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We're a group of friends who talk about culture.

Little Boxes #32

(from Brother Power, the Geek #2, script by Joe Simon and art by Al Bare, 1968)

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Tea With Chris: The Entire Mediterranean is on Fire

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: For some unknown reason (Al Jazeera addiction?), I felt an urge to make my tea all-Youtube this week. So here’s Fela Kuti and Africa 70 in Berlin circa 1978:

Here’s Glenn Beck raving about Islamic caliphates and an imminent Chinese invasion of New Zealand to the eerily appropriate tune of Godspeed You! Black Emperor:

And here’s an interview with Lex Luger, who produced two of last year’s biggest, beefiest rap singles – “Hard in da Paint” and “Blowin’ Money Fast” – at the scarcely believable age of 19.

Now I have to break my video-only pledge, because I just noticed that the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle wrote about the NHL All-Star Game. “I don’t think there’s much I can tell you about the promenade that isn’t already covered by the phrase ‘promenade of the mascots,’ but…”

Margaux: Good idea:  “How not to say stupid stuff about Egypt”

“A historical look at the number of times presidents have used selected words in their State of the Union addresses (or analogous speeches) from 1934 to 2011.” Thanks to Kelly Jenkins.

It is nice sometimes to think about the eyeball.

Carl: This week included Groundhog Day, which means nothing to me regarding all the guff about the weather but quite a bit to me because it makes me think about one of the more perfect movies ever made. (Which would be a completely perfect movie if it had a different leading actress, but that’s a whole other argument.)

A friend sent me a link to this very popular blog post, which raises a question I can’t believe I never explicitly considered: How many Groundhog Days, in total, does Bill Murray’s character Phil go through? It comes up with the completely unconvincing answer of 10 years’ worth, based on the supposition that he is somehow using his time quite efficiently in his completely insane-making existential crisis. Director Harold Ramis responded it had to be “more like 30 or 40 years.” But Stephen Tobolowsky (“Ned Ryerson”) says Ramis and the screenwriter told him they actually imagined 10,000 years. Which would make sense of Phil’s eventual claim to be a god: He is one acquainted with eternity.

Harold Ramis, as the aforelinked Toblowsky piece mentions, is a Buddhist, so his myth is less Nietzsche’s Eternal Return than the one about a weak man, a corrupt prince, who makes his way to enlightenment. A Zen priest explains this quite beautifully in this meditation on the Tao of Groundhog Day. By the way, there’s also a good anecdote in that Toblowsky piece about Bill Murray insisting that he be told what he’d be wearing in the final scene and a woman on the crew intervening, which tells you a lot about acting, directing and storytelling: Basically, the assistant set director made sure it remained Groundhog Day and didn’t turn into Sleeping Beauty.

I’m really going to miss this pair. Their breakup this week shouldn’t have been a surprise – they haven’t made a record in four years and played in public once in all that time. I only own one of their albums, mainly because they were always in the air in the ’00s anyway; after 13 years you got used to the idea that they’d be around, and it was a warming, cheering thought. There’s something about Meg, as well as the conceptual apparatus of the White Stripes, that always seemed to stave off the threat that Jack, for all his talent, would just become a typical, arrogant, model-marrying Rock Star. Which is what he is, of course, but always just this side of the barbed wire. On the other hand maybe she has better things to do than keep her ex honest. Let’s just wish them both well.

Speaking of well-wishes, this, at least with its video accompaniment, is the most effective  pop-ballad-to-comfort-teen-outcasts I’ve run across in a long time. If you don’t tear up a bit, I’m suspicious of your claim to have once been a kid. Plus, it’s Tina Majorino, currently being wasted in a thankless role on Big Love but forever in our hearts as Mac. Pink, don’t let Mac be sad! Help her out!

Photo by Sharilyn Johnson

Last weekend I got to see one of my favourite comedians, Maria Bamford, live at the Comedy Bar. She was so uncannily funny/challenging/upsetting it was like going into a whirling cloud of pink confetti and red liquorices that whip you about the brow and temples till you emerge unable to remember any of the details. So I looked around for a memory-jog, and here are a few of the jokes she told. If that leaves you cravey, here’s an hour’s worth.

Also from comedy on TV, this is kind of old but I just saw it – a way of being funny that seems almost physically impossible to pull off on a talk show.

Okay, now stop everything. Yes, that too. Caught you.

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Filed under carl wilson, chris randle, linkblogging, margaux williamson

Friday Pictures – Philip Guston



Philip Guston / Paw / 1968


Philip Guston / Inscapes: Words and Images / 1977


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Teach Me How to Boogie #5: DJ Chipman

by Chris Randle

My family’s elderly dog died this week, which hasn’t allowed me much time to post, so here’s a brief edition of Teach Me How to Boogie. The music in the clip above was made by DJ Chipman, a Florida producer I know almost nothing about beyond the fact that he’s working in a booty-laden Miami bass context.

I like the wall of speakers and the kid who coyly shoves his pants in his pockets before getting down, but the most interesting thing about this style is how little the dancers’ legs shift around. Perhaps it’s the choreographic equivalent of improvising over a steady groove, a bodily inversion of bounce moves. The participants resemble malfunctioning robots. I also like that they apparently shot this in a random playground, no big deal: of the club but not in it.

(Via Dave Quam)

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Little Boxes #31

(from Nancy, by Ernie Bushmiller, 1970s)

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Tea With Chris: All That Matters Today

We had a bundle of links this week, but only one is connected to a nascent revolution: Watch what’s happening on the streets of Egypt.

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Friday Pictures – Thomas Ruff











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“Alas It Is So, But Thus It Must Be” (Charlie Louvin, 1927-2011)

by Chris Randle

Cancer took Charlie Louvin on Wednesday morning, and this is going to be an awkward eulogy, because my first exposure to his music came later that day. I’d only known the Louvin Brothers as an internet meme: the 1959 LP above is a staple of weirdest/silliest/kitschiest album-cover lists online. Growing up with middle-class comforts and no vestige of religion in downtown Toronto, one of those kids who says they like every genre “except rap and country,” the very notion of Satan’s realness was more absurd than his plywood caricature.

Here’s something the listmakers usually don’t tell you: Ira Louvin designed that cover himself. He and Charlie burnt kerosene-soaked tires in an old rock quarry to set the scene, nearly incinerating themselves in the process. Between the high forehead, cavernous brows and sinister grins, it’s hard not to read perverse excitement in his expression. Ira (on the left, born Loudermilk) was the older brother, the most gifted, the primary songwriter. He had been drawn to the Pentecostal ministry once, and every seedy bar where he and his sibling played country songs must have felt like spiritual torture.

Ira became a violent alcoholic. He smashed numerous mandolins (!) during shows, cheated on all four of his wives and received several bullets in his back from the third after trying to strangle her with a telephone cord. (“If the son of a bitch don’t die, I’ll shoot him again.”) As the brothers’ hot young opener for one ’50s tour sang hymns in admiration backstage, his soused hero called him a “white nigger” playing suspiciously danceable “trash.” Then Ira tried to strangle Elvis Presley. I remember my friend Maggie, a big fan, telling me about the Louvin Brothers in a bar once; describing the eldest’s death via drunk driver while evading his own DUI warrant, she sounded both awed and appalled.

That was in 1965. Charlie Louvin, the relatively mild-mannered half of the group, had already gotten fed up and ended their partnership two years earlier. He led a respectable solo career for a while, but the tunes became less memorable without his demon brother. I don’t mean that in the fatuous sense of romanticized torment – they needed each other for technical reasons. Chained together through so many of their wounded yet pious gospel songs, the Louvins’ trademark tenor harmonies keen past Biblical doctrine to the pain and sorrow it tries to explain. When they sang “that word ‘broadminded’ is spelled S-I-N,” holding the last letter just until it hurts, they were referring to illicit dancing. You would think it was the fall from Eden.

You might also think it’s a little strange for a lifelong nonbeliever to suddenly find this music so affecting (and I’m far from the only one). If an atheist or agnostic listens to two righteous hellions outlining what a miserable sinner he is and hits “repeat,” is it theological masochism? Well, I don’t fuck with Christian fundamentalism,  but it does seem to give certain acolytes a deep understanding of tragedy. Browsing through Louvin joints over the past couple of days, I became particularly obsessed with one of their secular compositions. “When I Stop Dreaming” ends on these lines: “You can teach the flowers to bloom in the snow / You may take a pebble and teach it to grow / You can teach all the raindrops to return to the clouds / But you can’t teach my heart to forget.”

The heartbreak is magnified until it scrapes the edge of irony, like some Appalachian inversion of Stephin Merrit. I wouldn’t be surprised if the siblings intended that effect. Charlie Louvin apparently had a healthy sense of humour himself, leaning towards the macabre, as country often does. In later years he presided over a ramshackle Louvin Brothers Museum, right next to gory photos from Ira’s death scene. He didn’t release any music for 25 years at one point, but the 2003 tribute album Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’ renewed interest in the duo and presaged a series of new recording sessions. I ran out to buy 2008’s Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs LP yesterday. It features his rendition of “Wreck on the Highway,” and the cover is his smiling, avuncular face.

Curious juxtapositions aside, I don’t think Charlie was making light of Ira Louvin’s death. There are recent interviews where a gentle question about his brother reduces him to sobs. His New York Times obituary closes with this quote: “When it comes time for the harmonies to come in, I will move to my left because my brother and I always used to use one microphone. Even today, I will move over to the left to give the harmony room, knowing in my mind that there’s no harmony standing on my right.” Of all my privileges, the most precious one is that I’ve never had to watch a dear soul destroy themselves, before yearning: Get beside me, Satan.

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The Kids Are All Right (2010) – directed by Lisa Cholodenko, written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg


by Margaux Williamson

(I saw this in the middle of a very long train trip headed north. My boyfriend picked it out. We watched it on his laptop with separate headphones. The little boy next to us was watching Spider Man without headphones.  I didn’t realize till just before we started watching it that the director was Lisa Cholodenko. I had seen two of her other movies High Art and Laurel Canyon and never would have guessed this was hers. We both laughed a lot. The movie was what you hope a Hollywood/ independent/ intelligent drama could be, but rarely is – incredibly good and not dumb. )

The Kids Are All Right is about a sort-of-happy family with two moms, one teenage son and one teenage daughter. The son becomes curious about his and his sister’s sperm donor (each of the moms gave birth but the same donor was used in both cases). Together, the kids contact the sperm donor. This is done secretly so that they don’t hurt their moms’ feelings. The Sperm donor (Paul played by Mark Ruffalo) is handsome and charming and is a soft-spoken ladies’ man. He owns a fancy restaurant, rides a motorcycle and dates young earthy women with tank tops. The kids aren’t sure if they like him or not but he starts coming to family dinner.

His presence slightly alters the dynamic of the family, in some ways really positively, empowering some family members, but also threatens the position for the more controlling mom (Nic played by Annette Bening). The more laid-back mom (Jules played by Julianne Moore) abruptly kisses Paul one day after he hires her to do some landscaping in his backyard. He kisses her back. As the days go on, there is much sex, and much understated bemusement and also troubled bemusement. After one sex incident Jules exclaims – “What is WRONG with me?!?”

It is more mundane subject matter than the mysteries-of-making-art and woman-rock-stars of Lisa Cholodenko’s other movies, High Art and Laurel Canyon (where there is much seductive yearning for things just-out-of-reach – like sex & mentoring from complicated women, or professional success in the arts), but all three movies are pretty straightforward narratives.

What makes The Kids Are All Right weirder and weightier is that it has something unusual to say. The movie builds and communicates the idea that marriage is a strong institution – like a pyramid.

After the affair is revealed to the whole family in a tumultuous instant, Paul and Jules have a private conversation on their cell phones. They are both outside because they live in California. He takes a breath and then takes a big leap (maybe the biggest of his life) – “Let’s do this. Let’s make a go of this.. now that it’s out in the open”.

Jules’ face moves in a spasm between incredulity and exasperation. I don’t remember what she said first – “I’m married!!!” or – “I’m a lesbian!!!”, but she hung up the phone after one of them.  He had had no idea what he was up against. Neither did we really. We are used to marriages in movies being more like straw houses, and the people who blow them down – more like wolves.

With Jules’ declarations to Paul of commitments and sexual orientation (and everything that came before them in the movie), marriage suddenly looked like a heavy, intricate object – a thing complicated and structurally sound, with an agreed upon contract that allows construction and maintenance to take place over good and bad times, something difficult but that can ideally change shape, something that can’t be so easily be knocked down.

Paul got locked out of the house and it was hard not to feel for him – especially here in this movie where all the characters were complicated. The people inside the house were miserable, but they were warm and they would recover.

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Little Boxes #30

(from Dororo vol. 1, by Osamu Tezuka, 1967/2008)


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