Monday, November 28, 2016

What you are listening to if you have Willard's Canteen: A Healing River of Blood

Sides depend on length of tape (each tape handmade): 

At the Mall in Klamath Falls (orig. by Jason Lytle)
Doom March
In Darkness
Mr. Krinkle [not a Primus cover]
Once Upon a Hard Time
Pot O' Gold
Foothill Blvd. (orig. by Gary Young)
Easy-Bake Suicide Oven
Battle Fodder
Copperhead Waltz
Nipple Nibbles
War March in Reverse

Recorded in Georgia, Fall 2016

Matthew Snope: all stuff (except for drum samples, bagpipe, etc.) 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Ladies and Gentlemen, the CIVVIE

I invented the CIVVIE: the Civil War selfie.

This came about not where I am now (Georgia) with its rich Civil War legacy, but actually in central California: a friend of mine, Hillary, knows the drummer of Modesto-rooted band Grandaddy, Aaron Burtch. She showed me a pic of she and he, and I noticed he had this crazy, 1000-yard stare look in his eyes (and he's a guy with a long beard and a kind of natural Civil War look). She explained he likes how in old pictures, like some of the earliest photographs, a lot of the men have that look in their eyes, so he tries to emulate it.

In retrospect on the Civil War, it's likely that, despite photography being somewhat primitive at the time, the look in the eyes of soldiers is an early form of combat PTSD. So one night to amuse myself I took some selfies and with the wonders of modern picture filters came up with some Civil War-looking selfies (not that there's anything amusing about combat PTSD; I have a friend who is dealing with it), which my gf dubbed the "Civvie."

If you need an actor for your Civil War-era film (or other) project, contact me!

This was my first Civvie, and it's admittedly a bit OTT.

I thought this was a nice touch, since Evan Williams bourbon has been around since the late 1700s. (The bottle is plastic, LOL.) It may seem like it's the filtering/aging effect that makes the pic, but the key is the look in the eyes. 

I kinda felt like this one was a soldier who'd seen the worst of the War, like at Antietam or Gettysburg. Somehow via the process of making the pic look aged I made my eyes two different colors. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

One of my favorite performance art pieces

High Balling from Zachary Fabri on Vimeo.

I have written about this guy before, but I keep returning to the performance art of Zachary Fabri. An interesting mix of a Jamaican mother and Hungarian father, Fabri first caught my attention at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco when his video My High Fructose Corn Syrup Fix and White Flour Constipation (2007, 8 minutes) played as part of the exhibit Radical Presence, which featured and celebrated Black performance art.

My High Fructose Corn Syrup Fix and White Flour Constipation, 2007 from Zachary Fabri on Vimeo.

Of all his pieces I've seen, and I haven't seen them all, I like this one the best, because it combines spontaneity with social commentary with a subtle kind of civil disobedience. He did this as part of an Icelandic art tradition called Sequences, and it basically consists of him interacting with a bag of flour, canned Coca-Cola, and cars, people, and infrastructure in a public area in Reykjavik.

What I like about his style is that he's not aggressively confrontational with people -- unlike someone like, say, Eric Andre doing public skits for his show -- but he does weave spontaneous interactions with people (or, in this case, cars) into his performance art. He goes into a kind of focused, far-away trance when he does his very bodily-involved performance art, and sometimes his performances last hours, sometimes only minutes. Chance plays a significant role.

This particular piece seems to comment on malnutrition and a kind of insanity of returning to the same non-nutritive -- in face, harmful to the body -- substances in an unending loop of soda stimulation, flour play, then collapse. Unending, that is, until he walks away, at the piece's end. I used to see behavior like this in San Francisco from very insane street people, but Fabri's approach is particularly brilliant because what seems like a dreadlocked crazy person at first is actually an artist doing his art, out in the world. I imagine Reykjavik as a pretty white place, so the contrast between the bleak, wintry (or at least rainy) city, with its Icelanders driving around, and this thin, long-dreadlocked guy doing apparently crazy things with household objects, is strong. I imagine it having the effect on people who wander into his street art as a kind of waking up; a "Whoa, what's happening? What is this guy doing? Is he on drugs? Is he crazy?" And the answer is that, no, he's not.

I'm writing these words from Atlanta, Georgia, birthplace of Coca-Cola. There's a plaque in downtown Atlanta about the invention and first sales of Coke, but of course the plaque leaves out the cocaine part. I like Coke once in awhile. But I also understand its fundamental emptiness as a food, except for the "fix" it provides. Fabri can't stop drinking it, but he can't stop spitting it out. The interaction with flour is perhaps more mysterious and symbolic, but there's of course the obvious similarity to cocaine, a former ingredient in Coke. It starkly whitens his hands and face, which can be read ambiguously.

I wonder, like the work of artist Bas Jan Ader -- who did performance art of falling off roofs, leaning over in chairs until falling over, and even his final spectacle, disappearing at sea -- if Fabri's piece could be replicated by another artist. If someone got some Coke and flour and picked a public place, would it have the same impact? Is the message, whatever that is, still intact? Or is Fabri's piece unique to who he is, how he performed it, and where/when he performed it? Food deserts are more synonomous with people of color (at least in the US), although white trash America certainly has its share of bad food -- if you've ever seen Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, you've noticed their diet of cheese balls, "sketti," and hot dogs.

Fabri's piece is funny, but it's not like the Jackass boys doing somewhat similar crazy things in public in Japan. There's more complexity and nuance and mystery to Fabri's performance. Unlike Steve-O snorting wasabi and throwing up, Fabri goes into a kind of character in his performances, and there's a dead seriousness to his art. No one knows what his circles of flour on the ground mean, his seizure-esque movements after drinking Coke. He's kind of like The Brother from Another Planet -- he's interacting with these objects in a way that show the objects themselves in a new light as well as our relationship with them, because he interacts with them in a bizarre, yet simultaneously organic, fashion. They are commonplace and ubiquitous, but Fabri's use of them in an unorthodox way demonstrates what strange objects they are, especially on their own, without being part of anything (there's no rum & Coke, no flour used to make bread or cookies). He enters the frame, does his almost voodoo-esque interaction with the objects, and then leaves the frame. There's no explanation, and the performance itself is potentially meaningless, besides what you read into it.The piece is as empty of overt meaning as the flour and Coke are devoid of nutrition.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

How a MacGyver Episode and an Early 1990s Gubernatorial Election Predicted the 'Shocker' Election of 2016

Some time before 11/8/16, I watched an old MacGyver episode -- not the new MacGyver, which I lasted about 20 seconds into -- called "The 10% Solution." 1989. I found it one of the most responsible and haunting MacG episodes I'd come across: not the 'pacifist Rambo' stuff that comprised some of the episodes. This episode dealt with a neo-Nazi group who were working to infiltrate positions of power -- school officials, government, media, police, etc -- in five U.S. states, about 10% of the overall population. MacGyver foils their plan, of course, but the episode sent a chilling message that extremist white supremacist groups could succeed best by working from within the system and normalizing their agenda, thereby taking the stigma away from their hateful, murderous, fringe beliefs. This is exactly what we've seen happen in the 2016 election, except Trump got presidential power over all the states.

Around the same time or a bit later than that MacGyver episode of 1989, the state of Louisiana had a gubernatorial election in 1991 that made news: it boiled down to the choice between a heavily-corrupt and uber-sleazy Democrat, or known Klansmen David Duke. I felt sorry for LA voters, because it forced a true lesser-of-evils choice; the Democrat won. Georgia/Florida writer Harry Crews called David Duke's brand of mainstream, electable hate "button-down terror." 

At the time, the non-South U.S. could look at that gubernatorial election and say, "Well, that's the Deep South, innit?" But then 11/8/16 happened and sub/urban, educated, hopeful Hillary fans began to realize that Trump was gonna win the presidency, and I don't think I've ever seen such a depressing and shocked, downcast event in my whole life. Louisiana had been but a precursor to the entire nation 25 years later.

There are also of course many other complex factors. White America in 2016 had enough of that strange blend of military euphemism and academic leftism known as Political Correctness. Conservative white males rebelled against the sometimes overt, sometimes subtle demonization that had become fashionable, perhaps best epitomized by Michael Moore's book Stupid White Men. Culture wars in a nation that had become gradually polarized reached a fever peak. America experienced a strong divide between rural and urban. Just like the backlash momentum after 8 years of Bush-Cheney that helped Obama into office, conservative America had enough of not one but two Obama terms, which made many social justice-y advancements and saw perhaps its most memorable contribution, Obamacare, a health system that many saw as a type of coercive socialism (even if it fell quite short of universal coverage like most if not all developed nations have). Economic competition -- the cornerstone of a capitalist economy -- inflamed ethnic tribalism; terrorism fueled fears of nonwhite people with different belief systems, even if some of the worst terrorism was domestic, in the form of unhinged and mentally ill, usually-in-their-20s white males doing mass shootings. Critical thinking seemed to break down in the bizarre and darkly entertaining 2016 presidential primaries and election.

And then we got a president-elect endorsed by the KKK, whose core constituency seemed to be angry white males who felt that their Islamophobia, homophobia, and misogyny had finally been allowed to be expressed openly and brazenly. It's a very troubling and sad situation and I am glad there is currently active and passionate protest against a prez-elect who is the real life embodiment of the MacGyver episode candidate and David Duke.

Friday, November 4, 2016


Watched 1986's River's Edge again after not seeing it for some time. It used to be one of my favorite films, when I was quite into dark films. I still fink it's great. There's nothing quite like it, and it's probably Keanu Reeves' finest work (I mean that seriously). Perfect role for him, and he actually does a really good job. 

Watching it with a fresh perspective, I noticed the disjointedness of its setting(s). Part of it was filmed in southern California -- which aligns with the character Layne's (Crispin Glover's) SoCal accent -- and the river scenes were filmed in Sacramento (apparently during a floody time?). In previous viewings, I'd always assumed the setting (IRL and in the film) was a depressed Pacific Northwest place like Aberdeen, Washington or smalltown Oregon somewhere. It's confusing, because I noticed that the teens talk about going "up to Portland" and Feck says some of his weed comes "down from Humboldt County." This would indicate the story is set in a working-class outskirt town in southern California/Los Angeles (much of the film was filmed in Tujunga), but the presence of the river in the film, almost as a character itself, makes this nonsensical. 

It's not a flaw of the movie, since the movie's trying to capture a zeitgeist of burn-out teens who are numbed and confused by a close friend's murder by another of their friends (based in part on an actual case in 1981). I remember being in middle school in New Jersey in the mid 1980s, and there definitely was this contingent of "burn-outs" (as they were called) who wore denim jackets with metal bands' patches and were known for their partying ways, disaffection, alienation, and dislike of school, parents, and authority. Basically punks, but more metal, more stoned perhaps, kind of like darker versions of surfers. They shared qualities with the punks, but something was missing from them to make them punks. When I got to California in 1987 I found them there, too, but they were known as hessians or heshers. My good friend Brian wrote a screenplay sort-of about this culture, that was made into the film Hesher. "Hessian" is perhaps a better term for them than "burn-outs," because Hessians were German mercenaries in the Revolutionary War, and this teen generation had something about them that was unaligned with anything -- they were rogue, a tribe unto themselves, different, not really engaged in the dominant culture except to party, drink and drug, fight, get through school, then become "those damned blue-collar tweakers" that Primus has a song about, if they even made it that far. I do like the term "burn-out" however, as it almost sounds like something from a Troma movie about a nuclear high school in the mid-1980s. Most in the mainstream know Judd Nelson's character John Bender in The Breakfast Club as the quintessential Hessian/burn-out, but of course filtered through director John Hughes' midwestern, wholesome lens. 

The other thing I noticed about River's Edge is the arguably main character (besides Keanu/Matt), Samson "John" Toulette, is not so much the conflicted, quasi-sympathetic character I'd always thought, but he's just kind of an asshole. And I never understood why a somewhat fat, rude, wears-the-same-Maiden-shirt-for-days guy would get a cute girl like Jamie (the deceased) in the first place. I call that the "King of Queens syndrome": a somewhat ordinary (ordinary for America) guy gets a pretty hot girl. Plus, John's a rapist, perhaps even a necrophiliac, or so is insinuated due to Jamie first being seen naked, strangled, and dead, and his utter sociopathic indifference about his act, as well as the film's Slayer-heavy soundtrack. Maybe she was naked when he strangled her. I've always been amazed at her performance, how utterly lifelike her acting was and her ability to not breathe, be poked and prodded with sticks and shoes, and be convincingly dead. Not to mention bearing it all.

People know me as someone who often has harsh assessments of both the Baby Boomer generation and Millennials, but it's important to note that River's Edge does capture something very truthful about my own generation, X, in its darkest manifestation. A subtle but persistent theme in the film is the teens' fears about nuclear war/WW3, and how the possibility of a nuclear-devastated world happening at any moment is actually a large part of their individual and collective psyche. I think this is spot-on. I remember the Cold War vividly, and that same feeling of anxiety mixed with a kind of nihilism and resultant apathy. Many Boomers and older didn't understand the "slacker" quality of Gen X, but when you're raised on television and the imminent threat of nuclear destruction, it has a certain effect. Add in the drug culture and you get a potent mix. I also noticed more this viewing that the film skewers Baby Boomer hippies turned teachers, a subject I wrote about (in retrospect, a bit too harshly) in this article. Jim Metzler, a kind of underground actor who does a great job in the feminist-desert-noir film Delusion, plays a former hippie activist turned teacher who talks in class about "wasting pigs," which I found a bit of a stretch (maybe it's plausible in say a San Francisco school).

Overall, great film. Perhaps it cozies up right to the border of teensploitation/white trashploitation a bit, with its characters that we would meet again in an even more over the top fashion in the films of Harmony Korine, but I think the film is just overall very realistic. 

River's Edge goes for broke: it's got psychopathic 12-year old deliquents (Tim and Moko*), extreme music, a blow-up doll, an unhinged performance by Crispin Glover, and Dennis Hopper in a role only slightly removed from that of his in Blue Velvet. This viewing, I realized what a bleak and unblinking film this is, and although it shows that compassion is always trying to work its way to surface, it's a dark ride from start to finish. I really felt this time for the youngest daughter (Matt's sister), dealing with domestic strife and an evil brother, and I felt for the crayfish in the bucket that Tim and Moko shoot with bb guns. It is these smallest and most vulnerable innocent creatures, let alone girls who are one minute getting stoned on the riverbank with their boyfriend and the next strangled to death, that is so hard to bear and witness as they find themselves up against direct harm and apathy from larger, more powerful creatures. That aspect really hit home this time, and made me cry watching this film. 

* I don't know the origin of this strange, silent character's name, but it reminded me of A Clockwork Orange's "moloko" (milk spiked with drugs).