Archive for August, 2007

Dylan movie

This preview of an upcoming Bob Dylan biopicture of I’m Not There caught my eye. I have blogged Dylan twice before. The movie is being released slowly starting in just a few theaters. The IMDb discussion is very active for a movie that may never see wide release. Six or so different actors play Dylan in the film. I can imagine that the result is disconnected and bad. Since Dylan made several big musical moves, it might work, though. I hope its small release grows enough to bring the movie here.

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Michael M. on August 28th 2007 in General, Movies, Music

WWN

The post on Punch and Jude about the demise of the Weekly World News links to this Salon story. The article is so funny I really did lol. In my last semester of college, I took a class on folklore that comes up here now and then. One small group presentation brought in a copy of WWN. Issues were often rich with recyclings of the same old stories passed down through the years from person to person with just enough hint of credibility to keep them going.

In high school, Jude was a curmudgeonly liberal with bile beyond his years, and Barlow was the staunch young Republican. I laughed when their stars aligned. I hope we avoid war in Iran, but the signs are frightening.

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Michael M. on August 27th 2007 in General

Cementland

The 52nd City blog has this post about a new article in The New York Times. about the new Bob Cassilly project Cementland. Pal JohnnyC also posted. Cassilly is the main person behind the excellent City Museum that I have mentioned several times before. Even better, this new park appears to be near the Riverfront Trail. I forsee a great day trip in my future.

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Michael M. on August 27th 2007 in General

Enlightenment

Optically activated proteins offer new possibilities for research today and perhaps therapies in the future. This article in The New York Times looks at some recent advances. I had heard about some of them a few years ago when the results were first published, but the biggest developments were totally new to me. Electrical microstimulation has existed for many decades, I think over a century. The details which cells it activates and how strongly it activates them have remained largely unknown, and to a large extent, they are unknowable. Experimental reports of microstimulation experiments are often interesting. One can systematically bias judgments of the direction objects are moving, for instance, by stimulating the right brain area in research animals. It is hard to know what to make of these experiments on a finer scale, however. As these optical tools are developed and deployed into more and more areas of research, scientists will be able to deliver targeting stimulation of only certain neurons based on their type and location with terrific temporal precision. While reports on new technologies for scientific research tend to be sensational, the opportunities presented by these new genetic optical tools are real and big.

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Michael M. on August 16th 2007 in General

Sign of true genius

The 10 Most Awesome Movies Hollywood Ever Killed from reddit and from Digg looked boring until I got to the end. A Confederacy of Dunces, previously mentioned for its contribution to my vocabulary of bodily functions that wowed my friends, is one of the best novels I have ever read. After reading it years ago, I listened to it as an audio book a couple of years ago. It was at least as good the second time. In particular, I appreciated the story of Burma Jones as a foil to Ignatius J. Reilly much more than in my first reading.

I cannot imagine the novel as a movie. It is too long and too rich. Could they possibly do justice to accents and manners of New Orleanians? Would Burma Jones receive the attention he deserves? Although few could balance a man of Reilly’s proportions, Jones at least provides some perspective. I think a movie adaptation probably would turn him into a far more minor character. Criticism aside, I would go see this movie immediately if it were made.

As a footnote, I found a terrific open letter written the style of Ignatius J. Reilly to a recently disgraced Louisiana senator while researching this post.

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Michael M. on August 16th 2007 in General, Movies

Body Worlds STL

The Saint Louis Science Center will host Body Worlds 3 starting this October 19, 2007 through March 2, 2008. An old friend just saw it in Portland and told me that it would be coming here next. The center already has information up with a link to ticketing. I am excited. Anatomy was a tremendous experience. I feel privileged to have known a human body so closely, and I hope to post more about it someday. I wish the opportunity to dissect and to learn anatomy were widespread. Body Worlds brings something similar outside the anatomy suite to the public. Although not hands on, the Body Worlds is superior to dissection in how exquisitely the cadavers are prepared and displayed. I missed the exhibition in Chicago, but I will not this time.

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Michael M. on August 16th 2007 in General

To support and serve

Wedded to Work, and in Dire Need of a Wife” in The New York Times seems to carry a strange message. Is the implicit message that women are servants? As I read the article, I noticed the reasons women wished for wives. Domestic chores formed the biggest share by far. I found this post that remarked on the same thing. It also caught my attention that the two women featured most prominently curtailed their own professional pursuits. It is their prerogative to do so, but presenting examples whose employment pursuits automatically limited their potential earnings and advancement skews the perspective of an article about the inequities in career achievement.

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Michael M. on August 13th 2007 in General

Stax documentaries

A few days before it aired, my mother told me that PBS stations would show Respect Yourself: The Stax Story on Great Performances. I also read the largely uninformative preview “Cutting a Tumultuous Era’s Soul Soundtrack” in The New York Times. The article was disappointing. The caption on the photograph fails to identify DonaldDuckDunn at all. It did prime me for the story, though. I automatically record all of Great Performances, but I double checked. I found that my machine had recorded only the first hour. Fortunately, KETC aired the program again in the wee hours of the morning a day or two later, and I got the whole show. I decided to see what other bloggers thought about it. This post of a friend’s blog was at the top of my Technorati search.

Although I watched it over two sittings, I enjoyed it. I am a Stax fan. I watched Only the Strong Survive at the Landmark Plaza Frontenac back when it was in theaters. At that time, the Stax building had been demolished, and the situation was sad. I have visited the Stax Museum of American Soul Music since then.

Carla Thomas stood out to me. Her father, twice mentioned Rufus Thomas, may be more famous. He made his name as a disc jockey at WDIA, recognized once before, and as a novelty singer. The younger Thomas is just a straight ahead talented singer. She has a well controlled and nuanced voice, and she is great on stage.

Steve Cropper talked about drummer Al Jackson, Jr.’s superb ability to create a pocket. The same term came up when listening to the recent episode of American Routes, one of my favorite radio shows, about the Meters. They talked about “putting a pocket on it” or “putting it in a pocket.” I do not remember hearing about the pocket before. It is elegantly descriptive and accurate.

After watching that documentary, I got Wattstax from the library. It aired on the PBS show P.O.V. a few years ago. It was one of the first things I recorded after putting together my digital video recorder. I never got around to watching it, though. The more recent documentary inspired me. The concert performances were great. In particular, Luther Ingram‘s singing was tops. Ingram died just a few months ago across the river in Belleville. Isaac Hayes, who came up before, was triumphant. The other parts of the film do not meet the same mark. The interview segments are interesting, but not nearly as good. The comedic performance by Richard Pryor interspersed throughout the movie is dated and boring.

I hate to end on a bad note, though. Respect Yourself was terrific. I love that music, and it was a pleasure to learn more about the events behind it. Wattstax, though uneven in quality, captures an intense time in music and society.

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Michael M. on August 12th 2007 in General, Music, Recorded

Elvis simple and plain

Peter Guralnick has carved a spot in American popular culture as a chronicler of it. I remember that he read from Last Train to Memphis at Square Books, and a friend was excited about it. I think I missed the actual reading. “How Did Elvis Get Turned into a Racist?” in The New York Times comes as an old topic has risen again into the public forum. I follow the feed for Snopes.com. At least twice lately, this debunking of a common Elvis rumor has appeared. The entry at Wikiquote has both the quotation commonly misattributed to Elvis and the Chuck D‘s lyrics from Public Enemy‘s “Fight the Power” that were bowdlerized in the article.

Was Elvis racist? It depends, obviously, on what a racist is. Everybody has prejudices and peculiarities. Turning a issue filled with nuance and contradiction, personal and social interactions as they relate to race and other social factors, into a binary question is foolishness. Declaring yes or no without any attention to subtlety is sloppy. It is clear that Elvis held people from many groups in high esteem socially and professionally.

He also was born in 1935 and grew up in Tupelo and Memphis. He belonged to a deeply unjust society. The humbleness of Elvis’ beginnings and his unparalleled success must play a role. He got hate because he was poor, hate because he was rich and hate because he climbed. The accusations against Elvis reflect an apparently unrecognized bias of the accusers. How could a poor white man from Mississippi not be a bigot?

I found articles here and here about this topic. The first one deals more directly with the misattributed quote. The second provides some specific examples about Elvis’ relationships with African-American musicians and opinions from other entertainers about Elvis’ attitudes. The best comes from previously mentioned Rufus Thomas who spoke on an episode of favorite radio show American Routes that also features Guralnick. The segment with Thomas is available as Real Audio.

Well a lot of people said Elvis stole our music. Stole the black man’s music. The black man, white man, has got no music of their own. Music belongs to the universe.

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Michael M. on August 12th 2007 in General, Music

Raw milk

On the heels of mentioning pasteurized milk in connection with praise of tap water, this article ran in The New York Times. It addresses the growing desire for raw milk. A seller GreenMarket got in trouble locally. The Riverfront Times wrote “Udderly Creamed” about the conflict. The claims are that raw milk is more nutritious and that it avoids several health problems associated with homogenized pasteurized milk. The evidence seems scant although perhaps there is something to them. Some beliefs espoused about the benefits of drinking raw milk are superstitions about health and the natural order. According to our best history, drinking other animals’ milk into adulthood is an innovation that only happened a few thousand years ago, and only a minority of humans can do so. I personally like drinking milk, and I would avoid raw milk due to concerns with infectious diseases that once were a major health problem. Additionally, drinking milk, raw or processed, is a way to consume many calories quickly, and we rarely need to do so in modern times.

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Michael M. on August 9th 2007 in General

Townes movie

I came across this clip of Townes Van Zandt on YouTube last week. It comes from the movie Heartworn Highways. My library does not have it, but I did find Be Here to Love Me. It has the same kitchen performance, and it has interviews with many of the same people featured in Heartworn Highways.

Van Zandt wrote terrific songs, and Be Here to Love Me includes some great performances. It also shows Van Zandt through his friends and family. His struggle with mental illness made for a difficult life. The stories from his old friends and former wives have their tough moments. The interviews with his children are hard to take. He was hard on the people around him.

The use of firearms was astounding. Van Zandt and friends were often intoxicated on who knows what while playing with guns. I have a permissive attitude toward weapons. I was not wishing for government agents to raid them. I was just shocked by how stupid and dangerous they were. The stories told in the film back the impression of recklessness with guns left by the film clips.

The multiple facets of the movie were welcome. I only knew him through some of his most famous songs. I know too little about him to judge whether his portrayal is representative, but I appreciate its complexity. Both good and bad deeds are shown and discussed. Rather than the filmmaker’s telling us what it all means directly, the segments of Van Zandt and the people who knew him do the speaking. Many people who are not Townes Van Zandt fans should be, and fans should see this movie.

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Michael M. on August 6th 2007 in General, Movies, Music, Recorded

On tap

The New York Times has gone so far as to praise tap water. This topic has flared in the news lately. Bottled water is wasteful in many ways, and we are neglecting a terrific public system. Tap water is a wonder of modernity. I hope they soon profile the acme of human accomplishment that is sliced bread.

It got me to thinking about other modern nutritional accomplishments. Strangely to me now, sliced bread is less than 80 years old. Peanut butter is not much over 100 years old. The blogged 1904 Saint Louis World’s Fair helped popularize it and many other popular foods. Pasteurized milk is another fairly recent development. I marvel at how much of my diet did not exist just three generations before mine. I know that modern obesity and other health problems cannot be separated from these innovations, but they sure do taste good.

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Michael M. on August 6th 2007 in General

Residential college

The New York Times has this article on residential colleges. I was in one in college. I think only three American universities had them at the time. We did not have a Greek system. Colleges served a similar purpose of providing a smaller scale for meeting people and a base for studying, dining, rooming and partying. The article does not discuss the Greek system much, but I always saw the college system as an alternative with less rigid social and economic implications. I am glad that they are spreading because it is difficult to explain what they are.

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Michael M. on August 6th 2007 in General

Hustle and Flow

Hustle and Flow retells the Memphis story. Soon after seeing Black Snake Moan, I got this earlier movie from the library. Although fiction, it retells a history that Memphis has repeated several times. The movie is even dedicated to Sam Phillips, and in one scene, Shelby wears a blue t-shirt featuring logo of the Memphis Recording Service, the forerunner of Sun. I have a burgundy from my visit to Sun Studio. It is about black and white crossing the lines and playing together to create what segregation could not, just like Sun was, just like Stax was, just like Hi was.

From a storytelling perspective, I cared for the characters far more than I would have expected. Main character DJay is despicable. He is exploitive. He is violent. He is cruel. Somehow, I found myself rooting for him, buying into the dream that his evils would pass and his talent could overcome them and his own mortality to create a lasting expression.

The language is terrific. I like talking to people in stores when I pass through, the ones who have not shed their accents and dialect for neutral American English despite living in the urban South. To my ear, they nailed it. Some memorable quotes, though rough and foul, came from the movie, too.

Even now weeks after watching it, I savor how good this movie was. It certainly is not for everyone. Many of the characters, especially the main one, are rotten people. The sets portray seedy locales. The language is often filthy. If you can take the rough side of life in stride, though, this movie offers great entertainment. It instantly became a favorite.

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Michael M. on August 6th 2007 in General, Movies, Music, Recorded

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.