Archive for the ‘Art Spiegelman’ Category

McSweeney’s #13 (2006)

13SOUNDTRACKPARTS & LABOR-Stay Afraid (2006).

partslaborParts & Labor have changed t heir style over the years going from noisemakers who have a melody to being melodious noisemakers.  This album is one of their earlier releases when noise dominated.  Right from the opening you know the album is going to be a challenge.  The first song has pounding drums (electronics that sound like bagpipes) and heavy distorted shouty vocals.  By the end of the songs there is squealing feedback, punk speed drums and screaming distorted vocals (complete with space sound effects).  It’s an aggressive opening for sure.  Song two opens with a long low rumbling and then “Drastic Measures” proves to be another fast-paced song.

“A Pleasant Stay” is 5 minutes long (most of the rest of the album’s songs are about 3 minutes).  It continues in this fast framework, although it has a bit more open moments of just drums or just vocals.  The way the band plays with feedback in the last minute or so of the song  very cool.

“New Buildings” has a hardcore beat with a guitar part that sounds sped up.  “Death” is a thumping song (the drums are very loud on this disc), while “Timeline” is two minutes of squealing guitars.  “Stay Afraid” has a false start (although who knows why–how do these guys know if the feedback sounds are what  they wanted anyhow?).  The song ends with 30 seconds of sheer noise).  The album ends with the 5 minute “Changing of the Guard” a song not unlike the rest of the album–noisy with loud drumming and more noise.

The album is certainly challenging, it’s abrasive and off putting, but there;s surprising pleasures and melodies amidst the chaos.   Indeed, after a listen or two you start to really look forward to the hooks.  If you like this sort of thing, this album s a joy.  It’s also quite brief, so it never overstays its welcome.

[READ: April 15, 2011] McSweeney’s #13

I have been looking forward to reading this issue for quite some time.  Indeed, as soon as I received it I wanted to put aside time for it.  It only took eight years.  For this is the fabled comics issue.  Or as the cover puts it: Included with this paper: a free 264 page hardcover.  Because the cover is a fold-out poster–a gorgeous broadside done by Chris Ware called “God.”  And as with all Chris Ware stories, this is about life, the universe and everything.  On the flip side of the (seriously, really beautiful with gold foil and everything) Ware comic are the contributors’ list and a large drawing that is credited to LHOOQ which is the name of Marcel Duchamp’s art piece in which he put a mustache on the Mona Lisa.  It’s a kind of composite of the history of famous faces in art all done in a series of concentric squares.  It’s quite cool.

So, yes, this issue is all about comics.  There are a couple of essays, a couple of biographical sketches by Ware of artists that I assume many people don’t know and there’s a few unpublished pieces by famous mainstream artists.  But the bulk of the book is comprised of underground (and some who are not so underground anymore) artists showing of their goods.  It’s amazing how divergent the styles are for subject matter that is (for the most part) pretty similar: woe is me!  Angst fills these pages.  Whether it is the biographical angst of famous artists by Brunetti or the angst of not getting the girl (most of the others) or the angst of life (the remaining ones), there’s not a lot of joy here. Although there is a lot of humor.  A couple of these comics made it into the Best American Comics 2006.

There’s no letters this issue, which makes sense as the whole thing is Chris Ware’s baby.  But there are two special tiny books that fit nearly into the fold that the oversized cover makes.  There’s also two introductions.  One by Ira Glass (and yes I’d rather hear him say it but what can you do).  And the other by Ware.  Ware has advocated for underground comics forever and it’s cool that he has a forum for his ideas here.  I’m not sure I’ve ever read prose from him before. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BATTLES-“Ice Cream” (2011).

My friend Lar told me about Battles way back in 2007.  I listened to the concert he sent me, and it was great. But my memory of the band was that they were really heavy (the drummer was in Helmet and Tomahawk for cripessakes).

But they’re not so much heavy as noisy and crazy.  And this track is a head-spinning amalgam of keybaords, unsettling rhythms, processed guitars and singing from Argentinean techno producer Matias Aguayo.  The lyrics sound like they are not English, but they are (with heavy effects on them).

The song is weird, indeed. But after just one listen, I was totally hooked.  It’s catchy and bouncy and very sunny and it’s a real joy to listen to.   I absolutely must go back and check out their debut Mirrored.

Listen at NPR.

[READ: April 28, 2011] Five Dials Number 6

Five Dials Number 5 was an excellent issue that I enjoyed immensely.  They followed it up with Number 6, which deals with a subject that I was very passionate about in the early 90s: censorship/obscenity.  When I was in high school and college, the PMRC was the big bogeyman for advocates of free speech (of which I am one).  I still advocate passionately for freedom of speech (now that I’m in a library, the issue can be part of my daily life), but it seems like there are so many more important issues in the world, that stickers on a record seem kind of silly.

Nevetheless, as this issue reminds us, those who control what is said control what we hear.  And that’s true for music and books, as well as our everyday news.  So, free speech should never be taken lightly.  Although this issue looks largely at obscenity in England, they also pull up some good information from Jello Biafra as well.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On John Mortimer and Obscenity
John Mortimer appears later in the issue. He was the lawyer who defended Lady Chatterly’s Lover against accusations of obscenity.  And Taylor points out that Mortimer’s attitude was that he “understood the silliness of censorship.”  And with that attitude, he was able to work to convince juries of that silliness.  The rest of the issue looks at important cases of censorship over the years, from The Dead Kennedys to NWA (it’s nice to be reminded about how “dangerous” they were when they came out).  He also laughs at the lame attempts at putting adult content on network TV (Fudge you!). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DO MAKE SAY THINK-Other Truths [CST062] (2009).

I’ve always enjoyed Do Make Say Think’s CDs.  They play instrumentals that are always intriguing and which never get dull.

But this CD far exceeds anything they have done so far (and  they’ve done some great work).   There are only four tracks, and they range from 8 to 12 minutes long.  Each track is named for a word in the band’s name: Do, Make, Say, Think.  And each one is a fully realized mini epic.

“Do” sounds like a gorgeous Mogwai track.  While “Make” has wonderfully diverse elements: a cool percussion midsection and a horn-fueled end section that works perfectly with the maniacal drumming.  “Say” is another Mogwai-like exploration, although it is nicely complemented by horns.  It also ends with a slow jazzy section that works in context but is somewhat unexpected. Finally, “Think” closes the disc with a delightful denouement.  It’s the slowest (and shortest) track, and it shows that even slowing down their instrumentals doesn’t make them dull.

It’s a fantastic record from start to finish.  This is hands down my favorite Constellation release in quite some time.

[READ: December 2009 – January 13, 2010] McSweeney’s #33.

The ever-evolving McSweeney’s has set out to do the unlikely: they printed Issue #33 as a Sunday Newspaper.  It is called The San Francisco Panorama and, indeed, it is just like a huge Sunday newspaper. It has real news in (it is meant to be current as of December 7, 2009).  As well as a Sports section, a magazine section and even comics!

[DIGRESSION] I stopped reading newspapers quite some time ago.  I worked for one in college and have long been aware that the news is just something to fill the space between ads.  I do like newspapers in theory, and certainly hope they don’t all go away but print issues are a dying breed.  When I think about the waste that accompanies a newspaper, I’m horrified.  Sarah and I even did a Sunday New York Times subscription for a while, but there were half a dozen sections that we would simply discard unopened.  And, realistically that’s understandable.  Given how long it took me  to read all of the Panorama, if you actually tried to read the whole Sunday paper, you’d be finished the following Sunday (or even two Sundays later).

Their lofty goal here was to show what print journalism can still do. And with that I concur heartily.  Even if I don’t read the newspaper, the newspapers as entities are worth saving.  Because it is pretty much only print journalism that finds real, honest to God, worthy news stories.  TV news is a joke.  There is virtually nothing of value on network TV.  Fox News is beyond a joke.  CNBC is sad (although Rachel Maddow is awesome!) and even CNN, the originator of all of this 24 hour news nonsense still can’t fill their airtime with non-sensationalized news.

Obviously, there are some decent internet sites, but for the most part they don’t have the budget to support real news investigation.  You either get sensationalized crap like Drudge or rebroadcasts of real news.

So, print is the last bastion of news.  And you can see that in journalistic pieces in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Walrus, Prospect and, yes, in newspapers.

But enough.  What about THIS newspaper?  Oh and unlike other McSweeney’s reviews I’ve done, there is NO WAY that I am writing a thorough comment on everything in here.  There’s just way too much.  Plus, there are many sections that are just news blurbs.  Larger articles and familiar authors will be addressed, however.  [UPDATE: January 18]: If, however, like Alia Malek below, you bring it to my attention that I’ve left you out (or gotten something wrong!) drop me a line, and I’ll correct things.

There is in fact a Panorama Information Pamphlet which answers a lot of basic questions, like why, how and how often (just this once, they promise!). There’s also a Numbers section which details the size, scope and cost of making this (it shows that with an initial start up, anyone could make a newspaper if they talked enough about what the readers were interested in). (more…)

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zooI’m not going to review the musical portion of the DVD per se…you can download the MP3s with the DVD, and I intend to give the music a good listen once I get it converted to CD.  So, this is a review of the movie itself (with comments about the music too, of course).

The movie is a concert film interspersed with interviews with Lips fans.  I’ve read that many people dislike the format of the film in which the band plays a few songs and then they cut away to the gushing fans.  In some ways, it is a bit annoying that you don’t get  the whole concert in one fell swoop.  But, you can always fast forward over the talky bits.  Someone suggested making that part a special feature, but would anyone watch it if they weren’t in it?  Well, maybe.  That said, with repeated watching, it’s probably not too much fun to hear the various punters say how much they love the Lips (although the behind the scenes parts stand up to repeated watching).

As for the rest of the set…the stage show is pretty amazing.  The set is designed to look like a UFO landing on stage which then turns into the lighting backdrop.  (And the behind the scenes on the construction of the UFO are funny and make it a little scary that people are actually inside of it. )

The concert is comprised mostly of “hits” from At War with the Mystics, Yoshimi and Bulletin.  Of course, they bust out “She Don’t Use Jelly” and the classic “Love Yer Brain (which sounds a lot better here than the on The Fearless Freaks).

What’s cool about the DVD is seeing how much fun Wayne and Steven seem to be having (Michael is always pretty stone-faced so it’s hard to know what he’s thinking).  Throughout the show, Wayne shoots rockets loaded with streamers and confetti out over the crowd in what seems cathartic and also lots of fun.  And if of course, it’s pretty amazing to watch Steven play all of the different instruments, seemingly at the same time.  When I saw the Lips they didn’t have a drummer, just a videotape of a drummer, so it’s nice to see the addition of Kliph on drums.

The only problem I had with the set, and I’ll be able to go into this more when I listen to the MP3s was that I found Wayne’s voice to be in pretty bad shape.  It seemed as if he was sick or had a sore throat.  I’ve always been amazed at Wayne’s voice, so i was surprised to hear it sounding less than wonderful.

One assumes he went on with the show even if he was sick because of the great opportunity to play an at home concert at the ampitheatre at the Oklahom Zoo.  My friend Abdallah, an Oklahoma native, says he has been to many concerts there and it’s a great venue.  So, if you’ll never get to see the Lips live, this is a decent substitute.

[READ: March 25, 2009] Be A Nose

This collection is a sampling of the sketch books that Spiegelman has been working on throughout his artistic life.  Struck by the usefulness of keeping a sketchbook, Spiegelman has attempted to do just that on several occasions.  Yet his notes indicate that he always fails to keep up with it.  Sometimes he just gives up, other times he decides it’s a waste of time.  This collection shows the three most complete sketchbooks that Spiegelman has ever kept. (more…)

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3000030,000 views may not be a milestone for many blogs. But, for a blog like this which was intended mostly as a record of what I’ve read, the fact that I’ve had 30,000 views is pretty exciting. And it seems appropriate to let you, the readers know what you the other readers have been reading here. So, here is the top ten most read posts on I Just Read About That… with a director’s commentary tacked on.

1. 819 views
Gordon Korman–Son of the Mob (2002)
I’m pretty much 100% certain that Gordon Lightfoot is NOT the attraction that made this post my highest one. Son of the Mob is usually a summer reading book. However, I get hits on this throughout the year.  I’m guessing it’s just a popular book.


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wackySOUNDTRACK: BOB NEWHART-The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart (1960), The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back (1960) & Behind the Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart (1961).

newhart1We started watching The Bob Newhart Show on DVD (the 1970s one, not the one set in the inn).  I was surprised how much I liked it and how well it stood up, for the most part.  And it made me realize how much I liked Bob Newhart in general.  So, I figured I’d try some of his stand up and see what it was like.

newhart3I was delighted to find out that a joke from Mystery Science Theater 3000 was finally explained to me: the “Mrs Webb” joke that is muttered whenever an old lady is driving a car comes from the “Driving Instructor” joke on the first album (hereafter known as Button-Down).  It’s only taken a decade for me to get that joke!

newhart2But really, what do you get when you listen to a Newhart CD?  And what would a reviewer write about in a review of these CDs?  Well, I think it would go something like this:

[Reviewer]: Yea, hi, ha ha.  Hi.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: I was just listening to these Newhart CDs.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: No.  No, they’re not new, they’re almost 50 years old now.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: Ha ha, right.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: No, they’re basically telephone conversations.  In most instances Bob plays a character listening to the person on the other end whom you never hear.  So, it’s almost entirely reaction shots.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: Yes, they’re very funny.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: A few are dated.  The one about Khrushchev, “The Khrushchev Landing Rehearsal” (Button-Down), for example is pretty funny but was probably a lot funnier in 1960.  And “Driving Instructor” (Button-Down) is sexist in set-up (it’s sort of a joke about “women drivers” but once you get past that it applies to any new driver) but the joke is probably the funniest thing on any of the discs.  I was also concerned about “The Africa Movie” (Behind the Button) as it seemed potentially fraught with inappropriate humor, but it turned out to be very very funny, and a wonderful twist on expectations.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: Yes, the skits do run pretty long.  Most are over 5 minutes, but he packs a lot of jokes into that time.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: Well, sure there are a few that are only about 2 minutes long, and one that even comes close to set up/punchline: “TV Commercials” on Behind the Button (the dentist commercial in particular).  But even on that disc, the one sided nature of the conversations persists.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: There’s a Khrushchev skit on Behind the Button as well (“Tourist Meets Khrushchev”), but aside from knowing who he is, the jokes in that skit aren’t dated at all.  It’s all about an annoying tourist running into him somewhere…and the resultant consequences.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: Yeah, Yeah. Boom!
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: It’s not violent, just implied.  Another potentially violent one is “Bus Drivers School” (Strikes Back) as he notes that it takes a certain type of sadist to drive a bus, if you know what I mean.  But, uh, well, the only one that gets somewhat risque is “The Uncle Freddie Show” which shows Newhart’s intolerance for kid’s TV show hosts.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: What?
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: Well, Uncle Freddie doesn’t seem to like kids.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: Oh.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: Well, no, some other topics are “Nobody Will Ever Play Baseball” (Button-Down) because how could you possibly market it [“Why four balls, Abner?”]?
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: Yes, a lot with marketing.  Like “Abe Lincoln Vs. Madison Avenue” (Button-Down) [“Keep the beard, Abe], and “Merchandising the Wright Brothers” (Button-Down) [“Where will we put the john, Orville?”].
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: Precursor to what?
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: Well, he does predate many, many comedians by having airline jokes.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: No, nothing about peanuts. But “The Grace L. Ferguson Airline (And Storm Door Co.)” (Strikes Back)” pretty much negates the need for any future airline humor.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: No, I’m not saying the new comedians aren’t funny.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: I do like Seinfeld.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: No, Newhart’s bit is about an airline run out of someone’s house.
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: It’s totally….
[ ]:
[Reviewer]: Oh, forget it.

All three discs are very funny.  I was under the impression that he only had these three discs, but I now understand he released four more discs through 1967, all of which are supposed to be funny, but which are unavailable right now.

[READ: Halloween 2008] Wacky Packages

So you don’t really READ this book.  This book is a collection of images from the Wacky Packages collection of trading cards that circulated from 1973-1974.  There were seven series of cards that ran during this time for a total of some 232 cards.  According to the site I link to below, there were 16 series in total, which makes sense, as I was only 5 when these 7 series came out, but I distinctly recall getting the packs myself. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Sirius Radio-The Grateful Dead Channel

I’ve never been a big fan of the Dead (even though I like Phish quite a bit). I never really got into the subculture, and really the music seemed peripheral to their fanbase. I recall being very disappointed when I bought What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been back when I was a metal head and couldn’t believe that a band with that name and with skeletons all over the place was that wimpy.

Well, it turns out that Sarah was something of a fan, and, after all these years of listening to Phish, I’ve grown an appreciation for the Dead as well (and Cherry Garcia, of course).

So, as we have Sirius radio, we put on the Grateful Dead channel one night. It’s a fascinating channel, as it sounds like it’s some guy playing all of his Dead bootlegs. It was funny to not hear any LP tracks. I found the whole experience rather pleasant. It worked great as background music, and was utterly inoffensive (not exactly a ringing endorsement, I know but). I enjoyed the experience and would definitely do it again. Probably not anytime too soon, after all, that was a lot of Dead to ingest. But someday, I’m sure…

[READ: June 10, 2008] Zombies Calling

Aside from Oni Press, my favorite comics publisher is SLG, Slave Labor Graphics. They’re generally a little darker and weirder than the Oni stuff, so it suits my dark side when needed. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE AIRBORNE TOXIC EVENT-4 songs from My Space (2008).

Since the author of one of the stories below is the singer in this band, I thought I’d listen to them and see what they were all about. With a name like that I was expecting some kind of hardcore band. And that is NOT this band! They don’t have a record out yet, but they have some songs on MySpace here. The first song “Sometime Around Midnight” made me think of a couple of bands from the 90s: The Church and Midnight Oil, and possibly The Alarm. The vocals are mixed loudly in the mix, and there is an earnestness about the vocals which made me think of those bands. The second one, “Papillion” has a keyboard solo (!) over some fairly raucous simple melodies. The third song “This is Nowhere” is a fun indie rocker with a good staccato riff and a cool/spooky chorus harmony. And the fourth song “Innocence” was rocking and bouncy. I can’t get over the use of keyboards on songs where you wouldn’t expect them. I enjoyed these songs quite a bit, and will certainly check out the CD when it’s released.

[READ: May 30, 2008]: McSweeneys #27

This volume contains three books in a slipcase. Even though each is a small paperback, the overall package is quite nice. The slipcase has many tiny holes in it to look like skyscraper windows (or Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti). (more…)

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