Monday, August 31, 2009


Leif in New York Times says: "Shut Your Facebook"

A friend of mine was recently quoted in the New York Times Magazine online. Leif Harmsen is a Toronto based artist and an old friend of mine. He's practically my family. We met nightclubbing back in the day...and I used to stay with him in New York City when he lived there. He also bought one of my paintings and it was stolen. I keep meaning to post about that stolen painting.

From New York Times

Leif Harmsen, once a Facebook user, now crusades against it. Having dismissed his mother’s snap judgment of the site (“Facebook is the devil”), Harmsen now passionately agrees. He says, not entirely in jest, that he considers it a repressive regime akin to North Korea, and sells T-shirts with the words “Shut Your Facebook.” What especially galls him is the commercialization and corporate regulation of personal and social life. As Facebook endeavors to be the Web’s headquarters — to compete with Google, in other words, and to make money from the information it gathers — it’s inevitable that some people would come to view it as Big Brother.

“The more dependent we allow ourselves to become to something like Facebook — and Facebook does everything in its power to make you more dependent — the more Facebook can and does abuse us,” Harmsen explained by indignant e-mail. “It is not ‘your’ Facebook profile. It is Facebook’s profile about you.”

I have a Facebook page because I have a couple friends who post pics there and it's the only easy way...miles away to keep in touch with them. But it's funny...I always feel that Facebook is so "preppy". I hardly ever check in there...sometimes finding messages or notices from weeks earlier. I had a unfortunate experience there a couple months ago...and it just soured me even more with Facebook. "Some ex-users seemed shaken, even heartbroken, by their breakups with Facebook." I've never really figured out the best way for me to use the site. We leave a few messages for our bookclub there...and I have good pals in England who use it a lot so it's good to see their pictures. But overall, checking e-mail, making blog posts and visiting blog friends seems to take up as much time as I can practically use. I check in about every two weeks and catch up on new photos. I have some friends who really love the site. Is Facebook the devil?

Speaking of nightclubs and bars...there used to be an adage..."if you meet in a bar, you break up in a bar". I wonder if now...a new phrase could be..."If you meet on the break up on the internet"?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Naked Anniversary

Stagg got a big surprise this week when I suddenly told him we were going to a party to celebrate William Burroughs 50th Anniversary of the publishing of Naked Lunch. Burroughs is our favourite writer and his book Naked Lunch was one of the most recent American books over which an obscenity trial was held. The novel is strangley plotless and presents in a satiric form that politics and political corruption are far more addictive than drugs. The novel seems to predict AIDS, crack pandemic and introduces us to the idea of contesting "control systems".

The party was held at Th!nk Art (sorry I can't find a link online) and featured some of William Burroughs paintings. I don't know if I can describe what an amazing evening with incredible performers and surrounded by Burroughs paintings in terms that will explain how wonderful an evening we had together. The party was also a fundraiser for a new film about Burroughs, called The Man Within. We were able to see a substantial trailer. When I watched about 15 minutes of the trailer...I got pretty choked up. I love Burroughs so much I believe he is my spiritual grandfather. I really do. And some of the footage really got to me. (I met Burroughs in 1987, and it was a huge transformative time for me). There is a lot of film that has never been seen, of Burroughs on shooting trips, making his art work and a lot of interviews with Iggy Pop, Laurie Anderson, Peter Weller, and Anne Waldman. It's going to be an awesome documentary from just what we saw so far.

Kurt Hemmer

Guitarist Alejandro Urzagaste and Bassist Maya Jensen. These two played sets between readings and were really fantastic.

I took this pic outside with my cell phone and it's for Josh when he is talking to Peter Weller. Sorry's getting dark outside but you can kind of see you two.

John Giorno is performing a piece about preparing William burroughs to journey to the underworld. It was really great about the things Burroughs wore and took with him. Penny Arcade looks on beside him on stage.

John Giorno and Penny Arcade

Peter Weller

Anne Waldman and I.

Don Meyer

Penny Arcade

Hal Willner reads across the room from Anne Waldman and Peter Weller lines from Naked Lunch.

Anne Waldman and Peter Weller reading with Hal Willner across the room.

I was like the worst craziest groupie...I couldn't get close enough to the stage of all the performers last night. What a mindblowing experience and priviledge.

As the beautiful Anne Waldman read her scarf slowly slipped off her neck and she didn't seem to notice. Waldman is a goddess, I can't say enough how pleased I was to see her read.

Peter Weller read the introduction by Norman Mailer in the edition he is holding here of Naked Lunch. Weller's readings were awesome and the perfect vehicle for Mailer's excellent essay. Mailer defended Naked Lunch with testimony at the hearing surrounding it's being banned.

Gene and his wife at the after party. We walked between parties with these two...and a performance artist dressed and look alike to Allen Ginsberg while he read us poetry.

Here we are at the after party at Stop Smiling Magazinearound 2:30 this morning.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Somewhere In The World Bret Easton Ellis Is Weeping

Some have said it's the comeback album of all history of recorded music. I thnk if I remember correctly, Andy Cohen, host on tv's Bravo has said it's a gay's wet dream, her handlers have her packed up tight too. Whitney Houston has a new album. Houston is being advertised for Oprah's season opening interview. The interview of the know Oprah is going to ask all the big questions. Chicago Tribune writer Greg Kot is not so convinced...

"More famous lately for tabloid misadventure and an ill-fated marriage to singer Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston is back doing what she does best: Singing.

Music industry executives, in dire need of some superstar-level sales, are no doubt doing cartwheels in anticipation of Houston’s first studio album in seven years, “I Look to You” (Arista), out Tuesday. It reunites her with vaunted hitmaker Clive Davis, her executive producer and mentor since she became an instant star in the mid-‘80s.

Since then she has sold 170 million albums, singles and videos, and paved the way for two generations of big-ballad singers. As the music industry entered its most lucrative era, becoming a $15 billion machine by the end of the ‘90s, Houston was at the forefront, a booming voice with an immaculate lineage (daughter of Cissy Houston, cousin of Dionne Warwick, god-daughter of Aretha Franklin) who crossed over from hit albums to hit movies (“The Bodyguard,” “Waiting to Exhale”). Her blend of vocal acrobatics and carefully manicured pop anticipated the careers of divas from Mariah Carey to Christina Aguilera, as well as anyone who’s ever auditioned for “American Idol.”

Yet Houston has never made a truly great album, the soul sucked out of her gospel-trained voice by shallow songs and sterile production. Her career was guided every step of the way by the heavy hand of Davis, a record executive whose reputation as a pop svengali is founded on his ability to mold talent into a marketable commodity. With Houston, he built not just a celebrity but a formula: plugging Houston into a variety of pop formats with various of-the-moment producers. Her big voice conquered all. Then she drifted away.

After years of erratic behavior in which drugs took hold of her life and her marriage to Brown dissolved in full view of the public (thanks to an ill-advised reality TV show), Houston was persuaded by Davis to re-enter the studio a couple years ago. “I Look to You” is an attempt to reassure everyone --- her fans, radio programmers, the industry that depended on her for so long – that she’s back as good as ever, but it’s a different era: sales of recorded music are in a free fall, and Houston has become an afterthought or a punch line. She can still sing – but how well?

“I Look to You” begins promisingly. The first track, “Million Dollar Bill,” glides in on a walking bass line that sounds perfect for step dancing. Houston can sound a bit stiff when harnessed by ill-fitting songs or production. But on “Million Dollar Bill,” she sounds almost frisky. The tune, coproduced by Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys, almost swings.

It’s all downhill from that peak moment, with a couple of key exceptions. Despite the machinations of top-tier producers and songwriters such as R. Kelly, Diane Warren, Akon, Stargate and David Foster, nothing else feels quite as elegantly ebullient. Nor does she ever cut loose; at times it feels as though Houston is just a pretty ornament on her producers’ tracks. In the past, her voice was big enough to tower over lackluster material, but no more.

Houston gravitates toward songs that apply a we-shall-overcome universality to her personal struggles, a survivor with head held high and “Nothin’ But Love” for even her detractors. The title song, written by Kelly, serves as the album’s centerpiece, the latest in a long line of slow-build ballads that has defined her career. Though Houston sounds surprisingly thin as the song begins in a lower register, she gains strength as she begins firing off high, hummingbird trills. She’s comfortable in this pseudo-gospel mode, and with her great control and technical polish, it’s a fine vehicle for punctuating her comeback, a show-stopper in the making. Can a performance at the Super Bowl or some other nationally televised mega-event be far behind?

Otherwise, this is Houston on auto-pilot (though, thankfully, not on Auto-Tune) as she dutifully glides through a couple of Akon tracks, a ponderous Warren power ballad and another Kelly tune, “Salute.” The Swedish Stargate team turns Leon Russell’s ballad “A Song for You” into a disco stomp. It’s not completely successful, but at least it tries to shake up the formula.

Step back from the competent but hardly inspiring quality of most of this material, and another theme emerges: That Houston is making music again at all is something of a small victory. Sure, she rides the production because her voice isn’t what it used to be. But then neither is the music industry that she once ruled. "

Related Links:

1) You can listen to her first hit here. Actually, it will for sure fill up the dance floors...especially in Boystowns around the world. I'll be there dancing with the boys too. The song "Nothin But Love" is very very good. Gave me chills. I think this album is going to give a huge emotional delivery to Houstons' fans. I think it's a better album than it first appears and it's going to sell like crazy.
2) Los Angeles Times "Pop And Hiss"

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Since seeing the highly entertainng and rewarding Inglorious Basterds I've been going through my extra's on dvds of Tarantino movies. I found this video and thought it was such a great addition to a dvd package. We watched Death Proof on Sunday after seeing Inglorious Basterds. I don't know if I'll write a review...I'm not sure I can add anything to what has already been written. If you want to see a brilliant film, go see it...if you're like me and have Jewish Revenge fantasies...go see it. Go kick some Nazi ass!

Robert Rodriguez's band is Chingon. Rodriquez is an awesome director who has made From Dusk Till Dawn, El Mariachi and Sin City. Rodriquez has made an indespensible "film school" reputation...It's called Ten-Minute Film School (click on hyper text to follow link). I posted it here before...but here are two videos he made as well. He is someone I really admire because he is liek a "one-person-film-crew". He and David Lynch are both like this...sort of like Prince playing all the instruments!

Monday, August 24, 2009


Okay, this is a ridiculously long post. I don't blame you if you give up half way. Har! But...I' have been super busy...I've got to catch up. I have hardly been blogging or visiting my usual online hobbies/bookclubs in the past month or so. And here are some reasons. The photo above is a "meet-and-greet" at the Chicago Filmmakers Co-Op. I joined hoping to meet other filmmmakers and make some new friends and maybe work on some projects. It's an amazing resource. The Co-Op also has camera and sound equipment which I plan on renting in th near future. I used to belong to a similar co-op in Toronto...where you can rent film equipment see screenings of independent film and find all kinds of connections and share work with other filmmakers. Here is where I met a first time producer and I've landed up helpign him a fair bit this past month. He is in Latvia right now shooting his first major leg of interviews for his film. I will post more about that tomorrow.

Here is special speaker, John Smith, who spoke about attitude and how to make it in the film industry. He wa smarvelous. I could have listened to his stories for hours and hours, and he had a great sense of humour. He has worked on independent films, his own films producing as well as reality tv like The Bachelor. I was in heaven!

These three characters are friends I have made at my local coffee shop. They make special appearances throughout this post. Tricia on left, works at a company near the coffee shop and is a regular. Marvin is an artist who also works at Old Town School of Folk and this cafe. Jenny on the right of photo is the owner and chef. Here they are goofing in the kitchen/office of cafe. Knowing them has changed life here in chicago. I am so grateful to them and pleased to know them.

Above is a meeting I sat in on with the producer and Director of Photography...about three weeks ago. It was my second day helping the Producer who I met, at the "meet-and-greet" pictured first in this post.

Tricia took us to a local German community Centre evening with Elvis on friday night. What a blast, the place reminded me of the Danish Club. My grandmother was Danish/Norwegian Canadian...and she belonged to every Danish Canadian Club she could. We had a blast and it felt like good memories of my family growing up. Weirdly enough...this whole last few days has been like a German themed weekend. Stirring a massive set of emotions and connections. All by coincidence!

Bratwurst, potato/bacon salad, sourkraut. Yum!

Andy and Tricia dancing. I have a pic of Tricia shamelessly adoring Elvis, but I'll save that for it's own post.

Tricia and I are actually dancing with Elvis here. You can see Andy and Stagg in the background.

Hanging out with a few serious beverages (beer, mud slides, whiskey) before going to see Inglorious Basterds. Tarantino films are perfect for group viewings in a theatre. Three cheers for Tarantino!

Stagg is showing our guests a fragment of his hat collection. Isn't he cute? I could have a full time job JUST organizing his t-shirt collection, his hat collection and his studio. Oh wait...I already DO have that full-time position! all might remember when I was so sad that my friend Andy, who I met online...and is dancing to Elvis up there...and who helped me with Art Group in Wicker Park...moved to Wisconsin? Well, he got a really good job as an editor. For a gun magazine. Seriously. So here he is out testing his topics first week on his new job.

Wow! Not bad for his first day back on the shooting range after a few years hiatus. OOAndy!

Yes, that is the same Andy mopping here as in the photo at the gun range. Isn't he mulit-talented! Our friends Jenny and Monique were closing down their cafe this weekend. It was a bittersweet experience. We all loved hanging out in the cafe, and it has been a godsend to know these women. I've loved hanging out drinking coffee or eating fun snacks with them the past year. And damn it, have we had some laughs. Tears flowing knock down laughing. But... some personal family tragedy and the priority of time with their young children has inspired them to re-evalute their goals and close the cafe. We helped them close it up by sorting the kitchen and cleaning up and packing things. We're gong to have a big sale with art, kitchen supplies etc etc in two weeks. Anybody wanna buy a cafe? Tricia and I have seriously considered it.

From left, me, Marvin, Andy, Tricia, Isis, Jenny, Frances and Monique. Monique and Jenny are partners and those gorgeous girls are their daughters and they own the cafe.

Stagg supervising the mopping...

Here's Jenny doing what she does best, laughing and having fun!

On Saturday evening just before we went to see Infglorious Basterds I did volunteer work in the box office for the Chicago Filmmakes screeening of South Main. I am so pleased to be part of the co-op. I am also doing box iffice this upcoming Saturday with a screening of The Controlled Mistake by experimental filmmaker Heather McAdams.

I've been volunteering on pre-production work for a film about a massacre of 28,000 Jews in Latvia. I met the producer at the "meet-up" I went to last month and really believed in his project. A few days later he got some new grant funding and had to jump into preparing to go to Latvia months earlier than he expected. So...I helped with a few things like tracking down insurance companies, finding interns, arranging archival photos, editing and proof reading proposals and thematic outlines, and sitting in on meetings, often taking notes. There is also a lot of specific protocol for film makers, when hiring and building a budget or looking for crew and volunteers, and I'd like to think I was a good support and resource person for introducing some of that protocol to a first time film maker.

I took this picture while being a stand in for a few minutes on set last week. Principal photography began last week on the feature length documentary I was helping a first time producer/director with for the past month.

I love being on set working! Even when I am just being a helper like I was on this day. I've done everything from continuity, to focus pulling, to craft service. I can schedule a film, I can edit a film and I can work quite a few professional movie/digital cameras. I guess one special quaility I am proud of about I am able to do a lot of things on set and not be a snob about it. I can take orders like to run as a P.A. ( "production assistant" is a glorified term for "go for"...and it's almost at the bottom of the totem pole, right above craft service) and I can make props or help with make-up...just all kinds of things. And the funny thing is, when I was young and had dreams of growing up to be an artist and film maker...I never knew it was the "failure" of these dreams that would contribute to my experience and ability to be fluent on film production and film sets. By this I mean...let's say maybe I had gotten sucessful when I was 25 and was able to direct films using a huge budget and mass market... Or let's say I had had a gallery represent me as a painter. I wonder what...if any... exploration I might have made in these crafts? Because I never was a famous painter...I continued to exploe all kinds of ways to make art. I began making art with recycled materials as a priority. It's possible if I was well off financially I might have remained painting in oil paints and canvas...and only thinking of formal galleries as places where art should be. If I had made some financial success as a film director...maybe I wouldn't have learned all the skills I have for various positions in production. What has happened is that if I want to make a film..I've been known to construct my own sets, to make many of my own props and to shop, design and choose wardrobes. (I once constructed a standard size poodle...out of an old faux fur coat of mine for a short film I made called Poodle. The poodle and his mistress end up dead in a swimming pool at the end of the film...and so I made a life size poodle to float in the pool next to the female star)

I guess what I'm thinking is...even if we don't end up in the path we think we will at 18 years old, or 25 years's important to remember just how much we have learned and how manyother opportunities and skills we may have picked up because we didn't know any better or we didn't have a reinforcement of a classic carreer. In many ways...I found out a lot of stuff simply because I didn't "make it" or didn't have the money to hire someone else to do a job on set. Plus, I worked on many many tv sets, on big-budget, low-budget and no-budget films over the last 20 years. Doing whatever. I learned a lot of people skills too...because you need to be able to fit in with all kinds of tradespeople on a film set. From the "working class" crew of gaffers, grips and craft the high brow "artsy" folks of wardrobe, set design, and the often more vulnerble and emotional cast of actors, make-up artists and writers. So in some weird "failure" at commercial film making has been an incredible boost to my experiences in independent filmmaking.

I also had a lot of hobbies and past times...I've read a lot of books, most of the classics and tons of contemporary literature. I learned other hobbies like plant identification, astronomy, I studied Sanskrit and practiced Buddhism, mushroom identification and harvesting, anthropology, history of plays, hiking and survival skills in camping and the outdoors (I could probably survive a couple weeks outside without many tools or a prefabricated shelter)

So..."failure" can be a great opportunity for life long learning and character building. Who knew? I think maybe we should teach our kids this kind of stuff.
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