Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fiver - Episode V: Give Me 1, 2, 3, 4, But If You Love Me More, Give Me 5.

"Nah, nah, I ain't putting that shit in my car, yo," said the little man in gangster-lite attire with the best Brooklyn 'tude he could muster this far west of the Ol's Miss. He was a twerpy white guy, ebbing toward proto-minority, but landing squarely in Turtle-from-Entourage territory ('cept not nearly as cuddly or fun-loving). "I drive a Lexus. I puts 91 in that shit, know what I mean? I ain't putting no 89 in my shits.""

He looked around the mini mart to see if anyone caught on that despite his abysmal Tommy Hilfiger garb, flat brimmed ball cap, ridiculous skyscraper sneakers and banal tattoos running up the bottom of each of his chubby forearms, this stout and husky lil' fella did indeed drive a L-E-X-U-S (and an SUV, no less). He most likely viewed women and steaks with the same reverence.

Nobody seemed impressed.

"Hey! Hey! Just gimme back the money I gave you. The pump ain't working," he said as if he was owning the room and everyone around witnessing his tantrum was his audience inhaling the fumes.

"It's working just fine," answered the Middle Eastern man behind the counter, battling barrages and whittling down a long line of customers as fast as his stubby fingers could pound keys and shuffle bills. I imagine, for some inexplicable reason he was once a surgeon or a minister of some high regard back wherever home once was and still very much is. And now, here he is, suffering this schmuck. "Go try again!"

"Nah! Just gimme back my money! You don't know what your doing." Lexus-driver's friend walks in looking like dude's svelter, half-finished clone and grabs a bag of beef jerky from a display. The clone hands it off to his frustrated friend and walks back outside. "C'mon. Gimme my cash back. You don't know what you're doing." he says, cutting in front of some guy buying gum. "Oh, and take this off what I gave you. Just gimme the change!"

Counter intelligence hands Lexus Luthor a wad singles and he huffs out, beaming his shoulder on one of the automatic sliding front doors and knocking it off its track. Walking out to his much-vaunted Lexus, he mutters under his breath audibly, "Un-fuckin'-believable!" 

You're telling me. Do you know what that beef jerky shit'll do to your gestural-intestinal system? Yikes!

1. Raphael Saadiq "Heart Attack"
From the album Stone Rollin' (2011, Sony Records)
Man, didn't it seem like the Brit's were kicking our asses in the field of doo-wop-inspired booty-shaking Motown-esque ditties there for a while. Then along comes this Raphael Saadiq fella, and it's all like, "Get out of my car, Amy Winehouse!"

2. Plan B "She Said"
From the album The Defamation Of Strickland Banks (2011, 679 Recordings, Ltd.)
Speaking of Brits, I love it when they rap in the middle of their songs. While American rappers rap about poverty, a life of crime, making money, and their healthy respect for women, British rappers "spit rhymes" about things like small, fuel efficient cars, "crisps," and celebrities you've never heard of. "Sho' nuff, guv'na!"

3. Youth Lagoon "July"
From the single July/Cannons (2011, self released)
I like this song because it sounds like the soundtrack to the saddest, most solemn 4th Of July celebration there ever was. "We're gathered here to celebrate our Nation's birth... and to remember the time Bob got that M80 jammed in his eye socket." 

4. Fleet Foxes "Lorelai"
From the album Happiness Blues (2011, Sub Pop)
Please, for the love of God, stop calling Fleet Foxes "...indie-rock's Grateful Dead." That's the kind of shit that makes this band want to quit their label, go into hiding and eat It's-Its by the metric ton. Anyway, everyone already knows that My Morning Jacket is indie-rock's Grateful Dead, anyway. Pfft!

5. Ganglians "Jungle"
From the album Still Living (2011, Lefse Records)
I defy you - DEFY YOU!!! - not to rob a bank upon listening to this new track by Ganglians. It's impossible. In fact, I'm writing this review from a holding cell while awaiting trial for armed robbery (which, I'm told, is also a Federal offense). Big Brother, I'm just trying to get jiggy with it. C'mon!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

To Live And Imbibe In L.A. - Pabst Moves To the West Coast (?)

Yes, you read that headline correctly. The Pabst Brewing Company is pulling up its Midwest operation's stakes and moving to sunny Southern California. What could possibly go wrong?

Pabst Brewing Company - which has been long associated with blue collar, working class beer aficionados through the better part of the 20th century - has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity due, in no small part, to its popularity among urban "hipsters" in cities such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles. With nary an advertising presence, Pabst has enjoyed a strong brand recognition built seemingly on scenesters who view the Pabst brand as just outsider and quasi-tough enough to seemingly differentiate them from every other fixed gear-riding, indie-rock-listening-to-ing, tattoo-getting, shoe-hoarding, cheap beer-swilling individuals in really tight jeans.

Pabst Brewing Company, which is currently owned by billionaire investor C. Dean Metropoulos, has long considered itself (and its slew of subsidiary suds such as Blatz, Schlitz, Rainer, Old Milwaukee, Olympia, Colt 45, and many, many more) as the premier blue collar beer which made the Midwest the beer-brewing pride of America. Pabst, owned for about two decades by the charitable foundation of the late Los Angeles brewing mogul Paul Kalmanovitz was sold to Metropoulos after The Internal Revenue Service ordered the Kalmanovitz Charitable Foundation to sell the company due to federal law barring charities from owning a for-profit business for more than five years.

The reins of the Pabst Brewing Company's daily operations were handed over to Metropoulos' two sons, Daren and Evan, both of which live in Los Angeles, hence the operational move from the suburbs of Chicago to the Celluloid City (the brewing itself, which is handled by the Miller Brewing Company, will still take place in the Midwest). The Metropoulos' Brothers promise a sparkling new re-branding campaign involving celebrities and sports stars. But is all this high-glitz brand designing in sharp contrast to what made the Pabst brand so alluring and marginally profitable in the first place?

Pabst Blue Ribbon (or "PBR" as it is affectionately called) enjoys a certain air of understated/overrated working class, tough-as-nails charm. It's no muss, no fuss blue, white and red design has changed ever so slightly over the years (read: decades) and the Pabst brand succeeds largely in part to it's perception as both an "every man" beer, and the fact that its marketing campaign is virtually nonexistent and word-of-mouth (no insulting print or television advertisements featuring scantily clad women or doofus bro hams in idiot scenarios, it seems, were necessary to move this brew). Pabst is what it's always been; a decent beer at a nominal price.

Moving the Pabst Brewing Company's headquarters to Los Angeles (the one American city above all others which is perceived as being distinctly un-working class, un-blue collar) may hurt the Pabst image. However, it simply seems like an odd, perplexing move (both literally and figuratively). Adding a new marketing blitz featuring celebrities you know can afford and drink better, more expensive alcoholic beverages is akin to dressing Archie Bunker up in Phat Farm clothing and making him party with Jay-Z. Possibly not the best idea for this storied beer brand.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Dreamin' & Schemin' Pt. 3: Dream Action Figures

You gotta love these crazy modern times we're living in. I mean, at what other point in human history has it ever been okay for a 36 year-old adult male to collect and play with action figures and, at the same time, be married to a real live woman?!? Remarkable these non-judgmental, forgiving modern times we're witnessing, I tell ya.

Of course, not all is perfect in this age of iPods, the Internet and security pat-downs. For the legions of toys made available to men-children for conspicuous consumption, there are those action figures that have yet to see the inside of a blister card.

Here are five action figures that I wish would see the officially licensed light of day:

1. The Flaming C
After an forced eight month hiatus from network television, Conan O'Brien returned to the boob tube reinvigorated and ready to capitalize (masterfully, I might add) on his wounded underdog status. One advantage of being on cable TV is, of course, the liberal use of swear words. Another is sharing a studio with Warner Bros. and having legendary Batman The Animated Series artist Bruce Timm draw you in DC superhero form. Thus The Flaming C was born. Coco's alter ego is fuckin' hilarious: steaming oven mitt, jai li glove, sock garters over fishnets, pot leaf belt buckle, loafers with tassels... Who needs super powers when you have a clusterfuck of accessories? The above JLA-style action figure was produced by expert customizer Paul Pape, but Mattel or DC Direct really need to get going on making this figure a reality.

2. Fumbles/Trouser Snake
Ever wondered how the Joe's got their awesome code names? Well, as this skit from Robot Chicken illustrates, it's a committee-based process based on the immediate action or pratfalls a new recruit makes on his or her first day. But yolk a master marksman with a PhD and a high-powered rifle with an embarrassing code name, and the results can be deadly ...and hilarious. Do a web search of Cobra's most competent employee here and you'll find a smattering of Fumbles custom-made figures like this one pictured to the right. If that doesn't prove to Hasbro how popular a seller this figure can potentially be for them, perhaps begging will help: Please, Hasbro. Please make this Fumbles action figure a legit reality. Pretty please! "No, you live with it."

3. Mr. Bananagrabber
The shit they got away with on Arrested Development. I mean, Mr. Bananagrabber?!? C'mon! There needs to be an action figure of one of Gob's actual good ideas. It could come with Segway (with interchangeable "(P)resident" handlebar bag) and a pull-string feature that allows him to recite his famously whistled line, "Look! A seagull! A-GOMP!" Just don't give up animation rights. (On a related note, is it just me, or when you see someone riding one of these Segway contraptions, does your mind instantly go to how hilariously ridiculous Gob looked behind the, er, handles of one of these things?) Man, I miss this show. When is the movie coming out again?

4. Mr Dinner With Andre Action Figure Set
Am I alone here, or did anyone else want the My Dinner With Andre action figure set from Waiting For Guffman, as well? ("Oh you. You can always get a reservation.") Granted, I've never actually seen My Dinner With Andre - a 2-hour film about two men sitting down to a meal and having frank, philosophical discussions - but that wouldn't stop me from playing with these figures - rendered in Mego form, of course. Perhaps they can go to a restaurant, like the one from Big Night, and enjoy the timpono, quarts of Chianti and wait for Louis Prima to never show up. Or they could just sit there and discuss the positive attributes of infidelity. Hey, go nuts!

5. Community Claymation Christmas Set
In what has become one of the "more colorful" network's saving grace sitcoms (and, to be honest, there ain't a lot of 'em), Community is one of the funniest, smartest and entertaining shows on television right now. It's self-referential, clever, satirical, inventive, and rewarding to watch (this season's paintball-heavy season finale was ingenious and inspired). This past season of Community gave us the claymation Christmas special, wherein Abed imagined the study group as Christmas-themes toys in a snowy winter wonderland. I want those toys! They're fuckin' adorable!!! And they seem tailor made for the toy aisle. Also, it would be nice to finally have an Alison Brie action figure. Oh, who am I fooling? I really mean John Oliver action figure. (Sigh!)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Rolling Gallery - Vol. 1

Skateboarding is one of the best things we walking, talking apes have ever conceived of. A plank of wood, two trucks and four wheels (with some smaller bits thrown in to keep the whole thing together), and you're having yourself a mighty good time.

While other "extreme sports" try to superficially ape skateboarding's aesthetic, they'll never replicate the heart and soul that goes into it. BMX-ing, snowboarding, rollerblading, Razor Scooter-ing; these activities aren't punk as fuck, and never will be.

Skateboarding is a rogues endeavor, through and through - smashing, destroying and debasing this asphalt-encrusted vanilla environment our society has convinced us we want and need. Skateboarding represents self expression, rugged individualism and personal freedom. Skateboarding is art.

Yeah, no shit! Art.

Flip that board over and what do you see? Some of the best, most clever and often times hilariously satirical graphic art ever conceived of. Something about the shape of a skateboard just makes for a perfectly disposable canvas (or for you fanatical collectors out there, "wall art" your wife or live-in girlfriend puts up with).

Here then is the first batch of my favorite stuntwood graphics:

Vision Mark Gonzales "Gonz & Roses" (1988)
The first time I saw this board was at a demo in Fair Oaks, California. Oddly enough, it was being ridden around at blinding speed by the guy whose name was on the bottom of it. Gonz was annihilating the rinky-dink course, and he had this plank kitted-out with blue griptape. Glimpsing at this board's graphics when Gonz would take a moment to catch his breath, I was instantly smitten the artwork on the belly of this deck: a limp-wrist-ed guy in a suit surrounded by flowers with "Gonzales" written above his head. Seeing this board's graphics made me realize that skateboard graphics didn't have to be all skulls and tits and cynicism; they could also be fun and creative. To me, this has to be the best skateboard graphic of all time.

Schmitt Stix Joe Lopes "BBQ" (1988)
This was Joe Lopes' second pro model for Schmitt Stix, and man have these graphics held-up splendidly over the years. Seriously, they're clever, spacial and witty. You can just look at this board for hours, taking in the scene depicted (Joe, expertly manning three grills at once while an eclectic - and hungry - crowd of people waits in line behind him). It also doesn't hurt that these graphics were drawn by the legendary Neil Blender. Vision reissued this board a couple of years back (when they were still actually making boards, that is) in a bid to cash-in on the nostalgia craze that's also held Powell Peralta and Santa Cruz in a creative holding pattern. I hope Vision at least donated some of the proceeds to the Lopes family. It doesn't seem quite right to collect money from a dead man's name if your not paying royalties, right? And Joe Lopes was/is a legend!

Real Salman Agah "Camel Stripes" (1992)
Salman Agah's first pro model reflects the Father Of Switch exactly as he was in the mid 1990's: he loved his striped rugby shirts! Agah was an instant favorite of mine, and I dug his style instantly upon seeing him and Jovante Turner's shared part in Powell's Ban This video. He just had this super smooth, yet aggro style. I actually met The Man at a demo in Pleasanton, California where I filming a bunch of friends skating the course. I asked Salman if it was cool if I filmed him and he said, "Sure!" Then he added, "my name's Salman," and shook my hand. "Just send it in to Real." How cool was that; taking time out of his day to be cool to some goofy kid with a video camera? The next day, I bought this board (and a couple of striped rugby shirts at Target) and practiced nollies until the sun went down.

Dogtown Karma Tsocheff "Freed Puppet" (1990)
Karma Tsocheff was another skater that I looked up to when I was a wee teenager. He just had this "barge everything" skate style. Kitted-out in bleach blond curls, cut-off military shorts and tube socks, he was working class punk set to a soundtrack of No Means No (a band I got into because he used their songs so frequently in his video parts). This was Karma's second board for legendary Dog Town Skateboards, who, by the early '90's had updated their graphics from crosses to more iconic, story-telling elements. This board featured a blunted nose, dual front truck hole mounting and an overall "what the fuck are you gonna do about it?!?" shape, perfect for both quarter pipe and street skating. It's the graphics I dig the most; a man in a suit, scissors in hand, free from the strings that controlled him. I had the orange version.

World Industries Jesse Martinez "Robot Jail" (1991)
This is the board that seems to have pioneered the way most "street" boards were shaped in the mid-'90's (the "Golden Age" of street skating boards, perhaps?), before the 'popsicle' shape took hold: straight rails, squared tail, tapered nose blocked-off at the top. Oddly enough, I wanted one of these boards simple because of the first couple of seconds of Jesse's part in World Industries' Rubbish Heap, were he came trotting out the door of his house, slaps the board on the ground and cruises down the sidewalk (he just made that look so cool). Graphically, this graphic of a robot in a jail cell taking dump on the can was sequel to Jesse's previous board graphic featuring Rock-'em Sock-'em Robots. Man, justice is swift. (This board was later reissued by Cease And Desist).

Alien Workshop Steve Claar "Bird Portrait" and Duane Pitre "Olives" (1991)
At the inception of Alien Workshop, Chris Hill and Neil Blender pioneered a lo-fi, thrift store graphic art approach to the company. It was a breath of fresh air from all the satirical rip-off graphics popular at the time. Hill's photocopied and multi-color screened Claar graphic is reminiscent of straight-up indie-rock (al 'a the soundtracks to the Workshop's video output), while Pitre graphics are very Neil Blender, right down to the lines straying-off and over the top olive (and seriously, who other than Neil Blender could think of and pull off using olives as a skateboard graphic?

G&S Neil Blender "Rocking Dog" (1986)
Since I've mentioned Neil Blender in two reviews so far, it seems only fitting to talk about one of his boards (honestly, any skateboard, scrap of paper, used canvas, or pizza box with Blender's artwork on it is worth praise). My favorite Blender board is the G&S Picasso-esque "rocking dog." I love the presentation on this plank: Blender's art framed in the middle, with the large, bold "Gordon & Smith" below, and "Neil Blender" upside-down on top - both in typewriter font (which I'm guessing is from an actual typewriter, and not a computer).  Neil Blender is a fairly fearless art-maker, and that's what I appreciate most about his artwork. He just goes for it, and his pieces reflect his personality perfectly. Why isn't there a coffee table book full of this man's artwork out yet? Or perhaps even a documentary? C'mon people!

Blind Danny Way "Nuke Baby" (1991)
This knock-off graphic was so genius, I'm surprised it took anyone as long as it did to come up with it. This was Danny Way's second board for Mark Gonzales' Blind Skateboards (and also Way's last, as he would soon return to H-Street - and subsequently miss the legendary Video Days boat). Blind's Nash Skateboard's "homage" was pitch-perfect. In fact, I don't think they even altered Nash's original graphics, like, at all, save for adding Danny's name and replacing the company's name in the sun-swirl logo. This board was not just hilarious, but - at the time - nostalgic: what kid in the '80's didn't start out skating a generic board? It was either a Nash "Executioner" or a Variflex "Vectra." The bearings or hardware would eventually rust and seize, and you'd go to your local skate shop to replace 'em, where the older dudes behind the counter would heckle you into replacing your generic rig with a entirely new legit set-up - one without ying-yangs, Alf or unironic nuke babies on the bottom of them.

Blind Jason Lee "Schiffer" (1992)
The story behind this board is skate industry legend: graphic artist Sean Cliver gets shit-canned from a flagging Powell-Peralta (in a move many consider to be but one of many signs of the once great company's waning dominance) and takes his skills over to Steve Rocco's up-and-coming World Industries empire. Upon learning the ins-and-outs of George Powell's laborious graphic design decision process (!) and this graphic which Cliver was working on before he was dismissed, Rocco has the young artist re-draw the graphic and rush it into production (Powell tried to counter the board, to "meh" results). All industry drama aside, this Blind board for Jason Lee is simply beautiful. This graphic succeeds in mastering the key element of graphic design perfectly: it makes you want to look at it again and again. Sure it's a knock-off of a perfume advertisement, but Cliver's artwork is impeccable (as usual). And Lee's name in the middle? That's all you need. You know who he was and who he skated for. Simply stunning.

101 Nata Kaupas "Cat Eye" (1996)
It seems only fitting that this list started with one of my all-time favorite skaters, it should also end with another one as well. Natas Kaupas was basically on the other end of the candle from Mark Gonzales in terms of revolutionizing street skating. All the talent and moxie in the world though couldn't stop people from noting that Natas' name was "Satan" backwards. Natas - aided by graphic artist  Marc McKee -  would eventually capitalize on this name reversal notoriety with the infamous 101 "Satan graphic." But it was the 101 "cat eye" board that I really liked the most: the cat in silhouette with one eye open (or was the other eye winking at you?), Natas' name big and bold, with the "N" is red for no apparent reason - but still cool, regardless. Simple, elegant and awesome. So much so, in fact, that Black Label Skateboards reissued this deck in limited quantities. I know Natas has his hands full with his Designarium line of limited edition art decks, but man I'd love to see him relaunch 101. Such a great company, and this deck is but the tip of the iceberg.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dreamin' & Schemin' Pt. 2: OUi! Stuntwood

Ever since I was teenager, my aspiration was to be a graphic designer for a skateboard company. Ah, the simple, uncomplicated dreams of youth...

I used to draw my own graphics on the bottoms of my boards once I had scraped most of the original graphics away doing board slides, nose slide and tail slides. Back in the late 80's when Powell-Peralta Skateboards put an ad in Thrasher calling for artists to submit there portfolios in order to land a job with the company's graphic design department, I jammed my best skull art into an envelope and set it to 'em (I think it goes without saying that Sean Cliver handily won the post).

Over the years, my interest in designing skateboard graphics waned, as did my career interest in graphic design (a field that I'm convinced is not where any self-respecting artist should wind up, lest you find artistic expression designing cereal boxes and Penny Saver ads). Thanks to the Internet, however, getting your scribbles on the bottom of a plank is extremely easy. You don't even need to own an actual skateboard company to do so. 

If I had the money and chutzpah, I'd start a legitimate skateboard company. Until then, I'll settle for this dream: OUi! Stuntwood.

"Pop Dots"

'Electric Floater" - M

"Electric Floater" - L

"Roshambo Rock"

"Roshambo Paper"

"Roshambo Scissors"

"Tube Logo"


Like A Frog Caught In Bicycle Lights

Didn't Tom Cruise battle these once?
Knog Frog Strobe Twin Pack (discontinued)
Knog Australia
8 out of 10

A coupe of months back, some prick stole the "hipster cycsts" off of my bike while it was parked outside of one of my favorite local watering holes. It could of been worse, I know; my entire bike could have been stolen. But still, having anything you own finked from you is marginally demoralizing. And while it was clearly my fault for not simply removing the lights from my bike in the first place, that still hasn't stopped me from anthropomorphizing my old set of bike lights, empathizing with them and the fear of their new, strange and frightening surroundings.

So down to my LBS it was to purchase a new pair of front and back lights. While digging through the shop's discount bin, I stumbled upon this twin pack of Knog Frog lights. The can't-beat sale price was less than $25.00, so win-win, right?

The Frogs came packaged in recycled cardboard, which is all well and good, except this packaging leaves recycled cardboard "dust" all over your new rubber lights. No problem,  really, since the shell casing of these Frogs are water proof; one quick ride in the rain and (((POOF!))) - instantly cleaned-off bicycle lights. 

Can you find the Frogs on this bike?
These Frogs fasten onto virtually any rounded surface on your steed via their rubber loops-to-hook technology - which even a butter fingers like me can easily negotiate. Luckily for me, the set I purchased on-sale were black and matched my bike perfectly (because that's what bicycling is all about these days: color matching).

Ironically, It's the actual lighting features of these lights that I like the most. Compared to my last set of regrettably wimpy Knog Frogs, these N.O.S. Frogs are absolutely blinding, and my night riding has improved significantly ("...visible up to 600 meters," boasts Knog's website). They each feature 4 different setting - three of which are strobes at different seizure-inducing intervals. All-in-all, an extremely satisfying frugal purchase.

Yeah, these are last season's lights. And yeah Knog already has their new, non-Frog line of bicycle lights out. And even more yeah - I'm sure Knog has found even more ways to improve on their existing bicycle light technology. But, but, but... I am currently having a love affair with these "old" Froggies. If you find this twin pack in your LBS's bargain bin, snatch 'em up, toot'sweet! You'll save yourself some pocket change and get a great pair of easy-to-mount lights.