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Drive-In Saturday:
All You Need is Lovecraft

A Modest Late October Suggestion to Our President

Dear Mr. Obama:

Have you noticed, as I have, that Halloween stores have popped up like slithy toad stools to occupy every empty retail space in These United States?  

Mystic caverns shoggoth

Of course you have. Your eyes are everywhere, after all, particularly since you declined to roll back that millstone on civil liberties that is the PATRIOT Act.  

But never mind that: we were talking about commercial real estate. Mervynses and Circuit Cities may come and go, but the Eve of All Hallows lingers on.

In the interest of the care and feeding of our Great Recovery, permit me to suggest that your course is plain.  You must immediately propound an Executive Order declaring that the last day of every month shall hereafter be celebrated as Halloween, and that the spirit of Giving Back necessarily compels every Good Citizen to participate with Gusto in the Celebration of All That is Dank and Nasty, every thirty days or so.  In consequence of this prudent and judicious edict, all of these smilingly entrepreneurial Mom & Pop-up stores will never close, the grand engine of consumer purchase will idle no more, jollity will rollick 'cross the land, and all manner of things shall be well.  

In anticipation of your prompt endorsement of this wise and obviously beneficent policy, I remain

Yr. humble servant, 

G. Wallace


Phooey!  And gooey, and p'tui!

Truth be told, I lost most of my interest in Hallowe'en once I figured out that the adults and beer companies had taken it over. 

Still, it's a perfectly good excuse to post this video, in which San Diego's own Eben Brooks pays poppish tribute to the Greatest and Oldest of the Great Old Ones.  If the President embraces my petition -- with all eight arms, of course -- you'll be hearing this one on the radio all the year 'round.

Extra tentacles, please!


Photo: "Mystic Caverns, Shoggoth?" by Flickr user Clinton Steeds used under Creative Commons license.


Are French Electric?

Electrovox by

It has been HOT in southern California, and has been so for days and days.  Early Autumn always seems more roasty and toasty than late Summer around here.  Just to make us crazy, this year's October heat has been intermixed with days that have been seriously COOL, including a few days of earlier than usual WET weather.  And tonight, it will be WINDY and COLD before the days return to being HOT one last time.

In keeping with the climate, we need something COOL, by which I actually mean something HOT -- Le Jazz Hot, to be precise, as originally exemplified by the famous house band of Le Hot Club of Paris, featuring the "manouche" or gypsy jazz stylings of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli.  The style was revived to excellent effect in Benoit Charest's score for 2003's The Triplets of Belleville.  Here, a rather Freudian video for "Belleville Rendezvous" from that film:

Better still, consider getting your manouche on with Caravan Palace, a French band updating the style with all manner of contemporary tricks: sampling. looping, processing, and electrical vigor.  Three programmers, doubling on bass, guitar, and violin, with the addition of clarinet, percussion, and the vocalistics of Mamzelle Colotis Zoé, emulating, as one French publication has it, the fashion sense of "les pré-pré-punks de l'Occupation".  

Eh bien, some video.  Here, with the help of some Braque-style collage, the band reveals How Your Gramophone Really Works: 

Here, a dreamy extraterrestrial automaton comes exploring, picks up some local pointers, and goes on to spread musical peace across the galaxy.  Klaatu barada django ...

And here, just the band doing what bands do:

The Caravan Palace album is difficult to come by in physical format on this side of the Atlantic, but no one actually buys CDs anymore so . . . c'est ça va.  You can obtain it by download via Amazon, and I think you should. 


Illustration: "Electro-Vox" Poster, via Flickr user, used under Creative Commons license.

Caravan Palace came to my attention via the monthly survey of the world's best [bloggable] music at swedesplease.


Les Regles de LA Metro

When I need to make a court appearance in downtown Los Angeles, I generally hop on Los Angeles' Metro Rail light rail system. There is a station convenient to my office, and another downtown convenient to the county courthouse, and the roundtrip fare is much less than the cost of parking.

As with most any other public facility, Metro Rail stations come equipped with helpful signs to alert passengers to the Do's and Don't's of Good Transit Citizenry.  

Here is an example, posted on a pillar in the station near my office:


So many rules, so much good advice, and all conveyed in the three official languages of California Public Spaces: English, Spanish, and Pan-Global Semiotic.

You don't have to be a Harvard Symbologist, or literate in English or Spanish, to appreciate the elegance and clarity with which this sign conveys its Helpful Hints on good Metro Rail behavior.  Just one look, that's all it took, to interpret these universal signifiers:


"We Warned You It Was Sticky"

Put That Down 


"Forward and Lateral Passing Only"

Look where You Throw 


"Okay, Okay,
the Dinosaur Footies
Are Kinda Cool"



[Posted on the advice of the Brussels Transit Authority.]

"No Cussing, Tintin!"



The Inanity of Being Earnest

Tck.logo2 I am irritated, therefore I blog.

You probably recall, or have heard, "Beds Are Burning," the whomping thwomping 1987 number from the whomping thwomping politically-engaged Australian band, Midnight Oil.

To refresh your recollection, we'll go to the tape:

Midnight Oil - Beds Are Burning

I call that a more than serviceable tune.  And it comes with a clearly articulated political agenda: the Oils leave no doubt that they are in favor of wholesale restitution of ancestral lands to the indigenous peoples of Australia.  This is a song you can bob your head to whatever your views concerning restitutionary land rights.  It has a beat, it has a cause, you can dance to it: what more can you want?

The late 1980's had their drawbacks, but a political tune was a political tune in those days, a thing that made particularized demands and had no interest in just wallowing about moanin' about the injustice of it all.

Those days are gone forever, over a long time ago.

On the weekend, it came to my attention that this brawling, bawling Oils tune has been remade by an all-star crew of contemporary musical lights in the name of Fighting Climate Change and, particularly, in the cause of Demanding Action at the upcoming Copenhagen climate conference.  The new version of the song is circulating for free download at most of the established music sites.  Here is the official video:

I hesitated a bit before embedding the awful, self-important thing because it is, regardless of anyone's views on anthropocentric climate change, Deeply Awful and Self-Important.  Anything that begins, as this does, with Kofi Annan intoning "tick tick tick" in the most portentous fashion is doomed from the outset, and the ensuing arrangement and rewritten lyrics are so totally deracinated and spineless that it is hard to stay awake through it all, let alone become Fired Up and Ready to Go in support of its chosen Cause.

And qu'est-ce que c'est, cette Cause?  Hard to say, let alone qu'est-ce que c'est.

The whole thing is the product of an organization calling itself Time for Climate Justice, but you can search from one end of that site to the other without being able to figure out who or what is sponsoring this project. More damningly, you can search from one end to the other of that site without finding a single concrete statement of . . . what exactly you should be calling upon the delegates to the Copenhagen conference to -- dare we say it? -- do to move toward a solution to the ostensible problem at hand. 

Oh, if you roam around the site you can buy stuff if that's your inclination: ticking ticking dog tags for instance. "They are all individually numbered," we are assured, "although we can’t tell you to whom all the highly prized [sic] first 1,000 went to."  (I am inclined to believe that excessive and unnecessary prepositions cause more global warming than they eliminate, given that we breathe carbon dioxide into the world with each spoken syllable -- but I could be wrong.)  Kofi Annan, they'll tell you, is Number One, though the other 999 remain secure in their anonymity. (Et tu, Bishop Tutu?)  

Dog tags not your style?  Perhaps you would prefer the inevitable Armstrongesque wristband.  Those, too, are on offer. 

Where go the proceeds from all these tchotchkes?  Alternative fuel bunnies, perhaps? You'll never know, nor can I find anything to suggest that even one carbon dioxide molecule will ever be beaten into submission and sequestered where it can do us no further harm as a result of this organization's efforts.  I am not reassured, for instance, by Mr. Annan's call, early on in the video, for a "robust post-climate agreement."  If we ever become truly "post-climate" on this planet, we will by definition be worrying about these issues from the afterlife, or not at all.

In short, it seems that a Perfectly Good Political Pop Song has here been slaughtered in vain, accomplishing nothing beyond ithe care and feeding of the self-image of its celebrity killers.  

Fight the Power.  Don't Believe the Hype.  Close Cover Before Striking. Rotate Your Tires.  Amen.


Siegfried: To Be Young, Gifted, and Blue


As with Harry Potter books, so with the Ring cycle of Richard Wagner: as the story unfolds, each part goes on far longer than the part that preceded it. 

The Nibelung's Ring Episode III: A New Hope -- better known as Siegfried -- clocks in at roughly five hours, and the endurance required of the tenor in the title role is the stuff of legend, especially given that the most challenging singing is required of him in the final thirty minutes.  On Saturday evening, in the closing performance of Los Angeles Opera's new production of Siegfried, John Treleaven frayed noticeably in those final pushes to the vocal heights.  Treleaven's unfortunate, if understandable, exhaustion was one of the few drawbacks to this installment of Achim Freyer's staging of the saga.

The Freyer Ring continues to astonish and impress, with its constantly shifting perspectives, its multiple points of view, and its deployment of theatrical tricks and trumpery old and new.  Siegfried was not so immediately "wow"-filled nor so readily embraced as Rheingold and Walküre, but the fault lies as much with Wagner as with Freyer.  Siegfried as a character has less inner life than most any other hero in literature. He performs some remarkable deeds -- slays a fearsome [sic] dragon, smashes the staff and ends the power of the reigning god, walks through and extinguishes a sea of magic fire, wins the hand of the most desirable maiden in the world -- without the slightest idea that those deeds are remarkable and without the slightest reflection on the consequences of his actions, which come freighted with all manner of personal and cosmic significance.  In Freyer's conception, Siegfried is a sort of Incredible Blue Hulk, musclebound, clownish, with a head of hair seemingly borrowed from Harpo Marx.  He is a lunk and a dolt, a lumbering Wagnerian McGuffin whose real purpose is, unwittingly of course, to place Brünnhilde in position to purge and renew the world at the still-distant end of Götterdämmerung.


Even more so than in previous installments, the principal characters in this Siegfried are surrounded by a tireless silent ensemble, sometimes "invisible" in black, sometimes doubling or tripling the characters on stage or events referred to in Wagner's recurrent recaps of what has gone before.  There seems always to be one or more silent figures stepping slowly, slowly from stage right to left, usually bearing one or more significant objects, so that the story takes place as if awash in a stream of shifting, drifting symbols.  (Achim Freyer is at least as fond of slow, meticulous crosswise movements as is Robert Wilson.)  

Sadly, Siegfried marks the last appearance in the Ring of Wotan, here in his guise as the slouch-hatted Wanderer.  Vitalij Kowaljow has sung the part in all three productions thus far, and has only gotten better as he has gone along.  He brings all the necessary gravitas and sadness to the god who, having sought to preserve his power and the reign of the gods by possessing the ring, has only triggered the gods' inevitable downfall. He is last seen trudging slowly, slowly away, the symbol of his power shattered by his own heedless grandchild.

Siegfried has been raised for the task of slaying Fafnir, the giant who possesses the Rhine gold, the powerful ring, and the Tarnhelm, the magic helmet -- here a magic golden top hat -- that grants its wearer the power of invisibility and transformation.  The better to guard his hoard, Fafnir has long ago transformed himself into a dragon, and every production of Siegfried must answer the question: how do we bring this dragon on stage to be slain?  Freyer does it with strings attached.  Dragon-Fafnir is, until he transforms back into a giant after receiving the mortal blow, a marionette about four feet tall and wearing that golden top hat. Siegfried's core character trait is that he is literally without fear, and I am inclined to accept the going theory that this most unfearsome critter is meant to evoke just how trivial the task of dragon-slaying must seem to such an oblivious hero.  You can see and not be scared by Mr. Dragon at 2:29 in the official promotional video below:

Each of the two prior productions in the cycle worked well as a stand-alone piece.  Siegfried counts as a success in terms of moving the drama forward using the stylistic grammar that Freyer has established in those previous installments, although I suspect that a viewer thrown into Freyer's Ring-world for the first time with Siegfried could easily get lost trying to "learn the language" and to figure out how that world works. Los Angeles goes without the Ring until April, when the cycle concludes with Götterdämmerung, a tawdry domestic melodrama that incidentally brings about the end of the world.  Despite knowing how it all comes out, I wouldn't miss it.


Disclaimer: The Star Wars reference in my second paragraph above is not an endorsement of the lazy "sci-fi Ring" description adopted by Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times.  That mistaken view, with other offenses, recently earned Tommasini the scorn of Out West Arts as "the most ridiculously out of touch writer working for a major media outlet today".


All photos by Monika Rittershaus, via Los Angeles Opera.


Rot's Opera, Doc?



[Opera is] one of those giant whale corpses that the government drops in the water so fishes have a home.  But this rotting corpse can have a whole ecosystem surrounding it.

Composer Nico Muhly, answering a question on "what opera is and where it fits into modern music," posed by Alex Ross during the New Yorker Festival's "Radical Opera" panel.


Photo: Under construction, the enormous death mask of Richard Wagner that served as part of the set for Hans Jürgen Syberberg's film of Parsifal, via Dasein Design.