Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On Shivering Sands, Etc.

I started reading Warren Ellis's Shivering Sands this morning. Between a couple bus rides and a lunch break I'm a little more than a quarter of the way through it (that's 50 pages or so). I had every intention of reading the whole thing and then writing a proper review (you know, wherein someone actually reads something front to back before passing judgements).

But then I found myself thinking Thoughts a couple chapters (essays? braindumps? thingums?) ago, and so I wanted to get them out there, in case I accidentally start thinking different Things fifty pages from now and forget what I cooked up the first go round.

Shivering Sands is interesting for a couple reasons. One is the use of Print On Demand (namely Lulu.com), but I'll have more on that further down the hole. The other is what is being accomplished (so far, anyway) with the choice of articles. The various pieces (I guess I'll call them pieces) are theoretically utterly disconnected; they were written at different times, for different outlets, and none but the Afterword were spawned with any notion that they'd all be bound in one volume, or indeed even printed to page at all. Shivering Sands is a greatest hits package of Uncle Warren's online output over the last seven years (may have just made that number up, but it sounds right to my brain-box).

I just (meaning yesterday) finished reading Eating The Dinosaur, the newest book by Chuck Klosterman. Eating The Dinosaur is similar to Shivering Sands in that it is a set of short (though not as short) essays on a wide range of topics, and different in that they were (as far as I know) written for the book, and as such, and more relevantly, for each other.

The irony here is that Ellis, with his editor/publisher/creator-of-things-what-work-and-such Ariana Osborne, is more thoroughly achieving by vague accident what Klosterman was attempting deliberately: to build an at least partially coherent point from fabric woven of fundamentally disparate rambles.

"Accident" is probably the wrong word here. I'm sure there was plenty of thought put into choosing pieces that made sense together, rather than random disparate essays on purely individual merits. It seems like the kind of thing they do. But on some level my point still stands.

As best I can tell, this works because on some level Ellis is always making the same point, or at least acting within the same parameters. He says as much, in ratStar (p. 42, 2004):
For as long as I can remember, the primary goal of my work has been to force outbreaks of the future.
So far this book has described a city better designed for machines than man (modern Los Angeles); publishers who were ahead of their time in a time before now (Savoy); an unwillingness to let failure of progress stand in the way of attempts at progress; parallel worlds an infinity away where progress is more satisfactory; two-way collapse of the fictional fourth wall; the beginning of the end of Big Media as we know it; and now, in ratStar, the deliberate action of inventing the future in fiction.

Different pieces. Different topics. But they all strike the same chord, at least in me. It's the same chord struck by the chatter surrounding the publication of the book itself: the desire to Get Excited And Make Things. To invent the future by living in the increasingly astonishing present we spend so much time ignoring. Shivering Sands was published largely because Ellis and Osborne got tired of watching something happen and talking about something happening and decided to make it happen a little for themselves.

Ellis has been writing about POD, reading about POD, pushing his friends' POD, encouraging people to try their own POD, for as long as I've been following him in bloggery and message boarditude (admittedly only about a year). And the end result of this was inevitably creation. He says as much in the introduction (of sorts), titled How It Works:
Here's the deal. I flood my poor ageing head with information. Any information. Lots of it. And I let it all slosh around in the back of my brain, in the part normal people use for remembering bills, thinking about sex and making appointments to wash the dishes.

Eventually, you get a critical mass of information. Datum 1 plugs into Datum 2 which connects to Datum 3 and Data 4 and 5 stick to it and you've got a chain reaction. A bunch of stuff knits together and lights up and you've got what's called "an idea".
With enough of the same stuff rattling around, something's going to come out of it. In this case it was a book, and since he has a genuine creator-of-things-what-work-and-such close at hand it's a pretty and well-constructed and sensible book. It's fun to read because Warren Ellis is the sort of guy who thinks smart thoughts and writes well about them. But largely it's about building the future he lives in. Being a part of the evolution of his own medium in a very real and tangible way. And the content echoes this throughout, whether that's intentional, or colored by form of publication, or just because it's what he's doing every single time he sits down to write.

I'm banking on reason three, which is why I feel like I can write this now. Because I could be way off base. I could get a few pages deeper and find a piece with no connection to anything at all. I could get to the bit with the recipes (I hear it has recipes) and realize I was full of crap from word one. But I doubt it.

I may or may not have a point in all this, but if I do, it's probably something like: help Warren Ellis. Help Ariana Osborne. Help build some future. That doesn't just mean Give Them Money Buy This Book And Read It Yes (although that, too). It means make stuff. Cause objects to be. Take advantage of these spikes in technology that take away the barriers between you and what you want to do, that shred your excuses and give you an outlet for every ridiculous new idea and urge.

You might not make lots of money at it, whether because you're Not Warren Ellis or because that's not what you're going for or any number of reasons. But you'll be living your own present, and building tomorrow's framework yourself, which beats the living hell out of sitting around staring at the less-interesting parts of the past.

I'm still fighting my own excuses, my own apathy. But I'm getting there.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Cold Fusion

Like music? Like vegetables? Like freezing your tuches off? Then you, my imaginary internet friend, are in luck. Oh yes!

Mr. Fusion (that's me and a guy named Erich Sachs) will be serenading the early-bird attendees of the Proctor Farmer's Market tomorrow, Saturday the 10th, from 9-11 A.M. Two guys. Two acoustic guitars. Two percussion instruments. Two things that are shaped like pianos but aren't pianos.

My handy dandy weather widget currently predicts a starting low for the day of 28°F. So by the time we start it will be what, 35? With luck (and direct sunlight) by the end of the set we may sneak toward 50. But look on the bright side: your vegetables will come pre-refrigerated, and your Pig Lady meat packs won't thaw while you stand and listen to the music for a bit.

Come watch us play, and tune, and sing, and re-tune, and drum, and tune some more (cold weather + guitars = adventures in tuning).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Post Artwalk Rock Out

Looking for something to cap off an evening that is surely filled with Artwalk goodness in downtown Tacoma? Why not hop the Link down to Freighthouse Square and take a two block stroll to the New Frontier Lounge to catch:
  • Mr. Fusion - Original acoustic music by longtime songwriting partners Joe Izenman (hmm, sounds familiar...) and Erich Sachs, featuring the debut of some of our latest material.
  • Sordid Sentinels - balls-out (not literally) rock music from front to back, and one of my favorite local bands. The Sentinels are nearing completion on their debut EP, so keep an eye out.
  • Shotgun Kitchen - making the Tacoma debut of their recently overhauled and expanded lineup, Shotgun's blues-laced rock includes, among other things, that Izenman guy on keyboards and keyboard-shaped items (even an accordion).
The New Frontier is 21+, and located on E 25th and C Street in the Dome District. Show starts at 9PM and will I believe cost $3 at the door, with money going directly to the bands.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Star-Spangled Girl: Conventionally Funny Is Still Funny



Tell most people who've been doing theatre for awhile that someone is doing a Neil Simon play, and a lot of the responses you'll get back are "Again?" There is a perception that, as classics, his work has gotten overdone, between Lost In Yonkers, the Odd Couple, his Bbbbbbb series, Barefoot In The Park, and on and on and on. And on some level this is valid. They get done a lot. They are easy, recognizable fallback comedies, neither challenging nor confusing to the audience. And without the risk and challenge of producing something new and innovative, people eventually get bored of doing the same works by the same writers.

But here's the thing: there is a reason Simon's plays get produced repeatedly. There is a reason why they are classics, household names, studied in literature courses and made into films. There is a reason, and it is this: they are really damn well-written, and they are really damn funny. Not absurdist comedy or avant garde comedy or black comedy; just, "Hey, that person said/did something funny. I will laugh at it."

I saw Tacoma Little Theatre's production of Simon's The Star-Spangled Girl on Saturday. They said and did funny things, and I laughed at them.

Don't get me wrong above: when I say "unchallenging" I don't mean it can be phoned in. I've seen Simon done crappily with bad and non-actors, and it is not worthwhile. But director Elliot Weiner found a cast that has the capacity to nail every joke. Blaire York's Norman is hilariously absurdly obsessive, from his lines to his faciel expressions to his body-language, and hopelessly inept, down to his excellently ridiculous outfits, just the kind a fashion-ignorant nerd would select (and I would know). Luke Amundson fares well as the nominal straight-man Andy. He is a little weak in convincing the audience of his passion for the political cause of his magazine (though that point is also not terribly well addressed in the script), but he makes up for it in his play off the characters of Norman and Sophie, played to a neurotic, wigged-out t by Gretchen Boyt.

The play has weaknesses. The moral theme of open debate and seeing past political differences is forced already by the script, and the staging of the close just hammers. It in. To your face. With a 2x4. And on night two of week one, the inevitable technical flubs poked out. But it is still a worthy start to new Artistic Director Scott Campbell's first full season, a season populated with nothing but comedy to stab at the gloom and doom of the economy for a while. Worth the cost of admission, and, if the cost of admission is too high, tonight (Thursday, September 3) is Pay What You Can night. However you get there, I suggest that you get there. You see, there's these people up on the stage, saying and doing funny things, and you'll laugh at them.

(And if you want to balance out your common fare with something a little closer to the edge, TLT has recently announced a full slate of second-stage and late-night productions, starting with ghost story Woman In Black directed by mainstay John Munn and ending with a production of Elliot Weiner's own Brunch)

PLEASE NOTE: if you are a longtime patron of TLT, that starting this show, and presumably all season, night show curtain is at 7:30, not 8, with house opening at 7.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Minus 5 @ Hell's Kitchen

The Minus 5 can't really be accused of being conventional, or doing the expected. Listening to their last four albums in sequence reveals a broad range of genre and soundscape experimentation. One gets the sense that the group has always been a clearinghouse for its songwriters' "other" ideas, the ones that don't quite fit in with the guitar-rock core of the bands that made them legends: R.E.M. (Peter Buck) and Young Fresh Fellows (Scott McCaughey).

So when I say that their new record, last week's Killingsworth, is different, well, I'm ultimately saying very little. What Buck and McCaughey have done this time out is make an alt-country album. Sort of. Kind of. A little. In some ways, it is unique among their records in its consistency of tone and instrumentation. This is helped along by using the same crew of backup musicians for the whole of the record (the Minus 5 have a tendency to rotate to whichever of their friends are best for a song, and they have a LOT of friends. Like the whole of the Seattle music scene).

With a focus on horrible death and doom (song titles range from The Dark Hand of Contagion to I Would Rather Sacrifice You to The Disembowelers), it is appropriate that Killingsworth's auxiliary musicians be made up largely of the lineup of disturbed Portland balladeers The Decemberists. The slide guitar and banjo that fill out this record's particularly mellow sound (NOT something you'd necessarily expect out of musicians from the Decemberists) are complemented by harmonies from further Portlanders the Shee Bee Gees, ultimately pulling together as a relaxed, well-crafted record.

I'm most curious to see how this record pulls into their live show, where they have proven a consistent ability to distill the lush soundscapes and diverse lineups of their previous records into a four piece driving rock show. However they choose to perform this album, one thing is certain: it will be bitchin'. All the members of the Minus 5: Touring Edition have a long-standing and broad history of rocking the crap out of everything from tiny clubs to the largest arenas in the world.

The Minus 5 are playing Hell's Kitchen (3829 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, WA) with Canon Canyon, the Joshua Cain Band, and James Hilborne and the Painkillers, tonight at 9PM. $10, 21+, and well worth seeing on this, a rare occasion wherein a band actually stops in Tacoma between Portland and Seattle shows.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mmmarket Fresh



Giant rib steak, red potatoes and fresh corn, all from the 6th Avenue Farmer's Market. Topped off with some Thelonious Monk (bought at Buzzard's) and Doctor Who (rented from Stadium Video).

This awesome evening in brought to you by Living In Tacoma.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Pierce Transit Overhaul


Every few months Pierce Transit releases a new schedule, mostly consisting of minor timing changes to more accurately reflect the real running times. This time around, however, there are a few significant changes in store. Two stood out immediately, as they have direct effect on me:

2 vs. 57

Truth be told, the effect of this change is relatively minor, but it is worth knowing about, lest confusion overtake your morning commute. As it stands, heading toward downtown, the 2 comes in from TCC and the 57 comes in from the Tacoma Mall. They meet at 19th and Alder, and share the next four stops before the 2 breaks off toward 25th on Trafton, and the 57 carries on down 19th. Starting July 12th, these two routes (post-Trafton) will switch. The 2 will take the more direct route, while the 57 will swing around to 25th.

So the rundown of those affected is this:
  • If you live in the S 25th neighborhood currently serviced by the 2, you'll need to catch the 57 coming from downtown, or transfer from the 2 during the 4-stop crossover period between Alder and Trafton if you're coming from TCC and beyond.
  • If you are heading to the DSHS or the News Tribune, you are likewise better off on the 57, though it's only a couple blocks off the new 2 route.
  • If (like me) you take the 57 to the top side of UWT, you will now want the 2
  • If you are going straight from one of the shared stops to 10th and Commerce, there's no reason not to take the 2, as it now has both the shorter route and the more frequent trips (every 15 minutes much of the day).
The main problems I see are these: firstly, this feels like something of a death knell for ridership of the 57. Given other changes being made to less-ridden routes, I can't help but wonder if this change will likewise see the 57 eventually relegated to hourly trips. Secondly, more than one PT driver has complained that stops and distance have been added to the 57 route, but the time allotted has stayed basically the same, severely tightening up their schedule.

So Much For UP

The big victim of failed urban design is University Place. The heart of suburban UP is served by precisely one bus route: the 53, running down Cirque to Grandview. It split time with 53A, which cut over to 40th rather than Cirque, and now that route will be the only survivor, with the 53 replacing much of the 59's service to the Manitou area. The only other route through UP is the 2, which slices through the business districts on Bridgeport but largely avoids the sprawling residential areas. For me personally, this means I can no longer catch the 53 a block from work to get dropped off three blocks from my mom's house. Of course, I'll survive an extra mile or two of walking, so don't feel bad for me. Feel bad for people like Doris Jairala instead.

Now, I've ridden this bus a lot, and I can understand the reasons for the switch. The vast majority of riders that have gotten on by the time the 53 leaves the mall are gone by the time it reaches the splitting point at Orchard. As mentioned, this is an urban design problem as much as anything: University Place just isn't built to be lived in without a car. It is hilly suburban sprawl, with much of the retail clustered together away from the residentials. But it's still unfortunate that this area has to be completely given up for lost by the public transit system. And it just means it will be that much more of an adventure rescheduling and rerouting buses as the larger golf tournaments roll in down the line (the 53 was the only bus that came anywhere near Chambers Bay).

And many more...

I'll just do a quick run through the rest of the changes that look like they're worth mentioning:
  • The 61 to NE Tacoma will lose its Bus Plus status, and be restricted to a fixed route.
  • If you take the 59 to Manitou anytime out of the conventional commute hours, you must take the 53 instead (see above)
  • Riders of the 60 to the Port of Tacoma are now restricted to two available trips to in the morning and fro in the evening, rather than the current six
  • Routes 26 (weekday), 51 (weekday), 220 (weekday) and 501 (weekday midday) are being cut in half, and will now all run hourly

The Bottom Line

Pierce and Sound Transit have spent a lot of money recently upgrading bus systems with GPS, Orca support, and similar gadgets to increase efficiency. The hope is that these improvements will lead to an easier riding experience (no requirement to buy a full month pass to avoid carrying quarters is a BIG step), thus increasing ridership. However, in the meantime we are stuck with a transit system that has depleted its funds on internal improvement and doesn't have the fare revenue to pick up the slack. As such, the longtime riders in suburban areas are being left stranded.

So what's to be done? I read an interesting article recently that the King County Council has called on Metro Transit to seek outside partnerships. I personally think this is a great idea. Not something to do in lieu of current subsidy (I believe that a functional transit system truly benefits every member of the community, and is thus deserving of our tax money), but in addition, to take some of the edge off. The first example we've seen are the "skinned" buses, that have been turned into roaming billboards for Venture Bank, Verizon Wireless, etc. I have said repeatedly that I am all for these. I'll take painted up buses generating ad revenue for a valuable local service over the hideous stationary (and illegal) billboards benefiting no-one but Clear Channel any day. And the fact is, let's be honest here, the buses are not exactly designed for aesthetics anyway, so billboard blight is not a concern when using them.

Other options include leased use of passenger facilities to private transit companies (is there really a need for a Greyhound facility right next to a Pierce Transit facility?), technology partnerships (Metro Transit's fancypants One Bus Away arrival timing website was developed by UW graduate students, and lordy lordy could PT use a new website), and probably plenty of other things that I can't think of because I don't know a lick about business. Something needs to be done to keep progress moving in a positive direction, and if partnerships like these are what it takes, then I am all for them and more.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Buddy: The Aftermath


So I never quite got around to writing about The Buddy Holly Story while it was running. Which is alright, I suppose: they were not exactly hurting for audience, and the micron of publicity this blog affords would have accomplished little. However, now that the thing is done, I thought it worth talking about.

I've been vaguely documenting the various stages of upheaval at TLT since this blog started. The long collapse under David Duvall, the temporary hiring of Doug Kerr, and finally the import of Scott Campbell from Lakewood. I still can't say for certain the path that Campbell will take the theatre on in years to come (selection of the show and director had come before his time, for example), but I can say that he definitely cares about the progress being made. In and out of nearly every rehearsal, helping hang speakers (and what an adventure that one was), doing what he can, when he can. So that's good.

So then there was the show. The June musicals at TLT can make or break a season; big productions of well-known shows. So when a paltry season last year ended with a failure to secure rights to Pajama Game, and a fallback plan of yet another Duvall-crafted revue, things did not look good.

This season the focus was put on a string of well-known classics, closed out by the newer Buddy. The lead-up to Buddy was, frankly, a mess. Auditions failed to fill out a cast requiring nearly every character to also be an accomplished musicians, and some roles had to be cast on nothing but recommendation. Even up to a day or two before opening, rehearsals were jumbled, songs sloppy, and tech a work in progress (I didn't have a chance to actually run the light board until the final dress rehearsal). Preview night was mediocre at best, and I was prepared to tell potential audience members to avoid opening weekend and wait until we had a few more runs to shore up the problems.

Now, opening night was not our best night. But it shattered all the expectations built by a week of tepid rehearsals, and when audience members started dancing in the aisles through the closing numbers, it became apparent that the show was exactly what it needed to be: an engine of excitement for a theatre trying desperately to drag itself out of a financial and creative hole a few years old.

Night two was better than the first and I believe (don't trust my memory on this, it might have come the next weekend) sported the (so far) highest sales of any performance yet this season. The following Friday, after a sketchy pay-what-you-can night, it started to become very apparent how much buzz was getting out. By the end of the second weekend, bartenders at the nearby Parkway Tavern were hearing from post-show customers (many of them season ticket holders) that this was the best show they'd seen TLT produce in five years. Every night I came out of the booth and caught the first wave of exiting audience, and never heard a single ill word spoken. Even on the worst of the off-nights, when dialogue escaped the brain, sound cues went horribly awry and guitars fell out of tune mid-show, the closing concert seemed to wipe all memory of error away, and the audience never once failed to come to its feet clapping along with Johnny B. Goode and Oh Boy. By week four the aforementioned Parkway employees reported customers saying they'd just come from seeing Buddy a second and occasionally third time

For me, the peak of the show was Friday, June 26th. The first night back after four days off is usually a bit shaky, but every inch of the show was dead on, start to finish. Jokes were hitting, song intros were smooth, tech cues were timed to the point where there was more luck than skill involved in how well they flowed.

I had stayed out of community theatre for the last five years or so, since TLT's production of Camelot. Buddy was more than sufficient to rekindle my excitement at working in theatre, and you can bet I will be back next season for... something. Who knows what. It was a damn good time, probably better than I've had in my years of (mostly) positive theatre experiences. This is the kind of momentum the theatre needs: getting every single person involved excited about the show, from the cast to the crew to the audience.

Thanks to everyone involved for everything involved, and I hope to work with all of you again, because that means that people who love theatre will still be involved in theatre. And that is exactly what TLT needs.

Monday, May 11, 2009

On Washington Bicycle Traffic Laws

I hear a lot of bicyclists complain that motor vehicles don't respect their rights to the road, and a lot of drivers complain that bicyclists are in the way and unsafe. And in some ways, they're both right, as often neither really accounts for the actual state laws dictating bicycle traffic. As Bike To Work Week begins in Tacoma, perhaps a quick review is in order.

First, to the drivers: "Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle."

And to the cyclists: "Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle."

That (the beginning of RCW 46.61.755) sums up the core of the rules, and the core of most disputes. YES, we (cyclists) are allowed to ride on the street. YES, if the street is not designed for bikes, we are allowed to take up a whole lane of traffic. NO, we are not allowed to run red lights, run stop signs, ride in an opposing lane, even if there is no car coming. If you can get a ticket for it in a car, you can get a ticket for it on a bike. (And yes, geniuses who ride your bike to the bar so you can get hammered and won't be drinking and driving: drinking and biking is illegal, too. And more likely to get YOU killed. Drunk drivers are often saved by being loose and relaxed. That is not enough to save a drunk cyclist that jets in front of a sober driver.)

RCW 46.61.770 provides the essential details of this interaction:
Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a rate of speed less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and place shall ride as near to the right side of the right through lane as is safe except as may be appropriate while preparing to make or while making turning movements, or while overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
This does NOT mean that we have to stay as far to the right as possible. There are three facets of this that I think escape a lot of drivers:
  1. "the right side of the right through lane" - this does not include the shoulder (marked or otherwise), parking lane, or sidewalk. This means as far to the right of the actual moving traffic lane.
  2. "as near to the right... as is safe" - This is at the discretion of the cyclist. We know our capabilities, and have a good view of the road. There are aspects of the far edge of the street that make it less safe for cyclists than for cars. Riding right at the curb is unsafe. If you clip the curb in a car you hear a funny noise and get jostled a bit. If you clip the curb on a bike, you crash. Similarly, potholes, debris, puddles... anything a driver would move to avoid, a cyclist has to do so for a smaller version. As such it is often safer to stay out in the middle of the lane. Which is more likely to cause you trouble: a cyclist in your way, that you have to wait for a safe moment to pass by changing lanes; or a cyclist off to your right who has to swerve out in front of you to avoid something you can't see from your car?
  3. "except..." - Yes, just as you must pass even the fastest cyclist, sometimes we must pass a slower one. This means sometimes we will move the middle of the lane. Sometimes we will enter the traffic lane from a single-file bike lane. We are also permitted to turn left. There are still a remarkable number of drivers who think a left-turning cyclist ought to stay to the right and use the crosswalks.
And now, since I've ranted at drivers for a bit, back to bikes for a second: GET SOME FRICKIN' LIGHTS. There are a lot of cyclists that I see riding at night with lights, reflectors, shiny jackets, etc. But there are still way too many riding around virtually invisible. It is not just a good idea. It is the law.

That's the gist of it. Drivers: get used to us. Our numbers are growing, and we really are helping you. You may be annoyed on the rare occasions that you're stuck behind us, but that also means we're not clogging your freeways or taking your parking spaces. Cyclists: take your mom's advice. "I'll treat you like an adult when you start acting like an adult." Start behaving like a car and cars will treat you like a car. Darting in and out of traffic on a whim, running red lights because you don't think you can be ticketed: you are making the drivers assume that we're all jackasses just like you. Stop it.

That is all.

P.S. No, Washington State does not require bike helmets. The City of Tacoma does, though. As does Not Being A Dumbass. Follow the city law and don't be a dumbass. Get a helmet.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mr. Fusion @ Artwalk

Just a heads up, Mr. Fusion (that is 50% me and 50% Erich Sachs) will be performing at tonight's downtown Tacoma Artwalk, in Watermark Gifts on A St (across from the downtown post office).



Watermark is hosting a fundraiser tonight for the Neighborhood Clinic, a free health care center located on Yakima Ave. From 5PM to 8PM there will be door prizes, wine and music, and 15% of any purchases (getting a head start on Mother's day, anyone?) will go to the clinic.



What: Mr. Fusion @ Watermark Gifts
Where: 1115 A St, Tacoma
When: 5PM - 8PM
Why: Fundraiser for the Tacoma Neighborhood Clinic

Friday, February 27, 2009

Google Search(es) Of The Month: February

I finally, after lengthy slacking, set up Google Analytics for the blog.izenman.com url. One of my favorite things about it is the ability to see what searches are getting people to visit (one of the main sources of traffic for thisshirtispants.com remains google searches for "shirt and pants"). So far, most of them have been pretty normal, like:

A couple stood out to me today, though, as I discovered that I am the number one result for:
  • zombies public domain
  • zombies in ancient text
Personally, I would think that "zombies public domain" would show more results for Night of the Living Dead (a film that resides in the public domain by accident), and that "zombies in ancient text" would return more about... well, zombies in ancient text? Not so much a lonely blog post about copyright law and creativity. But I'll take it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Open C.L.A.W.: A Brief Report

This evening I had the pleasure of attending the second monthly (monthly?) open meeting of the Cartoonists League of Absurd Washingtonians: The C.L.A.W.

On The C.L.A.W.'s agenda for the evening, after their formal opening ritual, was the further carving of their steamroller print (made with 100% real steamroller!) for Sunday afternoon's Wayzgoose/Letterpress & Book Arts extravaganza at King's Books in Tacoma. I have seen the near-complete version of their piece, and I can safely say that it is pretty dang bitchin'.

There was also a brief impromptu tutorial on layering and coloring techniques from Stowe, shown via the example of a piece for an upcoming Vampire: The Masquerade card set (way over my head, I know basically zero about photoshop, and am barely competent drawing with mere pencil and paper) and a display of some of member-in-waiting Stan Shaw's WSDOT and Star Wars Minis work.

As the only true outsider at the meeting, I mostly just sat back and watched, and scribbled. Here is what I personally accomplished while keeping company with professional cartoonist types (click to enlarge):



Main goals of these drawings were 1) attempt at least moderately realistic faces with zero photo-reference and 2) attempt to display at least some range of motion, and open mouths. I have a bad habit of sticking to the closed-mouth grimace because I've never been comfortable drawing actual mouths, or what happens to faces when they move.

(Certain family members may recognize Mr. Super Guy, whose bumbling cartoony exploits hung on our kitchen wall for years and years.)

Now I need to learn how to shade. And how to draw musculature. And fabric. And, um... everything that's not faces?

Don't forget to come to the Wayzgoose on Sunday! Not only will you witness the C.L.A.W. steamroller print from noon to one, but they should have copies available of their new 'zine, Claw-tu Verata Nikto.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Back To The Drawing Board

When I was a kid, I drew a lot. I mean a lot. Buried somewhere I have a giant stack of illustrations of superheroes, mostly my own creations. The quality varied: I started out awful, and got better over time, as one would expect. I was never great, and eventually, long after determining that I would never be a professional comic artist (an early goal of mine), drawing drifted off, as the time taken by music and computers expanded.

I still doodle endlessly, and draw bizarre stylized faces. Recently I've been tossing around the idea of starting up my own webcomic, but nothing has really sprung to the front of my mind that I could 1) make consistently entertaining and 2) draw consistently recognizably enough for my own tastes. I sketched a little and moved on.

A couple days ago, though, something interesting happened. I have, of late, been frequentint Warren Ellis's message board, Whitechapel. Whitechapel is populated by a ricoculously talented batch of people. Late last week someone posted an art exercise idea: forum members would post pictures of themselves, and others would draw them.

The thread has been a huge hit, and the aforementioned talented folk have done some amazing stuff. Fortunately, due to Warren's firm "Don't be an arsehole" policy (a rarity on web forums), even those lesser artists among us are able to post our portraits to encouragement rather than mockery. So I whipped out a pencil and paper and gave one a shot. It turned out, well... hideous. But I kept trying. And man... I had forgotten how much I enjoy just sitting and drawing. Even pictures that turn out crap.

So here's my first page of Whitechapelers (not the first one... it was on a different page, and it sucked - really, truly). Hopefully this will get me off my ass coming up with a webcomic idea.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Final Toast: It's good, go see it

Sure, I'm biased. Theatre Northwest is the brainchild of my mom's fiancee, Brett Carr. My mom painted the set, and I know or have worked with virtually everyone on the new theatre company's staff.

But the other half of my bias is this: I like the theatre. It was a big part of my teenage existence, and I hate to see it fade away, as it has in much of Tacoma over the last couple years. And I know I'm not the only one. At the opening night gala I was mistaken for someone important (I was wearing a suit and a fancy hat), and an elderly woman thanked me for "bringing theatre back to Tacoma". A lot of people are excited to see a professional-caliber theatre company resident to Tacoma, and a lot of people who aren't yet should be.

But more than the principle of the thing, The Final Toast is just a good, entertaining, worthwhile show. Award-winning mystery author Stuart Kaminsky writes a different kind of Holmes than we often see performed, on stage or on the screen. He is neither smug and superior nor dry and academic. This is a detective who is not just scrounging for something to test his ample intelligence: he genuinely enjoys his work, and takes an almost giddy excitement in putting on disguises and outwitting opponents

This joyful Holmes comes through in both Kaminsky's writing and the performance of Brian Tyrrell. He is contrasted not against Watson, but against his brother Mycroft (played skillfully by Steve Manning), who in Holmes mythos is perhaps the superior deductionist, who turns his skills to political intrigue and repeatedly scolds Sherlock for "wasting" his gifts chasing murderers and blackmail schemes.

The show is not perfect by any stretch. On more than one occasion the lighting changes broke the illusion, which is exactly what lighting should not do. But it is still an excellent first run for a promising new company. That it played to sold-out houses the first weekend is a good sign that people are willing to embrace it. Last I checked, both nights this week were at about 80% capacity, so if you are thinking of going, get your tickets sooner rather than later.

Five shows remain: tonight and tomorrow at 7:30 PM, next Friday (Feb 27) at 7:30 PM, and Saturday (Feb 28) at 3:00 and 7:30. Tickets are $22-$34 and are available from the Broadway Center Website.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies: What The Public Domain is All About

The internet, or at least the corner of it that I inhabit, has been moderately abuzz with talk of the upcoming release Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, which intersperses the original text of Austen's classic work with harrowing zombie battles in a single, theoretically cohesive narrative. In the words of the promo summary, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies features the original text of Jane Austen's beloved novel with all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie action."

I don't know if it will be a good book. It has a solid chance to be at the very least amusing, but that's not really important at this point. I don't care if it's great or crap. What's important is that this book has the potential to serve as a reminder of something that seems to have fallen from public view.

The public domain is an important part of copyright law. Though the specifics vary from country to country, the premise is the same: after a given period of time, intended to allow an author and their family to appropriately profit from their creative property, that property's copyright lapses. At this point the complete text of the work is free to be reprinted, modified, and/or redistributed by others.

You've seen the main results of this: countless editions of the "classics" (largely those novels which were written and published prior to the advent of the copyright) by dozens of publishers packing the literature shelves of all your local bookstores. At best each of these editions will include a academic essay or two expounding upon the literary merits, maybe an author biography (as is prevalent in the Penguin Classics series). At worst just a photograph of a vaguely related (and likewise public domain) piece of art slapped on the cover as another publisher tries to capitalize on a proven seller. And whether good or bad (and certainly there is plenty of good out there in some of these), all of these companies have completely and utterly missed the point.

The public domain provision in copyright law is built with the intent to encourage progress in the arts and sciences (a goal considered noble enough to be included in the U.S. Constitution) by enabling the production of derivative works. Whether this is a cross-media adaptation, such as an innovative film by a crew that could never afford the rights to an owned property, a fresh translation of an ancient text, or inserting zombie-combat into a novel of 19th century British manners, the principle is the same. Such a new creative act, built upon those previous, can be just as viable as a work of pure imagination.

It is my hope that this new work will serve as a wake-up call to other writers, filmmakers, musicians and most of all the publishers that employ these artists. There is a massive wealth of opportunity in the derivation of existing works that is wasted on endless repackaging and reprinting of the same old text. Get over the idea that new work and old work need to be two separate things. Let Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation show how something truly new and original can be grown from the fertile soil of another piece. And, of course, the hype that P&P&Z has gotten should serve as a sign of the money-making potential (yes, I know where the bottom line lies).

We'll see if this plays out like I hope it will. So far all anyone seems to have managed to come up with is a different kind of monster to stick into Pride & Prejudice. But there's hope.

Red Hot Sundays

What was the one thing missing from this past NFL season? The chance to watch the Seahawks lose on the big projection screen at The Red Hot while eating hot dogs and drinking beer. The Hawks stayed off the Monday Night Football schedule, and out of our hot dog routine.

Well, no longer. I was informed by certain among the Red Hot staff that, starting March 1, The Red Hot will be open seven days a week. Rising rent costs for their space have been cited as the primary reason for an increase in hours.

Obviously it will be a while before football starts up again, but I with baseball season around the corner, I suspect we'll soon have the chance to at least watch the Mariners lose for a while.

In other Red Hot news, don't forget to pop in Thursday night for the Zombie Movie Night Food Drive. Bring in non-perishable food items [insert non-perishable/zombie pun here] and enjoy zomromcom classic Shaun of the Dead on the big screen. And take the opportunity to try the Silver City Dry Hopped IPA, which was dry-hopped by the brewer exclusively for the Red Hot

(err... I think it's the Silver City. They have enough IPAs on that I get them confused, so correct me if you know otherwise)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Grand Reviews: The Wrestler

If you follow movie hype, if you watch buzz from festivals and start to pick Oscar movies before you've seen the films (like I've been known to do), you've surely heard about The Wrestler. They've called it "a rare convergence of player and part," "the resurrection of Mickey Rourke," just to quote a couple of blurbs that made the trailer. Well-crafted film promotion is one of the few forms of advertising that blatantly works on me, and I found myself telling people I thought Rourke would win Best Actor before the nominations were released, before I'd seen a single movie that even would be nominated.

Well, now I have seen The Wrestler. And I've seen Milk, which, if you believe the hype, is The Wrestler's stiffest competition for Best Actor. And let me tell you: there is no contest. Not even a little.

Every inch of hype this movie has gotten is well-earned. I've been aware of Mickey Rourke for awhile, mostly as a background goon, and that actor who was a boxer for awhile. There were signs that he was returning to the big time with Sin City, but... well, that movie was what it was. It was a pure replication of the comic, and suffered the same unbelievability and absurd dialog that is the weakness of any Frank Miller comic. It proved that Rourke could still play lead in a box office draw, but not that he could still act.

The Wrestler puts any such doubts to rest. The quote "rare convergence of player and part" hits it dead on, I think. There are elements of Rourke's own character in the role: the star who is reduced to bit parts and sideshows; the athlete whose sport gets the better of him (Rourke suffered numerous head injuries as a professional boxer); and the craftsman who ultimately keeps doing his thing because it's what he does, what he loves doing. And whether it's because he feels that connection to the role, or simply because he really is a talented actor, Rourke brings every ounce of believable emotion to bear on the role.

Happily, the movie holds its own against Rourke. There has been more than one instance in recent memory (Capote and Last King Of Scotland spring immediately to mind) where the performance of the lead far outreached the film itself. In both of those films, the actors worked their parts to perfection, but the works as a whole left me unfulfilled. Simply the fact that Marisa Tomei is nominated for another Oscar here (regardless of what you think of the Academy) should speak to the quality of the remaining cast. Personally, I feel that Evan Rachel Wood's estranged daughter far outshines Tomei's run-down stripper in emotional range. And the construction of the film, with shaky handheld cameras and hasty edits, brings the vague sense of a documentary to the piece, in many ways cementing the character portraits throughout, and demonstrating director Darren Aronofsky's wealth of skill.

People have been calling this a comeback. Comeback isn't exactly the right word. Mickey Rourke never really went away. He faded from the spotlight, certainly, but continued to find regular work as an actor. But it is certainly a return to form, and rekindling of promise. And also just a frickin' great movie.

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Tacomans (and our neighbors) can see The Wrestler until at least the 19th, I suspect longer (especially if it picks up the Oscar that following Sunday) at the Grand Cinema on 6th Ave and Fawcett, near downtown.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tacoma Little Theatre Gets Back On Track

...of course, whether or not it's the right track remains to be seen. But at least it's a start.

Frequent readers or active theatre-goers may recall the swift exit of David Duvall from the helm of TLT last July. Since then, they have been under the guidance of interim Artistic Director Doug Kerr. Kerr, however, was just as happy to be retired from full-time theatre management, and only signed on through January.

I learned last week that they had narrowed their list down to six candidates, and today the word on the street is that Scott Campbell, current Associate Managing Artistic Director for Lakewood Playhouse, has dropped his Associate title and been tapped as TLT's new Artistic Director.

It's been a number of years since I did any work for Lakewood, so I can't really speak for Campbell's ability, but if he can accomplish the same things that Marcus Walker put together at Lakewood, we could be in store for a revival of the city's oldest community theatre. Here's hopin'.

In the meantime, TLT is gearing up for the February 6 opening of Arthur Miller's classic work The Crucible, which will run Friday-Sunday until March 1.