Here’s my 4:24 of fame on Sunday, June 11, 2017.
Here’s my 4:24 of fame on Sunday, June 11, 2017.
Unidentified Israeli Object: my mother-in-law had this amongst her stuff. She travelled a lot, but never to Israel, though her husband one did.
In any event, my Israeli friend tells me Arad is a town in the south of Israel and it was a former Roman site. This thing appears to be a tourist geegaw, but I’m not sure if the coin is real — were there so many, they sold them as keepsakes? Is it Roman, or Byzantine, or just what?
My friend and partner Leon Segal decided to greet the crowd outside our hotel in the Miraflores district of Lima, Peru.
Okay, they were being nice. The reason all these young girls are here is because the hotel is also hosting the star of Soy Luna, a popular kids show on Disney Latino.
This is a still from Trail of Blood, the first movie in the Mikogami Trilogy. Jokichi is a feared samurai, who is off-camera. These are two bad guys, and the one in the rear has just said, “Don’t you know who this is? It’s Jokichi of Mikogami!” to which the bad guy in front says, “Jokichi-schmokichi.”
Someone in the subtitle department had a small laugh.
I had a short trip to Kansas City (KCMO, not KCK! There’s a difference!), and spent a short time visiting two museums. I went to the inside of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, which was showing an exhibit of Hung Liu, a Chinese-born American artist whose powerful paintings mix Red China propaganda and children’s literature, political statement, expressionist elements, and physical elements that accompany the image.
I also visited the outside of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, because the inside was closed. I hope to go back, because it is enormous and looks to be quite extensive. It was a beautiful clear day, so I walked the perimeter or the grounds. I saw several of its many Henry Moores, as well as Claes Oldenburg’s excellent Shuttlecocks, a set of four giant birdies caught just as they landed on either side of the main building, as if it were a badminton net. An exhibition on the Plains Indians included some modern large tipis on the lawn. But my favorite piece to experience was Robert Morris’s Glass Labyrinth, a triangular path of glass walls.
I made a movie of my walk through Glass Labyrinth, and a few pictures follow.
It’s a labyrinth rather than a maze: you follow a single path into the center, then turn around to follow the same path out. The glass walls are quite clean, so there are few visible clues to show you where to turn; it was common to see people bang into a wall, which is why you are warned to walk slowly. (I don’t bump into anything, but you can see the expectant looks on the faces of the people I meet inside.)
The buzzing is from a drone someone was operating nearby.
This 11-minute video on the neon craftsmen of Hong Kong has a lot to recommend it; for instance, how to bend Chinese ideograms so as not to burn your hands. I visited Hong Kong a couple years ago, and the neons signs are over the top.
I was reminded of this recently when I was in Philadelphia. We had dinner in Chinatown, which had several excellent multicolor signs. But also, I was inside the Center for Architecture, whose walls are adorned with some fine animated signs, like this excellent sign for Greyhound:
Sound City takes its place among the best music documentaries I’ve ever seen. A big part of it is Dave Grohl, who seems like a nice guy who just happens to be a great musician who was lucky enough to have been a part of rock history. Whether he’s in the studio or talking to the camera from the driver’s seat of his Tradesman van, he seems utterly unpretentious.
The movie is about Sound City, a rather junky studio in Van Nuys, California, that had two lives: in the ’70s and ’80s, it was where everybody recorded: Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Rick Springfield, Pat Benatar, etc. The hallways are lined with platinum records. And then, just as a new generation had started to go elsewhere, Nirvana recorded “Nevermind” there, which ushered in a new era of popularity, hosting Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Slipknot, and many more. Studios are finicky places and the big room at Sound City was famous for its drum sound.
At the center of the studio is a Neve console, a tank of a 24-track mixing board that the engineers and producers love. It represented the pinnacle of analog audio electronics — just as the highly produced synthesizer and electronic drum sounds of modern rock began to not only become the de facto radio style, but it began to change how recordings were made. And that’s when the movie takes a turn: it becomes less about Sound City and more about the analog versus digital divide — which then segues into something very interesting: how the digital revolution has led to more people making perfectible recordings on laptops and how we’re losing the idea of a group of musicians with the talent and collaborative skills to play well when the tape rolls, working on arrangements and creating music live and in the moment.
The last and best part of the doc was the end section. Grohl buys the Neve from Sound City, installs it in his own 606 Studio West, and invites a number of Sound City musicians to lay some tracks down. Even if none of the songs is a hit, it’s maybe the best record I’ve seen of what it’s like to work out songs in real time. We see Grohl lay down tracks with Springfield, Jim Keltner, Lee Ving, Trent Reznor, Paul McCartney, and others, and these aren’t the pointless jams in It Might Get Loud, these are real, original songs and everyone is adding ideas, including the producer Butch Vig working in the booth. (Good line in the booth: “Go ahead, Butch, tell Paul McCartney what to play.”) The Paul McCartney section is particularly inspired, as his backing band is Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Pat Smear: Nirvana without Cobain.
Highly recommended. Here’s the trailer.
Longform.org put up a remarkable Rolling Stone article from 2000 by Rian Malan, “In the Jungle: How American music legends made millions off the work of a Zulu tribesman who died a pauper.”
This is the story of the 1939 song “Mbube” by Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds, a Zulu group who recorded in Johannesburg. The sang in a workingman’s style called isicathamiya that derives from a warning: “Tread carefully, boys”: that is, don’t ruin the stage with your traditional stomp-dancing. (Malan points out that Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s light-footed stage movements descend from this style.)
A 78 RPM record of “Mbube” landed in the hands of Alan Lomax, who gave it to his friend Pete Seeger, who misunderstood the underlying chant of “Uyimbube” and called his version “Wimoweh,” which became a 1952 hit for the Weavers just when they wer forced to disband due to Red Scare allegations.
“Wimoweh” was covered many times by many singers, eventually including a Brooklyn group called the Tokens, who had heard that the lyrics were about hunting lions. The Tokens’ producers didn’t want to record “Wimoweh” as is, so they asked for help from an orchestrator named George Weiss, who deconstructed the song. He wrote some new words and put the melody front and center. The recording included a tympanist mimicking “jungle drums” and an opera singer named Anita Darien doing that soaring countermelody. It became one of the biggest hits of all time, and still shows up in movies, cover versions, children’s records, TV shows, and more, all around the world.
And that’s just the first half of this article. Malan’s real goal is to follow the money from this megahit and figure out how much of it ever made it back to Linda’s impoverished family, which brings us to ideas about folk songs and copyright, public domain songs credited to fictitious songwriters (“Wimoweh” is credited to “Paul Campbell,” who also “wrote” “Rock Island Line” and “Kisses Sweeter than Wine”), and the wheeling-dealings of some real music-industry sharks. Eventually everyone gets into court on two continents, but all in all it’s an eye-opening account of the story behind a song that refuses to go to sleep.