As soon as I got home tonight from seeing Rodger Grossman's surprisingly effective What We Do Is Secret I fired up YouTube and hunted down the Germs segment from Penelope Spheeris's The Decline of Western Civilization. Spheeris appears briefly as a character in Grossman's film, documenting Darby Crash (as brilliantly played by Shane West) and the rest of the Germs at a time when they'd been banned from every club in LA. What We Do Is Secret itself uses a faux-documentary style to tell its story of the Germs' rise and fall in the midst of late '70s LA punk, but the most powerful moments occur during the live music scenes and when the camera focuses on the complex play of emotions on West's face. I wasn't there to see the Germs back in the day, as I was busy toddling around my backyard a few miles away in Orange County at the time, but many of the details feel right even if they are slicked up a little by the Hollywood biopic brush. West really does channel Crash to an uncanny degree, and Rick Gonzalez as Pat Smear is pretty amazing too. And even Oki Dog gets a cameo.
Now I'm all twitchy to DJ tomorrow: 3 - 6pm PST, Sunday, August 31 KALX Berkeley 90.7fm
Tonight after a yummy dinner at Spork I led a few brave compatriots down 24th Street for the opening of Christine Shields's new solo show at Triple Base, When Holy Were the Haunted Forest Boughs. The gallery was literally packed when we got there with people shimmying to live music by Linda Hagood, and Shields had decorated the space with layered translucent paper butterflies and paintings of mysterious creatures, as well as a beautiful tree painted directly onto one wall with delicate pupae attached to its twisting branches. I had read there was going to be a secret basement filled with her work too, but we looked in vain for the entrance. Next Friday the gallery will be holding an off-site dinner lecture at Granny's Empire of Art in conjunction with the show and I'm highly tempted to go, especially if Shields will be telling some stories.
In this age of Flickr and digital cameras the picture-a-day project has become an ubiquitous feature of photo-sharing sites, and I fully confess I went through a phase myself with results so wildly varying I gave it up after a few months. But back in 1979 a young art student named Jamie Livingston quite by accident realized he'd taken a Polaroid every day for a month and decided to keep doing it. For almost 20 years, until his death of a brain tumor on his 41st birthday, Livingston faithfully documented his friends, his surroundings, himself. His longtime friend Hugh Crawford hosts a Web site that collects every single one of the Polaroids in one place, and he talked to Johnny Dee about Livingston's creative process:
There are a lot of visual jokes, fuzzy shots and fluffed
self-portraits, but the plan was to take one picture and keep it no
matter how it turned out. Once they found themselves walking with
circus elephants through the heart of New York, late at night. Crawford
turned to his friend and suggested this could be the picture of the
day. "He was like, 'No, I took a picture of my lunch, it's already been
taken,'" laughs Crawford.
The pictures themselves are heartbreakingly beautiful, and they make me sad that not only is Livingston no longer with us but that the Polaroid format itself is now officially obsolete. Instant pixels just aren't the same.
I have a very special superpower when I travel that causes me, unerringly, to choose exactly the wrong direction in which to walk when I exit public transportation, the one that sends me directly away from wherever I'm trying to go. This served me well when I was last in London, however, for in my quest to find a gallery near Liverpool Street I got completely disoriented coming out of the station and ran smack into Richard Serra's Fulcrum, a giant freestanding sculpture with his characteristic rusting metal slabs leaning together in a sort of teepee. It took my breath away as his pieces always do, with his use of industrial materials marked by the effects of passing time. On the occasion of an upcoming solo exhibition this fall for Serra at London's Gagosian the Guardian has put together a gallery that includes Fulcrum as well as some of his other installations from around the world, and you can get a sense even in the pictures of the massive scale of his work. The Gagosian is already planning ahead for their show:
The artist's sculptures are so big and heavy that they always present
logistical headaches. Special road permits will be needed to just get
them into the King's Cross gallery.
Earlier this year Serra installed a piece called Promenade at the Grand Palais in Paris as part of their Monumenta commission series. It essentially consisted of five monolithic steel plates carefully placed within that vaulted space, and Adrian Searle found it staggering:
As I get older, I like Serra's art more. I used to resist it
intellectually, while my body told me something else. Now my body tells
me something else again, and I'm more exhilarated by what he does - not
every time, but more and more. You have to take Serra's art as it
comes, work by work, occasion by occasion. As we spoke, he said things
like: "Do we have a sculpture here?", "Is this viable?", and "I was
having a real good time. I was hanging weights in the air, lifting 73
tons on its edge." He spoke of having been fearful. Promenade could
have been only big, only inert. The building and the light could have
killed it. Instead it is a dance.
Searle's podcast that he recorded while walking through the piece is well worth a listen, as you can physically hear the emotional effect Promenade is having on him. I only wish I could have seen it myself.
Even after a day that did a fantastic job of crushing my spirit I still found the energy to make it out to hear Sondre Lerche at the Great American tonight, and boy he was just what the doctor ordered. Lerche is sort of an old-fashioned torch singer stuck in the body of a 25-year-old Norwegian guy, and in anyone else's hands his songs would border on intolerably cheesy. But he's so cute and talented he totally pulls it off - a little Jens Lekman, a little Elvis Costello, a little Cole Porter. Trust me, every girl in that audience (and a few of the boys too) were swooning hard, especially when he adorably bantered with them from the stage in between songs. I didn't stop smiling the entire time.
One of these years I will finally make it to the Edinburgh festival and spend a few weeks running around trying to see everything. It's been over a decade since I was last in Scotland, and it's been almost that long since I first became acquainted with Tracey Emin's work when I saw her famously rumpled bed in the 1999 Turner Prize exhibition. While the festival is pretty much wrapped up for this year, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art there in Edinburgh is still displaying Emin's first major retrospective until late fall. Covering her 20 years of artistic practice, the show features the aforementioned My Bed as well as more recent work, all of it characterized by what even by American standards would be considered some major overshares about her life. Jonathan Jones finds the whole thing completely discombobulating, but ultimately comes out in Emin's favor:
It's Not the Way I Want to Die is the title of a rickety wooden ruin of
a seaside rollercoaster, the most poignant recent object here, redolent
of decay and mortality. In the end, the most shocking thing about this
exhibition isn't the abortions, or the rape, or the condoms - it's
Emin's acknowledgment of the passage of time. We first knew her as a
Young British Artist, and she is now the first of that generation to
make the drab dawn of middle age a part of her work. Emin presents
herself as an emotional artist, but her real strength is intellectual:
she confuses art and life in a way that is profound, philosophical and
has a core of greatness.
I have a very strong recollection of a video that was running at the Turner show in which Emin talked about how every aspect of her life is her art, and how she is never not doing art. With her trademark knowing smirk and commitment to brutal honesty she can be an easy target, but Charlotte Higgins says it's that way she tangles up her work and life that makes her so darn interesting:
Emin tends to get belittled, sometimes because her work is uneven - and
sometimes because its material is dismissed as trivial or
self-indulgent (a criticism that often, I believe, conceals a touch of
misogyny). Today I found myself thinking it was high time we took her
It's true that Emin's individual pieces often don't do a lot for me, but taken as a whole her work stands as an extraordinary document of one woman's life as an artist in all of its complexity. I'm so curious to see what she does during the next 20 years.
Edward Burra, Harlem, 1934 (UK). Though a British artist, Burra painted many pictures of urban life in New York and particularly of Harlem in the '30s. The weather in the Bay Area is really gorgeous right now, and I would give anything to be sitting on a city stoop in the sunshine like these folks instead of behind my desk at work. Preferably with a few friends, and with a beer in hand too. To see more of Burra's work (including one of my favorites, The Snack Bar), click through to the Tate's collection here.
I have never been a fan of circuses, especially ones that use (and sometimes badly mistreat) animals. However, one of my favorite books of all time, Amanda Davis's Wonder When You'll Miss Me, is a novel about a young woman who literally runs away to the circus, and the picture that Davis paints of life with the itinerant performers matches in my head what I see in the gorgeous images in Taschen's massive new book The Circus, 1870-1950. There are glamorous, strong women and acts of bravery, but above all the performers seem to exhibit a sense of real belonging to their very unusual family. Nell Gifford, owner of the Gloucestershire Giffords Circus, weighs in with her perspective:
The people in these photographs have rough hands and swollen ankles,
but they squint into the sun and show us their trained snake, their
hand-stitched costumes, their acrobatics which are not fearless but
fear overcome by skill - with a pure, golden glamour.
I have to admit I can see the attraction. No trained snakes for me though, on account of my severe phobia.
My recommendations for enjoying yourself at a huge festival like Outside Lands if, like me, you hate festivals with a passion:
For the love of all that's holy, use public transportation.
Don't try to do the whole thing. Pick the day with the highest concentration of acts you want to see and promise yourself you'll see the others next time they come through town.
Arrive about half an hour after the gates are supposed to open, as they won't open on time anyway and you'll still stand in line for a little bit.
Grab lunch and eat it after snagging space at the front of stage that just happens to be showcasing every single band you're there for (that last bit was sheer awesome luck).
Run to the port-a-potty and pick up a churro snack for later before the music even starts so that you don't have to leave your spot for the next six hours.
Drink at least a liter of electrolyte-laden water. Avoid alcohol and other intoxicants, though the second-hand pot buzz is always pleasant.
Bring a hat and sunscreen for when the sun is out, warm layers for most of the time when it's not. Rock the festival mishmash stylees.
The line for dinner will take forever, so make sure you're near a stage where one of your favorite local bands is playing.
Leave while everyone else is heading over to see the massive headliner you don't give a crap about. The bus home will be almost empty.
Seriously, I can't believe how smoothly it went today. Full props to the organizers who published a ton of helpful information well ahead of time, including the full schedule and a map of the six stages. The whole thing just had a really good Bay Area vibe, and I was thrilled that the stage I camped out at had huge Barry McGee graphics on either side and was labeled in Margaret Kilgallen font. I still missed a bunch of acts, but I had decided ahead of time it was more important to me to be up close for the bands I truly adore rather than to scurry around to try to hear as much as possible. I really think that was the right move, and here's who I did see (all amazing):
Stars - I love the whole band ridiculous amounts, but Amy Millan never fails to blow me away. Today she was wearing a fringed black flapper dress and peep-toe stilettos and still was slinging her guitar like a goddess. The interplay between her and Torquil was awesome as ever too. Song highlights: "Elevator Love Letter", "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead"
Andrew Bird - If you've never seen Mr. Bird live as he loops his own violin on top of itself, creates a wall of sound with his spinning megaphones, whistles, plays the xylophone and seems too shy to sing with his eyes open, all backed by the incomparable Martin Dosh on keyboards and percussion...well, you're missing out. My only complaint is that he did not sing "Scythian Empires", but I will forgive him on account of the adorable stripey socks he was wearing. Song highlights: "Fake Palindromes", "A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left"
Broken Social Scene - I had heard tell of the collective's amazing live energy, but I still wasn't quite prepared for everything that was going on onstage at any given moment during their set. Amy and Torquil from Stars joined them for a few songs, Andrew Whiteman (aka Apostle of Hustle) was ripping it up on one side of the stage, people were swapping instruments left and right and there was much bouncing around. I will have to catch them for a full set sometime. Song highlights: "Churches Under the Stairs", "Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl"
Rogue Wave - I was rocking out hard to these guys while I was standing in line for pizza. They are so so so good, and the hometown crowd was giving them a deservedly warm reception. Song highlights: "Chicago x 12", "Harmonium"
Wilco - I had given up my place at the front of the stage for the aforementioned pizza, so Jeff Tweedy and company were mere specks in the distance for me by the time I made it back. But they sounded great, and I admire their chutzpah for playing all of "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" to a rowdy festival crowd. I left after "California Stars", as nothing else really could top that for me. Song highlights: "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart", "California Stars"