Thursday, October 30, 2008

Scary Stuff

Some superbly appropriate films opening in Seattle this week.

Just in time to freak out expectant parents, "Rosemary's Baby," perhaps the creepiest film ever made about pregnancy, is showing at the SIFF Cinema for a week beginning on November 1 as part of their "Dark Nights" series. John Cassavetes and Mia Farrow play a New York couple expecting their first child while the next door neighbors eagerly await the arrival of Satan's spawn. A terrifying classic, re-released as a glorious new print on the occasion of its 40th anniversary.

And I've been looking forward to this one since reading about it nearly two years ago. "Fear(s) of the Dark" is a feature length creep show featuring black-and-white animated shorts by six international super-star illustrators, including Italian charcoal artist Lorenzo Mattotti, New Yorker artist Richard McGuire, French graphic artist Blutch and local hero Charles Burns. Each segment is a tour de force of emotional intensity, exploring madness, sexual insecurity, rural superstition and disease with a scary and mesmerizing inventiveness.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Return Return of Liquid Liquid

New York dance music pioneers Liquid Liquid have resurfaced after 25 years of dark obscurity. The band existed briefly in the early 1980's as part of a brief but fervent Lower East Side scene, where they played alongside other funk-inspired post-punk bands like ESG and Konk, playing a strange kind of low-budget dance music built out of clacking percussion, rumbling drums, roaming bass, marimba, and indecipherable vocals. Driving but gloomy, Liquid Liquid's music seems to echo something of the New York that spawned it: a decrepit urban metropolis, threatening to regress to a state of savagery.

Liquid Liquid's simultaneous breakthrough and breakdown came when Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel hired the Sugar Hill house band to recreate the infectious two-note bassline of Liquid Liquid's song "Cavern" for their hit "White Lines." The song became one of the most famous of early hip-hop, but before Liquid Liquid could successfully claim royalties, Sugar Hill claimed bankruptcy. The band went their separate ways in 1983, and the band's entire back catalogue is now back in print for the first time on a collection called "Slip in and Out of Phenomenon." Liquid Liquid are currently touring Great Britain and will hopefully make their way back to these shores in the near future.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Poet John Berryman was born on this day, October 25, in 1914. Berryman looms large in contemporary poetry, owing largely to the dark, drunk, confessional tone that characterized many of his mature poems. As a matter of taste, I've always preferred the musical yet morbid Dream Songs, written over a span of 5 years earlier in Berryman's career, detailing the inner and outer workings of Berryman's nebbishy Everyman, "Henry."

Berryman killed himself by jumping into the Mississippi River on January 7, 1972. The Paris Review conducted an interview with Berryman only a few months before his death in 1971.

Where do you go from here?

My idea is this: The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he’s in business. Beethoven’s deafness, Goya’s deafness, Milton’s blindness, that kind of thing. And I think that what happens in my poetic work in the future will probably largely depend not on my sitting calmly on my ass as I think, “Hmm, hmm, a long poem again? Hmm,” but on being knocked in the face, and thrown flat, and given cancer, and all kinds of other things short of senile dementia. At that point, I’m out, but short of that, I don’t know. I hope to be nearly crucified.

You’re not knocking on wood.

I’m scared, but I’m willing. I’m sure this is a preposterous attitude, but I’m not ashamed of it.

The full, ballsy, entertaining interview with the doomed Berryman is here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

NYRB in Seattle

Throughout the entire painful Bush administration, The New York Review of Books has been the single most consistently critical American media source. On Thursday October 30 several of the Review’s contributors and editors, including Seattle writer Jonathan Raban, journalist Tom Powers, Guardian critic Martin Kettle, and liberal columnist Michael Tomasky come to the Seattle Town Hall to speak on the human and political costs of the war on terror and the occupation of Iraq, and look ahead to the 2008 election. Sure to come up is a powerful new collection of essays published by New York Review Books entitled The Consequences to Come: American Power After Bush. The talk is presented by the Town Hall Center for Civic Life, with New York Review of Books, Guardian America and Elliott Bay Book Company.

Tickets are just $5 and are available at brownpapertickets.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Review of Books (Children)

As some astute readers have noticed, Pepita and I are expecting a child. Sometime around the end of March, little Babydogg will make his or her entrance into our flawed world. In typical Gurldogg fashion, I've been buying up children's books, concerned that our little wonder is exposed to the richest possible literature as soon as he opens his eyes. A number of titles that I've seen recently have really excited me. I only hope the little one shares my lust for this stuff.

ABC3D is a witty and clever alphabet pop-up book by French designer Marion Bataille. The letters not only pop up but move and transform, creating an almost hypnotic effect. It's an extremely engaging and innovative book - almost cinematic. A must-have for fans of paper-cuts, pop-ups or typography.

The publisher has made a sweet little promo film for the book, and the real thing is even better.

And even though I rarely use Amazon, they do have a great price on this one.

Publisher Drawn and Quarterly has been collecting and reprinting the complete Moomin comic strips by Finnish illustrator Tove Jansson. The Moomins are hippo-like creatures with easygoing personalities and lots of troublesome friends. Jansson's art is pared down and precise, small enough to fit in the newspaper format yet grand enough to compose beautiful portraits of ambling creatures in fields of flowers or rock-strewn beaches. Jansson is regarded as one of the great newspaper cartoonists of the last century, the Moomin strip having been syndicated in some 40 countries to millions of readers, but this is the first time the Moomins have been published in any form in North America. The series now includes three large format books, and Drawn & Quarterly is planning to reprint the entire strip.

And finally, I was happy to see that the ever-adventurous McSweeney's is reprinting the delightfully odd book "The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip," written by MacArthur Award winning writer George Saunders, and illustrated by singularly strange Caldecott-winning artist Lane Smith. The book is a sort of fable involving Gappers (baseball-sized, burr-shaped orange creatures with a compulsion to creep up out of the sea and fasten themselves to goats), the goat herders of Frip, a widower obsessed with the past, and some dumb, mean neighbors. It's a strange story, and is absolutely in keeping with Saunders's wonderfully off-beat aesthetic. Smith in turn evokes memories of George Grosz, Dr. Seuss, and Japanese wood block prints. A good book for literary parents and their disturbed children. I trust we'll get there one day, 'cause that's exactly where we're headed!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Vote Early. Vote Poetically.

Socialist poet Adrian Mitchell wrote that "most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people." Seattle's city council, led by the irrepressible Nick Licata, has been working valiantly to bring poetry into our public sphere by sponsoring an annual competition for Poet Populist. Each year since 1999, a dozen local arts organizations nominate local poets, and sponsors stage a series of public readings across the city. The entire city is invited to vote online and the winner is awarded a cash prize of $500, commissioned to write a poem for the people of the city, and encouraged to make public appearances throughout the year.

The poetic election follows the same schedule as the national election - voting ends on November 4th, and in January the current Poet Populist will pass the torch to the new office-holder at a reading at the Seattle Public Library. It's a strong program, and a clever way of promoting literary arts and local arts organizations to a general audience city-wide.

Me, I'm voting for local carpenter, painter and poet Arne Pihl, who I've had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions and who always impressed me as a sensitive and hard-working type with plenty of deep thoughts to share on fishing, drinking, love, and the many causes and purposes of heartbreak. A very likely poet populist!

In support of my pick, this excerpt from one of Arne's poems.


You been engaged
Four times
But never married.
“One more”
You said
“And I’ll have one
For the thumb”

You never been with a man
More than six months,
Nor single
Since sixteen
You’re thirty-six
In August
Maybe that’s why
You hate

Mr. Cranefly,
You have twenty-four hours
From the egg
To mature
And die.
What are you doing

And you,
You there
In the notebook,
Mr. Poet,
Defending your life
Like a squid
With the ink,
Your troubles
Aren’t even
Worth mentioning

Monday, October 20, 2008

Messmann's Messquerade

There's still time to register for "Messmann's Messquerade," coming up on Halloween. Since 1999, local bike messenger Messman has been throwing an annual spooky Scavenger Hunt, bicycle costume pageant and hard drinking Halloween party. This year, the scavenger hunt begins on October 31st at 7pm in the sunken parking lot behind Cafe Vita on Capitol Hill and ends at the Underground Events Center in Belltown. The party is open to everyone but you must register ahead of time for the Scavenger Hunt. The $30 registration fee gets you and your 2 to 6 teammates a list of clues, commemorative hooded sweatshirts, entrance to the after party, beer all night long, and a chance to win some great prizes from an impessive list of sponsors including Counterbalance Bicycles, Recycled Cycles, Cafe Ladro, New Belgium Brewing Company, Dead Baby Bikes, Aaron's Bicycle shop, Piecora’s Pizza and lots more.

Just $3 to get into the party, with music by Portland indie punk band Sprinkles and Seattle Ska legends Georgetown Orbits plus DJ's Grimus and A2Z, among others.

More info here.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I tend to write letters and make journal entries with my delightful manual typewriter, a virtually indestructible 1940's- era Royal Quiet Deluxe. I have been irresistibly drawn to old typewriters since I was a kid. At one point I owned 16 of them, but limited space and a practical wife encouraged me to sell off all but two. I kept the Royal because it is small, snazzy, a pleasure to write with, and an absolute workhorse. Also because it allows me the illusion of being in touch with literary history - the Quiet Deluxe model was also favored by Ernest Hemingway, Bernard Malamud, Richard Wright and Joan Didion.

I mention all this because of my exposure to the amazing typewriter sculptures of Jeremy Mayer. Mayer disassembles typewriters and then reassembles them into full-scale human and animal figures. He builds his figures using only the screws and pins that come from the machines - no solder, wire, welding, or glue. The results are extraordinary.

On his website Mayer writes "Typewriters...[have] always been intensely interesting to me. I think of the typewriter as a product of nature- it was designed by minds immersed in nature around them, and mimicked the curves, geometry, and physical processes abounding in nature. Though it is cold metal created by human hands, the typewriter is just as much a natural material as stone or wood."

He also notes, very much to his credit, that "I do not associate my work with the 'steampunk' aesthetic." Mayer is next scheduled to exhibit his works in summer 2009 at La Jolla, California's Device Gallery.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


This is a very strange and entertaining website from Dutch animator Han Hoogerbrugge. Recommended for 2:AM web surfing and workdays when the boss is out of the office.

Hoogerbrugge just released a new book and full length DVD showcasing the many aspects of his remarkable work and career including short films, animation, music videos, art works, sound design and a very elaborate graphic universe. Available only though the publisher, BIS Publishers, right here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Lenny Bruce

Today is the birthday of comic and social critic Lenny Bruce, born October 13, 1925. Bruce's sad life and short career are the stuff of legend. He was perhaps the first comedian to crash through the taboos of the Eisenhower years, broadly mocking the official hypocrisy of the military, the Catholic church, the racist culture of his time, and generally skewering American attitudes at a time when it was considered dangerous to do so.

Bruce was arrested for obscenity in 1961 for using the word "cocksucker," and although the jury acquitted him, the incident began a long and torturous series of arrests. In 1964, Bruce was arrested in New York and the widely-publicized six-month trial resulted in Bruce being found guilty and sentenced to four months in the workhouse. The conviction was announced despite testimony and support from Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, Jules Feiffer, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, William Styron, and James Baldwin, among other artists, writers and educators. The conviction was eventually overturned by the New York Court of Appeals, but the unceasing legal scrutiny took a toll on Bruce. He died of a drug overdose in 1966, having been blacklisted by nearly every nightclub in the United States.

According to the obituary by jazz critic Ralph Gleason,

Lenny Bruce had an incurable disease. He saw through the pretense, hypocrisy, and paradoxes of our society. All he insisted on was that we meet it straight ahead and not cop out or lie about it...He was one of those who, in Hebbel's expression, "have disturbed the world's sleep." And he could not be forgiven.

In 1971, one of Bruce's comedy routines was developed by San Francisco filmmaker John Magnuson into a short animated film, "Thank You Mask Man," which features Bruce performing all of the voices, and is now available to all of us through the miracle of Youtube.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Madalena at the MoMA

Italian painter Batiste Madalena was hired by Kodak founder George Eastman during the last days of silent cinema to design and hand-paint film posters for his theater in Rochester, NY—at the time the third-largest cinema in the U.S. Working alone over a four-year period and against deadlines that required as many as eight new posters a week for each change of bill, Madalena created over 1,400 unique works. Approximately 250 of these posters survived when the artist himself rescued them from the trash behind the theater. Madalena's rediscovery in the 1980s brought his brilliantly colored, singular designs, done in tempera paint on illustration board, to the attention of critics and collectors, and soon made him one of the most celebrated advertising artists for moving pictures. Fifty-three of Madelena's posters from this period will be on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from October 16 through April 6.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Look! Up in the Sky!

Beginning this Thursday, the talented madmen at Monkey Wrench Puppet Lab present their newest fever dream, "UFO the Puppet Show." The twisted puppeteers, who regularly stage Drunk Puppet Night and recently created the epic "Dracula: A Case Study," now tell the tale of what really went down at Roswell Airforce Base, and what it means for mankind. Apparently it involves Nazi scientists, Bess Truman, and a certain Austrian body-builder turned politician.

The show opens tomorrow, Thursday, Oct. 9, and runs Thursday, Friday & Saturday nights until Nov. 8. At the Theatre off Jackson, in the heart of the International District. Tickets are available here. MWPL are the only local theatre group really exploring the strange and beautiful world of puppetry, and their shows are always worth checking out.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Heavy Baggage

Artist and gallery owner Paul Pauper is creating a series of provocative luggage sure to attract attention at airports. His suitcases and handbags feature brightly colored paintings and stencils of explosive devices, with the express aim of making fellow travelers paranoid and getting a reaction from security screeners. The subversive suitcases are available through his gallery, the Form/Space Atelier, and he is asking any buyers to document the process of taking them on board on airplane for use in a future installation.

Evan Roth of Graffiti Research Lab is exploring a similar idea, and taking it one step further. He has been cutting messages and symbols into metal plates and placing them in his carry-on luggage when he goes through airport security. Roth's project, which he calls "TSA Communication" has already made it through three airport runs. So far, he's used plates with portraits of Osama Bin Laden, the message "NOTHING TO SEE HERE," and a design he calls "The Exact Opposite Of A Box Cutter," which is a plate with a box cutter shape cut out of it.

It takes a certain kind of imagination, and a significant level of courage, to respond to the theater of airport security as an active participant rather than a passive one. I'm convinced that the country would be in better shape if more people found a way to creatively talk back to our self-appointed guardians, rather than blindly following instructions.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Punk Rock Flea Market Holidaze Edition

The date for the next Punk Rock Rock Flea Market has been nailed down.

The Underground Events Center presents the Holidaze edition of the Punk Rock Flea Market on Saturday December 6. For those of you keeping track, this is PRFM #5.

This is a full on flea market selling records, clothing, furniture, computers, stereo equipment, housewares, haircuts, toys, videos, bicycles, tacos, falafels, vegan treats, skateboards, political propaganda, information from non profit groups, books, art, baby stuff, tarot readings & whatever else we can fit into the space. Don't let the name lead you to believe that we only welcome vendors selling punk records, clothes etc. The "Punk Rock" of the name refers as much to the DIY spirit of the event as it does to any particular music or lifestyle.

Spaces are still just $25 (cheap!), and double spaces cost $50 (insanely cheap!). Like before, the market opens to the public at 10:00 am and bands will begin to play at around 6:00 pm.

Once again, the space we are using has been generously loaned to us for the day by the Low Income Housing Institute, aka. LIHI, a non-profit organization that builds homes for homeless and low-income people all around the Puget Sound.

To reserve a table or ask questions email the PRFM crew at or visit the PRFM MySpace page. More info soon!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Embarassment of Riches

The week to come brings an unusually rich cinema schedule - even by Seattle's extremely high standards - as two renowned film makers come to town to present their work at our non-profit theatres, and one up-and-coming local arts collective premiers a very unusual series of new work at one of the City's brightest new spots for underground art.

On October 6, at the charming Grand Illusion in the U-District, animator Don Hertzfeldt presents a selection of his animated shorts, culminating in the regional premiere of his film I Am So Proud of You. Hertzfeldt developed a cult following after the release of his short film "Rejected" which features his disquieting, and ultimately declined, animated spots for the Family Learning Channel. His newest film is a sequel to the gorgeous and depressing Everything will be OK, which won the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Award in Short Filmmaking in 2007. The Seattle screening will be followed by "an embarassing live interview" and audience Q+A with Hertzfeldt.

On October 8, at the SIFF Cinema in Seattle Center, British Director Mike Leigh presents his latest film, Happy- Go- Lucky, followed by a public reception. Leigh began his career as a stage director in the 1960's, made a series of bleak and beautiful television dramas, and in the 1980's began work on his unique oeuvre of socially realistic films set in the hidden recesses of the English working-class world. Leigh may be best known in this country for his films Secrets & Lies and Vera Drake, and for his 1993 pitch-black comedy Naked, which won Leigh a Best Director award at Cannes and features David Thewlis as Johnny, one of the most physically charismatic and morally reprehensible characters to appear on film in many years. Though he is somewhat under-celebrated in the U.S., Mike Leigh is one of the giants of contemporary film, and is unquestionably one of the great directors in cinematic history.

Finally, at the soon- to- be- demolished Free Sheep Foundation in Belltown, the collective "Silvering Path" opens a two-week run of new works beginning on October 10th. Seattle dancer/performer Haruko Nishimura commissioned film maker Ian Lucero, installation artist Mandy Greer and sound sculptor Colin Ernst to create three new multi-media collaborations. The film by Lucero captures in microscopic detail the life of a “Slug Princess," played by Haruko, and features a sound track made from field recordings of grains and vegetables. Previews of the film are available here, and you can buy tickets for the show here.

We have a rainy week ahead, and there is simply no better way to save an otherwise dreary evening than by supporting our local non-profit cinemas and watching some excellent movies.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hayden Carruth

Hayden Carruth died yesterday at 87 years old.

The upstate New York poet was a devoutly private and radically intelligent man of the widest reading and cultivation, equally at home with modern jazz and classical Greek. He made a principle of staying alert to trends in speech, art, music and politics which was closely tied to his self-styled anarchism. Carruth's poetry could veer from gentle and appreciative to sizzling with rage, expressing everything from fantasies of escape to deep psychic unease. To my mind, the most characteristic of his many qualities was his unfailing ear for popular speech - the talk of streets, pubs, barnyards, jam sessions, and lunch counters. This unique sensibility was brilliantly displayed in the book that introduced me to him - and still my favorite - "Asphalt Georgics," in which he rhapsodized the malls, bars and road culture of my own homeland around Rochester, Rome and Utica New York.

As he aged, his disillusion with the world around him grew, but he never stopped writing. His last poems were regretful, even sorrowful, but anger was never Carruth's dominant note. Rather his poems, like the people he lovingly chronicled, were gallant improvisers - bent but never broken.

This poem is from Carruth's 1996 book, Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey.


Both of us had been close
to Joel, and at Joel’s death
my friend had gone to the wake
and the memorial service
and more recently he had
visited Joel’s grave, there
at the back of the grassy
cemetery among the trees,
“a quiet, gentle place,” he said,
“befitting Joel.” And I said,
“What’s the point of going
to look at graves?” I went
into one of my celebrated
tirades. “People go to look
at the grave of Keats or Hart
Crane, they go traveling just to
do it, what a waste of time.
What do they find there? Hell,
I wouldn’t go look at the grave of
Shakespeare if it was just
down the street. I wouldn’t
look at—” And I stopped. I
was about to say the grave of God
until I realized I’m looking at it
all the time....