11/28/2007 10:50:34 AM
A map of Africa made from piles of French fries, a gory puddle of red ketchup splattered where Sudan is. A head swaddled in hundreds of iPod headphones, the flesh buckling. Thought-provoking, sure. But could these pictures save Darfur?
This art-essay in the December issue of the Walrus made by Fabrica, the creative team behind the Utne Independent Press Award-nominated Colors, is an artful stab at highlighting the brutal realties of life in Sudan. While the pieces might seem twee when compared to the genocide, the art sticks with you. Will it solve the Sudanese humanitarian crisis? Probably not. But it might help to keep the tragedy on our minds for just a little bit longer—maybe inspire one more person to write a letter to a representative or join the campaign to end the genocide—and that’s doing something. —Brendan Mackie
11/27/2007 4:32:43 PM
This holiday season, remember to find a gift for your friends, your family, your postman, and Sufjan Stevens. The Detroit-native indie-rock troubadour has announced a gift exchange with one talented fan this Christmas.
With the December 1 deadline fast approaching, musically inclined fans are likely scrambling to email Stevens their best, original Christmas songs. The winner, in the spirit of gift-giving, will receive the full legal rights to an original Sufjan Stevens Christmas song. Here’s a quote from the site:
“You can hoard it for yourself, sell it to a major soft drink corporation, use it in your daughter's first Christmas video, or share it for free on your website. No one except Sufjan and you will hear his song, unless you decide otherwise.”
If the song Stevens gives away is anything like his other Christmas songs, including “It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad!” “Put the Lights on the Tree” or “Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!” the winner of this contest will have a very merry Christmas. —Cara Binder
11/26/2007 4:45:17 PM
Midway through a performance by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings that I attended last weekend, I turned to a friend and said, “They just don’t make music like this anymore.”
She looked up over her glasses and replied, “But, clearly, they do.”
The retro soul music of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings calls to mind the classic Motown performers of the ’60s and ’70s like Tammi Terrell and Laura Lee. Like many great soul singers, Jones grew up performing in church, and the gospel influence still shines through. And before she made it big, she briefly worked as a prison guard at Rikers Island, so she’s likely seen her share of the blues.
In concert, Jones and her veteran band exuded sheer energy. At one point, she took off her high-heeled shoes and earrings and danced with reckless abandon, her hair flying in all directions as she called out moves from the Mashed Potato to the Tighten Up. The band went to great lengths to include the sold-out crowd, inviting audience members onstage to dance and encouraging sing-alongs.
Sometimes slow and soulful, sometimes upbeat and funky, the show made me yearn for the bygone days of great R&B.
Check out the band in these recent videos from their Daptone Records label:
11/21/2007 3:47:36 PM
Fiddler on the Roof is perhaps the most widely loved American musical, enjoying laudatory superlatives from musical aficionados and except-this-one kudos from the genre’s haters. It features memorable songs, sharp dialogue, and a story with a subdued gravity that makes the between-song filler of jazz-age musicals and the pop-operatic spectacle of the 1980s look pretty silly.
Fiddler also boasts probably the repertoire’s meatiest role for an older man. There are basically two established ways to play Tevye: as thoughtful and dryly funny (Zero Mostel in the original cast, Alfred Molina in the 2004 revival) and as a scenery-chewing bundle of good-natured Jewish caricature (Topol in the West End production and the film version; most others who have played the role since).
But there are many other Tevyes out there. In a brief piece for Guilt & Pleasure, self-dubbed theater critics Mel & Tonin comment on some of the more unusual selections among the many Fiddler interpretations available on YouTube.
While the harmonica quartet is exotic, I’m partial to the short film of “Tradition” in which we meet the various citizens not of Anatevka but a small U.S. town. —Steve Thorngate
11/21/2007 3:10:43 PM
Classic black gospel records are an endangered species. Original recordings are trapped on vinyl, hoarded by the rare gospel collector, or relegated to dust-magnet status in basements around the country. Robert Darden, a former gospel editor at Billboard and current professor at Baylor University, is trying to change that, by resurrecting and preserving this vital part of our musical history.
“Anyone who cares about black history or who has been redeemed by black gospel—by an individual’s repentant outpouring, a family act’s fevered calls-and-responses, or a quartet’s amens between choreographed dance moves—can recognize the tragedy of losing these recordings forever,” reports Michael Hoinski in The Texas Observer.
To raise awareness about black gospel’s dire situation, Darden wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times back in 2005. In it, he linked the work of popular stars such as Kanye West and Mavis Staples to the music of lesser-known classic gospel artists like Sallie Martin and the Roberta Martin singers. Darden was able to drum up some support for his cause, most crucially from investment banker Charles Royce, who told Darden that if he could figure out how to preserve the music, Royce would bankroll the project.
Darden settled on digitization as black gospel’s savior, and Royce granted him $347,175 for equipment, an audio engineer, a cataloger, and acquisitions. So far, the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project has digitally preserved some 750 songs with photos, liner notes, and record jackets. But there’s still a long way to go. “I will die before we finish this project,” Darden says.
Take a listen to a few scratchy samples of the songs, available on Baylor’s library database. (QuickTime required.)
http://ars.baylor.edu/03gospel/620.mov (I’ll Fly Away, Lady Byrd)
http://ars.baylor.edu/03gospel/853.mov (Come Ye Disconsolate, Rev. Franklin Fondel)
http://ars.baylor.edu/03gospel/715.mov (He Never Has Left Me Alone, The Angelic Gospel Singers)
http://ars.baylor.edu/03gospel/604.mov (I’m On My Way, Sammie Graham)
http://ars.baylor.edu/03gospel/739.mov (Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt, Otis Jackson)
To hear more of the songs digitized so far, go to Baylor’s library database.
11/20/2007 11:52:55 AM
Many young men, myself included, have spent countless hours worrying about who would win if Superman fought Batman, if Batman fought Wolverine, if Wolverine scuffled with Cyclops, if three Velocoraptors locked claws with a single T-Rex. Tackling important questions like these, Kevin Cornell and Matthew Sutter set up the blog the Superest. Each day a superhero with superpowers vanquishes the superhero from the day before. Recent highlights have included the infamous “Mr. JellyHead” (seen left) who “can absorb any impact,” and “The Old Schoolmate” who can easily destroy “any self-esteem built up since high school.” —Brendan Mackie
11/19/2007 3:01:15 PM
Hamlet held one and proclaimed, “Alas, poor Yorik.” Montezuma gave one to Hernando Cortes, and then Cortes killed Montezuma. The artist Damien Hirst recently sold one encrusted with diamonds for $100 million. They’re skulls, and everyone’s got one, but we’ll never be able to see our own. Writing for Voice, the online publication of the graphic design organization AIGA, writer David Barringer explores human fascination with skulls, from the pirate skull-and-crossbones to the cartoon festooned Victoria’s Secret bikinis. He concludes that artistic interest in skulls stems from a tension between what can and cannot be represented, and shows a “frustrated desire” that humans will never be able to see their own. In skulls, “we see a symbol of ourselves that asks us to see ourselves,” Barringer writes. If that doesn’t have your brain spinning, perhaps you should have your head examined.
11/16/2007 4:38:38 PM
From Buffalo to Louisville, St. Louis to Memphis, river towns tend to share a common vibe, carved out by their muddy waters. It’s common to find neighborhoods filled with beautiful, old brick palaces-for-homes, erected by the Jay Gatsby tycoons of the early 20th century, who banked that water would always be king. But when the economy of transportation shifted toward Eisenhower’s road, it left many of these old towns high and dry, with a bunch of giant old buildings no one left could afford to maintain.
Less than a decade ago, Paducah, Kentucky, (pop. 26,000) was just another in a winding line of river towns that had fallen on hard times. In the Fall issue of the delightful urban-planning magazine The Next American City, Carly Berwick reports:
Paducah had been neglected for years, overrun with dilapidated buildings, some boarded up, many littered with broken bottles—a commonplace of aging small cities. As owners moved out to the suburbs over the last century, landlords and renters moved in, and no one wanted to—or could afford to—spend the increasingly large sums required to fix up the properties.”
That’s when artist and Paducah resident Mark Barone visited then-assistant city planner Thomas Barnett and together the two engineered an artistic and economic renaissance that has small, aging cities all over the country paying attention.
They crafted Paducah’s Artists Relocation Program around the idea that the town needed to attract working artists—a unique class of people who by definition love to create—to call Paducah their home.
The pair made arrangements with the city government to ease zoning laws in the historic but rundown Lowertown district, so its buildings could be used for both commercial and residential purposes. “This,” the Paducah Arts website reports, “enables residents to have gallery/studio, restaurant/café, etc. and living space all under one roof.”
The men further convinced the city to give incoming artists a lot of freedom to create—to give them resources without micromanaging their output or otherwise stifling their creativity.
But perhaps most key, Barone and Barnett bartered deals with the city and local banks to offer incoming artists financing packages to purchase and rehabilitate old buildings or construct new ones. As the program’s website puts it, “The Artist Relocation Program is about artist ownership, thus giving the artists a vested interest in our community.”
Barnett tells Berwick that they were successful because they were familiar with the city and brought important project development skills to the table: “You had two guys that love the area and work really well together, that knew the arts, construction, financing, and had the vision. We are also pretty good salesmen.”
In less than a decade, Berwick reports, the program has drawn more than 70 artists to Paducah’s Lowertown and transformed it into a thriving arts community. Tourism revenues in the county increased by nearly $10 million in just the second year of the program, and the city now offers a growing range of cultural offerings, including a contemporary art center and an indie film theater. And an art school is on the way.
For more on the evolution of the project in the artists’ own words (and video), you can check out the Lowertown artists’ blog. —Jason Ericson
11/9/2007 2:58:51 PM
“Punk rock means exemplary manners to your fellow human being,” Joe Strummer tells an interviewer in Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, and although this new documentary film hints that the Clash singer-songwriter didn’t always live up to his own credo, he aspired to do so, and usually succeeded. Rock and roll filmmaker Julien Temple intersperses archival footage with fresh fireside interviews of Strummer’s bandmates, lovers, friends, and admirers. The film doesn’t dig too deeply beyond what’s already known—Strummer was bighearted though moody and impulsive—but paints a vivid portrait of his rise from the squalid London squatter scene to punk royalty and then, after the band’s breakup, his “wilderness years” and eventual reemergence with a new band, the Mescaleros. Tellingly, the best moments come when Strummer himself is seen or heard, his presence still crackling with an urgent, earnest energy. —Keith Goetzman
11/8/2007 11:52:26 AM
In a perfect world, film buffs and science geeks would live together in sublime harmony. Thanks to the November issue of Discover (article not available online), it seems we’re making significant progress on that front as physics professor Sidney Perkowitz pins down the best and worst science-themed films of all time. Both popular (Contact, 1997, and A Beautiful Mind, 2001) and artsy-sounding (Metropolis, 1927) titles crack the top five. Perkowitz’s favorites, which he dubs “Golden Eagles,” are lauded for thoughtful, scientifically accurate storylines—though he does concede, in his discussion of Contact, that “not many actual scientists would bet their careers on the slim chance of finding advanced aliens.”
In the “Golden Turkey” department, I’m happy to see The Core (2003) take its rightful place as the most odious. This film, which I found too unbearable to finish on an international flight some years ago, sends a group of scientists drilling a dangerous path to the earth’s core; Perkowitz notes that it “manages to impart record-setting amounts of scientific misinformation about basic physics (like elementary magnetism, electricity, and heat) in a mere 134 minutes.” He’s also not a fan of The 6th Day (2000), a Schwarzenegger action vehicle with a plot “so far off-base that you just can’t suspend enough disbelief.” —Danielle Maestretti
11/7/2007 11:14:14 AM
Construction season is inconvenient, it interrupts our regularly scheduled lives, and all those orange barrels are unsightly additions to city landscapes. But Salt Lake City is treating the extensive renovation of its downtown as a “learning opportunity” with the establishment of the Temporary Museum of Permanent Change. With the city’s downtown rendered inaccessible to vehicles, storefronts and construction sites across the city are serving as temporary museum exhibits that “will help people understand the different ways cities change over time, and how the community’s inextricable relationship with the city influences its evolution,” museum creator Stephen Goldsmith tells Planetizen.
On the museum website, sections with titles like “museum restaurants” and “museum shops” bring attention to lesser-known services throughout the downtown by giving shout-outs to local businesses. Delving into community involvement and evoking elements of guerilla art, the Temporary Museum of Permanent Change is truly a beautiful concept. —Anna Cynar
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