Video Fridays: The Sapphires

The_Sapphires-posterIt’s been several weeks since I saw the wonderful film, The Sapphires, at Bellingham’s own art house emporium The Pickford Film Center, and I just can’t stop thinking about it.

I went into the experience with few expectations. The brief description I’d read gave me the impression that it would be a fairly lightweight, feel-good, possibly a little silly movie. BUT, man, take four Australian aboriginal gals with amazing voices, introduce them to a washed-up white soul musician played by Irish comedic actor Chris O’Dowd, and then take the show to Vietnam in 1968 to entertain American troops and you’ve got one dynamic, fantastic film!

As I’ve mentioned several times before (Just two examples: Post 1, Post 2), I LOVE Soul music. It has become my go-to genre when I’m burned out on nearly every other type of music, I eventually get fatigued by everything else but I can always come back to Soul music.

So, it’s Video Fridays, and thanks to The Sapphires, I’ve got some wonderful Soul music to share, first a clip from the film, with the gals doing the 1968 Linda Lyndell tune What A Man, then a sampling of the soundtrack in the trailer.

Seriously, see this movie if you can, whether in the theatre or at home. It’s a gas!

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

R.I.P., Ray Manzarek

ray-manzarekOvershadowed, understandably, by the news Monday of the massive tornado in Oklahoma, was the passing, at the age of 74, of Ray Manzarek, legendary keyboardist for The Doors.

I’ve not been the biggest Doors fan over the years, but every time I do hear their music, whether by choice or by accident, I do have a predictable thought that I REALLY like them and wonder why I don’t listen to them more often.

Anyway, Manzarek, in my opinion, was the key ingredient to the band’s sound. Bucking all convention, The Doors did not have a bass player, and so Manzarek performed double duty, playing bass lines with his left hand on one small keyboard and swirling organ arpeggios on another keyboard with his right hand. Guitarist Robbie Krieger and drummer John Densmore were certainly distinctive to some degree or another, but when I think of Doors music I first and foremost think of Ray Manzarek’s work.

For an accompanying video, I’ve chosen one of my personal favorite Doors songs, When The Music’s Over.

Thanks, Ray, for all of the great music!

Video Fridays: Gas Station Karaoke

karakokeOk, I know that my selection for today’s installment of Video Fridays, a clip from The Tonight Show, has already gone wildly viral.

I even know that some controversy has kicked up around it, with some suggesting that the whole thing was staged.

I.Simply.Don’t.Care.

Because, it’s frickin’ awesome! If this was a Saturday Night Live skit, I’d still enjoy it, so why should I care if it was staged or not?

The couple are just plain endearing and entertaining and willing to let it all hang out there in public. I love that!

Happy Weekend, everyone!

The Dystopia Fetish

dystopiaHave you ever had one of those experiences where you’ve been quietly tolerating something that really bothers you for a long, long time, but then you suddenly, in a dramatic moment, realize that you can no longer tolerate it?

Well, I’ve just had that experience, and I’m here to pronounce that I have no more tolerance to offer for what I see as a rampant dystopia fetish.

Dystopia: that mostly fictional construct of a future, sometimes post-apocalyptic, sometimes the product of a long, slow decline, filled with darkness and oppressive authoritarian government and violence, societies that retain just enough resemblance to present day realities as to give the impression that we’re heading down that slippery slope.

Fans of dystopian fiction, in print or onscreen, argue that we need these cautionary tales of possible futures, so that we, ideally, wake up and do everything we can to prevent such a future. But, what I see happening more and more is that people are starting believe that dystopia is unavoidable and already manifesting.

And, it wouldn’t be nearly as scary if it weren’t for the fact that some of these dystopians are already heavily arming themselves and preparing for the worst.

In some ways, we all contribute to the problem, by continuing to consume massive quantities of dystopia in books and movies and on TV. The media are happy to keep meeting the demand. I’m talking about everything from The Hunger Games to even the whole zombie craze. (Zombies aren’t real, of course, but they adequately serve as an easy metaphor for any number of evils that can fester in dystopia.)

You know, there’s enough real darkness in the world today, as a brief glance at news headlines will confirm. I’m not preaching head-in-the-sand escapism, but I do think we all should be rationing the attention we place on the dark side.

A friend of mine, a Seattle blogger at sealife chronicles, posted something today that I think is a good companion piece to this post, titled zen test. In it, he provides a wonderful quote by William Rivers Pitt and then writes:

bad happens every day.

and our collective survival instinct demands that we pay attention to it, so we learn to avoid it. trouble is, fed too much attention, the bad can take on a grim, feral life of its own. it’s a wild, dark energy that can turn on you and eat you alive.

this is true…and yet somehow the world is not, always or entirely, a carnivorous beast. we know this because sometimes ~ in quiet moments between the relentless waves pounding our souls ~ sometimes awesome happens.

amen.

Eyecatchers: Fish & Bicycles’s New Look, Via Hans d’Hollosy

basscycle2My favorite memory from when I first started Fish & Bicycles, back in October 2009, was the outcome of my search for a photo or other image for the header of the blog.

All it took was typing “Fish & Bicycles” into Google Image Search and one of the results on the very first page is the lede image you see here in this post, a print titled Basscycle, by artist Holly Berry. It could not have been more perfect, and so I emailed Holly, asked her for her permission to use the image, and she graciously agreed.

Alas, several years later, I was starting to feel like it was time for a change of scenery here, so I started looking around, but nothing really grabbed me. My friend Tom was recently in Dublin, Ireland, on the tour of the Guiness Brewing facility, when he came across this awesomeness:

guiness-fish-bicyle

Unfortunately, due to my limited Photoshop skills, I was not able to edit it into anything useful. The space for the header in my blog’s theme is 1000×288 pixels, the Guiness fish on a bicycle is much closer to a square, and when I tried to stretch it, crop it, adjust the levels, apply filters and effects, sadly, nothing worked.

But, it seems there’s something about my friend Tom, because he was on the epic road trip I just returned from, and on our drive home we stopped for lunch in Eugene, Oregon and discovered this awesomeness:

mural

The mural, located on the east wall of 164 West Broadway, is the work of Hans d’Hollosy, a Eugene artist, and it is outrageous in all the best ways. More importantly, if you look close enough, you’ll see some fish and a bicycle just left of the center of the photo, and as I stood in that alley looking it over it became clear that this was exactly what I was looking for. I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d be able to edit it into a good 1000×288 pixel header, but I took some photos and couldn’t wait to try.

The result? The new Fish & Bicycles header!

fish-bicycles-header-final

Now, I’d like to point out that Hans d’Hollosy’s mural was not commissioned, and so he’s got a Kickstarter campaign set up to raise money for his work, which he reports is about 80% complete. I hope folks who come across this blog post will consider making a pledge to support this gift to the Eugene community and to all who pass through as I did. (You can learn more about the project and make a pledge here.)

In the meantime, I just can’t bear to do away with Holly Berry’s Basscycle, and so I’ve decided to leave it on my About page, and a snippet of it will continue to be visible in the site’s favicon and in the avatar I use, visible whenever I comment on a WordPress blog.

I hope you enjoy Fish & Bicycles new look!

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Phil Ochs: Is it ever ok to give up?

Originally Published: August 9, 2011


I try really hard to keep things positive here at Fish & Bicycles. There are already plenty of blogs and websites out there wailing about how bloody awful things can get in this world. I should know. I used to write one of them.

That’s why I go looking for positive news (e.g. my Celebrating Progress series) to write about, or for the latest on less overtly political topics like the arts.

And yet, I’ve been thinking a lot about the 1960s and ’70s lately (Post 1, Post 2), feeling pretty sad about how, despite the cultural revolution of that period, we still have a world dominated by corruption, war-mongering, environmental destruction, and plutocracy.

So, what do I do? The other night, in a kind of masochistic impulse, I watched a documentary on Netflix, Phil Ochs: There but for Fortune, that just broke.my.frickin’.heart.

I’ve known some of Phil Ochs‘ music for years, knew he was a folk singer from the Greenwich Village glory days, and I even knew he descended sadly into alcoholism and madness before killing himself at the age of 35.

But I didn’t really understand the depth of his passion for and commitment to social causes until I saw this film, and it was nothing short of brutal to watch as Ochs’ dreams were violently dashed, over (Medgar Evers), and over (JFK), and over (Malcom X), and over (MLK), and over (RFK), and over (1968 Democratic National Convention), and over (1973 Chilean coup d’état), and over again (Victor Jara).

How is anyone expected to withstand that kind of relentless defeat? Can you really blame Ochs for trying to soothe his aching soul with alcohol? Is it ever ok to give up?

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Video Fridays: Long Live Hippies

Originally Published: July 26, 2011


A friend of mine recently tweeted a wonderful YouTube clip (video embedded below) of a joint performance by The Flaming Lips and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros of the Lips song Do You Realize?, filmed in a cemetery in Los Angeles, CA.

I dare anyone to watch the video and NOT have the word “hippies” come to mind, and I’m reminded of a post I wrote back in April 2010, a lament on the fact that for some, in my opinion too many, the word “hippies” carries a negative connotation.

I watch that video of Do You Realize? and it’s quite bittersweet for me. While it’s heartening to see hippie culture surviving, it breaks my heart to think of how squashed the movement got, as I wrote previously, by cynicism and conservatism.

What I see when I watch that video is a crowd of people being incredibly peaceful, lovingly joining their voices together in song, singing about how precious life is and how we should, together, make the most of every single second. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the pleasure of similar experiences, and while I was raised Jewish and now dabble in Buddhism, I’d have to say that gatherings like that, especially when they involve making music, are really the only church I’ll ever need.

Back in April 2010 I quoted a line by Pete Townshend of The Who, a line that I remembered but couldn’t recall exactly where it came from. Well, I’ve since remembered.

In 1993, Townshend released an album titled Psychoderelict, a concept album about an aging rock star lamenting the fact that back in the late 60s and through much of the 70s artists and their fans really did believe that their music and art, along with their love and community, could change the world for the better.

Townshend’s aging rocker says at one point, “Whatever happened to all that lovely hippie shit?”

Well, despite all the cynicism in our screwed up world, that hippie shit is alive and well and recently showed up in a Los Angeles cemetery. And, it really has very little to do with how people dress or how often they do drugs and drink, and everything to do with a sincere belief that love; peaceful, supportive, inclusive community; and freedom of expression, are the most important things.

Q: Are Blogs Dead? A: HELL NO!!!

bring-out-your-deadSo, there’s this article out in The New Republic, by Mark Tracy, titled Eulogy for the Blog.

And, I have to tell ya, it REALLY bugs me, and it bugs me on several levels.

First, unless it’s a thing to call a bit of writing a eulogy even though the subject of said writing isn’t actually dead, Marc Tracy utterly fails to make a credible argument for his declaration of death. (And, you know what? Even if it IS a thing, it sucks, it’s a shallow attention grabber.)

A telling comment (my emphasis added in bold):

This is the context in which the New York Times‘ decision, revealed this week, to review all of its blogs and shutter at least some of them (including the popular, at least among the sort of media wonks who are still reading this article, Media Decoder), ought to be understood.

You see, Tracy is clearly, himself, a media wonk, and so he bases his assertion that blogs are dead on observations of a handful of high-profile bloggers in elite publications like The New York Times. This reeks of ivory tower classism, it’s lazy journalism, and it’s an insult to the millions upon millions of bloggers all around the world who are alive and well and blogging away. (For instance, as of this writing, WordPress, the blogging platform that I use, claims nearly 65 million users. Declaring them dead…doesn’t that make Marc Tracy a mass murderer? Hahaha.)

More proof that his headline is nothing more than sensationalism, Tracy admits:

We will still have blogs, of course, if only because the word is flexible enough to encompass a very wide range of publishing platforms: Basically, anything that contains a scrollable stream of posts is a “blog.”

But, he follows this up with the most inane attempt to justify his conclusion anyway:

What we are losing is the personal blog and the themed blog.

WTF?! This guy has obviously spent ZERO time browsing even a small sample of the blogs out there, millions of which, actually, from my observation, mostly fall into those very two categories. The vast majority of blogs that I come across are either personal journals, musings on daily life events, or they are blogs that specialize in a single theme, from food to politics, arts to sports, celebrities to hobbies, and on and on and on. (Fish & Bicyles would be in a third category, fewer in numbers, but we’re out there: the general topics blog, about, as I like to say, whatever strikes a fancy at any given moment, on any given day.)

I initially thought I’d go with a zombie theme for this post, but you actually have to be dead first in order to become the undead.

And so, just to be sure, I checked the pulse of Fish & Bicycles, and I am happy to report that it is, absolutely, alive and kicking.

Tweet of the Day: @soulpancake

soul-pancakeI gotta say, the more I see of actor Rainn Wilson, the more impressed I am with him.

I first discovered Rainn, appearing as Arthur Martin, the quirky/slightly-creepy/yet-endearing intern at the Fisher Funeral Home, in the 2001-2005 HBO series Six Feet Under. And then, very soon after, he appeared in his most-known role, as Dwight Schrute in the U.S. version of The Office.

He has also appeared in a couple of movies, and has hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live, but the project I’m most impressed with is his website, Soul Pancake, and the the book of the same name. Soul Pancake is a kind of Web 2.0 platform, best described by this blurb from the site:

Our brain batter of art, culture, science, philosophy, spirituality and humor is designed to open your mind, challenge your friends, and feel damn good.

I particularly like Rainn’s video series, Metaphysical Milkshake, filmed in the back of a van, in which he has hosted a wide range of guests, from musicians to actors to entrepreneurs to Deepak Chopra. Now, plenty of fun has been poked at people who are inquisitive and think about life’s big questions, spiritual questions, but Rainn Wilson has achieved a wonderful balance between comedy and seriousness. He keeps things very funny, but the jokes don’t rob the discussions of their sincerity.

If you read up a little on Rainn, you find out that he’s from right here in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle), his mom was a yoga instructor, he’s very open about being a member of the Bahá’í Faith, and, while his humor can be as dark and risqué as it gets, he doesn’t allow it to be mutually exclusive with his spiritual side.

And so we arrive at the reason for today’s Tweet of the Day installment, something that, despite the typo in the tweet, I found very sweet and meaningful and representative of Rainn’s sincere big heart.

Enjoy!

Video Fridays: R.I.P., Allan “Sidney Freedman” Arbus

allan-arbusI’m late getting to this, but I’m sad that I’m posting my second obituary in one week.

Following my post on Monday on the loss of Richie Havens, I heard the very next day of the death of actor Allan Arbus, at the age of 95, mostly known for his role as the psychiatrist, Dr. Sidney Freedman, on the TV show M*A*S*H.

(In a creepy example of the urban myth that celebrities die in groups of three, since I started writing this, I’ve learned of the death of country music legend George Jones at the age of 81. I may or may not be able to post an obit for George later today.)

Anyway, I mentioned once before that I practically grew up on M*A*S*H. In fact, it was such a central experience for me, as well as for many of the people I knew, including my best friends, who would talk about it constantly, reciting our favorite lines, analyzing it’s ups and downs, that it is not unsurprising to me at all that Allan Arbus’ passing would inspire more than just a brief note about how I used to enjoy him on television.

(If you aren’t a TV geek who enjoys exploring the themes of a show, if you are someone who simply likes entertainment, that’s cool, but you might want to skip ahead below, to the video part of this Video Fridays installment, a montage of clips of Allan Arbus from various M*A*S*H episodes.)


Now, the fascinating thing here, for me, is that Allan Arbus and his character, Sidney Freedman, actually represent the epicenter of an aspect of M*A*S*H that divided its fans into two opposing camps:

  1. Those who preferred the earlier seasons of the show, when comedy far outweighed drama, and when the comedy was, as I would argue, of a more sophisticated style.
  2. Those who loved the evolution of the show from mostly comedy toward increasing amounts of drama, and despite the shift in comedic style.

You see, although Arbus only appeared in 12 of the 251 episodes of M*A*S*H, and although his earliest appearances were in Season 2, when the show was still firmly mostly-comedy, I contend that the very fact that Sidney Freedman became a recurring character is symbolic of the evolution of the series towards drama.
Gradually, the show became less and less about the farcical absurdities of war, in the style of, say Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 — the style, incidentally, of the original source material, the novel by Richard Hooker and the film by Robert Altman — and more and more about the emotional, dramatic, traumatic and tragic nature of war.

That said, a convincing argument could be made that, once you delve into the ugliness of war, as would, let’s say, a psychiatrist, digging through the horrible toll it takes on humans and humanity, that it necessarily gets harder and harder to make light of it. A sitcom about war, then, could eventually become shallow or even insulting to those who have faught in, been injured by, or have lossed loved ones to war.

And, nothing underscores Sidney Freedman’s central role in this evolution than his central role in the very last episode of the series, 1983’s Goodbye, Farwell and Amen, M*A*S*H‘s swan song, the show’s last statement on the subject of war, which centered on therapy sessions between Sidney and Alan Alda‘s Hawkeye Pierce, who had suffered a nervous breakdown over a traumatic experience involving a mother who silenced her baby, thereby suffocating and killing it, in order to protect Hawkeye and the other passengers on a bus that was under enemy fire.

Drama indeed. Nothing funny about that.

Now, I should make it clear that, despite my preference for the earlier seasons, I do appreciate the significant achievement of keeping the show on the air for 11 seasons, while maintaining a huge audience and mostly positive reviews. After all, I kept watching and never missed an episode.

Truthfully, my beef with the show wasn’t really with the trend toward drama-over-comedy. Rather, as mentioned above, I found the comedy that did remain to be lacking in sophistication, too often heavily laden with silly puns, slapstick arguments and personality clashes.

Whatever you make of this analysis, regardless of which camp you reside in, I think we can all agree that Allan Arbus was wonderful as Dr. Sidney Freedman. As Alan Alda said, quoted in the Los Angeles Times Arbus obituary, “He was so authentic in the role it was hard to believe that he wasn’t that person.”

R.I.P., Allan Arbus. Thanks for the memories.