Monthly Archives: March 2009

Things I'm looking forward to…

April 9 – Going to see the band X with the original members at the Crystal Ballroom.  Always great to see grinning Billy Zoom do his guitar thing – first saw them back in the early eighties!  It’s the start of a tour, so catch ’em if you can.

April 28 – New album from Bob Dylan -“Together Through Life”.  His career started right about when I was born, and he has been a figure in my life for the last 30 years or so!  Right now you can get a free track at the link above.

July 2009 – the final volume of Javier Marias’s trilogy, Your Face Tomorrow, appears in English translation.  It’s called Poison, Shadow and Farewell.

August 2009 – Another volume from Thomas Pynchon, called Inherent Vice.

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Surreal Gangs of New York

I recently caught up with two films from 1979, both very distinctive views of the youth gangs of New York City.  First I saw “The Wanderers” again, first time in many years, after reading the original novel by Richard Price (it was his first book).  The movie is set in the early sixties in the Bronx, when the changes of the sixties were just starting to stir, and the old ways were still going pretty strong.  The main gang we follow are the Wanderers, shown above.  Some of the other gangs are far more strange, such as the Fordham Baldies, below:

The Wanderers occasionally venture outside their home turf, and it’s invariably a mysterious and threatening trip, particularly when they run into the Ducky Boys, a murderous lot.

Then I saw “The Warriors” which I had never seen.  This film was set in contemporary times, and it’s got views of the subways as I remember them from the 1970s, full of graffiti.  In the film, the Warriors hail from Coney Island at the far reaches of Brooklyn, and they venture up to the Bronx for a gathering of the gangs.  After the gathering dissolves into chaos, the Warriors have to make their way back through NYC over the course of a long night, fighting off cops and other gangs.  It’s a comic book vision deriving from classical stories of vastly outnumbered forces stuck deep in enemy territory.  One of the more surreal gangs they battle with are the Baseball Furies, below:

These views of the gangs seem to derive from the nightmares of young teens, finding the world full of menacing older kids who make everyday life a kind of dangerous jungle that must be negotiated with care.  Both films are imaginative looks at a past that seems both far away and innocent in many ways.

Celebrating Spring!

One of the things I really appreciate about Portland is how the Spring starts pretty early – so here are a couple shots I took today of the flowering trees in the neighborhood.

The big question

Tom Friedman’s op-ed today raises the big question… are we in the first stages of a major shift, rather than a simple business downturn?

Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”

We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese …

We can’t do this anymore.

“We created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children,” said Joe Romm, a physicist and climate expert who writes the indispensable blog climateprogress.org. We have been getting rich by depleting all our natural stocks — water, hydrocarbons, forests, rivers, fish and arable land — and not by generating renewable flows.

My sense is that a growing number of people are asking this question – which is of course the whole reason for the interest in the idea of sustainability. In one sense, that which is ‘unsustainable’ will, by definition, not continue indefinitely.  But the harder question is whether it’s possible to transition from an unsustainable course to a sustainable course without a ‘crash landing’.  I take some hope from the many interesting new projects that are attempting to find a new way forward on more renewable foundations.

What Would Neil Do?

A fun follow-up to the last post…  found the photo above in the new issue of Modern Painter, a magazine I’ve been enjoying lately for its eclectic arts coverage.   “What Would Neil Young Do?” by Martin Herbert looks at Neil as an inspiration for artists, for his uncompromising approach to his art.  The photo shown above is by Melanie Schiff, entitled Neil Young, Neil Young (2004); here’s more on the image:

In it, a figure’s head is obscured by the cover of Young’s debut solo album, with its life-size carbon-dated psychedelic portrait of the musician. “It’s about fandom, genius, and awe,” says the young Chicago photographer. “He was 23 when he recorded it, and I just found — and find, now that I’m older than that — it incredible that someone of that age can make something so amazing. It was a way of making it my face, because it’s me in the photograph, like a cover song or a tribute or a wish.” The line between admiration and analysis is consciously hazed; Schiff, like the other artists I talked to, can happily spiel till sundown about Young, which points to a degree of investment that exceeds callow referentiality and shades into something greater and more deeply seated. “I don’t think of him as a musician, I think of him as an artist,” says Lee. “His work has a conceptual quality to it, and he’s not afraid to experiment and lose fans in the process,” says Deller. He has, for Durant, “incredible integrity and authenticity.”

Neil Young

Seems like every year lately I get in the mood to investigate the back catalog of a musician who I’m already somewhat familiar with (last year it was Van Morrison), and lately it’s been Neil Young.  I found a biography of Neil published in 1994, and it had good writeups of each album up to that point.  I had first listened to Neil when “Rust Never Sleeps” came out in 1979, and over the years I had picked up other things, like “After the Goldrush” (1970) and “Ragged Glory” in 1990.  But I had never filled in all the gaps.

My conclusion is that Young may have been the strongest album artist of the 1970’s…  Virtually every record he made from 1968 until 1979 is quite strong (and back then big stars made records every year, not every three or four years!).  He famously had somewhat of a ‘lost decade’ in the 1980s, only to come back powerfully starting at the end of the decade with “Freedom”, “Ragged Glory”, “Harvest Moon” and “Unplugged”.  I haven’t listened to all the CDs of the past 15 or so years, but I suspect each record contains at least a few keepers.  What I like is that he runs the gamut from lovely quiet melodies to loud foot-stompers.

I like every record mentioned above, along with “Tonight’s the Night” (1973, but released 1975), “Live Rust” (1979), “Zuma” (1975), “Time Fades Away” (1974, not on CD thusfar), “Everybody Knows this is Nowhere” (1969), and “On the Beach” (1974, above).  Also lately there have been some very good live recordings released, including solo shows from 1968 and 1971, and a band recording at the Fillmore East from 1970, all worth a listen for fans.

Lately Neil’s been working on his car (apparently his next album, Fork in the Road, is a sort of concept album about his eco-car!), thinking about living with war, and singing some bailout blues (he’s in foot-stomping mode at the moment)…  you can check it all out at Neil’s Garage.