Sunday, July 30, 2006

LIFE: Mega-America Trek

Finishing up my late-night Saturday shift at the paper, and I've just written what might be one of the more surreal headlines of my life: "Llamas die in blaze."

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting…Anyway, that's neither here nor there. So anyway, in all my talking about the big move to New Zealand in October, leaving Oregon in September, quitting my job, et cetera and so forth, I've never mentioned anything about our mega-America trek! Road trip! For how can an American lad leave his motherland after nearly 35 years without saying farewell to the amber waves of green and so forth? Anyway, visions I had of using our 6-7 weeks between leaving Oregon and leaving America for a grand, sweeping trip from sea to shining sea have had to be scaled back some. For one thing, it's expensive when we'll be making no income till November at the earliest, and for another, have you tried driving thousands and thousands of miles with a toddler in the car?

So my thoughts of visiting New Orleans, old friends in Texas and Mississippi have been sadly abandoned. Instead, we're still taking a pretty decent trip at the end of September, from my parents' house in Northern California (where we'll decamp to after leaving Oregon) down to visit friends in Los Angeles, then we're going to take a leisurely drive through Southern Arizona and then New Mexico. We'll then go up through New Mexico and into Colorado, visiting some more friends in the Denver area, and then zip across the Rockies through arid Utah and Nevada home (maybe stopping in Wyoming too). It's still a pretty damned ambitious trip to take but I'm really hoping we can pull it off, hopefully without leaving Peter in a rest stop somewhere. We're still in the planning stages... Any suggestions for sights to see in Southern Arizona or New Mexico would be appreciated! We spent our honeymoon in the Sedona/Grand Canyon area, but I've never been further south and only once briefly passed through New Mexico.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThere's nothing at all like the Southwest in New Zealand, of course, and there's something about the wide-open road and highways of America that I'll really miss. NZ is only about the size of Oregon, and is rarely more than 100 miles across at any one point. You can pretty much always see the ocean. Which is great, but at the same time, I might get to feeling claustrophobic sometimes. One of the beauties of America is that you can get in the car and just drive, from Portland to Kansas if you wished, or Anchorage to Orlando. It's a big old world out there, and I want us to feel the highway wind on our brows a bit before we trade it for another one.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

ETC.: Friday flim-flam

ITEM! ...So the lesson is to be specific, because if you're not, bad things can happen. For instance, don't tell the stylist you want "a really short haircut" because she just might think you mean it and the next thing you know you have a huge shaved patch on the top of your head and it's past the point of no return. Through no fault of the nice stylist, I now have the worst haircut of my adult life. I look like Uncle Fester on a bad day. The scalp shines off my receding hairline with the light of a thousand suns. Flourescent lights at work even less flattering. Sigh. I'm never cutting my hair again. How fast does hair grow, anyway?

ITEM! Wow, it's been so busy I plumb forgot to post that I checked out Kevin Smith's "Clerks II" and dug it, not as good as the original and as always his clumsy/sincere style is kind of an acquired taste, but it amused and offended me enough to recommend. Anyway, I've been too lazy to code the HTML to post it here, so go over here to my day job and read my full review if you like.

ITEM! Good lord, I look at the calendar and realize I'm just barely a month away from quitting my job and embracing poverty before we head to New Zealand in October. I'm hip-deep in special sections, Alice Cooper interviews, packing everything we own and so forth as the final days near and I fear posting will continue to get ever more random. It's a marathon run through August for me.

ITEM! Hey, I've joined the ranks of 14-year-old girls nationwide by finally starting my own MySpace page. Nah, I'm not giving up my preferred online haunt over here, but I just thought it'd be a lark to start. Already found all sorts of strange people I vaguely knew in high school who have now turned into total freaks. And then there's myself, of course. Anyway if you're on there and want to validate my pathetic little existence by being my Friend, I'll be forever grateful. Sob.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

MUSIC: Johnny Cash and Tom Petty

Johnny Cash, ‘American V: A Hundred Highways’
Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIf anything, this album should be an enormous downer. Johnny Cash died in 2003, after all. This album, the latest in his amazing series recorded with producer Rick Rubin, was recorded in the final months of his life, after his beloved wife June Carter Cash died and shortly before his own passing in September 2003. Cash was ailing, probably heartsick, and reflecting on his soon-to-end-life. Sounds like a fun album, eh?
But while “American V” is often heart-wrenching, there’s something very life-affirming about this set of covers and Cash-penned original songs. There’s still strength in Cash’s oak-hard voice. If it’s not at full holler, it’s still a tremendous instrument. “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” throbs like an Old Testament judgment, with a clattering stomp of percussion and Cash’s weary refrain. A cover of the old Gordon Lightfoot tune “If You Could Read My Mind” is achingly intimate, while the bluesy “Further On Up The Road” reimagines a Bruce Springsteen track.
What’s been billed as Cash’s final original song, “Like The 309,” is a fragile meditation on death, fate and faith. Cash’s voice sounds about to crack wide open, but it works. “American V” isn’t the most dazzling of the series – the earlier CDs, when Cash was in stronger voice and presented a striking array of unlikely cover tunes from artists like Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden, are some of his finest work. But “American V” is heavy with the sense of imminent endings, and Cash’s firm faith that something better was awaiting him on the other side.
Heavy credit is due to superb producer Rubin, who added subtle, evocative backing instrumentation to Cash’s raw demo vocal tracks. He’s filled in the sketches Cash left behind, and“American V” feels rich in the tradition of American music, from folk to country. It’s timeless music. Through toil and struggle, Cash carried on. That why when “American V” wraps up with “I’m Free From The Chain Gang Now,” you can’t help but smile a little and hope he’s happy, wherever he is now.

Tom Petty, ‘Highway Companion’
Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIt’s nice to come home to Tom Petty again. His wry, wizened voice is something sorely missing in today’s Top 40 radio. His latest CD, “Highway Companion,” is like a familiar friend stopping by that you haven’t seen in years. It’s not cutting edge; it’s just darned fine tunes by a master of the pop song. “Highway Companion” has what much of Petty’s most recent work lacked – hooks. It’s his best CD since 1994’s wistful “Wildflowers.”
The distinctive jangle of longtime Petty bandmate Mike Campbell’s lead guitar grounds the album with friendly, open riffs. The first single, “Saving Grace,” kicks off the album in fine style, with a propulsive feel that sets the stage for the rest of the disc. The gorgeous “Square One,” which first appeared on the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe’s movie “Elizabethtown” last year, is a fine gentle ballad that feels like a companion to Petty’s earlier track “Wildflowers.” “Highway Companion” is nicely balanced between up-tempo rockers and slower ballads. There’s several tunes here that stand with Petty’s best – the quirky jingle “Jack,” the epic, yearning “Turn This Car Around,” the forlorn “Damaged By Love.” In “This Old Town,” a country-fied singalong, Petty comments on a town that’s collapsing in on itself: “I keep to myself / like everyone else / nobody says much to me.”
“Highway Companion” is a restless, questing album that’s the perfect soundtrack for a long road trip to nowhere in particular. It’s vintage Petty, and it’s fine to have him back.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

...When the temperature in our normally green and damp part of Oregon is a high of 106 degrees as it was all weekend, there's only one thing you can really do...
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Naked pool dance!*

*Caution: Cuteness of naked pool dance rapidly goes downhill the older and hairier the dancing party is. Your neighbors may call 911.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

MUSIC: My 15 minutes with Alice Cooper

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting…So had that nice little chat with Alice Cooper yesterday. He's coming to the world-famous Douglas County Fair in a couple weeks and I'm doing an advance piece on it. A good conversation, I didn't fumble around as much as I sometimes do in interviews (best tip I ever learned about interviewing people – shut up and let them talk). The high priest of 'shock rock' is actually quite a nice guy, with a zillion stories to tell.

I bashfully admit (although not when I was talking to him of course) that I never had been a huge Alice Cooper fan – sure, I knew "School's Out," "I'm Eighteen," "No More Mr. Nice Guy," but that was about the scope of my knowledge. But getting ready to interview someone, you've got to bone up on them, so I've been reading tons of stuff about Alice Cooper, spinning a few CDs I got, and enjoying them. Cooper's like the Kevin Bacon of rock, with ties to just about everybody, and he's a huge influence on everything from Bowie's Ziggy era to hair metal to rap-rock bands today. He was doing stuff in 1971 that's still stirring people up today, judging from some of the hate mail the paper got about his upcoming show here. He's a rock icon, and it was a pleasure to chat with him a bit.

I'm still working on my actual story, but space dictates I won't use but a fraction of my notes. So here for your blogging pleasure is some random excerpts from our 15 or so minutes of talk before the PR rep had to send Alice on to his next talk –

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingOn his infamous reputation:
"I'd say 70 to 80 percent of anything you hear about Alice Cooper … is wrong."

"I've never killed a chicken onstage."

"Alice Cooper never came close to being as vile as Shakespeare." (Part of a talk about protests from local folk hereabouts upset about his show – we got letters to the editor castigating bringing a "known Satanist" to town, etc. Anyway, Cooper was talking about Shakespeare plays like "Macbeth," "Titus Andronicus" and how the desire for lewd entertainment has been around a lot longer than him.)

"Most of the songs that I hear on the radio today are songs that I would've thrown away."

What kind of music today do you dig?
"A band like Jet is a real authentic rock 'n' roll band. The White Stripes are totally unique. I like the Strokes a lot."

"There's no such thing as "shock rock" today. I don't really think you can shock an audience anymore … You turn on the TV and there's a terrorist cutting off a guy's head for real now – how shocking can Alice Cooper be?"

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingOn being known for some of the most legendarily excessive live shows of all time:
"I never went out of my way to say OK, I can't wait to shock the audience. I was much more interested in entertaining the audience, doing something they've never seen before. People called it glam rock, people called it theatrical rock and we were at the head of all of that."

"…I looked at the Who, The Yardbirds, all of these great, great bands, but nobody's going to do anything with that stage. Why would you leave that stage just bare? Why not light it up, why not decorate it, why not make it come to life? If you say, 'Welcome to my Nightmare,' don't just say it – give it to them."

You're in your late 50s now, with a nightly radio show, still putting out new albums and touring regularly – how long can you go?
"I'm 58 years old now and I'm in better shape than I was when I was 38. …I've been married 30 years to the greatest girl in the world, I've never cheated on her. … I've never smoked cigarettes. That's a big plus. I quit drinking 25 years ago. You've got a lot of plusses on my side there."

"I'm having more fun with the show now and I'm making better records now. I think I'll end when I get out there and there's nobody there to play to. I will not end up on a Carnival Cruise – you won't see me playing a cruise ship with Ozzy Ozborne."

Friday, July 21, 2006

ETC: Redesigns, resignations, rock 'n' roll

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingITEM! …And the winner for worst redesign of 2006 goes to the magazine GIANT, which in the space of a mere single issue managed to systematically suck out pretty much everything I liked about it. This enjoyable general-interest mag started up a year or two back and had a nice, cool-but-a-bit-geeky feel, and the early issues were absolutely packed with content; tons of reviews, from the mainstream to the esoteric, and some celebrity interviews that really managed to reach a little deeper than most. At least, that's how GIANT was - the newest issue is, basically, utterly banal. New editor, new design, and they've gone from "Scrubs" to "Beyonce" on the cover selection. Content has been replaced with an eye-splittingly bad redesign featuring unreadable fonts, page after page of pointless arty photo spreads with a splash of text here and there, and the once-mighty reviews section has been slashed to the bone. Feh. All flash, no content, nothing to set it apart from the crowd of competing "lad mags." I don't want to read 100 pages of photos. Good thing my subscription expires next issue anyway. Farewell, GIANT, I knew ye well and like to support struggling good mags, but your ill-thought "redesign" obviously isn't aimed at my demographic.

Hey, y'like Spoon, that hip Austin, Texas band all the cool kids dig? Go hither to BlogCritics and read my review of the recent reissue of some of their vintage work.

ITEM! You never know which way the dominos will fall – my upcoming resignation from my job effective Sept. 1 triggered a fun amount of reshuffling in the newsroom. See, the sports editor decided he felt like a change of pace and so he's taking my job, and now one of the associate wire editors has decided he's like to be sports editor so he's taking that job. End result is my leaving ends up affecting three different jobs! Good to shake stuff up though, isn't it?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingITEM! Hey, so you know what I'm going to be doing tomorrow around noon? Chatting on the phone with Alice Cooper, if all goes well. He's playing at our county fair next month and I finally managed to snag an interview with the godfather of shock rock. So basically I have to bone up on my Cooper-ism the next 24 hours or so. (Yeah, I know, I've got a hard job – I have to listen to a bunch of Alice Cooper songs and get paid for it.) Anybody got any questions for Alice they want to pass on?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

MOVIES: 'An Inconvenient Truth'

Oh Al Gore, I miss you. Watching "An Inconvenient Truth" the other day, I have to admit I felt a little sadness – in an alternate world, this guy'd be our president right now, instead of Dubya. Sigh. But so it goes.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIn his new documentary on the perils of global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth,” Gore has a message everyone on the planet should hear – Democrat, Republican, non-voter, American, foreigner, whatever you are. The human, funny warm Al Gore, the one so sadly missing during his presidential campaign, is your guide to a manmade horror story – that still has an optimistic perspective.

Quite simply, “An Inconvenient Truth” is the most important movie I’ve seen this year. Which makes it more the pity that there were only a dozen or so people at the show I attended, while a few doors down the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie fills out to the aisles.

I know most folks view movies as a chance to escape from it all, but that’s not all they can or should be. “An Inconvenient Truth” is a movie that wants to wake you up, break you out of your apathy and the “if I don’t see it, it’s not happening mentality.” And it’s all done in an entertaining, relaxed fashion.

Check out “Pirates” and the like and have fun, of course, but if you’re at all concerned about the world you live in, and that your kids and grandkids will inherit, you owe it to yourself to see “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingEssentially, “An Inconvenient Truth” is a filmed version of a lecture on global warming Gore has delivered hundreds of times around the world. It looks at the causes of warming, presents dozens of hard facts showing the problem is very real indeed, and then offers some hope of solution. Gore has a simple eloquence on screen, and presents himself far better here than he ever did during a political campaign. He’s a smart guy, but rarely overbearing, and there’s more than a little quiet thoughtful grace and poetry to some of his statements.

Director David Guggenheim nicely juxtaposes excerpts from Gore’s lectures with off-the-cuff interviews with the man around his Carthage, Tenn., home. Gore touches on the motivations behind his crusade – family crises, political losses – and shows how he decided it was time to use his time to make a difference.
Gore himself says he considers global warming to be a moral issue, rather than a political one. But some folks have politics so ingrained in their blood that anything heard from someone of “the other party” is going to close their ears.

Yet as Gore points out repeatedly, there’s no reason it has to be a choice between the economy or environment – both can co-exist, and as global warming persists, the economy will be harmed no matter what.

Occasionally, “An Inconvenient Truth” does bog down a bit in hard science. It’s difficult not to make the movie feel a bit like the college lecture it basically is. But generally Gore dumbs down the technical talk enough to make it palatable for everyone.

A dramatic series of events showing what could happen to the coastlines of some of the world’s major cities if sea levels rise is the best use of terrifying special effects I’ve seen in a long time – because unlike much of what we see in Hollywood, this has a decent chance of happening if something isn’t done.

“You can’t make somebody understand something if their salary depends upon them not understanding it,” Gore says at one point, quoting Upton Sinclair. It’s as good an answer as any to the obstinate refusal to note the obvious in some corners of Washington.

“An Inconvenient Truth” makes for a pretty convincing argument that there’s something really bad going on in our world today. It’s a question of whether the political will can be found to make a difference about it before it’s too late.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Shamelessly stolen from Greg "The Burg" Burgas

'What will your obituary say?' at
...Still alive, just in case anyone was wondering, but the maelstrom of life has been quite busy. Just about eight weeks now until we leave Oregon and we're rapidly picking up speed, moving downhill toward unknown territory... Now that we're nearing August, the real craziness begins.

Big huge yard sale Saturday was a smashing success, sold close to everything we had out there and no kooks or wackjobs to speak of other than the usual. We made money galore and then celebrated yesterday at the newspaper's staff picnic which I somehow ended up on the organizing committee for this year. Peter ran around being cute and singing his latest, the "A-B-C" song, to anyone who asked. So it's been busy. Tossing and turning in the sweaty summer nights, too much buzzing around the brain to be able to sleep decently... Coffee, coffee, where the hell's my coffee?

Seriously, doesn't anyone want our cat?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

LIFE: Bang! Zap! Pow! It's art!

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting…So last weekend we jetted up to Eugene to get some "cult-chah" and attend a kids' fest up there, and I swung by the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon to see a fab new show they've got of work by pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.

It was a good show, about 70 pieces, and reminded me of the Warhol show I saw there last year. I've always admired Lichtenstein's pop work, but like most I'm the most familiar with his "comic book-inspired" (some would say rip-offs) paintings. There's something kitschy and cool about those, but I also liked the chance to see some of Lichtenstein's other work at the show, his more abstract and avant-garde side.
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The stark, "coloring book" style of some of his illustrations is confrontational and strange, especially when they're on paintings 5 feet across. It's almost like taking a peek into some alternate, Jack Kirby-created dimension. The benday dots that are a big part of Lichtenstein's style help create that otherworldly feeling. Its very fakeness makes it seem more real. Or am I just lapsing into pretentious critic-speak? Whatever – I likes it.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI rather liked pieces like this one, "Brushstrokes," right, that show the artist's style breaking down into its component parts. One of the exhibition's most interesting images was a six-part series showing a cow being slowly disassembled into fractal linework, like vision blurring.
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But of course, you can't go wrong with a good ol' fashioned pop art explosion, either!

(All art (C) etc. Roy Lichtenstein estate, honest.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

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Have I mentioned yet how much the American health insurance system SUCKS, and how very glad I will be to move to a country this October that actually has a system that makes a little more sense?

Yes, I just spent 15 minutes on hold trying to get a claims representative to tell me why the minor surgery I had in January still hasn't been processed yet... And still never got anyone on the phone. It's how it always is – you spend more hours working the phone trying to get the insurer to actually pay up anything than you spent at the doctor's. You see, this would've been settled in April or so if the insurer didn't send the check TO THE WRONG ADDRESS. Which means we'll likely never get this settled before we move.

I love my country. I hate its health care "system."

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

COMICS: A sneak peek at Alan Moore's "Lost Girls"

There's rarely a consensus when it comes to creativity, but ask comic book fans who the greatest writer of modern times is and one name will keep popping up again and again – Alan Moore. His library of comic work is legendary – Watchmen, V For Vendetta, Swamp Thing, Tom Strong, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell and many more. Few have combined so well the traditions of fine literature with the conventions of comics, and fewer still have strained the borders of the comic panel like Moore and his collaborators. Again and again, Moore has pushed comics to be more than many thought they could be, tackling race, power, mythology and politics.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingNow, in his latest, the massive magnum opus Lost Girls drawn by his fiancee Melinda Gebbie, Moore zeroes in on one topic guaranteed to draw eyeballs in – sex.

Lost Girls is a tremendous project, a set of three elaborately designed, oversized 112-page hardcover volumes to be published by Top Shelf Productions next month. It could scarcely be more designed to get attention, because in his sweeping examination of sex, lust and desire, Moore appropriates three of children's literature's most beloved heroines – from Alice in Wonderland, a grown-up, middle-aged Alice; from Peter Pan, the girl Wendy now a buttoned-up married woman; and from Wizard Of Oz, a sexed-up young adult Dorothy Gale.

Dorothy at an orgy? Oh no! Yet Lost Girls is an elegant, important work, miles away from the "Tijuana Bible" porn comics. At $75 for its entirety, it's also clearly not aimed at casual browsers. But, having read a preview copy, I can say it's without doubt one of the year's finest graphic novels – finest books, period.

It's a project Moore and Gebbie have been working on for nearly 20 years. Moore uses the "awakenings" each of the traditional stories contained and retells them in sexual terms (you can only imagine what the Tin Man and Scarecrow get up to with Dorothy, for instance). Yet slightly blasphemous as the notion seems, Moore is respectful to these characters in his way. "We didn't want to do something that was a sniggering parody of those works," he said in a recent interview. Lost Girls tells the tale of these three girls meeting in 1913, long after their famous adventures, at a strange private resort in France. The women are gradually drawn into each others' orbit, despite their very different personalities, and, instigated by the authoritative, debauched Alice, ascend into their own private universe of never-ending sensuality and dreams. As history is revealed, sex becomes more and more expansive, swelling up and flooding their everyday lives.

Read in one sitting, the three volumes of Lost Girls are a bit overwhelming, a constant parade of flesh-filled erotica and ever-escalating acts of desire. Like watching a lengthy porn movie, you get desensitized to it and start seeing perpetual nudity and sex as almost normal. It works far better read chapter by chapter, with pauses in between to reflect a little on what Moore and Gebbie are saying.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAll but the most worldly of readers will likely be astonished by how graphic Lost Girls is. As the tale unspools, Moore takes his characters into ever-more-elaborate pageants of pornography, from group sex to homosexuality and even, perhaps most troubling, incest and child sex. Yet this is ultimately non-exploitive porn with a soul, steeped in literary tradition, hearkening back to the legendary (and still shocking) work of the Marquis de Sade. Moore stands firmly on the belief that a fiction is a fiction, and cannot be held complicit for events in reality. "Pornographies are the enchanted parklands where the most secret and vulnerable of all our many selves can safely play," one character says. Lost Girls is id run amok, unapologetic.

Moore's work has grown in complexity and layers since his more mainstream material – his prose novel Voice of The Fire is almost Joycean in its cycling themes and references. Ditto his recent comic series Promethea, which moved from standard superheroine action into something quite magical and immense. Lost Girls is another step in the odyssey of this literary genius – a word I do not use lightly.

Moore gets us to think about the very nature of pornography. The very word itself has become a negative thing, largely because so much porn is hateful or merely artless. Yet by applying the full bore of his considerable talents upon the art of procreation, Moore reminds us that sex can be art. Very little porn out there is these days, but once upon a time, erotic fiction was a distinct, credible genre. Lost Girls is Alan Moore's most revolutionary work, designed to smash assumptions, crash barricades.

In a remarkable three-part interview at the Web site Comic Book Resources with writer Adi Tantimedh, Moore lays bare some of his motivations for what will be seen by some as a red flag in the culture wars: "Whatever urges there are out there are in our sexual imagination. And it seems to me that is a thing we fail to explore at our peril, if we allow shadowy, unexpected corners of it to remain where it is and never look inside them, and we end up with pretty much the type of society we've got now, where there is a fanatic outcry at anything suggestive involving a child where there is complete apathy at the number of children who are blown up every day in the world's war zones. Yeah, they only had their limbs blown off, but they haven't been touched sexually. That is something that is worth looking at."

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingMuch of Moore's work involves a critical transformative event that breaks the border between worlds, such as the genocidal concentration camp that creates his "V" in V For Vendetta, or the murders of Jack the Ripper seen as a kind of invocation for the 20th century in From Hell. In Lost Girls, the telling of sexual histories by his girls is a chance for them to escape old hurts, embrace old pains and enjoy their sexuality unashamed. Wendy, from Peter Pan, is a tightly wound Victorian prude when we first see her, but gradually opens to embrace her lusty past with Moore's sexaholic Pan. Alice went "through the looking glass" to a terrible world where she was used and abused by others, only finally emerging with her own self-identity and pleasures. It certainly helps reading Lost Girls to be familiar with Oz, Pan and Alice, but even if you haven't read the original books many of their broad storylines are still familiar to us all.

Ultimately, Lost Girls is about whether we embrace violence or its gentler alternatives, our good or bad natures. There's a firm anti-war message wrapped up in the gaudy fantasia, as the grim events of World War I loom over and ultimately consume the three women's private paradise.

I've concentrated heavily on Moore's writing here because it's so commanding and confident, but I don't want to slight Melinda Gebbie's artwork. Moore's partner is an integral part of Lost Girls, and her beautiful artwork brings it to unforgettable life. Gebbie's gauzy, vaguely fairy tale-like style blends well with Moore's tale of self-exploration. It's also subtly versatile -- flipping through pages, you can really see how Gebbie tightens or loosens her style according to the demands of the tale. The colors are particularly gorgeous, done by hand without digital manipulation. Her style evokes an older era, yet has a modern tint. And her very presence as a muse for Moore's tale defeats any argument that Lost Girls is sexist – a ridiculous assault, as Lost Girls is far more told from the female point of view than male.

I'll be curious to see if upon its August release Lost Girls becomes another rallying cry for some conservatives, and causes outrage among those who aren't even going to read it. It would be a shame – in this very bold, very human saga, Moore has created a thesis on sexuality that stands with his finest work.

Saturday, July 8, 2006

MUSIC: Play me the blues

Busy busy busy. Besides, y'know, work, and trying to do a large review you should see sometimes next week, we're also getting ready for our ever-expanding mega yard sale set for a week from Saturday. So if you're passing through Southwest Oregon July 15, be sure to stop by! Say you read the blog and I'll give you a dollar discount. Unless it's on expensive stuff.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIn lieu of original content, though, let me point you toward an interview I got to do this week with blues harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite, who's playing a free concert here next Tuesday. Always a pleasure to interview someone like Mr. M, who was gracious and eloquent on the phone, unlike his stumbling interviewer. Charlie's from Mississippi just like much of my family is so we had lots to talk about. He still wouldn't let me join his band, though. Anyway, if you're interested, go read my Ridin' with Charlie Musselwhite interview here.

Additionally, if you want to see the more refined version of my Superman Returns review (as opposed to the kind of rambling notes I posted last week), go hither. I'm still of two minds about that movie – flawed success, perhaps? worthy failure? – but it definitely tried to be ambitious, which you can't say about a lot of Hollywood summer movies.

Have a fine weekend!

Thursday, July 6, 2006

LIFE: A berry good time was had by all

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Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting...Good lord, I feel like I ate my way through Independence Day. My folks came up for a visit for a few days and to visit their #1 grandson, and there was much eating of food, hiking, playing and so forth. One of our favorite things to do a couple times each summer around here is berry picking – we're in a big agricultural area and there's tons of strawberry, marionberry and blackberry farms, not to mention our absolute tops, blueberry picking. Took Peter out with my folks Monday for some berry pickin' adventures. This year's crop was the best we've seen in the 4 1/2 years we've lived here – huge, bright berries, falling right off the bushes. Then we stopped and bought pies at a local fruit stand. Hoo-ha!

So of course I made blueberry pancakes for our July 4 breakfast. And between my folks and I we've got about 10 pounds of berries to use in coming months. Berry-licious! The diet starts again next week.

Sunday, July 2, 2006

MUSIC: Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint, "The River In Reverse"

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI'm a big Elvis Costello nut, but I do get a bit leery when I see he's collaborating with other people or trying out a new genre. I love his variety and omnivorous musical mind, but it doesn't always pan out into fine music. Sometimes, it's fab, like his country-influenced "King of America" or his smoothly cool Burt Bacharach duets CD. Then sometimes you get an album like 2003's limp "North," toothless lite-jazz noodlings. He's even apparently put out an opera CD – and sorry, I'm not that dedicated.

So I didn't rush out and buy Costello's latest, "The River In Reverse," the day it came out. A collaboration with New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint, I wasn't sure about it. I'm ashamed to say I wasn't really familiar with Toussaint (whom I learned is the man behind classics like "Working in the Coalmine") and didn't want to waste time on a pointless Costello side project. I apologize, Elvis – it's a great CD, your best since 2002's "When I Was Cruel."

Costello's worked with Toussaint before, on EC's venomous classic "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" from 1989's "Spike." Costello apparently approached Toussaint last year at some benefit concerts for Hurricane Katrina victims and Costello whipped out a little song for the duo, "The River in Reverse." It was written and debuted in a show the same day, and led the men to to decide to try an entire album together, dedicated to the revival of New Orleans. (Here's a little more on how the album came to be.)

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingCostello does a lot of things wonderfully, but "he's got soul" isn't something I normally think of him. Yet "The River In Reverse" is packed with a warm Mississippi Delta soul, awash in the ghosts of New Orleans. It's got a soul that doesn't feel forced or faux-ironic, and a battered optimism that's truly appealing. I'm not real familiar with Toussaint, I admit, but he's a terrific collaborator for Elvis, with his fluid piano lines and the loose swing his songs have (about half the songs on the CD are Toussaint's compositions alone, about half joint works, and a couple of Costello solo works). The music has the groove of a jam, but the discipline of solid songwriting backing it up. The men are kindred spirits, balancing each other's strengths and weaknesses.

Throughout "River," a celebratory tone flows. It's not ignoring the recent devastation in the Big Easy, but it's looking back wistfully and what was and what hopefully will be one day again, in songs like "On Your Way Down," "Broken Promise Land" and more. There's certainly anger to be found about how muddled the human disaster was – "there's a place where words mean nothing or much less," Costello sneers in one tune – but Toussaint's lively arrangements balance out Costello's darker instincts. One of the disc's best songs is "Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further?" which features Toussaint on lead vocals and bounces under a kicky bass line, punchy trumpet and organ. "What happened to the Liberty Bell I heard so much about?" Toussaint sings in a snappy couplet about the government's flubbed response to Katrina, "Did it really ding-dong? It must have dinged wrong / It didn't ding long." Sure, sounds silly written down, but trust me, it's a cool song.

"Tribute" albums often are more well-intentioned than truly good music. But by gently evoking the ideas and legends of New Orleans centered around some ripping fine tunes, "The River In Reverse" does the Big Easy proud.

Have a good 4th of July, all, I'll be visiting with the parents and back sometime next week with more posts.

Saturday, July 1, 2006

MOVIES: "Superman Returns"

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting...It may be a bit silly, but I admit, there's nothing quite like hearing John Williams' awesome "Superman" theme music blasting into a movie theater for the first time in 19 (!) years, ever since I saw the god-awful "Superman IV: The Quest For Peace" in a theater with about six other people back in 1987.

Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns" is the Man of Steel's first celluloid outing since then, of course, and if it isn't quite a total home run, it's solid entertainment and a pretty great spectacle. I'm not sure how well it'll do at the box office - it could catch on, or it could be seen as too cerebral and slow – but it more or less works. Some thoughts (Spoiler Warning, of course):

The good:

Like I said, that John Williams music is wonderful to hear again, and might just be my favorite movie theme ever. The whole movie is a deep thematic sequel to "Superman: The Movie" and "Superman II," and it's nice to see Singer paying respect to the godfather of the current superhero movie genre.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingFirst off, some of the action in "Superman Returns" is absolutely spectacular – a dazzling plane rescue sequence in the beginning that had me holding my breath with tension; a series of incredible can-you-top-this feats of catastrophe prevention; any scenes with Superman flying, executed with stunning grace and majesty by Singer. Naturally, it's all a quantum leap above the effects in the 1978 film. You get your summer movie big-bang money's worth from this one, I think.

And overall, I'm down with Singer's approach to the material. Just like in his "X-Men" movies, he's respectful and utterly serious to the characters and story. There's a depth to "Superman Returns," with its lingering themes of alienation, fatherhood, truly adult love and hero worship. They aren't all developed perfectly, but this movie tries, and that elevates it to the higher echelon of comics flicks like the "Spider-Man" and first two "X-Men" movies or "Batman Begins."

Brandon Routh,
I wasn't sure about before I saw this – he looks too formless and bland in still photos, I think – but he's a very solid Man of Steel here. He plays Kal-El darker, more stoic and restrained than the late Christopher Reeve, who always had a nice kind of twinkle in his eye, but it serves for the story this movie is trying to tell. I don't think Routh's Clark Kent is quite as successful, but the Kent side of his personality really got the short shrift in screen time anyway.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingKevin Spacey has been on most people's short list for Lex Luthor, and I think he's a fantastic choice here. He chews the scenery mercilessly, homaging Gene Hackman's performance but also turning this older, embittered Lex into more of a cruel, amoral thug. The dead steely glare in Spacey's eyes nicely fits this version of Lex, a madman whose plot in this tale is really quite insane and apocalyptic. At first I thought that was a gaping plot hole (not to spoil too much, but how is Lex's new land going to be valuable to anybody if it looks like Mordor-meets-South Dakota?), but now I can almost see that's the point. Lex is stone cold crazy here, and the rest of the world doesn't even quite get that.

A marvelous overall look to the film, dark but not "Batman" dark, with an art-deco Metropolis and a snazzy Daily Planet newsroom I'd love to work in.

The kid. I know many fanboy types are turned off any time a kid is featured in one of "their" movies, but I actually thought Lois Lane's son was a smart addition to the story and played by a refreshingly genuine child actor.

The final confrontation between Luthor and Superman is jaw-droppingly brutal and intense, and delivers a powerful punch. (I admit though I feel like Luthor doesn't get the comeuppance I feel he truly deserves at the film's end though.)

The just OK:
Photobucket - Video and Image HostingSorry, Singer, but Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane is a huge misstep. She's adequate, but rarely more, and lacks the husky lived-in sexiness of Margot Kidder's Lane. Obviously this isn't a straight sequel to the old movies, but still, how are we supposed to believe this doll-faced cherub is a hard-charging reporter? Bosworth just looks too young, and lacks the spark a Rachel McAdams or Rachel Weisz might've brought to the role. She does have a nice chemistry with Routh, though.

I like the notion of Superman leaving Earth for five years and dealing with the ramifications of coming back, yet the movie sometimes left me wanting more. Why exactly did it take five years? What did he see? There's almost another movie or something to be had from that story point alone. And the way Clark Kent kind of just slipped back into his old life after five years' away seemed a bit too simplistic.

The bad:
Singer is a fine director, but his ambition nearly derails the movie a couple times. It sometimes feels like a director's cut. It's too long by about 15 minutes, and takes a little while to get going. He lays on the Superman-as-Jesus metaphors far too thickly, to the point where it begins to feel artless and forced. (Although the movie's final scenes, featuring a badly wounded hero, were terrific.)

And while I love the old "Superman" movies, there's part of me that feels "Returns" errs a little too much toward being a remake rather than a total reinvention. Beside recycling the theme music, resurrecting Marlon Brando, the carved beauty of the Fortress of Solitude and even several dialogue lines from the original, the overall plot bears an awful strong resemblance to the first "Superman" movie (Superman vs. Luthor over some world-shattering real estate scheme). It's a good movie, but if there's a sequel I'd like to see them strike out in an entirely new direction.

Jimmy Olsen. Sorry, but this kid has only worked for me in the goofy 1950s and 1960s comics.

If Krypton crystals grow in water, why doesn't the Fortress of Solitude surrounded by ice take over the planet?

Despite the movie's flaws (and really, I can't think of a comics movie that's been flawless), I do find that I keep thinking about "Superman Returns." It sticks in your head, and Singer's visual imagery feels timeless and powerful. The first superhero has a movie that nearly lives up to its potential.