Friday, July 31, 2009

Dead Baby Downhill

You're too late - registration for the 13th Annual Dead Baby Downhill race is now CLOSED. This legendary event, staged each year by the organized core of the impressively chaotic Dead Baby Bike Club, races straight downhill as much as geographically possible and concludes with the "The Greatest Party Known to Humankind." This year, the race starts at the Comet Tavern on Friday, August 7 and ends at an undisclosed, but guaranteed festive, spot in Georgetown. If you didn't register you can't win any prizes, but you can still come party with the best and baddest team of bike-building nutcases west of the Mississippi.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

George Russell

Jazz musician and composer George Russell died two days ago, on July 27th. Russell was a hugely influential (and criminally under appreciated) musician whose inventive approach to jazz composition and theory influenced everyone from Miles Davis to John Coltrane to Sun Ra.

Though he had played drums professionally since the 1930's, Russell's career as a composer began in 1941 while he spent 6 months in a hospital recovering from tuberculosis and learning the fundamentals of harmony. The first piece of music he sold - "New World," bought by Benny Carter - was written and sold from his hospital bed. On recovering, Russell joined Carter's Band as a drummer, but was replaced by Max Roach, at which point he forever gave up drumming for writing and arranging. Russell moved to New York where wrote music for the likes of Gil Evans, Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Max Roach, and Charlie Parker. Among many other gorgeous pieces of music, he wrote the seminal "Cubano Be/Cubano Bop" for Dizzy Gillespie's orchestra, often credited as being the first fusion of Afro-Cuban rhythms with jazz.

Throughout the 1950's and 60's he arranged music for bandleaders like Claude Thornhill and Artie Shaw, composed pieces according to his "Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization," and formed "The Jazz Workshop" sextet which recorded Russell's compositions under his direction and toured throughout the U.S. and Europe. Fed up with the lack of recognition he received in the U.S., Russell moved to Europe in 1964 and returned in 1969 to teach at the New England Conservatory of Music where he remained until retiring 2004. In 1990, the National Endowment for the Arts named him a Jazz Master, and he was honored in 2007 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as one of 33 "living jazz legends."

Asked in 1958 if jazz had a future, Russell said "If America has a future, jazz has a future. The two are inseparable."

The ever brilliant music blog Silent Springs pays tribute to Russell by linking to torrents of some of his best known recordings, right here. For those of you more interested in sharing Russell's music legally, this clip of Bill Evans, Art Farmer, Jimmy Cleveland, Gene Quill and Ed Thigpen playing the George Russell composition "Stratusphunk" courtesy of youtube.

Dumpster Diving

This has received plenty of coverage, but with the weather the way it is, I think it's an idea well worth promoting. David Belt, a real estate developer in New York, along with a group of handy friends, has been turning run-of-the-mill dumpsters into urban swimming pools. The first was at a junk yard on the banks of the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, and the company they formed, Macro Sea, has now taken on the challenge of bringing dumpster pools, and other recycled objects d'art, to underused strip malls around the country. The idea, said Belt, was not to create an exclusive party destination but to experiment with underused space and materials, repurposing them with urban renewal in mind. A great idea, worth stealing. More photos and building details here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ice Handler

My God it's hot out there. Here's a poem for right now from Carl Sandburg.

Ice Handler

I KNOW an ice handler who wears a flannel shirt with
      pearl buttons the size of a dollar,
And he lugs a hundred-pound hunk into a saloon ice-
      box, helps himself to cold ham and rye bread,
Tells the bartender it's hotter than yesterday and will be
      hotter yet to-morrow, by Jesus,
And is on his way with his head in the air and a hard
      pair of fists.
He spends a dollar or so every Saturday night on a two
      hundred pound woman who washes dishes in the
      Hotel Morrison.
He remembers when the union was organized he broke
      the noses of two scabs and loosened the nuts so the
      wheels came off six different wagons one morning,
      and he came around and watched the ice melt in the
All he was sorry for was one of the scabs bit him on the
      knuckles of the right hand so they bled when he
      came around to the saloon to tell the boys about it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Gurldogg up at BHerd

Your humble Gurldogg is beyond flattered to be included in an upcoming street art group show. I was invited in by the righteous stencil artist and ceramicist Soule, and I've been working hard to earn my keep. It ain't easy when the other artists in the show include the bafflingly brilliant Paper Monster out of New York, Italian street artist Klevra, local hero Specs One, and a bunch more besides. You can see some of my work in progress here but I sure hope you'll come up to the north end of Seattle to see the real deal. The show "Urban Decay" runs for just 2 weeks, from August 14th to August 28, at bherd studios 8537 Greenwood Ave. N. I'll remind you again before the opening.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tough Stuff from the Buff

People who haven't spent time in Buffalo, New York probably don't know about the Queen City's potent media arts community with a long tradition of creating unusual works that blur the lines between video art, personal documentary and media activism.

Straight out of Buffalo, filmmakers Marc Moscato and David Gracon are currently on a bike tour of the Northwest, carrying a collection of short films and videos by Buffalo artists. "Tough Stuff from the Buff" is a collection of 16 short films being shown in a dozen theaters, all ages venues and non-traditional spaces throughout the Pacific Northwest. Having already stopped in Anacortes, Bellingham and Vancouver, BC, they are now headed South, from Port Townsend down to Portland, and will be in Seattle for one night, july 28th, at the Caffe Vita on Capitol Hill. Full tour dates here. The tour website is being regularly updated, with photos, video and stories from the road.

The "Tough Stuff" collection purposefully presents a diverse sampling of Buffalo artists, from accomplished media makers to first timers, who reflect the city's rustbelt charm and demonstrate how ballsy one has to be to find a unique voice in a town suffering from the advanced stages of capitalism.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hart Crane

Today is the 110th birthday of poet Hart Crane, born July 21 1899. Crane was born a poet, famously writing poems from his early childhood in Garrettsville, Ohio, despite constant demands from his father that he study business in order to take over the family's candy factory. At seventeen he published his first poem about the trial and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde. Crane moved to New York City in his late teens, passionately determined to make a living from poetry, and formed uneasy friendships with such literary figures of the time as Allen Tate, Katherine Anne Porter, Eugene O'Neill and E. E. Cummings, although his heavy drinking absorbed most of his social time.

In 1930, Crane published his only major work, the book-length poem, The Bridge, which used the sights, sounds and abundant symbols of New York to present a powerfully spiritual vision of America. In an essay written in 1925, Crane wrote "I am concerned with the future of America, but not because I think that America has any so-called par value as a state or as a group of people.... It is only because I feel persuaded that here are destined to be discovered certain as yet undefined spiritual qualities, perhaps a new hierarchy of faith not to be developed so completely elsewhere. And in this process I like to feel myself as a potential factor; certainly I must speak in its terms and what discoveries I may make are situated in its experience."

Hart Crane committed suicide in 1932, at the age of thirty-three, by jumping from the deck of a steamship.

The Mango Tree

           Let them return, saying you blush again for the great
Great-gandmother. It's all like Christmas.
           When you sprouted Paradise a discard of chewing-gum
took place. Up jug to musical, hanging jug just gay spiders
yoked you first, -silking of shadows good underdrawers for
       First-plucked before and since the Flood, old hypno-
tisms wrench the golden boughs. Leaves spatter dawn from
emerals cloud-sprockets. Fat final prophets with lean ban-
dits crouch: and dusk is close
                              under your noon,
                              you Sun-heap, whose
ripe apple-lanterns gush history, recondite lightnings, irised.
                              O mister Señor
                              missus Miss
                              with baskets
                                                                  Maggy. come on

Sunday, July 19, 2009


More than books, Chris Hedges writes polemics.

Hedges began his career reporting on the conflict in El Salvador, spent seven years as the Middle East Bureau Chief for The New York Times, covered the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, and was later part of the New York Times investigative team of that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of global terrorism.

In 2003, just two weeks after president Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech, Hedges famously delivered a commencement address at Rockford College saying: "We are embarking on an occupation that, if history is any guide, will be as damaging to our souls as it will be to our prestige and power and security." Several hundred members of the audience booed and jeered his talk, his microphone was cut, and two young men rushed the stage to try to prevent him from speaking. His then employer, The New York Times, criticized his statements, issued him a written reprimand for "public remarks that could undermine public trust in the paper's impartiality," and demanded that Hedges cease speaking about the Iraq war. In response Hedges left The Times to become a senior fellow at The Nation Institute, write books and teach.

Since then, Hedges has published one scathing book after another, beginning in 2002 with the bestselling War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning which describes the patterns and behavior of nations and individuals in wartime, followed by Losing Moses on the Freeway, about lives which had been consumed by religious extremism, American Fascists in which Hedges argues that the Christian fundamentalist movement in the United States resembles the early fascist movements in Europe at the beginning of the last century, and Collateral Damage, written with Iraqi journalist Laila Al-Arian, which is based on hundreds of interviews with combat veterans and reveals the terrifying reality of daily civilian life in Iraq at the hands of U.S. troops.

Hedges speaks at Town Hall in Seattle on Wednesday July 22, promoting his latest book, Empire of Illusion, and to speak about his belief that America is retreating from the reality-based world into one of false certainty and squalid celebrity pseudo-events. Tickets are just $5 at Brown Paper Tickets or available at the door beginning at 6:30 pm.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

20 x 200 x 206

Jen Bekman will be in Seattle on Friday, giving a talk at the Seattle Art Museum at 7 PM. Bekman founded the terrific website 20X200, which offers prints in limited editions of 200 for $20 each. The boundary breaking site presents new prints twice a week, and offers a regular reminder that art need not be expensive to be valuable.

Bekman is in town in her role as the curator of "Photo-Op," the 14th annual photographic competition exhibition at Photographic Center Northwest. The show, which also opens on Friday, features 5 photos from each of 2 dozen photographers (such as Katie Baum, whose photo Untitled 5 is shown here) and offers 1st, 2nd and 3rd place prizes of $1000, $500 and $250.

Somehow Bekman also finds time to write a blog, Personism, which offers exquisite pairings of images and poems. Check it out. Tickets for the talk are $4 for SAM and PCNW members and $6 for the general public, available at the door on the night of the lecture.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Review of Books (short works)

Having a new baby around isn't particularly conducive to reading thick novels or delving into lengthy essays. Baby Nico adds to my life in untold ways, but long lazy days of reading simply ain't one of them.

These days, I'm reading almost exclusively short works - stories, magazine articles, poems and essays - that can be digested in a single setting. I have a half-dozen such books stashed around the house in various places. I haven't finished a single one of the books on this list, but whenever a spare moment arises, I jump in fresh.

The 16 stories in Michael Faber's collection Vanilla Bright Like Eminem move at a rapid speed as they open small and invariably shocking windows into the lives of their misfit characters, something like a Scottish version of the stories of Flannery O'Connor. Faber's command of the form is as prodigious as his imagination. Stories transform on a dime from fantastic to terrifying, and yet most of the characters come across as ordinary people who are poorly equipped to deal with their harrowing circumstances. Some of the stories are quite successful - For example, “A Hole With Two Ends” is a tale of two business people who have a sudden extraordinarily violent encounter in the Scottish Highlands - and some are less so, but as a whole the collection is compelling and powerful.

I'm a fan of Luc Sante, the cultural critic, historian, and prose craftsman who wrote Low Life, the exceedingly brilliant history of underclass New York City. His book of essays, Kill All Your Darlings, published in 2007, covers a wide range of topics - everything from the etymology of the word "dope" to the birth of the blues to a character analysis of Bob Dylan - but he still comes most alive when writing about New York. The wonderfully rich essays include reflections on the Lower East Side in the 1970's, a first hand account of the 1988 Tompkins Square Park riots, and — ever a connoisseur of con men — a pair of meditations on two quintessentially New York monsters: John Gotti and Rudolph Giuliani.

Anyone interested in the current state of publishing owes it to themselves to read McSweeney's Quarterly Concern on a regular basis. Despite the regular sound bites about the "death of publishing," the good people at McSweeney's prove over and over again that there are still a million new and creative ways to publish new and creative writing. As a case in point, I'm currently making my way through issue number 31 in which the editors asked a number of excellent contemporary writers (including Douglas Coupland, Joy Williams, Shelley Jackson and Will Sheff) to create new stories in genres long thought dead (including the Biji, the Nivola, the Graustarkian Romance, and the Socratic Dialogue.) Some experiments are more successful than others, but the entire magazine is entertaining, provocative, and beautifully presented. As always.

Roberto Bolaño's collection Nazi Literature in the Americas takes a huge cue from Borges by inventing a sort of encyclopedia of fictional right wing authors. However, very much unlike Borges, Bolaño's writers live in the real world rather than in the rarefied library. They have adventures, get arrested, meet historical figures, develop insane theories of politics, entertain rabid delusions, and occasionally even meet with terrific success. This is simultaneously a darkly comic celebration of the wilder horizons of writing, and a savage look at a persistent thread in American culture.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Anne Grgich

It was a sad day for Seattle when Outsider Art superstar Anne Grgich packed her bags last May and moved south to Portland. Grgich had been based in Seattle for many years, creating paintings, prints and her magnificent illuminated books for shows and galleries around the world. In 2008 and 2009 alone she had one-woman exhibitions in Nashville, Vancouver, Vienna, Port Au Prince and London, and she curated the traveling show Internal Guidance Systems, soon to open in New Orleans, which represents the very vanguard of contemporary visionary art. Sadly, recent sales of her work couldn't quite maintain a home and studio in Seattle, so she headed for our more hospitable sister city over the border.

Anne is prominently featured in the second edition Outsider Art Sourcebook, published in June by Raw Vision Press, and her first-ever Australian solo show runs from October through January at the Sydney College of the Arts.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie was born on this day in 1912. Guthrie is perhaps the single most important American folk musician, with a musical legacy that includes hundreds of political, traditional and children's songs, ballads and improvised works. Guthrie played music from childhood, learning traditional folk and blues songs from migrant workers and writing new songs about his experiences which became classics in their own right. He lived in Texas during the great depression, in Oklahoma during the dust bowl era, hitchhiked through the continent, rode freight trains across the country, and walked from Oklahoma City to California, working here and there as a fortune teller, a sign painter, and a guitar player.

He became well known after a fashion - recording his songs for the Library of Congress, and travelling with Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers - but he doggedly clung to his role as an outsider all his life, promoting social causes such as union organizing, anti-Fascism, strengthening the Communist Party, and generally fighting for peace.

Woody Guthrie died on October 3, 1967 at Creedmoor State Hospital in Queens, New York. His ashes were sprinkled into the waters off of Coney Island's shore.

Over his lifetime, Woody Guthrie wrote nearly 3,000 song lyrics, published two novels, wrote poems, prose and plays composed hundreds of letters and news articles which are housed in the Woody Guthrie Archives in New York City. Sadly, there is hardly any film or video footage of Woody Guthrie performing. This clip, of Guthrie performing the classic work song "John Henry," accompanied by blues giants Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, is one of a tiny handful that exists.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ubiquity of Sparrows

On April 27, 2009, the poet Craig Arnold went missing on the Japanese island of Kuchinoerabujima, where he was working on a book on volcanoes. He was forty-one years old. Arnold's first book of poems, Shells, was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1998, and his second, Made Flesh, was published last year by Copper Canyon Press. “A Ubiquity of Sparrows” is one of two poems by Arnold that appears in the Summer 2009 issue of The Paris Review.

A Ubiquity of Sparrows

A certain traveler who knew many continents was asked what he found most remarkable of all. He replied: the ubiquity of sparrows.
—Adam Zagejewski

Sparrow who drags a footlong crust of bread behind him

Sparrow whose head is pecked bald from so many quarrels

Sparrow who cocks her head to one side       as if doubtful
Sparrow who follows every flick of your hands moving

Sparrow who spies from far off the flag of a shaken tablecloth

Sparrows dashing to any spot where sparrows are gathered

Sparrow beating her wings to haul off a strawberry
Sparrow bandito with black mask and bandanna who robs her

Sparrow the poet's lover keeps close in her lap
to make him jealous       nipping her finger hard       harder

Sparrow chasing a papery butterfly       flapping and snapping
the butterfly each time impossibly escaping
the sparrow savage       the sparrow persistent       is there no mercy

Sparrow chick pinfeathered       hunched on the window ledge

Sparrow roasted over a piece of bread to catch the entrails

Sparrow whose feet barely sway the twig of a willow
who leaps into the air with the smallest of leaf-shivers

Sparrow the color of dust and mud and dry grass-stems

Sparrows kept on the wing by farmers banging saucepans
kept flying until they drop       a soft heap of bodies

Sparrow who says cheap       sparrow who says Philip Philip

Sparrow who keeps the secrets of wistful men and women

Sparrow shot with a pellet gun       sparrow who crackles
under a boy's bootsole       like brown October leaves

Sparrow whose fall from the sky is noticed by what god

Sparrow who squats in the bluebird's nest       in the martin houses
who moves in with a gang of thugs and there goes the neighborhood

Sparrow who shot Cock Robin and later was hanged like a thief

Sparrow astray in the airport       tracked by the one-eyed guns

Sparrow said to have brought the English unto belief

Sparrow who came to the king's hall in the midst of a snowstorm
fluttering in through one window and out of another

Sparrow do you imagine more than a little warm
rambunctious life between two corridors of nothing

the one forever before       the one forever after

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The New Rafael

Here's a blast of hot colors in deference to the long, slow, summery days here at Gurldoggie world headquarters. Rafaël Rozendaal is the German digital artist responsible for the flaming cursor and Popcorn Painting. Check out his "New Rafael" site some night when it's too hot to sleep or some afternoon when the boss is away on vacation.

He's also got an interesting blog asking artists from around the world a single question.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Birthday Rube Goldberg!

Today, July 4th, is the 126th birthday of sculptor, author, engineer and cartoonist Rube Goldberg. Goldberg, who received a 1948 Pulitzer Prize for his political cartoons, is best known for his series of drawings depicting convoluted machines. In each cartoon, the hapless Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts comes up with some elaborate contraption – an unwieldy set of arms, wheels, gears, handles, cups, and rods, put in motion by balls, steam kettles, boots, bathtubs, paddles, and live animals – to make a simple task extraordinarily complicated.

For example, in this cartoon the "Self-Operating Napkin" is activated when a soup spoon (A) is raised to mouth, pulling string (B) and thereby jerking ladle (C) which throws cracker (D) past parrot (E). Parrot jumps after cracker and perch (F) tilts, upsetting seeds (G) into pail (H). Extra weight in pail pulls cord (I), which opens and lights automatic cigar lighter (J), setting off skyrocket (K) which causes sickle (L) to cut string (M) and allow pendulum with attached napkin to swing back and forth, thereby wiping chin. After-dinner entertainment can be supplied with the simple substitution of a harmonica for the napkin.

Goldberg retired from cartooning to become a professional sculptor at 80 years old, and died at the age of 90 in 1973.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fireworks II

Are you feeling it yet? I'm here to help. This is a beautiful website, featuring the artwork from hundreds of firecracker labels from around the world. Light fuse and get away.

By the way, the best place to buy fireworks around Seattle is at the Muckleshoot Reservation just south of Auburn. For a couple of weeks before July 4th, tribe members make a significant deal of their annual income from the parking lot full of fireworks stands. You still have time to get some incredible deals on explosives, with the very best bargains to be had in the 2-3 days following the holiday. Keep in mind that it's illegal to leave the reservation with the fireworks, so, umm, watch that. Use under adult supervision.