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Showing posts from 2008

Passings: Eartha Kitt--Chanteuse, Actress

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You were completely and totally into me, and I into you. I know that now. And that thought, that fleeting instant of magical chemistry, consoles me as I think of your voice being silenced forever. We met a decade ago, but the night reverberates in me with the heady urgency of the last breath that just escaped my lips. I waited for you jadedly, with no more expectation than mere entertainment--just the amiable passage of an hour or two passively listening to you. But you elegantly strode out and bewitched me and everyone else in that dimly-lit little class-A joint. Cheekbones so haughtily elegant and defined that they could cut diamonds; gams too perfect to have any right gracing the body of a 35-year old, never mind that of a septuagenarian; hourglass figure poured into a gold lamé dress by God in one of his most continental moods...That utterly unique and enchanting package alone was enough to have the whole lot of us eating out of your hand that night. Then you opened your mouth a

Japan, Part 4: Wide-Eyed (and Blue-Haired) in Kyoto

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This morning is Halloween, October 31, Japan time. Crisp mountain air and hazy skies greet us as we arise. Buddhist mass begins bright and early at Shojoshin-in, and we attend the ceremony along with a small group of fellow gaijin. The chapel/worship room (formal terminology escapes me) contrasts sharply with traditional Western worship halls: The compact space includes ceilings no higher than those in your average room in a typical private home. A single shade of deep flaming red lines the walls, and golden statues--Buddhist iconography, dragons, and other ornate statuary--occupy nearly every foot of floor space. The size and the striking two-toned hue of the room and its contents lend a surreal air to the space as the monks enter. The two youngest of the monks sit opposite one another, chanting in a low, two-layered hum. The third, older but similarly shorn of hair and robed, sits further to the left and adds another layer to the lulling thrum of the prayers being chanted. Then an

Not-Snow Day! Snow Day!

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Every year, our local news media turn into a bunch of yabbering ninnies the instant the temperature drops anywhere near freezing. "STORMWATCH 2008!" they were screaming on Monday, when the temperature was in the low 30's, the weather was clear, and the downtown roads perfectly navigable. I happened to have a camera, so I snapped a few pictures during my lunch break. Love's Forever Changes danced in my ears (there's your obligatory pop-culture reference, however obscure, friends) as I walked and snapped photos. The area around my work has been transforming at an insane rate, but amidst all of the toney shops and shinily anonymous buildings sits the frequent highlight of my semi-daily, sanity-preserving walks--St. Spiridon's Greek Orthodox Church. It's an austere and beautiful building, and a bastion of the organic and the spiritual in an area rapidly losing its human face. I'm not religious, but the presence of this church (which, incidentally, I&

Passings: Beverly Garland, Bettie Page, Van Johnson

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For anyone of a certain age, or anyone far-sighted enough to appreciate film or pop culture of an era other than this one, the last couple of weeks have been especially heart-breaking. Bettie Page , who died at age 85 on Thursday, left an indelible impact on the country's--nay, the world's--collective sexuality that can't be overstated. Oh, and any man who does not harbor a hemisphere-sized crush on her is a fool. In a world so celebrity and pop-culture saturated that the word 'icon' gets tossed around like used Kleenex, Page was the real deal. Like most pioneers, she received little recognition (even outright derision) during her pin-up model prime, but her striking signature look--jet-black hair and bangs, crystalline eyes eternally generating playful sensuality in those Irving Klaw photos--generated a major aesthetic and erotic ripple effect. And now that she's gone, it's awfully easy to see Bettie Page as a martyr for the Sexual Revolution. Aside from

Passings: Forrest J. Ackerman--Magazine Editor, Pioneer of Fandom, Favorite Uncle

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As I write this, DVDs of many of my favorite horror and sci-fi films sit on a shelf next to me--a library of fear at my fingertips. Exhaustive information about even the most obscure little genre films is just a mouse click away, and horror and sci-fi geekdom is a megalithic, multi-billion dollar industry. Thing is, literally none of it would exist without Dr. Ackula, Forrest J. Ackerman . Ackerman, who died on December 4 at the age of 92 , wasn't a household name to most folks, but he left a massive thumbprint on the horror and science fiction genres. He essentially created fandom, purchasing his first science fiction pulp magazine ( Amazing Stories ) in 1926, creating the first Science Fiction Fan Club in 1930, and popularizing the term 'sci-fi.' He spread the gospel of the fantastic to the world as a literary agent, editor, sometime author, and was a close friend to everyone from author Ray Bradbury to horror movie icons like Boris Karloff and Vincent Price. But to me

Tom Jones, 24 Hours: The God of Pump returneth

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Japan will have to wait for a spell. The Petri Dish, you see, is black and white and Tom Jones all over. Not that it hasn't already been, once or twice . But a couple of especially great reasons for it have popped up recently. Firstly, the leather-lunged Welsh Wonder's album 24 Hours just dropped. And it's nothing short of phenomenal, a glorious crystallization of everything that is life-affirming and great about The Man and his voice. On the face of it, this new release follows the basic template of most of Jones's discs since the mid-nineties--original tunes gilded by a few well-chosen covers, all garnished by those world-class pipes--but 24 Hours presents the formula to perfection. Much as I adore The Man's body of work, it's often necessary to do some wheat-from-chaff separation on his records. Here, every track just knocks it outta the park. The new tunes (quite a few co-written by Sir Tom hisself) are a revelation. Many of them capture the escapist

In Japan, Part 3

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October 30, 2008: To Koyasan. In the morning, we're escorted to the proper ticket purchase point in Osaka Station by not one but two helpful Swissotel staff members. After picking up our admissions we head over to the terminal for our train to Koyasan. The Station holds a similar feel to London Station, with its open spaces and daylight filtering in over the metal framework that spider-webs the train gates. A lone, dilapidated pigeon lopes near us. One corner of his beak looks crusted with calcification, and in place of his right foot is an equally-calcified stub. He's charming as hell in his scruffy way, and soon he's lured several scraps of pastry from Rita and I. The train arrives, and we're off to Koyasan. The journey offers the same humble-but-palpable pleasures as the Tokyo-to-Kyoto ride: More birds'-eye views of some of Japan's non-touristy quadrants flit by, but this time the sardine-packed suburbs gradually give way to much more rural and placid a

Travels in Japan, Part 2

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October 29, 2008 : Morning in Tokyo is lovely and clement (probably mid-sixties), but there's little time to enjoy it. Today's trajectory will take us via Japan Rail to Kyoto. Then later tonight we journey to Osaka to stay the night. The following morning, we travel from Osaka to Koya, and to the remote hamlet of Koyasan: The latter will be (we hope) one of the trip's highlights. The train trip from Tokyo to Kyoto takes about two hours. It encapsulates one of the things I love most about traveling--namely, getting a glimpse (however fleeting) of the routine daily life in a foreign country. Beyond the cosmopolitan shimmer of Tokyo, Japanese suburbs zip by. Tight clusters of apartments and factories break up patches of lush green trees and rice paddies: Surprisingly, in such a densely-populated land there are still some wide-open spaces. Our first big salvo of sensory overload hits us not in Tokyo but in Kyoto. Kyoto Station is a massive modern bivouac, honeycombed with m