Monday, December 27, 2010

Song of the Day: "Percussion Gun," White Rabbits

This song by this Columbia, Ohio-born, New York based band came out last year, but I've only recently discovered it through the magic of iTunes (and this pretty straightforward YouTube performance video).



If you're a fan of Spoon, you'll note that the track's got that band's footprints all over it, and that's no accident: Spoon's mainman Britt Daniels produced the record.

I could prattle on, music-nerd-style, about all the elements that sound so cool: The Adam-Ant-gone-indie dual drums pounding away; the cool way that Stephen Patterson's energized and searching vocals are often just accompanied by that percussion, or by a few stark guitar or piano notes; how the handclaps drive along the instrumental bridges; the great, jagged-crystal sheen of the production; yada, yada, yada.

But if you're in a stage of restless transition (and God knows I am right now), all of those pieces are just couriers. That relentless percussive drive, the backing vocals that sigh away like spirits that refuse to let Patterson (or the listener) let go, and the insistent gothic-barrelhouse piano capture a state of tensely-gorgeous psychic chaos better than a hundred pummelling power chords or a stadium-ful of mannered rock screamers ever could. It's all of the confusion and barely-contained tension you've ever felt (or feel in this particular Now); rolled into one arresting package. And it's beautiful.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Passings: Ingrid Pitt, Actress and Author

Hammer Films--Britain's legendary horror film factory throughout the fifties, sixties, and seventies--pushed the genre into the modern age with swatches of rich color (emphasis on the crimson, of course) and a willingness to push the envelope of content. Suddenly, all of the latent sensuality and shocking violence insinuated in the Golden-Age Universal thrillers of the '30's and '40's was spelled out. One of the key figures in that massive shift, actress and author Ingrid Pitt, died yesterday at the age of 73.

Born in Poland in 1937, Pitt's real life was filled with enough drama to rival any of the movies enriched by her presence. She survived internment in a concentration camp as a child, then was forced to flee communist Berlin as a young woman--on the night of her planned stage debut (the British officer who rescued her eventually became her first husband). A few years later she was discovered by producers watching a bullfight, and her career as an actress began.

Pitt's first high-profile film role came in the 1968 war epic Where Eagles Dare, opposite Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton, but she made her biggest mark (and, I'd argue, did her best work) as the lead in horror movies.

Hammer cast her as the lead in The Vampire Lovers, a 1970 adaptation of Sheridan LeFanu's short story Carmilla. Even from a studio renowned for frank content, the movie turned heads. Its charged and explicit sexuality changed the landscape of genre films irrevocably, and turned the subgenre of lesbian vampire tales into a cinematic staple.Viewed today, The Vampire Lovers looks downright quaint, but with hindsight it reads more and more like one of Hammer's last really good gothic chillers; solidly directed by Roy Ward Baker (who, sadly, passed away recently himself), and played to the hilt by Pitt.

Her work as the rapacious Carmilla endures. Sure, she's sexy as hell (clothed or no), but the moment in the movie that haunts most profoundly is its most subtle. During a funeral, Carmilla watches sadly, knowing that all around her will die even as she lives on: It's the kind of reflective moment that you don't often get in horror films, and Pitt taps into a deep vein (no pun intended) of empathy to bring it to life.

I'm also in thrall with her great work in the title role of Countess Dracula, a retelling of the Elizabeth Bathory saga in which she manages to make the notorious blood-drinking countess alternately terrifying and sympathetic, and her small but indelible turn as a vampirized actress in the entertaining horror anthology The House That Dripped Blood.

Pitt cannily created a mini-industry around herself for the last two decades of her life, appearing at horror conventions, writing multiple books (fiction and non-), and even organizing a goth dating service (Carmilla the Vampire as Matchmaker? Pretty sublime). All of the late-in-life huzzahs proved richly-deserved: she was an uninhibited and lively writer, and she managed to become one of the few women to carve out a real, multi-layered persona in horror cinema. Brava, Ms. Pitt.  

Monday, July 05, 2010

More Rock Photos: Mark Pickerel, Lindsay Fuller, Rusty Willoughby at the Tractor Tavern

The Tractor Tavern played host to a pretty nifty show on Friday July 2, and once again I was on hand with a camera. A detailed review and slideshow can be seen at the Seattle Concerts Examiner, but I had to (again) crop the pictures and omit a few that I really liked.

Rusty Willoughby:








Lindsay Fuller and the Cheap Dates:

Mark Pickerel and his Praying Hands:










Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Columbia City Theater Grand Re-Opening: Kelli Schaefer, Drew Grow, Grand Hallway

The Columbia City Theater in South Seattle celebrated its Grand (Re-) Opening with two free shows June 25 and 26, and it was a pip by all accounts.

Duties with Bizarro Movie Night kept me from seeing the June 25 show (a Hip-Hop extravaganza featuring Mash Hall, Cloud Nice, and DJ Suspence), but I was in attendance, camera in hand, for the Saturday performance by Kelli Schaefer, Drew Grow and the Pastors' Wives, and Grand Hallway.

Details (and a slideshow) can be accessed at the Seattle Concerts Examiner by going here. I had an embarassment of riches, photos-wise: Chock it up to great good luck, and great subjects. Only a small portion were used for the Examiner slideshow, and I had to severely truncate the photos that did make the cut, so enclosed please find some of my favorite snapshots of the evening, in all their un-shrunk, un-cropped beauty. Click on each to see a larger version if you like.

Kelli Schaefer:



Drew Grow and the Pastors' Wives:



Grand Hallway:




Thanks to the Columbia City Theater, and especially to all three acts for giving such great face--and for a really wonderful show.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Springtime with SIFF

If'n you read the last entry, you know I've been a movie-watchin' mole lo, these last three weeks, and it's been quite the adventure. In addition to seeing more movies in theaters in that span than I did in the preceding six months, I was able to freeload my way into the Seattle International Film Festival Opening and Closing Night Galas, where neon-colored cocktails and much shared movie geekery amongst fellow nerds/journalists flowed freely. And I met some talented and fascinating filmmakers, to boot.

I saw 28 feature films during the run of SIFF. Almost all of them were good-to-great; only a couple were straight-up disappointments. Enclosed please find my evaluations of everything I saw, along with accompanying ratings.

The Extra Man: **1/2
The Fest opening film was a quirky comedy featuring Kevin Kline as a struggling playwright who escorts elderly rich women and takes recently-unemployed Ivy League professor Paul Dano under his wing. Kline's a hoot, as always (he's maturing with the rascally grace of a David Niven), but as for the movie? If there was a such thing as Indie Comedy Generator software, and you programmed in every Indie Comedy cliche (Oddball Father Figure, Quiet Protagonist with Fetish, Funny-Voiced Ancillary Character, etc.), this movie would spit out.

Senior Prom: ***1/2
This comedy about several Mountlake Terrace High Schoolers stumbling towards their senior prom feels rough around the edges and descends into sentiment a little too much at the end. But Nick Terry's directorial debut sports quite a few great belly laughs, and it rings with a front-line immediacy that could only come from someone living through high school themselves (yes, the director's only 17, and yes, I'll pimp my SunBreak interview with him right about now).

How Sex Sold Hollywood: ***
Seattle U professor James Forsher's How Sex Sold Hollywood presentation was pretty skin deep (pardon the pun), but not without some seriously warped highlights. High (low?) points: a silent-era sapphic fever dream of a short called "Dormitory Secrets," and some frankly pornographic cartoons from distaff Max Fleischer studio animators.

The Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould: ***
Classical piano's James Dean gets the doc treatment here. The archival performance footage--Gould throwing himself into playing, tousled hair partly shadowing his face like a high-brow Jerry Lee Lewis--is riveting, and there's no denying his brilliance as a player (or his pronounced eccentricities). Alas, you finish the movie feeling like you don't know anymore about Gould than when you started.

K-20: The Fiend with 20 Faces: ***
K-20 re-imagines Japan sans WWII, as a totalitarian nigh-communist regime. Amidst this world, the ultimate master thief steals priceless artifacts, and frames a circus acrobat for the crimes. Said acrobat then becomes a reluctant hero. Terrific art direction and atmosphere (think Metropolis meets The Dark Knight) and exhilarating action sequences are only slightly marred by a few too many dips into the Cuteness Well (I officially propose a permanent moratorium on all adorable imperiled orphans in Asian action movies).

George Romero's Survival of the Dead: **
I'll go to my deathbed defending George Romero's first four Living Dead movies (haven't seen the fifth yet), but his newest one, George Romero's Survival of the Dead, just doesn't cut the mustard. The Irish-born patriarchs of two rival families on a East Coast island lock horns because--get this--one thinks zombies should be exterminated, and one thinks the undead can be rehabilitated and taught to eat non-human meat. The writing's clunky as hell, and (SPOILER ALERT!) Romero de-fangs his revenants by turning them into eaters of horsemeat at the climax; a not-very-scary denouement, unless you're My Little Pony.

Ahead of Time: ****
This concise, solid documentary focuses on the achievements of Ruth Gruber--arctic explorer, World War II Correspondent, and chronicler of the 1947 Exodus. At age 94, Gruber's more articulate and sharp than 99.9 percent of people a third her age; and her restless streak, eloquence, and charm make her an enchanting documentary subject.

Visionaries: Jonas Mekas and the (Mostly) American Avant-Garde Cinema: *****
Ace documentarian Chuck Workman serves up a great primer on Underground Cinema, with Anthology Archives curator and filmmaker Jonas Mekas functioning as a charming epicenter. A compelling window into a seldom-explored subgenre of cinema, with generous samples of works by Kenneth Anger, Andy Warhol, and many others.

Wheedle's Groove: ****
You'd never know it from most Northwest music history references, but Seattle had a seriously jumping soul and funk scene in the 1960's and '70's. The terrific Jennifer Maas documentary Wheedle's Groove corrects this massive oversight, covering the scene and its participants in loose-limbed and engaging style. For a music doc that features (sadly) very little actual archival footage of these bands cutting loose, it's incredibly exciting and moving to watch. More details in my Seattle Concerts Examiner piece on the movie's SIFF premiere.

RoboGeisha: *****
Sibling rivalry between mechanically-augmented Geisha Girls; enough arterial spray to put the Icelandic volcano to shame; Japanese robo-chicks with circular saws popping from their mouths; swordfights by the score; and acid-spurting mammaries? If that summary of RoboGeisha and the accompanying trailer don't spell MUST-SEE in bold letters, you've stumbled into the wrong blog by mistake, Bucky.


Brownstones to Red Dirt: ***
There's no denying the total charm and inspiration in the subjects of this doc (grade-schoolers in the New York projects and far-off Sierra Leone exchange letters and bond in mutual friendship); too bad the movie's shot and slurpily-scored, like one of those 'The More You Know' spots on NBC.

Rejoice and Shout: ****
Once you get past the first fifteen over-preachy minutes (yes, I know, it IS about gospel music, but still...), Rejoice and Shout is as absorbing as any music doc that I've ever seen. It traces gospel's evolution throughout the decades, from its origins on the plantations of the south to the present day. Interestingly, the genre was (and still is) as succeptible to trends as any other musical style: The Swan Silvertones brought unearthly doo-wop harmonies to worship music in the 1950's, the Staple Singers proffered Stax soul sizzle (and social awareness) during the '60's, and even 1970's velour soul was represented by smoother-than-smooth Andrae Crouch. At its best, the music's so good the lyrical subject matter's irrelevant (that's a compliment from this agnostic).

Marwencol: *****
My favorite documentary of the Fest was this study of Mark Hogancamp, victim of a memory-wiping, near-fatal beating. For rehabilitation, Mark constructs an intricate pulp universe in his backyard, entirely from GI Joes and Barbies. If it sounds like a gawk-fest, it's not. Director Jeff Malmberg obviously loves his subject, and tells his story with unvarnished honesty as well as affection. More details, and my interview with Malmberg, here.

Reykjavik-Rotterdam: *****
Thrillers don't get more well-engineered and satisfying than this Icelandic gem, in which a parolled former smuggler risks life, limb, and family for the financial promise of That One Last Job. Fast and harrowing-yet-funny as hell, it figures that it's being twisted into a vehicle for Mark Wahlberg.

Garbo: The Spy: *****
The amazing story of Juan Pujer Garcia, a Spanish counter-agent who basically duped the German army into their crushing defeat in Normandy on D-Day (and by extension, helped the allies to win WWII), is so surreal and hilarious you'll swear someone made the shit up.

Disco and Atomic War: ****
This Estonian doc about how clandestine signals from an extra-tall Finnish TV tower titillated and liberated citizens of communist-ruled Estonia kinda charmed the hell out of me. It's also one of those rare documentaries where the re-enactment scenes actually entertained in their own right.

Imani: ****
Caroline Kamya's feature film debut was one of the most subtly rewarding movies I saw all Fest. More details--and an interview with Kamya--here.

Double Take: **
One of my few outright disappointments of the Festival. It's an odd experimental pastiche in which Alfred Hitchcock (starring via archival clips and a little bit of CGI trickery) faces his doppelganger amidst the Cold War. It started out as a short film, and the seams of that origin show: the Hitchcock and Cold War elements just don't gel.

Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields: ****
Gail O'Hara's and Kerthy Fix's documentary doesn't exactly lay its drily humorous genius subject (yes, I am a fan) bare, but it's a smart and engaging glimpse into Merritt's career, and the love/symbiosis between the songwriter and his bandmate/de facto manager/den mother Claudia Gonson is fascinating. An interview with O'Hara and Fix should be up at the SunBreak soon...

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: ****
Film purists probably balked at its irreverence, but I enjoyed this SIFF archival presentation with musical accompaniment. Stephin Merritt composed the score, and his playful music included some hummable melodies (I found the bits of atmospheric texture scattered throughout to be pretty immersive, too). As for the film itself, it's a dated but fascinating artifact--really the Avatar of its day (1916) what with its underwater cinematography and lavish production values. For a very early silent, it also sports an impressively ambitious structure containing three intersecting stories and flashbacks from multiple sources--pretty heady stuff for a movie that's older than your great-grandparents.

Protektor: ***
Protektor is a WWII love story that follows a Czech radio correspondent and his glamorous, flirty Jewish movie-star wife as they navigate the emerging influence of Nazi Germany on their homeland. The movie sports a great art-deco look and it's edited/shot with arresting style, but the relationship at the core never quite engaged me like I wanted it to. ***

Amer: *****
Probably my favorite fiction/narrative feature of the Fest. This utterly immersive, technically brilliant art-film-in-giallo's-clothing captivated me, and interviewing the directors was a major Festival highlight (jump here for the interview).

William S. Burroughs: A Man Within: ****
I have eternally been enthralled by Burroughs' raggedly brilliant and powerful words, and by his gravel-tinkling-over-sheet-metal voice, so this new documentary on his life and work was an enrapturing view for me. Well-researched and packed with heartfelt reminiscences and testimony.

The Wildest Dream: ***1/2
In the IMAX epic The Wildest Dream, modern-day mountaineer Conrad Anker climbs Mt. Everest, retracing the route of and replicating the conditions endured by British adventurer George Mallory in 1924. The movie touches on deeper emotional and philosophical questions than your average IMAX flick, drawing interesting parallels between Mallory's relationship to his wife and that of Anker's with his own spouse. And if the movie lets that psychological complexity take a back seat to the grandeur sometimes, well, IMAX is first and foremost spectacle-porn...

Dream Home: **
This Hong Kong shocker wants to have its bloody cake and eat it too by simultaneously throwing spurting blood and social commentary at its audience. In her obsessive quest to obtain a mortgage on a high-end Hong Kong flat, a young woman takes to brutally murdering several of the building's occupants (what better way to drive bidding rates down?). The premise is rife with possibilities, but the tone is wildly uneven: One minute you're watching a dippy party guy's disembowelment played for gallows giggles, the next our murderous protagonist is dealing with the failing health of her mesothelioma-wracked former abuser of a father. Gore fans, though, will have a field day.

Howl: ****
I really enjoyed this Allen Ginsberg biopic directed by Times of Harvey Milk directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. James Franco makes an effective Ginsberg (anyone who's played James Dean and Ginsberg in the space of just a few years deserves mad props), and the movie eschews standard beginning/middle/end bio-pic structure by zeroing in on the obscenity trial surrounding Ginsberg's poetic masterpiece, Howl. The only liability: Ginsberg's words are sometimes accompanied by CGI animation that puts a pretty glaring pull date on the movie.

Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives: ***1/2
You gotta love the directness of a movie title like Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives, but it's easy to go into it thinking it's gonna be a Troma-style rib-nudging camp-fest. Thankfully, it's got sharper teeth than that. Director Israel Luna's made an honest-to-God gut-level grindhouse action opus here--think Death Wish with a more fabulous wardrobe--without neglecting the humor. It captures the patina of a grindhouse flick amazingly well, and there's a sense of righteous outrage underneath the surface that makes it much more cathartic and empowering than the GLAAD protesting blue-noses out there would have you believe. SunBreak interview with Luna and Trannies star Willam Belli coming soon!

Vengeance: *****
This new Johnnie To gangster epic finished out my SIFF odyssey in stylish and riveting fashion. In it, a French restaurateur (Johnny Hallyday) enlists a trio of hitmen (led by HK action mainstay Anthony Wong) to avenge the massacre of his daughter and her family. It's a purely formulaic set-up--think the Magnificent Seven minus three, combined with (again) Death Wish--but it's beguilingly shot, darkly witty in places, and peppered with twists and wrinkles worth their weight in gold. Hallyday--with his lived-in face, watery blue eyes,and Mephistopheles goatee--is a revelation as a worn-down protagonist with much more of a history of violence than he initially lets on.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Quick Update from SIFF-land

Damn, I love this poster. Just saying. And it does have a bearing on this overdue Petri Dish missive.

The last two to three weeks of my life have been spent split between my day job and the glorious rigor that has been covering the Seattle International Film Festival for the SunBreak.com.

I've seen a ton of great movies, and better yet, I've been able to interview some of the makers of those films in detail. It's been the most inspiring couple of weeks I've had, writing-and-movie-lust-wise, in awhile; though the writing part's been hard to squeeze in 'twixt dashing madly between theaters, home (sleeping and eating can be quite the nuisance sometimes), and the W Hotel (site of most of the interviews I've conducted).

I'm enjoying an actual vacation (or, more likely and aptly, a stay-cation) for the next couple of weeks and plan to use that time to get a lot of creative/writing things up to speed. I'll, of course, be getting the ol' Petri Dish caught up on all that I've imbibed in, pop-culture-wise, for the last month or two--including, I hope, a detailed recap of the 28 movies I saw as part of the SIFF experience. Also, I've still got three or four more interviews to transcribe and post for the SunBreak. And we're working on scheduling another Bizarro Movie Night at the end of this month as well.

In the meantime, feel free to jump over to the SIFF-related posts at the SunBreak. All partisan bias aside, our little upstart site's done a pretty great job of covering the Fest. You can take in the picks, pans, and recommendations from the entire eminent staff at the SunBreak, gnash your teeth in envy at the movies you missed, and sigh with relief at the crap you avoided.

Enclosed please find links to the SIFF interviews I've posted at the SunBreak so far...

Senior Prom director Nicholas Terry (a nice kid who gladly put up with me making him pose for all sorts of goofy pictures, including this artsy-fartsy shot I took of him)

Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet, directors of the mesmerizing giallo-cum-art-film Amer 

Jeff Malmberg, director of SIFF Best Documentary Feature Award winner Marwencol

Three more interviews should go up onto the SunBreak within the next week or so, and they should be pips. Stay tuned...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Life Doesn't Slow Down: A Petri Dish Update

Pardon me for not posting anything new here in a spell. I haven't been idle, by any measure.

Much of my non-day-job time's been parced out between a couple of enterprises. One of them is Bizarro Movie Nights at the Aster Coffee Lounge in scenic Ballard, Washington, in which I put my Doctorate of Schlockology to the test by presenting strange cinema of various stripes on the grandeur of a big(gish) projection screen. Yours Truly delivers patter so snappy you can scat sing to it (when I'm not ceding hosting duties to the eminent El Serpiente de Oro); audiences laugh and stare goggle-eyed at pinheaded giants, cackling Indonesian witches, and Satan-fighting holiday icons; and everyone can partake of fine coffees, teas, beers and wines in one of Ballard's coziest locales! Go to the Bizarro Blog for details. Next one's on May 1, and we're featuring a night of vice and sin, Depression-era style--Don't miss it!

I've also been pouring a lot of spare time into writing for the Seattle Concerts Examiner and The SunBreak.com. I haven't exactly been getting wealthy on either, but people are reading them, and if I may say so, the quality's been pretty damn good..

You can visit my Concerts Examiner page here (and I get paid by hits, so come back, read, and re-read often!). As for the SunBreak, the whole kit and caboodle can be accessed here. You'll find interviews with everyone from Hollywood legends to rock stars to film noir experts to reviews of B-movie schlock, but here are a couple of my personal faves.

Interview with Exene Cervenka of X: I took a bunch of pictures, and will try to post them here soon, along with the unedited version of the interview.

Interview with Trouble in Mind director Alan Rudolph (linked on Movie City News, thanks Vince Keenan!)

Interview with Indie Film Icon/Blaxploitation Pioneer Melvin Van Peebles

Interview with Film Noir God Eddie Muller

Preview of Frank Henenlotter's Bad Behavior (hey! Thats yours truly hobnobbing with the Basket Case director! And he even gave Bizarro Movie Night a ringing endorsement!).


Swear to Pete, I'll be a'scribblin' here again soon. Thanks for dropping by: Sorry to be such a stranger. 


Monday, March 15, 2010

Jerry Cantrell Gets an Emergency Steak Knife Tracheotomy: Final Chapter, Tales of Brave Mark Lanegan

I went to high school with Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell (he graduated one year ahead of me). We sang in choir together, and spent a lot of time talking music: He was one of the few headbangers during that halcyon time (ahem, the early eighties) that didn't grimace when you mentioned The Clash or The Sex Pistols.

We even partied together some: One of the most surreal things I ever saw after an all-night party was Jerry in the front yard of Kevin Yeagher's parents' house as the sun rose, sitting hunched over like some zen gargoyle. Beads of morning dew peppered his serenely sleeping-sitting-up form like spiders' eggs as steam rose from the grass. It was a strange and humorous vision that always stuck with me, and we had a good laugh about it the following week in choir class.

The last time we bumped into one another was at the taping of MTV's New Years' Show somewhere around 1993. Cypress Hill, The Breeders, and Nirvana headlined; Jerry was a VIP guest, natch; and I was a Production Assistant. We hadn't seen each other in about seven years, and I was sporting regulation shoulder-length grunge hair and thirty additional post-collegiate pounds. But he recognized me and called me over to introduce me to (I think) Alice bandmate Mike Inez and chat for a few minutes. Even in the flush of fame (this was right after Dirt had made the guy a star, for Chrissake) he was still the same laid-back, unpretentious, friendly guy he was in high school. Word has it that he's still that way, too.

All of this is apropos of nothing, except as a segue into this silly cartoon. Click images to enlarge.

Incidentally, thanks to the Internets (and my own dumb luck and detective work), I'm now reconnected with Tales of Brave Mark Lanegan Grunge-era Greek Chorus Dan Troy after eleven years. He's living happily in Davis, CA with a wife and two scrappy grade-school-age sons. This strip--and a bottle of Snapple--are lovingly dedicated to you, mi amigo.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Tales of Brave Mark Lanegan #3: A Blow to the Happy Sacks Sparks the Seattle Scene

The third installment of The Tales of Brave Mark Lanegan (see parts one and two to catch up) showcases Lanegan's um, lateral, contribution to the Northwest Music Scene via a misapplied Ninja kick. Click on image to enlarge.

 
In case the joke's not immediately apparent, one of the songs on Nirvana's multi-megaton smash Nevermind was a track called "Stay Away," hence the speculative fiction on its genesis. (The actual origin of the song is a bit less, um, impactful).

OK, after eighteen years the below panel still makes me snicker. Go figure.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Tales of Brave Mark Lanegan, Part 2: Lanegan Rescues Calvin Johnson from a Bear

In the second volume of Tales of Brave Mark Lanegan (circa 1993), the Singing Tree saves the head of K Records (Beat Happening/Dub Narcotic Sound System Singer/songwriter Calvin Johnson) from the clutches of a pissed-off bear. Johnson was/is a great songwriter and important figure in Indie Rock (Beck released an early album on K Records, and the whole Olympia music scene that Johnson helped create influenced the DIY and Riot Grrl scenes immensely). Johnson was also the vocal equivalent of Eeyore on some of those Beat Happening records.

One of the highlights of my early music geekdom was attending a K Records Barbecue with my buddy Brad circa 1988, and getting into a humorous drunken discourse with Calvin Johnson on whether or not Isaac Hayes ever recorded a version of the theme from Shaft on which Hayes sang the F word instead of implying it with, "He's a Bad Mother--Shut your mouth." (Calvin insisted that Black Moses did sing the unexpurgated word on a recorded version of the Shaft theme at least once; I vigorously dissented). Johnson also had a singing voice that sorta sounded like a cooler version of Eeyore's deadpan monotone, a detail that merited lampooning.


 Again, click the image for a detailed zoom.

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Tales of Brave Mark Lanegan Part 1

 I spent one night not too long ago, scanning various print articles from my chequered past in that eternal, Quixotic quest to drum up some paid scribbling gigs. There, buried amongst features about everything from operatic sopranos to Mexican masked wrestlers, resided an entertainingly silly piece of my misspent youth. And this being a blog, I thought I'd share. This is a bit of a long set-up, but it's kinda in order.

I was 24 years old, toiling away at a couple of telemarketing jobs circa 1992. One of these gigs was for an 'Employment Services' group known as Progressive Media. They specialized in selling Employment Guidebooks for everything from working on fishing boats in Alaska to teaching English as a Second Language in Japan. We received only inbound calls, so frequently I and my fellow bored twenty-somethings--music geeks all--wasted time doing strange things. Like (if you were me, at least) drawing cartoons of famous grunge singers.

The Screaming Trees were one of the finest bands to come out of the era; more a loud, heavy psychedelic band than strict grunge. Their lead singer Mark Lanegan's smoky rasp of a voice gave their brand of rock a sunburnt garage tinge. Lanegan also had a reputation as a guy who wasn't averse to a drink, or two...Or more.

My best buddy at the time was a New York ex-pat named Dan Troy. Dan, like me, was a hardcore music nerd, and he was good buddies with the head of an indie record label. Said label head knew much dirt and many silly stories about a lot of the era's rock luminaries, and he related a pretty funny story about Lanegan to Dan.

The Screaming Trees singer was in a bar, imbibing and watching a Portland Trail Blazers game. He waxed enthusiastic about the playing of Blazers' star Danny Ainge, and a fellow barfly good-naturedly chimed in with a genial reply of, "Yep, Danny Ainge: He's my boy." An inebriated Lanegan reputedly took the innocent remark wrong--VERY wrong--and the rest, as they say, is history. Or at least the stuff of goofy grunge-era comic strips.

Dan Troy's dry sense of humor and lanky, amiable mien made him the perfect Greek chorus for my tangents, so he became my surrogate Crypt Keeper. And I turned Mark Lanegan, serious musician and artist, into a mountain-climbing, emergency-surgery-performing, happy-sack kicking comic figure. I was just being silly, but the few people who saw these got a chortle or two out of them. The first Sub-Pop retail store (not the online one, sadly) allegedly had this first Tale of Brave Mark Lanegan proudly tacked to their wall, and Dan told me at one point that Portland band Pond liked 'em so much that they wanted me to illustrate a T-shirt for them.



(hey, Pond guys, I'm still around and I work cheap).



Looking at these with a jaundiced grown-up's eye, they're incredibly innocent and naive. It was before Kurt Cobain took his own life--and before drugs, bickering, and rock-star excess caused the Seattle Scene to become just another bit of rock history. I saw some great bands, collected some silly stories of my own, and learned a little about the music industry (and myself), too.

This first strip (The Danny Ainge Story) is based on ostensible fact (or at least semi-reliable hearsay). The other three that I'm gonna post are pure fiction. Hope you get a kick out of them. Click the image to see the complexities and subtleties of my finely-honed illustrative skills.