoint (especially due to most of it being instrumental). 





Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Ryan Gosling Makes Some Crazy-Ass Films

Ryan Gosling makes some crazy-ass movies. I don't know what the average person thinks of when they think of Ryan Gosling. That funny books for women? Half-Nelson? Drive?


I dunno. I dunno if the average person even exists. I love the film Drive: I think its opening sequence is masterful cinema, I love how the violence surprised people, and the Trash Humpers-esque mask scenes. So it was interesting that the next collab between the director of Drive and Gosling received far less attention. It's a film called Only God Forgives and it's far stranger and more violent than Drive is. Even Gosling's dialogue is more minimal; it's like taking Drive into, well, overdrive. 

Every once in awhile I'll justify a spoiler given wanting to talk about a film, but I won't spoil anything here. I would merely say see it. I have to give respect to the film, because it was able to implant in me a scene that is so sad, haunting, and compassion-inspiring (a good thing) that it's, as is said, impossible to un-see. 


And then there's The Believer. This is an early Gosling film from 2001, based on a real story, about a Jew who becomes a high-ranking skinhead neo-Nazi. (Some significant differences: the source story is about a Jew who became a KKK member in the 1960s; the Gosling film takes place in the present day.)   This is an intense and well-made film, and it's nice to see Gosling act more, well, human (animated), than he does in Drive and Only God Forgives. There's also a rather notable performance by Summer Phoenix (how many people are in the Phoenix family/cult?!), whose romantic interests run toward the very perverse and downright bizarre. Gosling's performance is top-notch: as far as I can tell, his Hebrew is spot-on, and his character is so natural, so complex, so intelligent (in, of course, a very dark way), and so conflicted that it's impossible to not follow the narrative to its conclusion. I think of The Believer as the East Coast cousin of American History X, just as Ken Park is the West Coast cousin of KIDS. The Believer also features the always-creepy Billy Zane, who first made his mark in the vast, empty ocean terrorizing a nice couple in Dead Calm. Zane just has a natural creepiness, like Ted Levine, who played Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. And I'm sure as real people they are both nice as can be. 

The Believer tells its tale in the same general mindspace as Apt Pupil and Hannah Arendt: the problem, if most world religions posit a well-meaning, good God (even Buddhism, which drops God out of the picture, posits people's fundamental sanity and goodness), of evil. And all of these film explorations seem to arrive at the same place: there's just little to no accounting for this paradox. 

On an interesting side note, I once wrote for the short-lived North Bay Progressive publication an article about the true story of a black man who went to a KKK rally and asked to join. There's video footage of it and it's one of the most tense things I've ever seen. That man's bravery is the boldest thing I've yet experienced. I don't think he was a self-hating guy, I just think he was calling the Klan on all their talk and threats, and showing up in person to show how we talk all kinds of shit about people in the abstract, behind closed doors, online, etc, but something happens when we encounter people in the flesh.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Crazy Wisdom

Netflix currently carries a film called Crazy Wisdom: the Life and Times of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (dir. Johanna Demetrakas, 20112, not rated, documentary). It's about a Buddhist monk who fled Tibet during the Chinese invasion, and led a grueling trek of other Tibetans to refuge in India. Of 300 people fleeing, 13 made it to India. Starvation, imprisonment, or disappearance took the others. Trungpa became one of the first Buddhist monks to bring Tibetan Buddhism to the West. He started the first Buddhist colony in Scotland, then Vermont, then Boulder. He did something very interesting, which was to fully embrace Western ways unbecoming of what is thought of as a noble monk: he drank (heavily), he smoked, he had sex not only with a Western wife but with students (while he was married). He started a Buddhist army. Yet he was kind, gentle, soft-spoken, wise, compassionate, funny, brilliant. He was a teacher of Pema Chodron.


There is a cool scene where Pema is asked about her mentor's brilliance while, if you look at him as a person (and risk some ad hominem fallaciousness), he is not the most upstanding person (oh yeah, he also crashed a car -- while possibly drunk -- in England by driving badly into a store*). She has a really equally brilliant response: she can't come up with any solid grounds for why he should have acted like he did in life, but she also can't come up with any solid grounds for why he shouldn't have. This is the notion of "crazy" wisdom of the film's title. Another one of Trungpa's ideas is that we have to be careful of "spiritual materialism" -- thinking one is so enlightened, so knowledgable, so noble, so badass, that all one is doing is giving power to ego and what benefits the self, rather than Buddhism's goals of non-ego and being of benefit of others. 

Pema Chodron (her Buddhist name; she's originally a regular ol' woman from New Jersey) capturing perhaps the essence of Buddhism in three words. 

I learned about Pema before Trungpa, and I thought "Dang, this woman is brilliant!" Which she is in her own right. But she's also continuing the lineage of thought that Trungpa began and which he inherited from his own teachers. I really like this strain of Buddhism -- of the Buddhism of His Holiness the Dalai Lama 14th, Noah Levine's Dharma Punk Buddhism, and other sects/types of Buddhism, Trungpa/Chodron's Tibetan Buddhism resonates with me the most, because it advises us to really make friends with ourselves (this sounds easy, but actually try it), connect with our hearts (even the disturbing parts), and find a tenderness -- what Trungpa called a raw, sore, tender, vulnerable, open wound of a heart lacking armor and deception -- for oneself and others, and find the bravery to meet whatever rises in our lives (even, and especially, all the "bad" stuff) with a sense of openness and acceptance. They call this being a spiritual warrior, or just a warrior, which has nothing to do with war-making or war-fighting, but with saying, "Okay, there are things in my life that are extremely difficult, scary, and not going my way, but I am going to be open to these things and work with what I have, and try to be compassionate to myself and others." 



Highly recommended, both

One of the fascinating things about the documentary is just how deeply involved Trungpa was with the hippy community/movement in the US in the 60s and 70s, because of Americans, hippies were, at the time, the most receptive to and interested in eastern Buddhist teachings. I wasn't there for the 60s (I was born in 1973), but from the doc I was amazed how patient and helpful and humorous Trungpa was with a general type of person that is one of the banes of a punk's existence and can be a difficult person to deal with. I know I'm being procrustean here and overgeneralizing, and I apologize, for hippies are as diverse as anything and have some good qualities. I won't take this time and space for a tangent on hippies vs punks or even how they're two sides of the same coin, just as I won't take space here to explain why cops, in general, aren't my favorite breed o' person. 

Heather Wreckage's caricature of hippies from a recent issue of Dreams of Donuts

So Trungpa, wanting very deeply to bring Buddhism to the West (and wanting to not create a hybrid of eastern and western culture, but respect and honor both), worked with those most receptive -- hippies. He gathered all their marijuana and burned it in a fireplace. He removed support beams in a meditation room so they could not slouch during sitting meditation. He instructed them to cut their hair and wear suits to be more accepted by the mainstream, who would then in turn be more receptive to Buddhism's messages. He said jazz and blues are nice musical forms, but hippie rock offered little to zero of value. (I disagree: c'mon, Trungpa, Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida, honey!) As mentioned, he had them march and wear uniforms as part of a Buddhist army, which, given the bitter aftertaste of the horrific and senseless Vietnam War, must've pissed 'em off royally. 

And in a remarkable sequence, he did this: 


He says -- note hippie students in background -- let's talk deeply about life ("the whole thing"), about its fundamentals...

...rather than being reassured that life is gonna be okay, don't worry, let's be groovy, let's have jazz hands (Trungpa is gently, kindly, subtly making fun of hippies here)...

(think Woodstock, Grateful Dead, Phish, jam bands, hippies and neo-hippies, etc)

(Trungpa had an exceptional command of English, especially impressive since it wasn't his native language, but here he cutely reverses "milk and honey")

He pauses, and then tells a roomful of hippies that their approach sucks. 

Then he smiles, because 1) he's right 2) it's funny. 

I was blown away by this sequence, because Trungpa masterfully used, in a way, hippies to bring Buddhism to the West, while also softspokenly telling them that they were full of shit with their dancing and dope-smoking and mind expansion and utopianism and denial of the root suffering of life. They were failures (like their failed revolution), but they were not hopeless -- and they were/are to be commended for seeking insight in Buddhism.   

In this way, it sets the stage for Buddhism to connect naturally with hippyism's antagonists: the punks. And this happens later on, with the emergence of the Dharma Punk movement (not mentioned in the doc). 



In a way, Trungpa was the godfather of the Dharma Punk movement: he transformed hippies from the inside-out, and set the stage for a natural symbiosis between punk culture -- much more likely to admit that life is suffering, much more apt to face and live the darkness rather than shuffle it away like the hippies with grooviness and dancing and spiritual materialism -- and traditional Buddhism. (And by the way, despite Trungpa's personal lifestyle, his teachings are actually extremely traditional Buddhism, just adapted for the age he lived in.**)

But whether we are punks, hippies, stockbrokers, homeless, men, women, black, white, human, animal,  whatever -- it doesn't matter, because we are all sentient creatures who all feel joy and suffering, and thus are all in this together. I will sign off with another beautiful sequence from the film:




This is the heart of Tibetan Buddhism, that one tries to be as accepting as possible to whatever happens and whatever is, with compassion, selflessness, brave honesty, and grace. It does not mean accepting injustice, destruction, violence, hate, greed, etc, as okay, but as part of the whole thing we call life. 

One final thing (and another stillshot from the doc): below is Trungpa's narration delivered in his typical soft-spoken, patient, kind delivery: the world he lived in, and the world now, and perhaps the world as it's always been and will be, is a dark and troubling, damaged, unfair, fucked-up place. It needs help. Rather than put on your armor and get what you can from it to your advantage and comfort, could we help others? Could we put ourselves, our egos, our constant barrage of thoughts, aside (if only for a minute)? Could we lean into the sharp parts, the pain -- not in a sadistic or masochistic way, but with spaciousness, tenderness, and acceptance? Could we do something to help this old world and those living on it, feeling as they (we) do the confusion, joy, suffering, neurosis, and shittiness of being alive? 


May all beings be free from suffering. 


The Mighty Wez from Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior. I know, I know -- he's the bad guy of the movie and does bad things. But rather than run away from him, we need, Trungpa might argue, to run toward him, with a sense of goodness and sanity, compassion and bravery. (Or we might need to run him over and escape with the guzzaleen.) 

* Buddhists are generally anti-materialists, but violently crashing your car into a store? That's hardcore! (I'm joking.)  
** The tension between a thinker/teacher/writer/wise person and their personal life has continued to plague and fascinate humanity. Think of Martin Heidegger, one of philosophy's most brilliant minds, but also a National Socialist (Nazi) for a year of his life (which he later admitted was a misstep). Do we dismiss Heidegger's contributions because he was relatively briefly a Nazi? Of course not. Are we troubled by his temporary Nazism? Of course. 





Monday, January 5, 2015

Wall Street; Heather Wreckage

2 things worth checking out:

VICE magazine's last issue of 2014, the Wall Street Issue (vol. 21, issue 12). VICE takes a hard look at how Wall Street works and essentially runs the world. The lexicon explaining basic words/concepts of Wall Street is very useful, even though I had to read sentences over and over to get it. After reading some of this issue's articles, it's no wonder there was (is) such a sustained, impassioned, righteous Occupy Wall Street movement.

This cover isn't just cool and arty -- it's factually representative of the disturbing fact that Wall Street is extremely white and extremely male. Very few women hold positions of power, none are the ultimate heads of Wall Street firms, and nonwhite people of both genders account for very little of the Wall Street power elite. 

On a sorta related front, I've been reading the hand-drawn, self-published zine Dreams of Donuts for awhile now, and I recommend it. It's the true life tales of one Heather Wreckage, punk 20something who lives in the East Bay and is probably the farthest thing from a Wall Street-type -- and thus a real person. Poor but authentic. 

I found these for $2 each at the wonderful Pegasus Books in Berkeley, Ca.

Heather is very open about her life, depression, joys and struggles, which is refreshing. She's also very funny. She has a blog too. One thing I like is that she doesn't try to be a Wall Street-type. She's who she is, she's punk. Sometimes her tales of transgendered people with "it" and "they" self-referential pronouns I find a little pretentious (I guess I'm a tad old school in that regard, or less playful with English pronouns), and sometimes her social group seems to veer into the emo and railroad-hobo cliques, but these are minor critiques. She's a very good artist and storyteller. Her heart's in the right place and I admire how she lives her own life without trying to be successful in a mainstream or conventional way. Check her stuff out. 

C'est la vie

I'm always fascinated when people turn down what seems like attractive offers: Glenn Danzig turned down the role of Wolverine in the film franchise (which I assume he's kicking himself for); lisping health food chef Jamie Oliver turned down a chance to play a Hobbit in the film franchise; and Erick Lyle turned down a chance to be in legendary punk outfit Black Flag.

I mean, I do understand, because I've turned down things I regret passing on, and accepted things I should've turned down, and now regret. Deeply. C'est la vie. Life is lived forward but only understood backwards, blah blah blah. Lyle's account is well-written and fascinating to me (an iconic punk band rehearsing basically in a deserted tiny town in Texas?! -- that's punk rock!). What are your regrets in life?  

Super cows in the superdrought

Check out this article about cows and the California superdrought by a writer I've always liked since his days writing about food for a goofy little newspaper in Rohnert Park ("The Friendly City"!), CA. 

RIP Vivek

Kind of a sad little moment here at The Makinov Initiative. I was surfing the ol' 'net and learned that a musician I admire, Vivek Muralidhar -- who recorded under the moniker Valium Eel -- passed away (on Sunday, April 8, 2012). I first learned about Valium Eel when my cousin Ed sent me a compilation tape that was packaged in a used single-serving cereal wrapper (you know those little cereal boxes? kinda cute?) and whose liner notes apologized "for the cereal dust." He had found the tape for free at a record store in the Baltimore area. The tape was a comp from Mobile Lounge Records, and Valium Eel had some nice songs on it: "Burn Yr House Down," "Wake Up Dead," and "Call Me Around." All fine songs: nice guitar playing, hooky, and vulnerable, softspoken singing from Vivek. I think "Burn Yr House Down" is especially pretty and catchy. It just made me realize that life is definitely a fleeting thing, and I felt sad because I can't now contact Vivek (so easy to do these days with social media and technology) and tell 'im "Hey, nice songs." And he must have been relatively young :(

So check out his stuff (there's another "Valium Eel" band, but they sound pretty crappy), and Mobile Lounge Records in general. It looks like the site was abandoned in 2007 (!) but is still up and running (!). It's a label home to the odd Hypnic Jerks, three Chinese doctors who play surf music. Also, The Failed Ygriega's "Feel Like a Buffalo" is a cool song; love the flanged drums! Speaking of buffalo -- apparently, the 1978 film Buffalo Rider has fallen into the ol' public domain, and some folks are doing funny stuff with it:


Will miss you, Vivek! People would be surprised to know I'm a big fan, in this case, of such wonderfully bubblegum-poppy music, but there's something about Valium Eel that's undeniably good, and it's sad when good things pass from this earth.
Vivek tributes/memorials

Vivek, aka Valium Eel, master of the off-kilter pop song. RIP, brother. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

K Flay

K Flay in wolf garb. Relation to Chef Bobby unclear. 

Randomly stumbled upon K Flay, a cute urban-y white girl with a laconic delivery I really like. She reminds of a brunette Anna Farris in Smiley Face. I really like the song below. 


Branded

(One of the ironies of this poster, about a movie that critiques the ubiquity and influence of advertising on culture, is that the guy in the film never uses a gun. He does use an ax, though.)

Saw a pretty interesting movie from 2012 called Branded, a Russian film spoken mostly in English. I don't know how to talk about it w/out a spoiler alert. Wikipedia has a pretty good plot synopsis, but if you'll bear my repetition, it's worth noting what a wild and creative tale it is: a young Russian boy is struck by lightning and told he will have an interesting life. As a grownup, he does: rising from a lowly kiosk salesman to the head of his own advertising agency. He gets romantically involved with the lovely Leelee Sobieski, but has a disagreement with her uncle, a reality show goes badly astray, imprisonment and persecution occur, and the uncle gets so upset he has a heart attack. Grief-stricken, the ad man (who was freed from jail by the uncle before the uncle dies) abandons his life and lives for six years as a pastoral cow herder. Meanwhile, on a larger scale, another advertising/marketing guru meets with the heads of multinational fast food corporations who are trying to seek advice on how to save the failing, falling-out-of-popularity fast mood market (people want healthier food, to be thin, etc). The guru comes up with an idea to make fat the new standard/ideal of beauty -- and thus the fast food industry will thrive. (I admired this aspect, because I see how much damage trying and failing to adhere to society's current beauty ideal of the near-anorexic does to normal-sized/shaped women. However, embracing obesity is a poor ideal rife with problems, too.)

A red angus cow, which plays an important role in the film.

The ex-ad man/now cowherder gets a visit from Leelee (remember, this is six years later), who has searched for him and wants to see if what they had is worth rekindling. During her visit, the ad man (Misha) has a vivid and intense dream instructing him to perform a cleansing ritual involving a sacred red heifer. (This is an actual thing, people, and is a cornerstone of Judeo-Christian religious belief.) He builds an altar of sacrifice, kills the red cow, and burns it. Then he washes in its ashes mixed with water. Then he passes out.

In the six years he was away, the world changed, and fat became the new ideal. People got heavier and gobbled up fast food. Ad man learns he has a son from Leelee -- an obese little brat who loves fast food. He returns to Moscow with Leelee and gets freaked out by his new power (from the red heifer ritual), which is the ability to see malevolent creatures representing people's desire for and fixation with major brands (Apple, Burger King, Adidas, etc, except they are renamed in the film). Still with me? So he sees how corporate advertising and harmful products (like fast/fat food) are harming humanity, and figures out a way to cause a mad cow disease scare. I won't reveal more than that, but I recommend the film. It's got a little bit of They Live going on, a little Blade Runner, a little Pi. And it's got Leelee Sobieski. Critics were hard on this ambitious, odd film, but I think overall it works and is worthwhile.

Leelee and her udders 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, the Big, the Small

My girlfriend and I often go 'round in circles debating the merits of aesthetic expressions (art, film, music, etc) based on how mainstream or popular, or not, that expression is. I come from an iconoclastic/contrarian background that I have a genetic/familial disposition to and a natural proclivity for. But I am not so affected or pretentious that I cannot appreciate something simply because it's popular or successful (depending on how one defines success, of course). My mom recently asked me about a list she saw of 2014's best films, and I hadn't seen many of them, but I offered my top films of 2014, and realized that two of my top 4 films were very, very mainstream films (Interstellar, and Hunger Games Mockingjay Pt. 1). My main beef with popular aesthetic expressions is that they tend to crowd out less-heard, more underdog-y, yet equally worthy of attention expressions that don't have the advertising budget or whatever to compete with the biggest and most ubiquitous expressions out there. (And as well all know, advertising works via repetition: we don't just see an ad for the blockbuster movie once, but ad nauseum. I don't mind seeing an ad for something mainstream and big, but I don't need to see it seventeen times after that.) Just think of how many aesthetic expressions are made at any given time -- human beings are so creative we could almost be called Homo creativus --  yet how many things of worth and value are never even experienced by the average person because the most mainstream thing tends to dominate (in a rather Darwinian way). Take for example a 2013 film from Cameroon called Le Presidente (The President), a mockumentary about what could happen if the country's president simply disappeared, which was quickly banned by Cameroon's government (whose leader has been in power for thirty years*). Most people haven't seen this film, let alone heard of it (I haven't seen it). But how many people have seen or seen ads for the latest Iron Man movie?

Or on the music front, I recently watched some nice, cute little kids go crazy listening to Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" on repeat, and TS is of course a big pop star and household name. But is her music really that good? And whereas even the most ascetic, off-the-grid, cave-dwelling hermit has heard of TS, have they heard this? It's dance-y, fun, catchy, and contains musical sensibilities incorporating Middle Eastern flavors. The kids could just as easily be going nuts to it on repeat.

Said gf works for Voice of Witness, who publish oral histories of people who've endured human rights crises. Their mission is to amplify unheard or lesser-heard voices. It's an important mission because such voices can easily be drowned out by more mainstream ones. See where I'm going with this?

Btw, here are my top films of 2014 (some mainstream, most not):

Interstellar
Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1
The Rover
20,000 Days
Kids for Cash
Young Ones
Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
I also quite liked the very mainstream, well-done CGI, dark, Bay Area-set Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

* Thomas Jefferson said we need a revolution every 13 years to stir things up. I think it's high time, Cameroon!

happy new year

Happy New Year! Some blackeyed peas and greens for luck and wealth in the new year.

I hope 2015 is a kinder year for the world. Here's a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye that I found a picture of on my phone:

Kindness


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive. 

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
You must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.