Analog blogging. In this case transcribing the non-linear memoirs of a mythical Kansas/Citian relative.
This painting by Francis Picabia was one of my favorites from a recent visit to the Chicago Art Institute. The Queen of Sheba tracings over the Mediterranean landscape look like the cover of a Poets of Rhythm album, or a lost soul-jazz LP.
The painting’s caption says Mondrian (who went on to paint those modern square-and-lines compositions) was inspired by the flat topography of his native Holland. Which all of us here can relate to. To conclude the trio, here’s an image Jenn shot only seven kilometers from that farm, almost a hundred years later.
After hijacking my own blog with some civic discussions and brief peeks into how money controls even the smallest governmental bodies here in America, I wanted to get back to my roots and look at a few photographs Jennifer took on a recent trip to Boston and Providence.
Statue in downtown Boston. In the first one it looks like the lady is crying out in pain at the bird pooping in her eye socket, or maybe even tilting her head back in an orgiastic gasp of pleasure. The next one looks like Statue’s been caught reveling in the streams of bird shit and has gotten all defensive about the intrusion of privacy. But after a moment I realized it’s probably two different statues, because how could a statue lower its head, change its expression and maybe even switch its gender?
Bikers in Boston Common. Yesterday I saw a biker on 43rd in Kansas City near Brainblow Blvd. almost get run off the road by an aggressive lane-switching car. Shit like that makes me want to start a biker vigilante campaign — follow people like that driver home and, I don’t know, talk to them about safe driving + sharing the road. It’s a slow process but I think the more bikers you see on the road the more drivers will learn to live with it and even think about taking part themselves. In the meantime, honk if you’re an asshole.
A nice image from our hurricane party at the Hollenbecks’ in Providence, Rhode Island, the night Irene blew through town in its weakened but still blustery state. Providence was spared damage beyond a lot of downed limbs and power lines, but our power went out at 9 that morning and for a while sitting in bed listening to the gusts of wind looking out the window at the bending trees and swinging power lines there was a brief sense of oh man here it comes. The night before I sat at the computer and listened to this song and earlier that day Brian and his friends in the Fox Point Rounders finished their bluegrass set in a flurry with a rousing rendition of “Goodnight Irene” while people scattered from the farmer’s market to avoid the sudden downpour. We drank a lot of dark ‘n’ stormies over the weekend, which is dark rum and Gosling’s ginger beer garnished with lime. And we lit a lot of candles. As a wise hurricane survivor once said: You never know how many candles you have until a hurricane hits and you start looking in closets and drawers and find out you have a lot candles.
The rest of the photos Jenn took in Boston and Providence are here. Stop back next week for more fresh material here on the modern day lucubrations.
An appalling lack of sidewalks in this little city. Nowhere to walk but front yards or the middle of the street. The BBQ joint has a line out the door but isn’t open on Sunday. From the forested corners of the park, a chorus of cheers from the late evening pack of disc golfers. Someone has drilled a hole in one. I’m too faded to drive, which is why I’m on foot. The plywood firecracker shacks have been taken down and put into storage. Elsewhere kids lounge in the heavily vignetted decadence of fake Polaroid sunsets. Here, the workweek is just one long, boring flash mob. The construction crew lowers the cornerstone to the brand new CVS, a nice enough location they probably won’t have to lock the condoms up. A beautiful mural is painted on the wall of a parking lot that no one ever parks in. The word “ROSEDALE” and some animals and plants and people and the Memorial Arch opening up to a rainbow utopia. Beauty, as envisioned and painted by children. Next door the neighbors fight the nightly battle of the basses: rap vs. Latin. When one guy refuses to turn down his subs, the other one turns on his own car alarm and blocks his neighbor’s car in — handling the situation like an adult. On Tuesday night the lightning storm blew out the transformer. It sizzled for a minute until it exploded blue and prettier than anything I saw on Fourth of July. On Fisher there’s a little place for sale on a big lot, but it’s more like you’d be buying a really nice big tree that comes with a crappy house. Mid July and the Mimosa trees are in full bloom, pink silk feathers carpeting the little sloped lawns on Minnie. Vacation Bible School is over and the empty church bus is parked across from McDonalds. The man in a tank top and matted hair staggers by the Jiffy Lube shaking his head vigorously and talking to himself. He doesn’t look crazy as much as preoccupied. The lack of sidewalks doesn’t seem to bother him.
Back in the day I used to go to an old warehouse in the West Bottoms to see shows. They didn’t cost much, the bands were good, and you could post up against the wall or on an old couch, set your six pack on the dusty hardwood floor and watch live music without the bright lights and antiseptic nonsmoking get-the-fuck-out-it’s-last-call atmosphere of a commercial bar.
I’m sure over the years I’ll remember those shows even more fondly, building them up in my head until the West Bottoms becomes my own personal Bowery or Manchester, but the moments in which I felt actual connectivity to the city or any kind of scene were relatively rare. Most of the time I just went with a friend or two or even by myself to drink whatever we brought with us and anonymously watch some of the best music you could find. One of those shows was the Sic Alps at the Pistol in January 2008. I found a video of that performance, which the shot above is taken from during a split-second camera flash.
As you can see, the space looks more like being backstage at an old theater than an actual venue. And as you can hear, it got fairly loud. (If you don’t like ambient noise than it’s probably best to skip to about 3:30 mark of the video for the song to kick in, one of my favorites by the group, as it turns out).
The last show I saw in the Bottoms was not at the Pistol or Foundation Room but some other place that didn’t have a name as far as I knew. Jana Hunter’s group “The Lower Dens” played one of the best rock sets I’d seen all year, unfortunately largely ignored by the flocks of kids smoking outside, the girl in a space costume writhing on the floor, and the drug-addled stragglers near the door.
That show, which had been hastily moved from its original location for reasons no one ever explained, felt like the end of something. Maybe the era of great shows every week at underground venues in the Bottoms. Or maybe just the end of my going to them.
Since then I’ve talked to some of the folks who helped put those together, and they seem happy to have moved on with their lives. Not sure where the current DIY or all-ages hotspots are in Kansas City right now, but I’m sure there are plenty of things still taking place downtown, along Troost, or elsewhere in the city. Meanwhile, there’s always places like The Record Bar, where I saw Bill Callahan play a great set last week. And, for those of us stuck at work or no longer feeling up to venturing into the smoke-filled rusty nails on old floorboards pay-what-you-can type places, there’s always YouTube.
The other night I was riding on a tram somewhere in Greece, and I was just about to fall asleep when I looked behind me and saw a lady checking tickets. The other passengers held out their tickets and IDs but she didn’t even look at them, just walked by each person nodding and smiling. When she got to me I pulled out a pile of expired tickets and she said something I didn’t understand. Just then we pulled up to the next stop and she asked if I would like to step out to get some coffee. I couldn’t tell if I was being fined or not, but I went along anyway. She linked arms with me and we walked to an ice cream parlor (instead of a coffee shop, as initially suggested). I told her it was my treat and we spent a good half hour deciding what to get from the hundreds of unlabeled flavors presented in the glass case. I asked if she always went out for ice cream with fare jumpers and she said she only stopped passengers on trams that were headed to the airport, or to the sea. She mentioned going to the theater next but by that point I was concerned I would be missed at home. When I told her I had to leave she didn’t like it, but there was nothing she could do — I’d purchased my freedom with the price of the ice cream cone.
Though Berlin natives and resident ex-pats often write it off as a schmaltzy tourist attraction that hasn’t held up over the years, The East Side Gallery is still a lively, colorful representation of the city’s divided history. Last week Jennifer put together a slideshow of some of the paintings, which were created by artists from all over the world. As she said on her website:
The photographs displayed in the slideshow are not a complete representation of each section of the gallery, but instead a selection of a few personal favorites, chosen because of a particular composition or color pattern. The former presence of the wall, mentally and socially, becomes less and less apparent over time…
It’s neat to look at this over 20 years after the wall came down, especially in light of the revolutions currently taking place in the Arab world. It’s as if the same peaceful populist spirit that brought the iron curtain down has shifted to the Mideast, and I’ve noticed that people here share the excitement and are paying close attention, as are so many others around the world.
Hope this brightens your Monday, and more later in the week.
* * *
After leaving the party we turn the corner to Schlesisches Tor and hear what sounds like a live gypsy band with horns and drums and everything. Inside the station, a full-blown cabaret is underway, the likes of which Berlin hasn’t seen since 1929. People lock arms and dance jigs and hoist their beers and clap in rhythm, all at 2:30 in the morning. But by the time I’ve bought a beer at the station shop, the music has already stopped. Cops pile out of paddy-wagons on either side of the station, and as the crowd boos and begins to disperse a girl hands out fliers.
* * *
On the way to catch the 4:45 a.m. train to Erfurt, I walk by the Trinkteuffel, the Kreuzberg corner bar where the patrons sit and drink their beers with the same casual nature you’d expect at a nice Sunday afternoon cafe. Further down the street I see a man slipping all over the ice, which is pretty thick at the moment. He’s having a hard time keeping his balance, and I feel sorry for him until I notice he’s just really, really wasted.
* * *
Still dark outside, and it looks like I’m the only one awake on this ride to Alexanderplatz. Everyone else is sprawled out on the benches with their eyes shut and their mouths open. When the U-Bahn turns a corner, however, I catch a glimpse of at least one other awake soul — a girl a few cars down waving her arms in half-windmills and tossing her pink-streaked hair from side to side. Nobody bothers to tell her she’s no longer at the dance club. But, nobody seems to mind.
* * *
At the back of the tram to Europaplatz, the teenage Mutti watches over the stroller while Papa strides toward the ticket machine in the front car, taking his hands out of the pockets of his black hoodie to steady himself against the swaying of the tram.
* * *
On a cold Friday afternoon on Kotbusser Dam, a girl with frizzy hair and a red-and-white jacket juggles juggling pins at the stoplight. She drops them several times but still has the nerve to jog between the cars and wave a change basket before the light changes. Nobody obliges, and I wonder if anyone else is missing the fire-breather who set up shop there last week.
* * *
Just before dawn along the cobblestone street to Südplatz, a lady in high leather boots, a ski coat and jewelry shuts the car door and steps toward the door of her building. I’m on my way out the door to work and she’s just arriving home. I know where you’re going and you know where I’ve been.
* * *
At Mehringdamm an old man in a long black coat tries to step out of the U-Bahn just as the red lights flash and atonal bleeps sound in alert. The doors close halfway on him, but he manages to free himself by prying them back open with long, spindly fingers, gasping as he steps out into the station. His face is as pale as Nosferatu, and we can’t help but think we might have just witnessed something release itself from the underworld.
* * *
A few minutes until 6 outside Leipzig Central Station, and dozens of bakery employees in red jackets huddle in clusters and smoke cigarettes outside the exits, puffing with the urgency of people who think they might be smoking the last cigarettes of their lives.
* * *
Here comes a headache, I think as I watch a trio of guys lug instruments and a mobile p.a. onto our midnight car to Kotti. But once they start playing — saxophone, melodica and beats — everyone starts clapping and singing along to “Hit the Road Jack.” Even the sullen kid across from me puts down his book and lets out a tiny smile. When someone shouts for an encore the band launches into the first few bars of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” And when the train lurches and pulls everyone into each other, the dancing kids do their best to keep their beers from spilling.
* * *
On the morning commute, I being to realize I’m the only one on the U-Bahn not wearing a black top and blue jeans. After a few stops I start to feel like a corduroy-clad crasher of their impromptu denim convention. The jeans themselves come in all varieties: The man on my right has opted for dark and distressed, while the woman beside him sports a lighter shade of stonewashed.
* * *
Riding though the Saale in January, I see for the first time the cupolas of churches and houses of a hillside village built around a valley waterway. I marvel at how closely the buildings are intertwined with the river until I realize that it isn’t supposed to be this way; that the town is half-flooded.
* * *
As the tram nears a stop, a young couple embraces in what looks like a very passionate farewell. When the doors open, the man behind them waits calmly for the couple to finish instead of pushing his way past. It looks like they are saying goodbye for a long time, he probably thinks. But when their lingering kiss finally ends, they join hands and walk off the tram together.
* * *
As a journeyman English teacher, I do a lot of transit riding. In fact, yesterday I had to get up before 5 to catch a train to the central German city of Erfurt, where I teach three classes at Siemens. I teach at different schools and businesses in Leipzig, and before moving here I had to race all over Berlin to take class, meet friends, and collect various visa papers and stamps. I can barely sit down without expecting the scenery out the window to begin moving at any moment.
What makes the commute interesting is not just the time I get to sleep, read or stare out the window, it’s the fellow passengers and people I observe along the way. The other day I compiled this little people-watching catalog from my rides to and from class these last few months. I was going to upload this from the train for extra style points but the connection on “das Internet Stick” was too slow.
This one goes out to all of my fellow U-bahn Ratzen and tram travelers, and to especially to Jenny, who has a long voyage ahead of her tomorrow to get back to her man. I welcome any feedback or and it would be extra fun if anyone wants to chime in with their own transit observations in the comments. Love, LW
I first got inspired to shoot short, observational video clips after watching my old neighbor Blue McNiel’s “A 43rd and Warwick Story.” In 3 minutes and 2 seconds, virtually nothing happens aside from the lights changing and some cars driving by while the camera watches from her front porch. I had pretty much the same view at the time, and I remember the sounds of the lights clicking and the green- and red-outlined shadows they would cast through my curtains onto my ground-floor bedroom. The document has taken on a historical importance now that the lights have been replaced by stop signs and I have moved away.
I started shooting similar observational clips out of windows, on front porches, at parks and art exhibits. My montage could be called “A 2010 Story” or “A Kansas City Story” although this timeframe and location has to be expanded to account for a wee bit of Mississippi and Europe. It’s a just over 2-minute trip across flooded and frozen landscapes, Christmas carols, full moons and orange balloons.
Nothing that’s going to break down any doors, but you might enjoy it all the same.
I don’t upload a lot of things to YouTube, but it seems like when I do it’s always something about fireworks. Like this pyramid-of-snakes burning ritual in the parking lot at Herbert’s Mart strip mall, located squarely in the middle of Wayne County, Mississippi. While working in the fireworks stand there, Brian and I befriended a local high school graduate named Tom. Due to his athletic and amorous pursuits in and Waynesboro — most specifically that very strip mall parking lot in which we sat and drank beer — Tom had been dubbed “The King of Herbert’s Mart” by his peers. A widely recruited placekicker who was injured early in his senior season, Tom spent most of his time drinking beer, getting in fights, cruising the strip and fixing cars at WalMart. He was a welcoming and friendly guy, and told some amazing stories about life in Wayne County, which he called “The Land of Dreams.” I’ll share more about him another time. For now, some footage of the aforementioned smoldering snakepile, with commentary by the King of Herbet’s Mart himself…
At dusk on the outskirts of the makeshift ghost village that was the Leipziger Christmas Market, three workmen hoist a life-sized nativity statue of the Virgin Mary onto the back of a truck, right next to a giant grinning nutcracker encased in what looks like a plywood gingerbread coffin. The men struggle with the wobbling nutcracker, and though I’m tempted to yell “Sei vorsichtig mit dem heiligen Mutter!”* I can see that even if Mary’s co-passenger falters, her arms are stretched out as if ready to catch him.
(* “Be careful with the Holy Mother”)
I made this at a print-your-own-postcard booth at Berlin’s Museum for Communication. The other available stamps were something like butterflies or flaming skulls, so there was little artistic decision involved except to keep inserting the card over and over, like a carnival punch card totaling up a few too many. I like the way the bottlenecks look almost like slanted steeples with a little cross on the top, somewhere between a hangover and morning mass. Reminds me of a line from Kerouac’s “Windblown World”: ”no one has consciously realized the tremendous significance of American weekends, from proud sartorial Saturday night with its millions of premonitions of triumph and happiness, to dark Sunday night with its sweet and terrified loneliness.”
Maybe not, Jack. But they would if they tried my new line of postcards. With Drunken Postcards, you can write anyone you want exactly what you’ve been wanting to say to them, without fear of reprobation. How? Easy. They’re written in disappearing ink, and never delivered. Like the opposite of Facebook, with the same exact color scheme. Old-fashioned and untraceable except for that stack of empties next to your notebook.
Not convinced? I can hardly blame you. I do, however, have an experiment which you are welcome to try at home — something I hit on entirely by accident last month while writing a stack of postcards that I’ve yet to buy postage for. If you want to dream about someone, write them a (real) postcard just before you go to sleep. Does it work? It did for me, but I’m curious what kind of results others come up with.
For a few minutes last Sunday, it appeared as if Tempelhof Airport had been reopened for flights. The silhouette of a jet plane soared through the sky, acrobatically weaving between and flocks of birds and Drachenflieger*.
Tempelhof Airfield is the decommissioned city airport and site of the Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949. These days Tempelhof is more Seurat painting than former airstrip, having been turned into a massive park grounds following years of civic discussion and city planning. While studying in Berlin in 2008, my brother James wrote his final paper about the future of the airport, which officially closed in Halloween of that year.
Meanwhile, the plane had arched one last time around the structure itself before crashing softly into the grass, just meters away from the couple operating it by remote control.
Still, a glorious flight.
*the German word for kite, literally translating to “dragon-fliers.”
(music plucked from some strumming in my flat on Saturday night after seeing Jenn off to her flight to London at Schoenfeld)
This year for my birthday I was given a moleskin notebook and a set of oil pastels. I decided to fill the notebook full of faces, with the challenge being not ripping out any pages no matter how inauspicious the initial doodle. Almost all of these portraits were rendered late at night, starting this summer and leading up to Halloween. The result is a colorful coterie of faces, self-portraits and animal-ish creatures. Click the image a couple of times to see it more or less in actual size. And if you like, I’d be happy to draw you something, too.
German has not traditionally been regarded as the most euphonious language. I’ve heard people refer to it as harsh, guttural, and “a good language to yell at someone in” (true, although I think it’s a great language to talk to cats in as well). Most likely these people probably just aren’t listening to the right person speak German — or better yet, sing it.
Compiled here are 20 of my favorite German-language tracks from the past 40 years, ranging from hip-hop to prog to dance pop and indie rock. I think this playlist provides an idea of the diversity and versatility of the language, as well as the broad range of musicians in Germany, many of whom which are still performing.
This list is by no means a definitive representation of recent German music, and the main thing these songs have in common (aside from the language) is that they are all personal favorites. Many of these songs were passed on to me by various friends throughout the years, and this mix is dedicated to them. Please feel free to chime in with your own favorite German-language songs, and perhaps I can post an even more eclectic sampling in the next few months.
Enjoy the mix, and Liebe Grüße aus Berlin.