Category Archives: people

So disappointing.

The world is stupider and more boring without Christopher Hitchens in it.

Hitchens and Amis 1975

Here he is with his good friend Martin Amis in 1975, via the Guardian, via his memoir Hitch 22. Surely those bottles were left behind by a previous tenant.

I was appalled and infuriated by his support for war in Iraq but everything else about him was admirable and / or charming enough that I can, hmm, not overlook it, but . . . not dwell on it.

Which obit to point you to, in the unlikely event you haven’t read any yet? The one in the NYT is good. The Guardian’s struck me as more elegant and humane and I’m going to re-read it now in an effort to sort out why I thought that. They also have a nice assortment of his “most memorable bon mots” here.

And you’re just so busy / busy busy / busy scissors

I don’t know why this delights me but it does: “Morrissey got hair cut at Dallas barber shop, then took hair with him.”

busy scissors

Click on the image to read all about it.

I do love a pithy headline. In related news, people in NYC are excited that he’s doing a cover of Satellite of Love on this tour.

hey Lou

Friday afternoon video art show : Alyce Obvious

I can’t recall how I stumbled across Alyce Obvious’s work because it was several years ago now. Every so often I remember to look at her website and inevitably I find something thoughtful, inventive, heartening, and fun to look at. She makes all sorts of works, much of them concerning sound, music and sustainability — e.g., she’s been working with sonic fabric woven from cassette tapes for over ten years — but the easiest kind of art to share in a blog post art show is video art.


This is a listening pillow she made for an art pillow show. The YouTube description says it was “inspired by a patent filed in 1964 for a ‘listening pillow’ . . . designed to facilitate listening to music in stereo while lying on one’s side.” Alyce “updated [this apparatus] considerably to appeal to modern, nature-deprived audiences. The pillow is worn as a headpiece, with the tuft of copper wool serving as a conductor between the ear of the wearer and natural objects.”

This is called “WAVES become MATTER: improvisation for flute and ruben’s tube.” The tube “makes visible the effect of sonic vibration on compressed gas.” I told my friend who plays the drums that she needs one of these but I take it back, I think she’d burn down her rehearsal space.


I love this, this is the sonic fabric factory in action. The fabric is made on an antique loom in a New England textile mill.


This is her latest video. It’s called southern pacific suite: music for train horns: part 4: longing trains. It’s from “projects for prepared ear” and it’s a flute and guitar reconstruction of the two most commonly-heard Amtrak horn chords in Marfa and Alpine, Texas.

If you are excited by the sonic fabric today is your lucky Friday, because right this very moment Alyce has a project you can support at USA Projects. Cough up a bit of cheddar and you can get a swatch of sonic fabric ($10), a flag ($100), a whole yard of the stuff to make what you will or a necktie ($200), and / or assorted other sonic goodies. Don’t dawdle if you’re interested because the deadline for the project is September 8th and that’s SOON.

Jean Painlevé

Jean Painlevé with his aquatic camera

Jean Painlevé photo from Wikipedia.

I’m going to stick with the oceanographic theme this blog has had lately because why not. Let’s watch some Jean Painlevé films. Do you know of him? He did a lot of things — he wrote, acted, translated, collaborated with surrealists, got involved in anarchist and communist stuff — but he is best known for his science and nature films, some of which he shot underwater using an aquatic camera like the one he’s holding above. There’s a very good essay by Jim Knox at Senses of Cinema here that captures what it is I like about his films:

Short works, almost exclusively documentaries devoted to natural history, his films were neither strictly intended as popular novelties nor as celluloid jargon for academic peers. This fragile balance of tone and method, so enchanting to an awestruck contemporary viewer, provides the clearest precedent for the work of an Anglophone documentarist like David Attenborough; Painlevé gives a fabulist’s account of the enchanted marginalia of animal life and behaviour.

Enchanted marginalia is exactly what I am perpetually on the lookout for. It doesn’t come off if the auteur holding up the frame around their chosen subject — the love life of octopuses, for example — has a cynical view of their audience, and unfortunately in my opinion most people who make films do. To maintain the fragile balance that Knox refers to requires something finer and stranger than empathy with one’s audience; it requires a sense that somewhere out there are people, some people at least, who will intuitively understand what is hilarious and touching about a crustacean waggling its antennae to plink-plonk music.

Here are excerpts from Amours de la pieuvre (Love life of the octopus) (1965), from The Criterion Collection’s DVD Science is Fiction: The Films of Jean Painlevé.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

If the video won’t play you can watch it here.

And here is an earlier one, Crabes et Crevettes, part I, 1929.

If you’d like to read more about Painlevé I recommend the Electric Sheep review of Science is Fiction here, and the Scott Macdonald essay here.

mid-week stationary field trip No. 2

Apparently this is an irregular feature now. (The first in the series is here). Pack your bags full with your tightest pants because this week we’re going to fat camp! It will be fun, Elizabeth Taylor is there.

Liz's fat camp legs

Click on Liz’s fat camp legs to view a slideshow at Vanity Fair. The photos are by her friend Maury Hopson.

Have you seen any clips from the particularly transporting Liz-flick Boom? It’s got Noel Coward in it too — he plays a character called The Witch of Capri — but the biggest attraction for me here is Liz’s headdress. The video quality isn’t great but oh well. Surely balancing such a wondrous thing on one’s head would stimulate mental consolidation of all the most thrilling bits of flotsam and jetsam.

One needs proper equipment to prepare for the wearing of kabuki headdresses: “a cold bottle of mineral water, suntan lotion, cigarettes, codeine tabs, a bucket of ice, a glass, a bottle of brandy . . .”

two guys fightin’

While I was reading in bed this morning (re-reading this, to be precise) one of Norman Mailer’s wives was on NPR talking about her new book (this one) and my mind started to wander to the same strange scene that appears every time someone’s talking about Norman Mailer: the one in which he’s fighting with Rip Torn on the set of his 1970 film Maidstone.

Apparently the scene is in the movie but I’ve never been moved to see the whole thing. It’s fucking ridiculous! Their rolling around on the ground is ridiculous, the thunder that arrives is ridiculous, Mailer’s wife (not the same one who wrote the book, I think) starts shrieking, which is ridiculously not helpful, Mailer says ridiculous, childish things, and after a while crazy-eyed Torn starts to look reasonable, which is at least a bit ridiculous considering the circumstances.

Vodpod videos no longer available.more about Torn vs Mailer, posted with vodpod

According to a Mailer bio quoted on Wikipedia, this fight went down because Torn was unhappy with how the film was going. If you want more details there’s more information here. (It’s in the blue box under the video). Anyhow, picturing this scene and feeling like I ought to seek it out and see it again because I couldn’t mentally un-see it made for a strangely violent distraction from my reading and my coffee. It was like walking down the street and accidentally overhearing the nastiest bit of someone’s argument through an open window.

*****

While I was putting this post together I got a Skype IM from Russian brides eager to understand me:

European and American women are too arrogant for you? Are you looking for a sweet lady that will be caring and understanding? Then you came to the right place- here you can find a Russian lady that will love you with all her heart. Can’t find a queen to rule your heart? How about beautiful Russian ladies that have royal blood and royal look? Here you can find hundreds of portfolios of these fine women of any age for every taste. Please excuse us if you are not interested.

I closed the window on them but now I’m sorry I didn’t inquire as to whether they have too much royal blood in them, coursing through their collective veins like a pack of borzois, to wear pre-glasnost lingerie. Scratchy teal netting, violently red tulle, that sort of thing. If they don’t I might find something inspirational in their hundreds of portfolios. In a literary sense of course.

loved-up poets, exhibit A

The first in a series which may vary with mood, season, inspiration, materials found.

ring a ding ding
bronze winged phallus from the 1st century AD via the Guardian

The rich ores of that barely conscious cry
Forge instantly, spear-sharp, to accuracy:

Not love, or not yet love, the sacred act
Speaks to that ‘worship’, passionate, exact.

The truly human action which of all
Seems most material, most animal,

This rite of adoration, thigh to thigh,
Creates the star-strewn goddess, the deep sky:

What all those churches shoddily declare
When the theologians smoulder, mystics flare,

The long-limbed, clear-eyed Stranger, worshipped in
Incense of breath or transubstantial skin

– excerpt from Statement by Robert Conquest. Read the rest here, and interesting profiles of him — card-carrying communist at Oxford, Thatcher speechwriter, historian, friend of Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, editor of science fiction anthologies, composer of limericks — here and here.

minor miracles of the internet

Many months ago I uploaded a scene from The Killing of Sister George on YouTube. It was shot on location at the Gateways club, a lesbian club in London that opened in the 1930s and closed in 1985, and I thought it was an important little artifact. The film as a whole is hardly a documentary — here, read this if you’re not familiar with it — but this scene features many of the club’s regulars at the time (including its famous bartender/manager Smithy and its proprietor Gina Ware) and I thought it was a shame it wasn’t on YouTube already. (There are more lesbian characters in movies and on tv these days but for the most part they don’t seem any more genuine or interesting than the heteronormative minstrelry of “Real Housewives of Wherever”. . .). I also thought the hipster couple in black glasses slow-dancing around 6:36 was super cool.

But what was the name of the band playing throughout the entire scene?

No answer on IMDB, no answer anywhere.

Until yesterday, when a YouTube commentator named Renee serendipitously told me that the band was called the Mission Belles and that she played drums with them while their regular drummer was having a baby. The band was from East Ham and was comprised of three sisters and one sister-in-law, and “[t]hey were playing still up to the nineties (more or less).”

Cheers, Mission Belles! I’ve been wondering who you were for a long time now so as far as I’m concerned this calls for a round of sherry.

the blue god

Staying with the Russian theme for one more day, here are some works by Russian painter, set designer and costume designer Léon Bakst. Many of these costumes were for the Ballets Russes.

the blue god
Costume design for “Le Dieu Bleu,” 1912, watercolor, gouache and gold paint.

Design for the costume of a pilgrim
Costume design for pilgrim (in “Narcisse”?), 1911, pencil, watercolor, gouache and silver paint.

more after the jump:

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from my collection

Somehow I decided it was a good idea to try to edit my Delicious bookmarks — my big cluttered junk drawer of links — at the same time as starting a new blog. I keep getting distracted by the collection of obituaries I keep there. Here are some of my favorites, which might be helpful if have some task you’re trying to avoid. Many of them are from the NY Times, so we might as well read and re-read them now before they’re buried behind a pay wall:

  • Lyle Stuart was a journalist and publisher who died in 2006. (He published The Anarchist Cookbook, among other things). A certain type of obituary makes you wish you were friends with someone you’d never heard of, and Stuart’s is one of them. He was a high school drop-out and a merchant marine before he got his start in journalism as a contributor to Walter Winchell’s column. Not long after that he got the money to start up his publishing house from a libel judgment against Winchell, following a series of “furious” exchanges between the two, which began when Winchell made a racist joke about Josephine Baker in his column, inspiring Stuart to write about Winchell’s affairs, poor tipping habits, etc. Stuart was a far more generous guy,

    financially generous to friends, relatives and employees. He once flew his publishing staff, from executives to shipping clerks, to Europe for parties and the Frankfurt book fair. Celebrating a book sale, he once led a conga line of employees around Trafalgar Square in London.

    He was also “a man of Rabelaisian appetites who gloried in ice cream sundaes of great size and complexity.”

  • Elizabeth Tashjian was an expert on nuts / “nut culturist.” Some people have such an improbable sweetness about them that reading their obituary is like reading about an exotic new species. Ms. Tashjian died in 2007 and so did your chance to visit her Nut Museum in Old Lyme, CT. Admission was $3 + one nut.

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    Elizabeth Tashjian

    Elizabeth Tashjian showing you a Coco de Mer nut,
    which the NYT helpfully noted “resembles buttocks”

    Her museum (which actually closed a few years before her death) was inspired by Renaissance-era cabinets of curiosities. She served visitors cider and coffecake, and sang them a nut anthem she wrote. (Here she is singing it). There’s a documentary about her but I’m not sure where to find it.

  • Stewart R. Mott, Offbeat Philanthropist. Some people sound too good to be true, and Mr. Mott sounds like a progressive Santa Claus. He lived on a Chinese junk in the Hudson for a time, and then in a NYC penthouse where he grew “460 plant species (including 17 types of radishes)” on the roof. He also “held folk music festivals to promote peace and love,” and made his way onto Nixon’s enemies list by giving “big money for radic-lib candidates.” He taught English and gardening, and supported Planned Parenthood, government reform, gay rights, gun control and lots of other causes. When the campaign finance laws changed he changed his methods with them so he could keep giving.
  • Lee Hazlewood died in 2007 and I hope and trust you are familiar with him. His Guardian obit captures some interesting details about his life and music, particularly his work with Nancy Sinatra. She’d been recording for 4 years before Lee got involved and “told her to sing in a lower register and they immediately scored a minor US hit,” and when they were working on “These Boots Are Made For Walking” he instructed her “to sing it ‘like a 16-year old girl who fucks truck drivers.'” I’ve thought of that line every time I’ve heard that song since.
  • Anton Rosenberg. One of my favorite obituaries of all time, one I remember clipping out of the newspaper and keeping on my refrigerator. Rosenberg was “a storied sometime artist and occasional musician who embodied the Greenwich Village hipster ideal of 1950’s cool to such a laid-back degree and with such determined detachment that he never amounted to much of anything . . . .” When I read those words for the first time in 1998 I’d lived in NYC for about a year, and it was the obit writer’s wit that stuck with me. (Robert McG. Thomas, not to be confused with the crappy Hollywood director who goes by the name McG). Rosenberg’s aesthetic — described in the obit as “[an aethetic] that shunned enthusiasm, scorned ambition and ridiculed achievement” — was on the decline, obviously, but it wasn’t confined to Rosenberg alone, and I took it for granted that I’d continue to read about people like him, if not meet some of them myself. Now, 12 years later, the people described as “hipsters” almost uniformly tend to be his polar opposite, people so careerist that they don’t even get dressed in the morning without taking a photo of what they’re wearing in case someone finds it marketable. Anton Rosenberg might be rolling in his grave, if rolling in one’s grave didn’t require quite so much energy and emotional investment.