Wednesday, March 31, 2010

South by Southwest? North by Northwest? So... Where is That?

Remember the scene in North by Northwest in which Cary Grant's character, Roger O. Thornhill, is standing at Prairie Corner seemingly confused as to his whereabouts and as to the location's location?  Well, if Mr. Thornhill had known the title of the picture he was being bounced around in, he could easily have seen where his confusion came from.  He was nowhere, everywhere, and perhaps somewhere in between.

Seems that North by Northwest is neither a direction nor a location.  Now, Northwest by North is one of the 32 valid compass points, but "Northwest by North" just doesn't have the same ring to it as "North by Northwest", does it?  Mr. Hitchcock must have thought so or did he purposely name his film after a direction/location that doesn't exist?

From this site comes this explanation: "The title of the film is an anomaly and a clue to the absurd, confused plot in which no one is what he/she appears to be - there is no sharply delineated N by NW on a compass - it is an improbable direction. Apparently, it refers in part to the directionless, surrealistic search of the befuddled hero/common man around the country for a fictional character. [In Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet (Act II, Scene II), Hamlet is quoted as saying: "I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw."]"  So, Mr. Shakespeare obviously knows his 32 compass points (which begs the question, "What didn't he know?"), while Mr. Hitchcock was at it again, jabbing the audience with a poker.
This "North by Northwest" topic came up when a friend and I were at a Chestnut Street, Philly bar a few blocks east (just plain East) of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia where we were to see The XX's and (unfortunately) some other groups perform.  Having solved the riddle of how many angels can sit on a pin a while back, we foolishly opted to tackle the "South by Southwest" conundrum.  Had the founders of this fine music festival, SXSW, been pulling a Hitchcoock on us?

Pen in hand, piles of white cocktail napkins at the ready, a pint of brew each parked on just-ended "Tattoo Festival" coasters, wits sharpened to as much of a point that geezers' wits can be sharpened to, we set off to solve the directional riddle.  Surprisingly, time and beer flowed quickly and yet our hands were steady as we wrote up all the compass points.  True, our compass had an egg-shaped look to it, emphasizing the East and West of things, but our point lines were fairly straight.   We concluded that "South by Southwest" was a directional legpull the folks down in Austin were most certainly guffawing about.  While we agree that SSW was a valid direction, "South by Southwest" was guaranteed to result in a fool's errand.  Verification of a sober nature was requested, so a text was sent to the Fishing Yukon man, who quickly (Hey!  How come he doesn't respond as quickly to less interesting texts?..Never mind, answered my own question).  He concurred with our inebriated verbal meanderings and so another round was ordered in celebration thereof.

As one is wont to, especially after being affected by fine German hops, this knowledge was seeking to be disseminated.  A quick scan around the fine establishemnt resulted in a sudden lurch westward (perhaps WNW-ward) to a table filled with four seemingly smiling gents.  Turns out they were all Austrian citizens over for a visit.  Posing my SXSW question to them, I was met by silent stares; I'm sure they didn't think they were going to be quizzed while imbibing.  So, seeing if leg-pulilng was a possibility, I addressed the leader of the table with, "Look, aren't any of you in the Austrian Navy?"

This fat pitch was to0 tempting to ignore (even if baseball wasn't their forte) and all four launched into explanations of the SXSW conundrum while espousing membership in the Austrian Navy.  German-accented English never sounded so convincing.  Now, it was time to lower the anchor on these Boys from Vienna.
"So, which port were you stationed in?", knowing that there couldn't be a port that the now non-existent Austrian Navy had ships to be manned.

Laughs all around as they realized that Americans DO seem to know some geography and history.  One fellow did mention he went on a sailing vacation in Croatia powered by wind, beer, wine, and rakija and admitted that " ... South, North, South by Southwest all seemed o.k. directions once your sails were set and you were four sheets to the wind...".  So to speak.

Well, I couldn't leave the topic just yet.  So, scrounging on Google I found this article by a certain Dr. Steven H. Schimmrich, Professor & Department Chair Math, Physical Sciences, Engineering, & Technology  at SUNY Ulster County Community College.  Hey!  This fellow seemed to know his stuff!   And, best of all, he was a geologist.  My experience with geologists/geoscientists/geophysicists was that, as a group, they were quite friendly, engaging, and well-schooled in the lively art of barstool arguments.  On a whim and a prayer, I sent off an e-mail to the fine professor who promptly replied.

Being a fine fellow who got the joke of this whole debate, he noted that there is no such location nor direction as South by Southwest nor North by Northwest. seems the folks down in Austin have been puling a fast one on all of us asking us to come to an event not logically locatable.

So, to all of the folks that think they attended this year's (and previous years') SXSW festival?  Well...self-delusion is a mighty weapon!  You weren't there.  Truly.  Pull out a compass and start looking.  It's a place reached by unnatural means, it seems.


The XX's in Philly March 29, 2010 Part II

The XX's @ First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia, PA 3/29/10 (Poor picture quality due to loud low bass waves from the band discombobulating my limited pixels...that and shaky hand, cheap phone camera, and low lights)

After JJ departed and 30 minutes of roadie crew work involving getting the lights just right and the HUGE X alligned perfectly center, the XX's took to the stage, 3 young souls convening for services @ the First Unitarian Church.  They huddled around the keyboards and slowly went into the Intro, the first track from their self-named CD release.

My apologies are front-loaded for some minor key rants that are contained within this entry; the irritation has to do with the motes of sand flung by the sound stylings of the engineer at the show that were the source of an ever-growing pearl of disappointment.

And so to the show. The XX’s had started as a band of four; their only CD to date records them as such. Just before the American tour one of the members, vocalist /keyboardist/guitarist Baria Qureshi, opted to leave the group. The remaining 3 close friends, Jamie Smith, Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim, sucked it up and continued on with the tour plans, which included a stopover in Austin at the S X SW annual music/film/video hoopla.

And how fortunate we are that they did. If there was ever a more polite and self-contained group of musicians to front a stage I’d like to be (formally, of course) introduced to them. These folks make their parents proud. Not the thorniest way to introduce a show involving rock musicians, I realize, but it’s got to be said. Are you more than tired of hearing of Amy Winehouse’s alcohol/drug/self-deluded repeated acts of rage? The XX’s are a stunning pleasure to watch perform. Low key, tight, deflective and reflective. The 3 remaining members have been friends since early childhood and their intimate closeness comes through in their performance.

If only their performance were allowed to show through completely... For those of you familiar with their album, the vocals of Ms. Croft and Mr. Sim are central to their music. The signature guitar playing of Ms. Croft is an excellent framing of the lyrics and, more specifically, her whispery singing. She manages to inject an "uh-uh" into most of her utterances, all discretely, while Mr. Sim's soothing low voice provides a solid walkway for the songs' passage through the cool. With the exception of one song on the CD, Fantasy, there is nary a note of shudder nor shake. The CD shimmers. "Fantasy" was a clue as to how the sound engineer at the show was to opt to present the band sound. Disturbing bass came from the speakers such that clarity of sound was eliminated. The subtlety of Ms. Croft's and Mr. Sim's vocals were completely negated; subtlety requires restraint and speaker-distorting bass eliminates any chance of whispery vocals. It's as if the clown engineer who had set up the first act's performance was allowed to fool around with the simple and clear sound of the XX's. A miracle happened about half-way through the show. Either someone knocked off the sound engineer or he came to the realization of the criminal act he was committing with this band. The screechy bass was cleared up and we were allowed to hear the quiet interplay of the two vocalists.

As with the album, the set started out with "Intro", a short song anyone who watched the Vancouver Olympics is familiar with (Apollo Ohno’s AT&T spot). Most of the songs (if not all.. I lost count) from the CD were covered and half were fabulous thanks to the corrected sound. Shelter and Stars were especially memorable with the minimalist lighting and the give and take vocal exchanges of Ms. Croft and Mr. Sim.

Now, if only the first half had been allowed to play out with those setting...what a thoroughly enjoyable performance that would have been.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The XX's in Philly March 29, 2010 Part I

On a cold, rainy, and windy night in Philly an enjoyable night (for various reasons) was spent with fellow worshippers in Philly's First Unitarian Church for a 3 group concert headlined by England's "The XX's"

Opening the show was Nosaj Thing, a LA-based musical modulator who performed two songs; the first being a 4-5 minute item, that wasfollowed by sporadic clapping from the audience, and then a 30-45 minute song.   The actual time was difficult to recall as the space-time continuum seemed protracted/stretched into other dimensions.  Well, I confess, I napped for a bit, which was extraordinary since the volume was on 11 for the entire, uhhmmmm, performace.  Jason Chung, the single member of Nosaj Thing, seems to be the recepient of some favorable reviews, a surprise for me to read after the performance as the response from the rabble (and I proudly include my name in that grouping) was also of a review-ish nature, but not one tending toward the favorable nor the positive.

The sound settings during Mr. Chung's performance were, as stated, set on high volume but also on deep bass.  VERY DEEP BASS.   Profoundo Bass.   Long langorous notes were launched that vibrated the floor, the wooden pews, and the beautiful chandeliers.  It was a bass sound of such strong affect that my bladder shook and demanded that the legs  go forth and walk toward a rest room.   A walk, it turned out, of epic proportions as the direct line to the WC was right by the stage where the performer was in trance and in performance.   This path was prohibited lest a restroom-bound audience member might de-trance him.  Instead, one was guided out the front door of the church, cheerfully guided to a side street and and then to a side entrance, followed by a descent of two flights to the bowels of the church where one, uhmmm, could empty one's bowels.
I can't say enough about the staff of the R5 Productions, which run these concerts.  A cheery ever-smiling positive groups of employees one would be happy to have at their place of employment.  Standing out in the rain guiding those in need of relief to their place of release with nary a smug face?  Well, hope for the future of American youth is fortified!    I  couldn't help but notice a crowd of fellow attendees all lined up downstairs along with yours truly.  Some seemed to be there not for lower body relief but upper body, specifically the aural area,  reprieve from the onslaught from up above.  So, it was good to know that even the youths had issues with Mr. Chang's electronic noodlings. The long voyage back was shortened on the return trip to my pew.  Nosaj Thing had finished his piece and peace was upon us all.  I was allowed to walk past the stage where such magnificence was unleashed upon us.
A note to Mr. Chung.  For those of us who were there specifically for the headliners, it would have been a good thing to hear a few words from him.  Even a "Hi, how ya doin'?" would have been better than the monkish silence heaped on us.

JJ, the next act, bills itself as a duo.  The Swedish "group" stretches the meaning of that word to its ultimate meaning point.  Elin Kastlander, voice-wise, a singer in the Bjork school of emotive stylings, stood stock still, twirling her electrically shocked hair for expressive purposes while singing in an English variation that was difficult to comprehend.  The other member, Joakim Benon, would slink unto the stage at various times, whisper hints into her ear ("Twirl your hair again...I think the audience likes that"  or "Stoop and sip your water..let them know you are capable of mobility") and then depart the stage.
On occassion Mr. Benon would slip back onto the stage, pick up a guitar and seemingly strum.  In the background canned music played including drums, piano, violin, and electronica.  And guitar.  On occasion the guitar he played coincided with the soundtrack; on most occassions it did not.  In all occcassions, it was a distraction; it would have been best if the guitar had no strings.
Home-style movies were broadcast on one of the side walls of the church, in total disconnect with the singing and mis-tuned strumming.  Whales and cheetahs were in the movies as was Ms. Kastlander who was shown twirling her hair in the movie.  I can testify that while I was not impressed with much of JJ's act, Ms. Kastlander's hair-twirling was of a high standard.  So, we were blessed to see her twirlling her hair in the movie and also in real life  (Yes!  She wasn't using a body double for this tricky action) and, on quite a few occassions, both simultaneously.  As far as performance judgements go, if I wanted to imagine what Swedish karaoke was like, I simply had to alter my focus from the movie on the side wall to Ms. Kastlander up on the stage, alone, with the pre-recorded music that accompanied her for almost the entire "duo" performance.  Cruise ship, anyone?

It's hard to pull one over on a Philly audience, although I was pleasantly surprised at their empathy.  There was much of the laughter and the joking and jesting once JJ departed but nary a boo thrown in their general direction.

Next post.
Closing Act.
The XX's

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Enough Said

(New Yorker 2009)


Monday, March 22, 2010

"Bloggers Aren't Real Writers."

Maximillian Meehan, bouncer/booker/social commentator at Austin's Beerland had this to say about the smoking ban instituted in Austin back in 2004: 

"They say it's on behalf of employees, said Max Meehan, a nonsmoker who mans the door at Beerland. "But you don't have to be a bartender or a waitress. Get employment elsewhere."

He said the plan would hurt business — Beerland earns as much as 16 percent of its sales from tobacco, he said — and lead to further restrictions on nightlife.

"It's gateway fascism," he said. "If it's such a public hazard, why push people into the streets? The whole thing is dreamed up by suburban schoolmarms."

Why bring Mr. Meehan's name up?
Well...this gem of his opinionating ways came up in the NYT ongoing review of the just concluded annual SXSW festival.

His short epistle reminded me of John Kruk's timeless response to an elderly woman's inquiry as to his employable qualities, which was, "Lady, I ain't no athlete. I'm a baseball player."


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Theory of Ice & Walrus

For those of you who have followed the mysterious Ms. E on A Theory of Ice and were wondering if she had put herself on an iceberg to float away into oblivion, be happy!  She is writing again and she is doing so on a larger stage.

The Walrus offers her take on Team Canada's Olympic Hockey Gold.

A choice passage:
"And that’s the beauty of the Big Game, because the laws of probability might allow for any number of feasible outcomes, but in the end, in this only universe, this best of all possible worlds, only one thing happens. It is the single greatest moment of existential freedom a player can face, a point where he ceases to be whatever he otherwise is, whatever he inevitably will be over the eighty games of a season or the 600 games of a career, and is nothing greater or lesser than what he can accomplish in sixty minutes."

Sports matter because they give us metaphors for life, miniaturized scenarios stripped down to the bare essentials. Half of life is la longue duree, the things we do repeatedly, our habits, our jobs, our homes, our families, the things and people and places that recur again and again. That is the part of life where we practice, and grow, and struggle, and eventually become what we are. But the other half is the singular chances, the days unlike any other, the moments. The interviews, the dates, the tests, the accidents — these are life’s elimination series. Those events are not less real or momentous because they don’t give us the time to show the true depths and dimensions of our character. When the Big Game happens in real life, we don’t call it unrepresentative, we just call it unfair. And it is.

Let's hope she sends her academic career into the Sin Bin and get on with the life she was made for.

The best living writer on hockey.  Seriously.

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Old School

Jonathan Lethem wrote this piece for the BBC back in 2002.   As I drive to work, wait on line in stores, airports, and queues of indeterminate purpose, his bit repeats itself in my head.  Is this attitude toward phones, cell or land-lines, a generational thing, a question of the presence (or non-presence) of manners and consideration, or and introvert/extroert thing?

I'm not sure.  All I know is my attitude is fossilizing into one where I view the convenience of the cell phone as leaning most toward the person on the other end of the ghostly wire than to me; I carry (and pay for) a cell phone for someone else's desire for usage.   A good friend has successfully snubbed the ownership of a cell phone by stating he's not yet seen the benefits of his peace being disturbed.  I admire his resolve (and his monthly savings).

A short snippet from Mr. Lethem's piece:

"This shop owner insisted, as well, that we counterpersons observe a strict hierarchy as to the precedence of a real live customer, standing in front of us waiting to be served, over a caller on the telephone. Telephone customers, he explained, however preemptory and insistent, were to be considered as ghosts, non-entities, birds in the bush. They hadn’t made the commitment to appear in person in the shop, and so weren’t to be given any privileges to rival those customers who had. We shouldn’t ever make someone standing before us wait while we dealt with a telephone order; we were always to put calls on hold. I suppose this was where my notion of the morality of proximity was first instilled"

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Sochi 2014

Direct quotes from a travel brochure on Sochi, site of Winter Olympics 2014 (Temperature on Sunday was 66 degrees F)

"Multimedia, Sochi News July 17th, 2008

Tornadoes are actually quite common in Sochi, though are not as large as the ones destroying whole towns in USA. However, in Sochi they often cause havoc as well. Twisters in Sochi usually form over the Black Sea during stormy weather, then coming down crushing at the city. Two years ago in August, strong tornado came in destroying residential houses (our family friend’s house was almost completely destroyed — and these are brick houses!), part of «Youzhnye Kultury» park, and many buses on overnight bus parking, causing public transportation interruption in Adler for the next few weeks"

From Sochi Travel Info -Travel the Russina Rivieria!

One of the amazing things about the Vancouver Olympics was the succesful way (in most cases) the Canadians dealt with the weather problems dealt to them on a daily basis.  But even they did not have to deal with tornados.  This should be interesting, most especially in the way things will be worded by the Soshi Olympic Committee when faced with meteorological events out of their hands.


The WINNER of all of the Losers

My Ever-Loving Wife reminded me of this Jerry Seinfeld routine, upon hearing of last night's valiant but unfortunate losing effort in the gold medal game of Olympic hockey by Team USA to the host country, Canada.

From the Washington Post (ht to Whisky Prajer), USA defenseman Jack Johnson , a student of the observational life humour of Mr. Seinfeld commented after the game,

"We're pretty devastated," ..... "In any hockey event, you lose a silver medal. You don't win it. You win a gold, and you win a bronze. You lose a silver. It's just the way it is. In time, we're all going to be very proud of what we did, but it's not what we came here to do."

Jack, Jerry feels your pain...and gets a laugh out of it.

Addendum: Studies (counterfactual thinking) and reality show that winning silver is not conducive to your health.


Got dem Krugman Blues

Well, I know Paul Krugman thinks he became immortalized once he got the Nobel prize.

But, that just wasn't so.

Now, he is though, as Loudon Wainwright III has composed the Krugman Blues, which he performs live at the New Yorker here.  (The song id part of his latest CD, Songs for a New Depression....(note to Ever-Loving Wife: Honey, It's not in my collection.  Yet.....)

Also in this link, Hendrik Hertzberg posts an excellent link to the London times for an article on the late Kate McGarrigle.  Was she a perfect human being, warts and all (though you'd have to look with an atomic microscope to find them), or not?  My feeble thoughts on her sad departure were originally here.


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