3/21/2013 2:14:35 PM
The Very Best of the Pogues
Now Available at Shout Factory
Punk is not simply a musical style or fashion aesthetic; punk is a look in the eye. The Pogues proved this without a doubt upon forming back in 1982. Fronted by Shane Macgowan—in songwriting, singing, and swaggering antics—the Pogues often outdid the Sex Pistols in their excesses.
Despite the Guinness-fueled shenanigans, no punk band—actually, few bands of any sort—has ever written as many beautiful ballads as the Pogues. Paul McCartney may be the pop song maestro, but MacGowan should be crowned the king of the sentimental sad song.
They’re all distilled down in the The Very Best of the Pogues, form the Christmas carol “Fairytale of New York” to the rousing, life-affirming “The Sunny Side of the Street.” A Yuletide greeting and life-affirming punk anthem? It’s all part of what makes the Pogues special. One can always quibble with the choices on a greatest hits disc, but this collection does what it should: makes you yearn for more.
3/21/2013 12:46:56 PM
The Wilderness Available Now on Lefse Records
Chilled out, enchanting, and spooky, Cemeteries’ first official album offers a welcome haunting. The solo project of Kyle Reigle, Cemeteries creates a soundscape in which mellow percussion gets layered with synth and guitar, where ethereal vocals lend dream pop a drafty feel. Reigle composed The Wilderness from an apartment bordering the woods and industrial wastelands at the edge of Buffalo, New York – a setting that seems to match the stark, lonely majesty embedded in the album’s sound.
As one might expect of a name like Cemeteries, the music is steeped in an awareness of both life and mortality. Lyrical references to seasons, temperature, and natural surroundings comprise almost every track. Album opener “Young Blood” swells with longing as Reigle sings, “I can still hear the whisper / of the cold and snow in winter / when I sleep.” Songs like “Summer Smoke” reference our kindest season, though their tone sustains the album’s wintry feel. And while the title track rides on a twist of upbeat folk, lyrics allude to long, chilly nights. Despite all the reference to cold and winter, there is something inviting and hopeful here. Musically, the album is a deep breath, capable of bringing awareness to the moment in a way that seems to slow time.
Reigle is selling The Wilderness and other works kickstarter-style on his blog to raise funds for studio time. The next album is already written, he reports, and a tour—with additional members Pete Zamniak and Jonathan Ioverio for live shows—is in the planning stages.
8/30/2011 1:49:15 PM
Often unrealized by those of us with the ability to hear, Deaf people have forged a unique cultural identity of their own. Most obviously, sign language is the primary form of Deaf communication. But there is also Deaf literature and Deaf journalism, Deaf worship and Deaf humor. In fact some argue that Deafness is an ethnicity, not a medical condition. (See Stefany Anne Goldberg’s “Can You See Me Now?” in the September-October 2011 issue of Utne Reader.)
You wouldn’t think, however, that club dance nights are on the cultural calendars of many Deaf people. Most people need to hear a solid beat (or at least down a few vodka-cranberries) before they muster the courage to publicly shake what their mother gave them. But the promoters behind Sencity, a European dance night series, think that hearing the music is only a small part of a wildly fun evening on the dance floor—and have organized a Deaf-friendly disco party.
“It is all about using all your senses—hearing, touch, sight, smell and taste,” Sencity organizer Nienke van der Peet told the London Evening Standard. “It’s all one big sense-stimulating experience.”
You can get footloose on the “sensefloor,” a vibrating dance floor. And speaking of good vibrations, partygoers can also don a “feel the music suit” that, according to the manufacturer’s website, “identifies and analyzes music in advance, the software reads it and chooses its own pre-programmed vibration patterns to match the music.” The sensory offerings don’t stop at touch. Live video mixing and laser light shows play behind dancers who hand sign the words to the songs. On-site hairdressers and make-up artists make sure everyone is looking sexy. The most unusual component are the “aromajockeys” (see right), who match emotions conveyed by the music to their complementary scent and then waft the smell over the crowd. What does euphoria smell like anyways? (Probably a little like perspiration . . .)
Source: London Evening Standard
Images courtesy of Skyway Programs.
5/5/2011 12:25:52 PM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Wednesday, May 18, at the
MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference
in San Francisco. From now until then, we’ll post the nominees in all of the categories on our blogs. Below you’ll find the nominees for the best arts coverage, with a short introduction to each. These magazines are literally what Utne Reader is made of. Though we celebrate the alternative press every day and with each issue, once a year we praise those who have done an exceptional job.
A celebration of handmade objects and the people who create them, American Craft brings to life the work of glassblowers, woodworkers, jewelry makers, and artisans of all stripes. Published by the American Craft Council, it covers its inspiring subjects from workbench to gallery.
Forget box-office battles and vapid celebrity chatter: Film Comment focuses its lens on cinema’s substance. Drawing on a deep, experienced pool of critics and feature writers, the magazine gets off the red carpet to explore the wonderfully diverse film omniverse.
Even after surviving Katrina and suffering BP’s incompetence, New Orleans is still as undercovered as its native musicians are unknown. Offbeat, a free fanzine turned nationally distributed glossy, solves both problems by offering intimate, intelligent stories about Louisiana’s music, food, and culture.
Steeped in the South but continually redefining just what that means, the Oxford American is a literary exploration of life and culture below the Mason-Dixon Line. Calling itself “the Southern magazine of good writing,” it has encompassed topics ranging from “the wide world of eating dirt” to “gun-lovin’ environmentalists.”
The world of public art now ranges far beyond the familiar large-scale outdoor sculpture to street art, land art, and myriad other forms. Public Art Reviewnimbly covers this shifting terrain with rigor and verve, enhancing the critical conversation and drawing crucial connections.
With its Asian roots and global consciousness, Theme is driven by—and inevitably instills—a zest for fresh looks, sounds, and ideas. Each issue of this sleek quarterly features a guest curator and a thematic thread that writers, photographers, and designers explore via features, interviews, and lush visual spreads.
Cracking the oversized cover of Vintage Magazine opens a window on a bygone world, one where nostalgia and artistry trump bland commercialism and immediacy. Various weights of paper, a thread-stitched binding, throwback design, and pop-out articles demonstrate that a biannual journal covering antique arts and handcrafting can be tactile as well as visual.
A labor of love, the Brooklyn-based Wax Poeticsis a geeked-out fanzine dedicated to unearthing the grittiest funk, coolest jazz, and smoothest soul ever pressed into a groove. The writers proselytize, the editors keep the mix fresh, and the archival album art and concert footage are beatific.
our complete list of 2011 nominees
Image by my dog sighs, licensed under Creative Commons.
4/29/2011 12:21:41 PM
Readers of late have been bombarded with literary mash-ups. Who ever thought our culture would survive that Jane Austen/B-horror meme? Well, you might want to sit down for the latest literary spoof.
Playbill commissioned a video dubbed “Jersey Shore Gone Wilde” to promote a current production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. The way-too-funny short features one-liners once uttered by the thick-headed, hyper-sexualized, booze-guzzling cast of MTV’s reality series Jersey Shore—but delivered with snarky wit by professional actors in 19th-century clothing.
There’s an odd appropriateness to the combination that The Book Bench’s Elizabeth Minkel touches on: “Imagining Wilde and The Situation in the same cultural sphere isn’t a particularly easy task, but after all, didn’t Wilde once write, ‘We are all in the gutter…’? Yeah, let’s just leave it at that.”
Source: The Book Bench
4/20/2011 2:55:41 PM
When we caught up with Steve Earle, he was hanging out in New Orleans on the set of HBO’s Treme, waiting to shoot a scene for season two. It’s the second time Earle has gotten into character for the show’s co-creator, David Simon. In Simon’s critically acclaimed The Wire, he played a bit part as a former junkie turned 12-step guru. In Treme, he plays an insightful street musician named Harley. In both cases, he has drawn on personal experience. “The Wire really required no acting,” he says wryly. “The role called for a redneck recovering addict. I could do that.”
Earle—a Townes Van Zandt disciple and self-described hillbilly—is a storyteller who’s drawn on personal experience and keen observation to create more than a dozen studio recordings, including three Grammy Award winners, and a collection of short fiction. This month, his newest recording, I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive, hits the streets. Next month, his debut novel of the same name will be published by Houghton Mifflin.
In the midst of the most prolific period of his career, the down-to-earth but steadfastly irreverent Earle talked about his move to New York, the craft of writing, and the art of politics.
Let’s talk about the new record. What will we hear when we hit play?
In a lot of ways, it’s the most country record I’ve made in a long time. There’s fiddle on it, pedal steel, and some things I haven’t used in a while. It features the same rhythm section that [the record’s producer] T-Bone Burnett worked with on the Alison Kraus/Robert Plant record [Raising Sand]. Dennis Kraus, who also plays in my bluegrass band, is the bass player. The guitar player is Jackson Smith, Patti’s son. Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek is playing fiddle. There’s a duet with [wife] Allison [Moorer]. And it also includes “This City,” which we recorded in New Orleans for Treme. T-Bone came to town to record that song, and Allen Toussaint wrote the horn charts. The rest of it was recorded in like five days in November.
What does a producer like T-Bone Burnett bring to the table?
When I produce I’m an arranger. I’m a cheerleader. T-Bone is all of that. Over the years he’s assembled a group of players that I’ve heard him and others compare to the Stax house band. But there’s a difference: The Stax group, the Wrecking Crew, and all these other sections were put together to make hit records. This group of people was put together to make art—and to make it appear effortless. It was hard to get us all together because of schedules and other stuff, but once we got in the studio it was the easiest record I’ve ever made.
Death is reoccurring theme on the new record. What accounts for that emphasis?
What happened in the last three years is that my dad died, and he was really sick before he died. My family, which is very close, still hasn’t recovered from it. It got me thinking about my experiences with mortality and spirituality. I’m a hippie basically. I grew up in a pretty wide-open spiritual atmosphere. And it’s one of the things that saved my life. I think that when I finally decided that I didn’t want to die and I could get clean, I had no problem with the spiritual element of it. I never questioned whether there was a God or not. I’m not a Christian or anything close to one, but I definitely believed there was a power greater than myself. That helped a lot. That was half the battle. My spiritual system is 12-step programs.
So you still go to meetings regularly?
Trust me, when I stop going to meetings you’ll read about me somewhere else.
In May, your new novel, also titled I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive, will be in bookstores. It seems you’re really stretching out as a writer.
This is the first full-length novel. I published a collection of short fiction about nine years ago. I’ve written one play. That’s why I moved to New York, because of theater. I’m working on a play now. And while I swore that I’d never write another novel toward the end of this last project, I already have an idea for another one. I just like to write. It was kind of recovery thing. I started writing poetry and prose after I got clean. I also think all the other creative things I do make my home-base craft stronger. I think that’s borne out by the songs on the new record.
As a writer, what is your daily discipline? And where do you get your ideas?
I write what I’m going to write the first few hours of the day before the phone starts ringing. I write with a computer. I don’t use a pencil anymore. I wake up early, like 6 or 6:30, and write most of what I’m going to write by the middle of the day. It’s funny: I don’t understand people who wander around New York City with ear buds in, because you’re just listening to the same shit over and over again, and you’re missing all the music, and you’re missing all the lines, and you’re missing all of that stuff. Writing is not that original. It doesn’t spring full grown from a person. It’s coming from without.
So has relocating to New York affected you creatively?
I moved to New York to breathe the same air as Tony Kushner. I don’t think I could have continued to create anything if I would have continued living in Tennessee. And that’s nothing against Tennessee. It just became more and more of a hostile environment. Not in the sense that people were hostile to me, but I just felt a little stimulus-starved. I was really in danger of becoming an old fart there, just stagnating.
You’re known for your work against the death penalty, and from the stage you can be very outspoken. Does politics fuel your work?
I’m not a political writer. I know people have a hard time believing that. There’s political stuff on my records, but the songs have always been about the way politics affects human beings. But I still write more songs about girls than I do anything. I write and I make things up. And I’m outspokenly political because I think I would be a pussy if I wasn’t. To have realized as much from doing something that I love to do and to not use that position to talk about things that I think are wrong would be irresponsible. If I irritate other people, it doesn’t cost anyone any money but me—and I’m OK with that. I’m just trying to keep from going to hell.
How are you feeling about the current political environment?
I’m pissed off. I’m angry. It’s tough for me. But I try not to be negative, and I’m dedicated to being part of the political process. I’m having a hard time. I’ve always thought that Obama was a little bit too Clintonesque for me to be comfortable with. He wants to make everyone happy so desperately. It does count that he’s black, though. It does count that we elected a black president. We are a better nation for that.
So, a new record, a new book, a play in the works, a new season of Treme—you’re in the midst of one helluva year.
The record comes out in April, and I’m going to do a record store and radio station tour. In May I’m doing a book tour. And then the band starts touring in June. It will be good. If I stay really, really busy, make music, and talk to my sponsor, I should be OK.
4/15/2011 12:32:28 PM
Here’s a problem that most of us never have to face: You're young, you're trying to get established, and the work you do becomes such a skyrocket success that there's almost no place to go but down. Think child actor here, or viral internet sensation, teen music heartthrob, teenage tennis champion—any of those rare persons who are everywhere one moment only to disappear a few moments later and are never heard from again. This is perhaps what F. Scott Fitzgerald was thinking about when he wrote: "There are no second acts in American lives." Or, more recently, what Kurt Cobain was pondering when he quoted Neil Young in his suicide note: "It's better to burn out than to fade away."
Chris Burden is a case study for how quick and early success can affect the course of an artistic career. In 1971, at age 25, Burden became suddenly famous (or infamous) throughout the art world. That year, in the F Space gallery in Los Angeles, Burden made a performance piece titled "Shoot," in which he had an assistant point a rifle at his left arm and shoot it. And art would be changed forever afterward. Never mind that Burden, when interviewed a year later, talked about the influence of the Vietnam War on the piece and "about the difference between how people reacted to soldiers being shot in Vietnam and how they reacted to fictional people being shot on commercial TV….What does it mean not to avoid being shot, that is, by staying home or avoiding the war, but to face it head on?" In the midst of the self-absorbed and recessional 1970s—which starkly contrasted to the wild, communitarian, and innovative 1960s—critics and observers had a hard time getting past a basic reductive formula: This crazy artist would go to any length to turn his body into art. Through the whole of the 1970s, artists would spearhead only a few new art movements—just mail art, installation art, neoexpressionism (which, of course, was a throwback to an earlier movement)—and in this lull Burden's performances stood out.
Burden followed "Shoot" with a series of memorable performances. In "Five Day Locker Piece" (1971), he spent five days crammed inside a two-foot by two-foot locker. In "Deadman" (1972), he lay still beneath a tarpaulin as though he were a corpse, and in "Bed Piece" (1972) he stayed in a bed in the Market Street Program gallery in Venice, California, for twenty-two straight days. Each successive work of Burden's from this period was designed to test the limits of his endurance, strength, flexibility and tolerance for pain. He hung himself upside down and naked over a basketball court ("Movie on the Way Down," 1973); he crawled naked through broken glass on a local 10-second TV spot ("Through the Night Softly" 1973); and he lay on the floor of a Chicago gallery beneath a piece of glass for forty-five consecutive hours ("Doomed," 1975). One of his most notorious works from this period was called "Transfixed." For this performance, which took place in 1974 on Speedway Avenue in Venice, California, Burden lay down on the rear of a Volkswagen Beetle and had nails hammered into both of his hands, as if he were being crucified. The car was pushed out of a garage for a few minutes, its engine revved at full throttle, and then pushed back inside.
This string of youthful performances were so widely observed that they took on a life beyond the artist, helping create a new art genre, endurance art, and influencing a generation of imitators—some noteworthy; most forgettable. For a time in the 1970s, it seemed his ideas were the only new thing going. While I was in art school in the early 1990s, a professor who was acquainted with Burden, Tom Holste, spoke of the artist as a shamanistic psychopomp for the modern world. This likely was because, in his work Burden often seemed to enter a trancelike state in order, perhaps, to commune on our behalf with a supernatural or spiritual world. (A psychopomp is a figure who escorts newly deceased souls to the spirit world.) This early work also gave Chris Burden a formidable reputation even beyond the circles that cared about such things. Norman Mailer referenced Burden's work in his 1973 essay and book on graffiti art, The Faith of Graffiti. (Mailer held up Burden as an example of the Romantic, civilized artist in contrast to the more primitive impulses that guided graffiti artists.) Burden even entered the popular consciousness. His performance "Transfixed" was mentioned in David Bowie's 1977 song "Joe the Lion," and his "Shoot" provided the inspiration for Laurie Anderson's 1977 song "It's Not the Bullet that Kills You–It's the Hole (for Chris Burden)." "I used to use myself as a target," Anderson sang. "I used myself as a goal. I was digging myself so much, I was digging me so much, I dug myself right into a hole."
By 1978, "dug myself into a hole" may have been an apt description of how Burden was feeling. For some time, each new performance work seemed designed to be more sensational than the last, an obvious creative dead end. And now that he was into his 30s, his body was less able to endure what his intellect imagined for it. Compounding Burden's frustration, perhaps, is the fact that the intention of most of his performances was widely misunderstood. A few observers were aware of this at the time. Robert Horwitz, writing in Artforum in May 1976, said of Burden's work: "Like most reductivist art, his work is under-articulated. That is, the information presented is so limited that one set of facts may suggest—indeed, may encourage—a number of conflicting interpretations and offer no means of determining which were intended by the artist…. Inaccessibly private responses, feelings and insights are woven into its basic structure. Nor can one distinguish between those qualities that are specifically attributable to the work from those that are ambient or latent in the environment." (Horwitz also added that Burden's ambiguity was likely a strength, serving "to set the work apart from the general flux of experience.")
For reasons that the artist has never fully explained, Burden quit making performance art works around 1977 or 1978. Also in 1978, Burden became a professor in the art department at the University of California in Los Angeles. And while he made art objects in the years following, none of it ever attracted anything like the attention that his early performance work did. Art critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote, in 2007, that Burden's work since the late 70s was comprised of "one-off wonders." Burden's career was, at least in the upper echelons of the art world, for the most part as cast-off and forgotten as Linda Blair, Lief Garrett, and Tracy Austin.
Burden was forgotten, that is, up until a few years ago. The seeds of Burden's return to the international art spotlight were sown around the turn of the century. In 1999, Burden, now in his 50s, created an installation for the Tate Gallery in London called "When Robots Rule: The Two Minute Airplane Factory." Burden had commissioned a studio of sculptural engineers to create a machine that would make, in an assembly-line way, a series of rubber band-powered toy airplanes out of tissue paper, plastic, and balsa wood. A placard in the gallery explained to viewers how various parts of the machine, which churned away throughout the exhibition, were intended to work. The only hitch was the factory did not. No actual airplanes were ever created. In fact, no actual material ever ran through the machine.
The resulting consternation and attention paid to this work—was this a joke? was this intentional?—brought international attention back to Burden for the first time since the 1970s. He followed with more compelling work: A "Ghost Ship" that had no crew and, piloted using on-board computers and a GPS system, undertook a 5-day, 330 mile trip off the coast of England; a sculptural piece, called "The Flying Steamroller," that used a flying level to send a steamroller flying through the air; an installation, for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, called "Urban Light" that was comprised of 202 closely clustered, fully operational vintage streetlights (a work that has proved so popular that its become a popular location for wedding photos and fashion shoots and was even featured in a recent Hollywood romantic comedy); and, most recently, two variations ("Metropolis I" and "Metropolis II") on a model imaginary city constructed of erector-set parts, machinery, conveyor belts, building blocks, toy car tracks, and similar materials, feeling and sounding very much like a modern-nightmare version of a Rube Goldberg machine.
"Metropolis II" is, for now, the centerpiece creation of this newly reemerged artist. Recently loaned by the artist for 10 years to Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it is an overwhelming thing: more than 1,000 cars clack loudly through the machinery and across tracks and curves, filling the space with a constant roar of sound; individual cars are impossible to discern as they move around the construction, through the various machines, girders, and block constructions, and eventually return to the end of the tracks to start the churning process all over again. The cars zip along the track at speeds of up to (relative to their size) 100 mph, and they are intended to continue doing so until they wear out. Burden has said about this work that it is a "poetic" (as opposed to a "realistic") portrait of "L.A. or any modern city," even as he has also suggested the work "does produce anxiety" because of the constant movement, the noise, and the endless clacking bustle and turmoil. In sum, this is a provocative piece in the way that poetry about death is provocative: We know there is likely more truth in this fancy portrait than there is in any realistic portrayal.
Among its many attributes, "Metropolis II" begs us to reconsider Burden's complete oeuvre and its intentions. All of his work—even his early seminal performance work—has one thing in common. It all has pointed to the unreality and futility that rules modern life. The pain we projected onto his early work was not just the artist’s alone, but was also our pain. At first this was expressed by setting up impossible and quixotic tasks for himself while he stood in for us, but later, after the personal performances had run their course—or perhaps after Burden had grown up enough to start looking outwardly—this meant creating structures that reflected the modern urban condition. In the end, Chris Burden was less a shaman steering souls to an alternate world, than he was a prophet revealing the beautiful pain and equisite futility of our own.
Michael Fallon is a writer, editor, and non-profit administrator based out of St. Paul, Minnesota. His work has appeared in Art in America, American Craft, Public Art Review, Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, the OC Weekly, City Pages, and many other publications.
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