Thursday, May 24, 2007

Fur Balls and Folk Stars

I have been desperately trying to convince Mason that the sole thing we currently lack in our lives is the love of a furry feline friend, and I’m pulling out all the stops here. On May 5, I argued that it was essential that we celebrate ‘Cinco de Meow’ by selecting a cat from the local shelter. Now, it’s coming on June, which (according to the ASPCA) is none other than ‘Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat-Month.’ What better time than now, before the poor displaced fur balls are all picked over?

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I believe that a compassionate higher being felt sympathetic towards my situation and appeased my longing with a sweet surprise. One morning, four precious flea-bitten feral kittens were huddled on our porch. They found me, and my honey turkey, my porch and my love, and they stayed in the refuge of our porch for several days.

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These sweet kittens have me thinking about the “fraidy-cat” syndrome. I look endearingly at each stray kitten with harmless intentions. I want to pet it, love it, feed it and care for it, but when it sees me, I send it darting off in fear. I understand we are different – the kitty and me – but what about ‘different’ is frightening? Is it my size, shape, smell? What if it were not a cat, but someone of another culture, color, background, education? If we understood each other and could communicate how we cared for one another, what this friendship could offer and how we each could benefit from it, the world would be a kinder and more comfortable place. The world would have less fear.

Calling all landlords, tambourine men and rainy day women!

It is him, babe. This Sept. 14-16, I have a date with bobby d. The folk icon and master lyricist himself is set to headline this year’s Austin City Limits Festival, and this three-day binge of Dylan and debauchery is not to be missed.

Thanks to an unbelievable family hook-up, I have been blessed with the opportunity to see Bob live and in person once before in New York (February 1998). I believe some of you may have caught it on television, most notably remembered in reference to ‘soy bomb.’

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People will do just about anything to get next to Bob, and I can’t blame them. Check out the ACL lineup and buy your 3-day pass before you’ve missed your chance. I'll be there. After all, missing Bob when he comes to town is like missing a free lecture by Jehovah. It's just wrong, sinful … bad for the soul.

Bob D – I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight

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Friday, May 18, 2007

A Modest Storm

In light of recent circumstances, I have begun to contemplate the meaning of ‘Rain or Shine’ in regards to event forecasting. Historically, the all-encompassing nature of this terminology has held true. At Woodstock, though no one could have expected it, the preemptive message could have included birth, miscarriage, nudity, massive mud and death – among other stipulations. A couple dry Central Texas summers ago, the thousands of squinting, coughing, bandanna-masked ACL festival goers, would have likely appreciated drought, dehydration and blinding dust storm added to the list of ticket-stamped conditions.

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At the Modest Mouse concert May 9, I had the always-pleasant opportunity to see a great show with great friends. On this particular occasion, we drove down Hwy 71 through the Austin wine country on a lazy Wednesday afternoon to see a sold out show at The Backyard. The Backyard boasts of a ‘natural, open-air setting enveloped in the shade of 400 year old live oaks with multi-tiered decks, fishponds and plaza areas that illuminate the magic of the amphitheater’s atmosphere.’ Though I didn’t see any fishponds, what they did have was shitty parking and a full service bar. I’m a fan of any place you can watch a great live show and with a scotch and water in hand - fishponds or not.

It seemed like nothing could go wrong. Sure, the National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm watch for most of Central Texas until 11p.m., and the local news posted a flash flood watch for the Hill Country through the night, but those guys are always guessing, and they had been striking out lately. Plus, there wasn’t an ominous cloud in the sky, and it hadn’t rained a drop all day.

In the hours that passed during our pre-show festivities, those fumbling meteorologists changed their story time and time again. While all these ‘experts’ were attempting to interpret their radar images and fancy satellite technology, my friends and I were enjoying track after track from the most recent We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank and swaying to the sweet sounds of former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr who collaborated on the album. We would later discover, that by the time we were parking in a patchy field off 71, the forecast settled on a prediction:

“A line of thunderstorms is moving into the area from the west. The weather service says the storms are expected to reach the Austin area by 11 p.m.”

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Slowly a dark force became visible and slowly crept across the sky, closing all of us in darkness like a drawer of helpless figurines and with it came the rain. Sheets of rain waterfalled from the pavilion to the crowd below, and heavy winds shook the stage lighting and the oak trees surrounding all of us. 45 minutes or so into the set, front man Isaac Brock said simply, “Thanks to everybody for comin out tonight.” At that, 5000 people from the sold-out show made a mass exodus for the doors.

Did I mention that the parking was less than ideal? A marathon of 5000 partied-out participants racing through a treacherous course of mud, rocks, construction and traffic to get to an unmarked field and attempt to find the oddly shaped tree landmark they parked their car by in the blinding drenching, flooding rain…

How I love concerts at outdoor pavilions and the inconsistent flash floods of Texas summers.

Modest Mouse – Missed the Boat

Modest Mouse – Dashboard

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Alien Beings with Human Faces

The third and conclusive installation of the Okay Mountain gallery’s No American Talent Series opened April 21. The completion of the trilogy featured artist Basim Magdy of Cairo, Egypt, with curator Regine Basha. (I still am unsure as to the genius of this collaborative operation – which effort was the brains and which the brawns.) As a student of anthropology, I could dream of no more grandiose finale than The Common Deceit of Reality .

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“Mud Pools and How We Got Ourselves to Look for Big Foot Heaven”

Walking into the doors of the OKMT gallery, I was surprised by the absence of white wall space, which had been replaced by wrapped storyline text. The familiar simple, stained cement beneath my feet was replaced with layers of fresh bark mulch, and a lone pop-up illuminated camper, of all things. The gallery invaded my nose with the woodsy reminiscent smell of Girl Scout camp, Bunsen burners and family summers spent wandering Michigan’s remote northern trails.

The lime green sans-serif font that stretched across the gallery walls told a story of ‘Little Bigfoot’ – who was at once a tragic and friendly character. A scratchy transistor radio inside the camper whistled played-out favorites of our middle aged counterparts. Other human ‘necessities’ accumulated in the small, netted space included ceramic dish ware, bottled water and wood-paneled comforts of our linoleum homes. Little Bigfoot himself was lifelessly slumped over the foldout table with a poisoned dart lodged into his broad back of matted black costume fur.

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I beg to pose the question that Basim Magdy intentionally put forth: Is Little Bigfoot the childhood plush fantasy character, the burdened victim of progress and greater evolution or the heroic emblem of hindsight realization?

It was Darwin in The Origin of Species who attempted a new, daring approach to science by applying the old questions of evolution to new biological questions of science and self. A Darwinian of his in his own trade, Magdy attempts to alter our objective realities about our own culture and history. He forces us to question ethnocentrism, and our alignment with it.

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“In the Grave of Intergalactic Utopia”*

This confined space traveler was displayed in the yard of the OKMT gallery, and posed a powerful argument supporting the Bigfoot installation. Our 'most evolved’ symbol of man was caged like a circus animal with water bowls for lapping and a bag peanuts for nibbling – while just a few feet away, man’s supposed ‘least evolved’ symbol was in air conditioning with access to a gas grill and Ozarka. *This was also a seminal public piece shown during previous exhibition at New York’s Newman Popiashvili Gallery.

In modern urban existence, aliens are all around us – in perception if not in reality. The very meaning of the word 'alien' now even includes 'creature from outer space.' Surrounded by hay bales and hipsters, our astronaut slumped like a zoo primate, and there were no wide-eyed children there to poke and prod, just the jaded wonderment of ‘see and be scene’ and how many beers until a floated keg.

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Lucky for me, the opening was also an editorial event. The opening doubled as the launch of the May/June issue of ART PAPERS. Editor-in-chief Sylvie Fortin was in attendance, and the most recent issue features a 6-page spread designed by Basim Magdy. This publication is unlike anything you will find on your newsstand – or rather, unlike anything conventional. Its subject content and layout are uniquely and aesthetically organized, and most of all (I am grinning from ear to ear) – it is fascinatingly well written. Thank you, ART PAPERS.

No American Talent 3 : Basim Magdy - The Common Deceit of Reality will show through May 26. Throw your ways into a larger context. Expand your knowledge.

Later that night, we decided that we hadn’t gotten our fill of space creatures and wonderment, so we swung by The Blue Genie on rumors of a mock-up spaceship. This was Apollo – Austin art style.

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Any chance I get to make hand puppets…

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The fog machine was out of control – VERY realistic

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Not sure about this one, but it was pretty intense

Then finally, we relaxed with some warm Tito’s and cranberry for some transvestite belly dancing and a thrilling performance by Foot Patrol. If you haven’t heard them, you should check out their album, Toetry in Motion, which features such catchy tunes as ‘Footography,’ ‘Agony of DeFeet’ and – true to the night’s theme – ‘Big Foot.’

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*The ‘girl’ on your right was in fact not.
I had a real ‘crying game’ moment with this one.

Just another Saturday night. Ah, my friends, this is Austin entertainment at its finest.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Free Thought: Something to Think About

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May 3 marks a day of thoughtful observation, as writers, readers, thinkers and learners acknowledge the state of accessible, free flow information and the value of exchanging ideas. Passionate interest, investment and deprivation of well-rounded thought are what make this day so powerful. Whether you are a martyr for human rights or simply enjoy turning on the tube to catch the morning traffic report, World Press Freedom Day should be means for reflection.

In the photo above by Denis Sintacov, these brave, passionate, orally-bandaged souls silently protest the control of mass media by an oppressive Russian government. For seven years of rule and unchecked power, Vladimer Putin has ordered censorship of all information circulating from newsrooms to those desperate minds of all who call Russia home. This demonstration in Moscow last June is a silent protest and courageously endearing plea for free, fair thought in a state of disabling ignorance.
*Courtesy of AFP Press

Last year, a total of 110 journalists were murdered and 134 were imprisoned. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the number of freedom writers jailed for their work across the globe increased for the second year in a row, and one in three is a blogger, online editor or web-based reporter. Personally dabbling in all three growing sectors of journalistic jailbirds, let it be said that I am sleeping with one eye open. Not only has the number of imprisoned electronic journalists increased each year since 1997 (the year CPJ recorded the first jailed Internet writer in its census), but last year’s figures mark the highest number of Internet journalists ever tallied.

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In recent months, I have held a heavy burden on my heart and mind for journalist Bob Woodruff. When hit by a roadside bomb, he earned the title as the first American news journalist to be wounded in a war zone. A respected reporter since the early nineties, Bob replaced the beloved and humanly imperfect Peter Jennings before departing for Iraq. From sea to shining sea, Americans of all walks of life welcomed Bob into their homes and entrusted their minds to his kind and handsome delivery of information. When Bob returned, he was not handsome, and he had a slightly different story to tell. This brought inescapable sadness and much-needed reality to the American people. This was arguably his most effective reporting to date.

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Maseman shedding some light on anti-war propaganda

Be thankful for our legal (or legally judged) freedom and ability to relay our messages, thoughts and opinions. We all have something to say, and we are blessed with a means to do so. Spread wisdom, expression and thought. Celebrate and contribute to a greater purpose. In doing so, you will facilitate change for what you believe in. Silence is our greatest disabler.

Happy World Press Freedom Day
May 3, 2007

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