Monthly Archive for March, 2009

Fashionista Street: Another Facet of Paris

This week’s On the Street photo essay nakes the transit from Mickey and Minnie Mouse’s haute couture  to Renaissance “headache” bands. According to Bill Cunningham, “Outside the look that marks an era, there are always other currents. And in Paris recently, they were a delight to the eye.”

Café Mouffe: Fol Chen

I was drawn to Ful Chen after hearing a Fresh Air review by rock critic Ken Tucker. It wasn’t the snippets of the songs that did it, but Tucker’s writing about the music:

Fol Chen opens its debut album Part 1: John Shade, Your Fortune’s Made with the song The Believers, advising us in the chorus, “Don’t follow me.” To which I respond: Don’t worry, Fol Chen. Who’s going to try and attempt your instantly-unique blend of dread and whimsy, your quietly-stated intensity? The band tries to hide its faces in photographs and videos, and issues information about itself that are less press releases than gnomic prose poems, yet the group isn’t nearly as arch or pretentious as what I just said would seem to imply.

In the song No Wedding Cake, you can hear what I mean. How can you not develop an immediate fondness for an art-rock experiment that delivers sentiments like, “I could never break your heart,” and simply beseeches us to just “listen to this song”? With its perky keyboard riffs and chicken-scratch guitar, “No Wedding Cake” is a charmer. Indeed, charm and a knack for memorable melodies is what lends Fol Chen an energy too many self-consciously hip bands lack.

Over synthesized beats, organ-like sounds (could that be an actual organ?) and fluting vocals, the lines in “The Idiot” sink in with quivering resonance: “Everybody here thinks I’m an idiot/How can that be true/If I’m in love with you?” It’s a sweet, winning question, its tenderness bolstered by the firm, springy rhythms. Fol Chen’s best vocals are provided by Melissa Thorne, who’s already helped turn the song “Cable TV,” into an internet-download hit.

Cable TV is a simple song about an assignation at a cheap motel with cable TV. That composition is filled with nice little details, such as a line about “getting dizzy from the spritzers and the desert heat.” It’s sung by Thorne in the kind of barely-inflected murmur that comes off, in music like this, as both brainy and sexy. And what of that unwieldy album title, Part 1: John Shade, Your Fortune’s Made? Well, members of Fol Chen have made vague remarks that John Shade represents evil, which would seem confirmed by the song called “Please John, You’re Killing Me.”

But it occurred to me that John Shade is also the name of the poet in Vladimir Nabokov’s 1962 novel Pale Fire. I can easily imagine the members of Fol Chen, so fond of obscuring their own identities and motives, being taken with Nabokov’s tale of a poet whose work is obsessively annotated by others. Kinda like what happens when music critics try and take apart Fol Chen’s music to see what makes it tick. No matter — as Nabokov proved, analyzing admirable but elusive, allusive work only adds another layer of pleasure.

Encore: Check out a snatch of  Fol Chen’s third-ever show at Radio Free Silverlake’s Let’s Independent! at Boardner’s.

Café Mouffe opens on Fridays at 3:00 p.m. Please drop by for a listen and a chat. Sometimes the embedded videos don’t work here due to bandwidth constraints, but you’ll always find links to video sources in the set notes. Try them. If you’re curious about the Mouffe, here’s the original idea behind it’s creation.

Hey, Paul Krugman - Fiscal Fan Boys Need You!

Hey, Paul Krugman by Jonathan Mann:

Hey Paul Krugman,
Why aren’t you in the administration?
Is there some kind of politicking that I don’t understand?
I mean, Timothy Geithner is like some little weasel.
Wasn’t he in a position of power
when all this shit went down in the first place?

When I listen to you, things seem to make sense
When I listen to him, all I hear is blah, blah, blah.

Hey Paul Krugman,
where the hell are ya, man?
‘Cause we need you on the front lines
not just writing for The New York Times.
I’d feel better if you were calling some shots
instead of writing your blog and probably thinking a lot.

I mean, don’t you have some influence?
Why aren’t you secretary of the Treasury?

For God’s sake, man, you won the Nobel Prize.
Timothy Geithner uses TurboTax.

When I listen to you, things seem to make sense.
When I listen to him, all I hear is blah, blah, blah.

Hey Paul Krugman, where the hell are ya, man?
(Obama Breakdown)

Sing it with me!

When I listen to you, things seem to make sense.
When I listen to him, all I hear is blah, blah, blah.

Hey Paul Krugman, where the hell are ya, man?
Your country needs you now.

Stephen Dubner’s response on NYT’s Freakonomics Blog: “TurboTax!”

Flaneur’s Gallery: The Peanut Butter Mona Lisa

Vik Muniz. Mona Lisa in Peanut Butter & Jelly. [Source: Divulgação/]
Vik Muniz. Mona Lisa in Peanut Butter & Jelly. [Source: Divulgação/]

Call it synchronicity. I’d just read the Mona Lisa chapter in Charles Nicholl’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci
before falling asleep, then I awoke to a BBC interview with artist Vik Muniz describing his rendition of La Giaconda in peanut butter and jelly. Talk about licking some lips!

When I went looking for an image I found it first at a blog by Heather McDougal called A Cabinet of Wonders, which is surely a flaneur’s treasure trove that would have delighted Walter Benjamin. Then I found Mona Lisa’s  edible drama enacted on this video clip from Russia Today. Watch it to the very end and try not to steal into the kitchen for a kiss of PBJ.

Fashionista Street: Paris Has Legs

Paris has legs in Bill Cunningham’s latest On the Street photo essay, shot en plein air during Paris Fashion Week.

Laura, Knock Down That Accessibility Barrier!

Eugène Delacroix. Liberty Leading the People. 1830. Louvre, Paris. [Source: Wikimedia Commons]]O.K., I’m sorry. Let me try again. “Laura, knock down that accessibility barrier, please.” Nick Negroponte said someone like you would come along someday to help me get stuff done. I’ve been waiting for your cool efficiency and ass-kick assertiveness for years. I’ve been working without support  staff for  so long  that I forgot my manners. I’ll do better next time. Don’t go passive-aggressive on me, Laura. I’ll send you a sonnet by Petrarch on Virtual Assistants Day.

Who’s Laura? The new VA from Microsoft. Eric Horvitz extolled her virtues this morning on NPR. Since Laura is still in development, let me place my custom order in advance. Booking airline reservations would be nice, but I don’t need to be nagged about blowing off deadlines. I want a virtual assistant who understands my accessibility needs and can hack text and code like an administrative professional killing snakes. Except that’s just a metaphor, in case you don’t do nuanced tonality yet. Really, I like snakes. You’ll have to do a lot of reading to me, so I’d love a voice  that purrs like Catherine Deneuve selling the proverbial bath oil.  And you can skip the ice-cube persona. I want the passion of Delacroix’s Liberty leading the people over the barricades!

Café Mouffe: Lula Pena & Marta Topferova

Often when I wake up during the night I flip on the clock radio to listen to the BBC World Service. It puts me right back to sleep unless breaking news gets my attention. Sometimes I listen subconsciously while I sleep and have the strangest dreams. That happened this week when I heard haunting, alluring songs on Charlie Gillett’s World of Music. I tracked down the playlist later to figure out what I had heard. I can’t begin to recover what I dreamed with Lula Pena (Fria Claridade) and  Marta Topferova (Semana Azul).. Listen and dream it for yourself.

Encore: Another surreal sound from this dream state was an arrangement for tenor saxophone of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 (Prelude). The musician was Yasuaki Shimizu. I couldn’t find a clip of his solo performance, but an ensemble version will give you a sense of it.

Café Mouffe opens on Fridays at 3:00 p.m. Please drop by for a listen and a chat. Sometimes the embedded videos don’t work here due to bandwidth constraints, but you’ll always find links to video sources in the set notes. Try them. If you’re curious about the Mouffe, here’s the original idea behind it’s creation.

The Loon — A Poem by James Tate

Listen to Garrison Keillor read this on today’s The Writer’s Almanac.

The Loon
by James Tate

A loon woke me this morning. It was like waking up
in another world. I had no idea what was expected of me.
I waited for instructions. Someone called and asked me
if I wanted a free trip to Florida. I said, “Sure. Can
I go today?” A man in a uniform picked me up in a limousine,
and the next thing I know I’m being chased by an alligator
across a parking lot. A crowd gathers and cheers me on.
Of course, none of this really happened. I’m still sleeping.
I don’t want to go to work. I want to know what the loon is
saying. It sounds like ecstasy tinged with unfathomable
terror. One thing is certain: at least they are not speaking
of tax shelters. The phone rings. It’s my boss. She says,
“Where are you?” I say, “I don’t know. I don’t recognize
my surroundings. I think I’ve been kidnapped. If they make
demands of you, don’t give in. That’s my professional advice.”
Just then, the loon let out a tremendous looping, soaring,
swirling, quadruple whoop. “My god, are you alright?” my
boss said. “In case we do not meet again, I want you to know
that I’ve always loved you, Agnes,” I said. “What?” she said.
“What are you saying?” “Good-bye, my darling. Try to remember me
as your ever loyal servant,” I said. “Did you say you loved
me?” she said. I said, “Yes,” and hung up. I tried
to go back to sleep, but the idea of being kidnapped had me
quite worked up. I looked in the mirror for signs of torture.
Every time the loon cried, I screamed and contorted my face
in agony. They were going to cut off my head and place it on
a stake. I overheard them talking. They seemed like very
reasonable men, even, one might say, likeable.

“The Loon” by James Tate from Return to the City of White Donkeys. © Ecco Press, 2004.

Aretha Re-Makes “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”

NPR Music: “Aretha Franklin performed “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at President Obama’s January inauguration. But she was not happy with the final results. So, “The Queen of Soul” went to the music studio to record another version, of which she could be proud. Franklin tells how she responded to the invitation to perform on inauguration day and talks about the hat she wore, now popular around the world.”

Accessibility? Like Twitter, What’s the Point?

Jonathan Zittrain tells a cautionary tale about Steve Jobs on this week’s On The Media. Zittrain’s concern looks to the future of indigenous, decentralized innovation on the Internet, but the implications of his message apply just as well to accessible technology for people with disabilities.

Consider the iPhone. You can develop an application for it, but you can’t install it on your phone or share it with others unless Apple approves it first. The upside is a more secure gadget, but the downside is that Apple becomes a gatekeeper, according to Zittrain, with “its own motives and incentives that are not always the same as the consumers it’s supposed to serve. When someone submitted an iPhone app that counted down the time left for the Bush Administration (“The End of an Error” was the app’s marketing slogan), Apple rejected it. “Steve Jobs wrote [the developer] when he complained, and said, this is an application that will offend roughly half of our users. What’s the point?”

Zittrain continues:

And my strong belief is that so much of the code we now think of as central and crucial and cool and revolutionary is code for which, when most rational people first see it, their reaction is, what’s the point?

You could say that about something like Twitter … Somebody says, now people can update their status with 140 characters or fewer. And the obvious reaction to that is, what’s the point? Or with blogs or with Wikipedia – now at last everybody can edit a page simultaneously. I’m sure it’ll produce a reliable encyclopedia… You know, the right answer to that is, you guys are on drugs.

And it’s only when somebody can just try it out and doesn’t have to persuade anyone else that this is something for which there’s a point that you get this kind of innovation taking place.

That’s what I mean when I talk about re-imagining accessibility. I’ve had it with trying to persuade someone, day in and day out, to make something accessible. I’m tired of the indifferent shrugs that say, “What’s the point?” or “That would cost too much” or “I  don’t have time to do that.” Well, you don’t have to make it accessible for me. I’ll hack it myself, thank you. I just want to try.

And speaking of gatekeepers and iPhones, Tim O’Brien sent an open letter to Steve Jobs about making the cult gizmo more accessible. Zittrain’s story suggests that Tim might get a reply, although probably not a thoughtful solution.

Listen to Jonathan Zittrain on OTM’s The Net’s Mid-Life Crisis: