Friday, February 27, 2009

Zero Film Festival

The Zero Film Festival is a smart and timely idea. The touring film series is exclusively dedicated to showing self financed, zero-budget short films from around the world. Even in a city like Seattle which has a fair number of outlets for independent films, this is a niche which is basically ignored.

The Zero Film Festival is currently touring the west coast, with different programs in each of 6 cities. The festival is making an all-too-brief appearance in Seattle this Saturday night with two different screenings at the Northwest Film Forum at 7 and 9 pm.

Of the five films being shown in Seattle, three were made by local film makers. Journey Green Forest was created by Seattle film maker Richard Wellington who explained that "I had one rule, accept everything." Inside Every Moment Is Another Moment was filmed by Bellingham film maker Kacey Morrow, and Cafe Cut - Undone comes from Jane Meuter of Seattle. Alpha Maybe comes by way of New York and Chi Si Ferma E Perduto, filmed in Italy and Bolivia, tells the story of a Bolivian shoe-shiner searching for his missing foot.

I haven't seen any of 'em, but these all seem to be genuinely independent and idiosyncratic films by filmmakers who are taking artistic and personal risks in order to see their visions realized.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

24 hours in Olympia

I spent 24 hours in Olympia.

I initially headed down to participate in Housing & Homeless Advocacy Day, an annual event staged by a coalition of non-profit housing developers, service providers, housing activists and homeless people. Our themes were simple - however critical the state of the budget, for God's sake don't cut funding to the few programs (like the Housing Trust Fund) that actually get families off the streets or help people in trouble (like GA-U.) No matter your opinion of this or that policy, it's always impressive to see how accessible the capitol is. It's easy to walk into the congressional offices, meet with your officials, and speak your mind. I've been more challenged trying to enter a bar. I was with a group of some 60 people who invaded the tiny office of Rep. Jamie Pedersen, forcing him up onto his desk to hear our forcefully held opinions and answer our questions. Were we effective? Who can say, but it was an empowering experience all the same.

I took a side trip to the Diamond parking lot on 4th Avenue to fill my water bottle with some free Artesian Well Water. The open well draws thousands of people each month for the drinking water that comes straight from the aquifer, unfiltered and with no chemicals added. The “Friends of Artesians” have been working with the City of Olympia to create a public park with the well as the focal point, but for now the stream is in the center of an asphalt lot surrounded by concrete blocks.

In the evening I checked in with some old friends who are working with Free Radio Olympia, the badass pirate radio station broadcasting since 2001 within the city limits and streaming live right here. We played some records, drank some beers, and struck a blow for free speech, dammit!

After that we headed out to sing at the aptly named "Crippler" karaoke bar, at which point the details get kind of fuzzy...

Monday, February 23, 2009

I Will Always Stand on the Side of the Egg

The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami recently made the controversial decision to travel to Israel to accept the Jerusalem Prize for literature. On receiving the award, he gave a powerful speech detailing his motives in accepting the award and exhorting all of us to recognize and fight abuses of power. The speech is published in its entirety in Salon. I've excerpted a small piece below.

I chose to come here rather than stay away. I chose to see for myself rather than not to see. I chose to speak to you rather than to say nothing.

Please do allow me to deliver one very personal message. It is something that I always keep in mind while I am writing fiction. I have never gone so far as to write it on a piece of paper and paste it to the wall: rather, it is carved into the wall of my mind, and it goes something like this:

"Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg."

Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Today is the birthday of French poet & novelist Raymond Queneau, born Feb. 21, 1903.

The endlessly fascinating and self-contradictory Queneau was a life-long student of languages, literature, philosophy, mathematics and psychology, making significant contributions to all of them.

Queneau was associated with the Surrealist movement in the 1920's, and was an early adherent of psychoanalysis. He was the first translator of Amos Tutuola's influential novel The Palm Wine Drinkard in 1953, and in 1959 he published the sumptuous comic novel Zazie Dans le Métro, for which he later wrote the film adaptation with director Louis Malle.

Queneau was always attracted to mathematics as a source of inspiration. In Queneau's mind, all of the elements of a text, including seemingly trivial details, were things that could be mathematically predetermined. One of Queneau's most influential works is Exercises in Style, which tells the same short story in 99 different ways.

In 1967 he wrote "A Story as You Like It," which is widely cited as the very first example of a hypertext. He's also responsible for the brilliant and baffling "One Hundred Million Million Poems," or Cent mille milliards de poèmes. This word game, published in 1961, is a series of sonnets with each line printed on an individual card, like a "heads-bodies-legs" book. Each line of every sonnet has both the same rhyme scheme and the same rhyme sounds, so that any line can be combined with any other, resulting in 100,000,000,000,000 different poems. Reading twenty-four hours a day it would take some 200,000,000 years to read them all. Should you have the time, you actually CAN read ALL of the poems on mathematician Jacob Smullyan's ingenious website.

Whatever the medium, Queneau was ever brilliant at revealing the complex structures hidden beneath the seemingly unremarkable.

The Commission for Equalising Things

The systematic destruction of yellow was their project.

The daffodil remained a problem
with its thoughtless persistence
and butter was liked by many.
But soon the advertisers
and the public relations persons,
revived by cash injections,
floated rafts of measures
on our streams of consciousness
and we all came to see that
yellow was vile,
had always been vile.

Sun-drenched beaches with their golden sands
were hidden under red carpets.
Sufferers from cowardice and jaundice
were subjected to severe administrative reassignment.
A protest campaign led by wasps and bees
had its sting drawn by honeyed words.

"Next year", it was announced,
"we shall eliminate circles."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

No Sleep 'til Ellensberg

Plenty to talk about when it comes to hip-hop. Tonight, Feb. 19, the Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas presents "The Black Face of Hip-Hop", a dialogue on local race relations, the roots of hip-hop in Seattle, and the question of what it means to be “conscious” within a hip-hop framework. The evening's panelists include Dave Meinert, manager of local hip-hop luminaries Blue Scholars and Common Market. At the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5, free for students.

Way out in Ellensberg, Central Washington University is hosting two hip-hop superstars as part of their Distinguished Artist lecture series. Rapper Talib Kweli and journalist Jeff Chang will be at CWU’s Student Union on Feb. 26.

Kweli was one of the stars of the 1990's renaissance of conscious, Afrocentric hip-hop. His big breakthrough came with the still great record Black Star, a collaboration with MC Mos Def. Kweli was one of the founders of the Black August Benefit Concert Series which raises money for the defense of Black political prisoners.

Chang was the co-founder of the excellent Solesides/Quannum Projects label and is the author and scholar behind Can't Stop, Won't Stop, the single best book out there on the history of hip-hop music and culture. The book, published in 2005, is a 30 year survey of the cultural landscape, moving from the Bronx in the 1970's, to post-imperial Jamaica, through the black-Jewish racial conflicts of 1980's New York, to the bling-encrusted corporate rap of today. It's a phenomenal book, well worth reading whether or not you're thinking of heading out to Ellensberg.

The conversation starts at 7 p.m.Tickets are free and available through the CWU Diversity Education Center.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rat City Recession

The White Center neighborhood, aka. 'Rat City', is one step ahead of the rest of Seattle when it comes to making the most of the recession, perhaps because the economic boom never quite made it into that small, broke suburb west of the city. Whatever the reason, there's a few events coming up in Rat City that aim to redistribute a little of your wealth.

The White Center For The Arts Building (aka. the Old Skate Rink) is holding their first Open Studio Art Tour on Feb 21st from 5:00-10:00pm at 9639 16th Ave SW. White Center for the Arts is a new project by six area artists, including the well known stencil artist Soule, who have come together to form an organization focused on supporting the arts in their corner of the world.

On Saturday, February 28th, from 10am to 6pm, the same building is hosting Rat City Rummage at which vendors of all stripes will be selling handmade arts and crafts, baked goods, household items, furniture, clothing, cd’s, bicycles, small electronics, dishware, etc. The skating rink holds a lot of people and the word is that there's still a few spaces open for vendors, but time is of the essence. For a a vending application and questions, email

Monday, February 16, 2009


A splendid little film, perfectly appropriate for anyone currently reading this blog. And you know who you are.

By British animator Johnny Kelly, one of the galaxy of stars at Nexus Productions.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

In Repudiation of St. Valentine's Day

I offer as exhibit A, this poem by Philip Larkin.

Annus Mirabilis

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP.

Up to then there'd only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.

Then all at once the quarrel sank:
Everyone felt the same,
And every life became
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.

So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-three
(Though just too late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Seattle General Strike

Exactly 90 years ago this week, the city of Seattle held the first city-wide labor action or “general strike” in American history. The strike began in the Seattle shipyards on January 21, 1919 by workers who had expected a post-war pay hike to make up for two years of strict wage controls imposed by the federal government. Over those same two years, war production contracts had expanded dramatically.

When regulators refused the wage increases, the Metal Trades Council union alliance declared a strike and closed the yards. After an appeal to Seattle’s powerful Central Labor Council for help, most of the city’s 110 local unions voted to join a sympathy walkout. The Seattle General Strike began on February 6, 1919. The Seattle labor establishment closed down the city until February 11. More than 60,000 union members in a city of 300,000 people went on strike, and most of the remaining work force was idled as stores closed and streetcars stopped running.

Mayor Ole Hanson, elected the year before with labor support, requested federal troops to break up the strike. 950 sailors and marines were stationed across the city by February 7. At the same time, the Seattle mayor added 600 men to the police force and hired 2,400 special deputies. By the time the Central Labor Council officially declared an end on February 11, police and vigilantes were hard at work rounding up "Reds." The IWW hall and Socialist Party headquarters were raided and leaders arrested. Federal agents also closed the Union Record, the labor-owned daily newspaper, and arrested several of its staff.

Across the country headlines screamed the news that Seattle had been saved, that the revolution had been broken, that, as Mayor Hanson phrased it, “Americanism” had triumphed over “Bolshevism.” According to a statement by the Mayor:

"The so-called sympathetic Seattle strike was an attempted revolution. That there was no violence does not alter the fact . . . The intent, openly and covertly announced, was for the overthrow of the industrial system; here first, then everywhere . . . True, there were no flashing guns, no bombs, no killings. Revolution, I repeat, doesn't need violence. The general strike, as practised in Seattle, is of itself the weapon of revolution, all the more dangerous because quiet. To succeed, it must suspend everything; stop the entire life stream of a community . . . That is to say, it puts the government out of operation. And that is all there is to revolt -- no matter how achieved."

The University of Washington has compiled an excellent archive of photos and contemporary newspaper articles.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mini Bike Winter

Down in Portland, this Thursday marks the start of the sixth annual Mini-Bike Winter, a five-day festival of bike games and competitions, bike crafts, dancing, drinking, and the Mini-Bike Winter Fashion Show. Bike punks and cycling enthusiasts from up and down the West Coast show up to show off in blind chariot races, illuminated naked midnight rides, tricycle/beer relay races and, as the centerpiece of the small-bike themed party, bombing downhill at 40mph in the dark on tiny kids' bikes with no brakes.

Festivities include performances by bike acrobats The Sprockettes and Seattle's Bicycle Belles, music by Full Face Riot and Riot Cop, and the "super secret warehouse party" which you can only get to by participating in the Saturday night mass bike ride. Lots and lots of bike related mayhem, free for all, from Feb. 13th-15th. For the full weekend schedule see Zoobomb.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Juana Molina

I'm of two minds regarding Argentine singer/songwriter Juana Molina.
There are times when I can't get enough of her hypnotic musings. She
has a way of finding odd chord combinations and strangely dissonant
sounds, and then repeating them over and over with slight variations
until they make perfect sense. Her voice can have a similar effect. At
first her breathy whisper is barely noticeable over her electronic
quilt, but then the repetitions become more and more melodic until
you're hooked. When Molina is noticed at all, she's regarded as a pop
singer. Not enough credit is given to her sensibilities as a
minimalist composer.

On the other hand, there are times when the repetition of the music
just sounds repetitive, and her "there-but-not-there" voice just
sounds dull. An appreciation of Molina is necessarily a matter of
embracing these contradictions.

She's currently touring the U.S. with her first-ever backing band.
She'll be at Seattle's Triple Door this Tuesday, February 10th.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Seanjohn Agonistes

Seanjohn Walsh is a local treasure - an actor, performance artist and theatrical jack-of-all trades who has set fire to Seattle-area stages for 20 years. After a long run of being everywhere all the time, a few years back Seanjohn disappeared from large scale productions. This month, he's appearing in a new show called "Blind Spot" at Annex Theatre, which is running until February 14. I had the good luck to track him down and get him to answer a few questions before he disappeared into a cloud of dubiously-legal smoke.

Hi Seanjohn. What's shaking?
Well, very happy we have President Obama, he’s the first President that’s younger than me. I hope to be invited to dinner, since there’s all that noise about the arts. I could recite some poems for my supper. And I’m still glad I sold my car, turned off my landline and my laptop was stolen. Very glad to not have a cellphone, either.

How do people get in touch with you?
There’s a pencil on a string outside my window, hanging on the wrought iron, and a pad of paper under the windowsill brick. We call it Phony Express. That should impress the White House.

How long have you been working on the Seattle stage?
My first play in Seattle was for a now-defunct family company called World Mother Goose, a show called "The Blue Bird" in the fall of 1989.

We haven't seen you in a main stage production in years. Where have you been hiding yourself?
I’ve been focusing on cameos and appearances for a few years, in cabarets, festivals and almost anywhere performance art wasn’t tolerated. I like to cause a commotion, you know. It got to be too difficult showing up night after night in productions I didn’t feel particularly connected to, or for audiences and fellow thespians that would hold artists at an arms length, you know: entertain me but please don’t be real in a conversation. I had to reassess who, when, and where I could trust to cultivate expression and not be compromised into “politeness.”

Tell me about the new show, Blind Spot?
It’s a wonderful ensemble show, written by Juliet Waller Pruzan and Bret Fetzer. A little girl does NPR style reports about civilizations that live under the bed, in the china cabinet, the lighting fixture. It’s very imaginative in both the writing and staging. Annex has consistently produced these awesome shows in small spaces without much of a budget. I wear an Andy Warhol wig! And there’s always the Act II villain, which is a major reason I signed on.

What's coming up?
I am scheduled to do a reading of Woody Allen’s "Don’t Drink the Water" in April with Our American Theater Company. Their season this year is ‘Americans Abroad’ and it is a very funny play that starred Jackie Gleason back in the day. It was the first community production I did after high school in 1979! I grew a beard to be the communist secret police; nowadays, I’m sure secret police have shaved heads and ex-wives. In May, I’m playing a dirty old Frenchman in Steve Martin’s "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," at Balagan on Capitol Hill.

Are we ever gonna see that long rumored one-man show?
We’re talking to producers, we want to tour colleges and coffee houses from Bellingham to Portland with “Jupiter Dash’s Stationary Caravan of Literary Wonders.” We’ll see.

How does the current Seattle theatre scene compare with what you think of as the glory days? Are things getting better? Getting worse?
In the 80’s and 90's, artists were moving to Seattle in droves, from all corners and all categories: theatre, music, film, comics, you name it. And there was money, low rent for apartments, rehearsal space, backroom bars, underground cabarets, storefront galleries and theaters, great cheap cafes. When regional people like Sky Cries Mary met Kultur Shock, the Northwest Film Forum was about to start, Annex and The Compound were at their peaks, Wayne Horvitz, Bill Frissell, and Eyvind Kang were playing down the street; New City was bringing Richard Foreman and Marie Irene Fornes to town on original commissions. The do-it-yourself atmosphere was fostered and nurtured and promoted.

We lost most of that after some of our rockers died, the stadiums got built and the WTO brought the polite fascists into the woodwork. So for a lot of the arts, it is worse now than it was; artists migrated to other cities out of economic necessity, and Seattle stopped being the faraway magnet. There is a dearth of eclectic, independent voices sprouting here; it’s not enough to get some training, you have to breakaway from society a little and contribute back to the over-all dialogue. There are a number of polite, unchallenging companies producing in Seattle now, it’s really almost community theater. If art doesn’t matter, really, in that way that screams “I’m Alive Dammit!”, why bother?

Any new performers/directors/playwrites/events you're excited about? Any who really piss you off?
The Native American theater artist Gene Tagaban has done some great performances for the community. The Seattle International Children’s Festival is one of the most vital organizations in the country. Catch Queen Schmooquan whenever you can, because she will belong to the world one day. Paul Mullin is a playwright that has combined science and literature in a very imaginative way; he too is going to be creating ground-breaking literature come later in the century. My favorite dancer nowadays is Monica Mata Gilliam. I miss the Typing Explosion and the Rollvulvas. Paul Gasoi, truly the epitome of a genius artist, is now living in the woods, surrounded by his family, painting 25 hours a day. And I’m very glad that even though Curtis Taylor isn’t producing for the stage much, he’s making great films and paintings. Britta Johnson has done some very cool shit, stop-motion animations. And Specs! Specs is great, we met while working in a refrigerator magnet factory years ago. We have the same birthday, and he creates fabulous comic books and still leads the way with his hip-hop recordings. I enjoy all kinds of artists, I guess.

What’s started to excite me is this new ensemble we’re creating, a new iteration of the Lab at Freehold. We have at least four playwrights, a core of wicked actors and directors. The idea is to kick some major ass. Because art and theater matter, every day and every night. It’s vital.

Give us some words of wisdom, man. We need some wisdom.
Seattle theater has experienced a stock market-like decline, and we need our own spiritual bailout. We’ve lost some great performers, like Richard Waugh, Glen Mazen, Anthony Lee, and recently Douglas Paasch. I am confident that their spirits will band together at the foot of Queen Anne with giant jumper-cables to charge the scene and wake-up Prometheus. Theater started out as religious experience, and if it’s dead or dying, it might as well go out with a vengeance. And let it rip.

Lux Interior R.I.P.

It's another sad day for rock and roll. Aren't they all?

Lux Interior died today. The Cramps lead singer was a genre unto himself. His singular approach to rockabilly and surf rock, together with a monster movie stage persona, spawned entire subcultures. Lux and his longterm bandmate (and wife) Poison Ivy actually formed the Cramps in 1973, so they were perfectly poised to jump on stage at CBGB when punk broke a few years later. Lux and the Cramps are pretty much credited as having invented psychobilly music. They indisputably perfected it.

Here's a great unbridled performance by Lux from the seminal 1981 movie "Urgh a Music War."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Save the Josephine!

The Josephine is an awesome little gig palace and nightclub, hidden away at 608 NW 65th st. in Ballard behind an obscure street level facade. Two refugees from Belltown's Rendezvous opened the club this summer, and they've already played host to dozens of local and national bands. Jason and Malachi, who run the place, are a rare breed of warm and non-judgemental concert promoters who just want to keep the bands coming in, the beer flowing, and the entrance price cheap. The place itself, which was built on the ashes of the Sun City Girls' longtime studio, feels like your cousin's living room complete with lamps and second-hand sofas. It's old school Seattle to a T, and it's well worth keeping around.

Which is why it's such a bummer to hear that the Josephine has already hit a wall financially, and they're talking about shutting the doors. We can't let it happen! The good people at COG-DIS Internet Radio are throwing the first of several benefit shows on Feb. 5. Show begins at 8 pm and the impressive roster of noise-rock bands includes Penetration Camp, Diseased Visions, Herpes Hideaway and Dr. Jones.

Just $10 to get in and worth every penny.

Photo of Dolomite at the Josephine by Invisible Hour who's got LOTS more Seattle event photos.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


While traveling in Europe this winter, with an eye open for interesting graffiti, I kept noticing the work of one street artist in particular - C215. I had seen C215's work on various blogs before, but I had no idea how powerful these pieces are when seen in their natural environment - in doorways, on embankments, and on the sides of dumpsters.

C215's images come from his encounters with people in desperate circumstances around the world. He meets and photographs beggars, prostitutes, refugees and orphans, turning their images into intricate stencils which he paints on "non places" in the streets, on highway supports, on tagged and rusty doors, on pasted-up telephone poles, and on busted or burned walls. He interacts with people through every step of the process, now in London, now in Sao Paolo

Without exception, his work is gorgeous. C215 has a surprisingly beautiful myspace page, and one of the best flickr sites I've ever seen, using it as a journal to track his movement across the globe. If ever proof was needed that street art serves a vital social function, c215's work does the trick.