Saturday, April 27, 2013

Fiver - Episode IX: The Muppets Make Manhattans

     Lately I've been feeling nostalgic for those things of yore that brought me the most joy. I suppose we all do as we get older (which reminds me: if you're one of those people who bemoans their age, please, just stop! You're bumming us all out.) Recently, my nostalgia has turned to those times when I used to wile away the day skateboarding, hanging out with my friends and listening to Operation Ivy tapes until they wore out. Good times.



     Of course I doubt I could do even a fraction of the tricks I was able to barely do back when I was younger, skinnier and less responsibility-having. Not that this is an excuse not to simply roam around the neighborhood on the ol' stuntwood, but a competent ollie or no-comply here or there would be fun. Carving the shit out of an embankment just isn't enough, ya know?

     It helps (or hurts, depending on how you look at it) that we seem to be living in a time of constant nostalgia. Everything old is literally new again. This, of course, applies double to skateboarding. Once dominate skateboard brands such as Powell Peralta, Santa Cruz and Vision "reissue" more throwback decks that a man-child can throw a mid-life crisis at. We're talking old board shapes with old graphics with old pro's names on 'em coming out of the mill as if they'll never go out of style (and at this rate, it doesn't appear they will, like, ever).

      One retro trend in skateboard that I am enjoying, however, is the return of what I call the "popsicle precursor" shape. Around 1989 thereabouts, this board shape made specifically for street skating emerged. I'm not sure exactly who originated this shape, but I want to say it was Mark Gonzales (why not?) and his so-called "Gonz and Roses" deck from Vision Skateboards. This shape then evolved more-so over at the fledgling World Industries camp with Jesse Martinez's "Jailed Rock-Em Sock-Em Robot" board, which Jeremy Klein and Chris "Dune" Pastras seemingly used as the template for their signature boards.

     Today there are a slew of these pre-pop resurgence decks. Matt Hensley currently has one for Black Label, though I prefer the "Icon" board from 2011 instead (if for no other reason, the John Lucero-drawn re-pro graphics are fuckin' brilliant). Antihero has the "Skate Ski," while Mike Vallely's Elephant Brand has "The Rogue." Toy Machine, however, has a deck I'm considering getting: the "Monster XL Cruiser."

     Hmm... One of those two decks below with some Indys and Spitfire "Classics" slapped on 'em. Slip my Hobbit feet into a pair of scissored-down and duct-tape-and-stickered Airwalk "Enigmas," and shit: it's the late 80's/early '90's all over again! See? Old is new again!

     So, at this point: Oy vey! Is there anything worse that someone talking about skateboards (as opposed to actually riding them)? Oh, look: here's some pontifications about some new songs...

1. Twin Peaks "Stand In the Sand" (mp3)
From the album Sunken (2013, Autumn Tone)
     Honestly, it was about time someone named their band Twin Peaks. Why did it take this long? And if these young turks (the average age range for the members of this band is 19) get any flack for naming their band after David Lynch's seminal boob-tube cult classic, this Chicago band can say they're named after the neighborhood in San Francisco. Boo-ya!

2. White Fence "Pink Gorilla" (via Soundcloud)
From the album Cyclops Reap (2013, Castle Face)
     Of course White Fence is on John Dwyer's Castle Face record label. From the opening jangling buzz saw guitar riffs to Tim Presley's Gene Clark-esque vocal coo, White Fence sounds tailor made to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with The Oh Sees, Bare Wires and Fresh & Onlys. Cyclops Reap collects the odds-n-sods that didn't make any of the four records White Fence put out last year. If the song above is any indication, Presley's table scraps could easily make a lesser band's career.

3. Julia Brown "Library" (via Soundcloud)
From the album To Be Close To You (2013, Birdtapes)
     This band hails from somewhere in Maryland. When I think of Maryland, naturally I think of Baltimore, which is a fantastically gnarly town best known for John Waters, The Wire and Edgar Allen Poe. That the band Julia Brown was, until recently, called Teen Suicide kinda fits that pigeon-holed metric, but then you listen to their gentle and warm lo-fi twee-pop orchestrations and all preconceived notions of what a band from Maryland should sound like go right out the window.

4. Guided By Voices "Flunky Minnows" (mp3)
From the album English Little League (2013, GBV, Inc.)
     C'mon! It's Guided By Voices. Of course they're gonna be on here. Not only do they release a shit ton of songs (which is nothing new for this band, and all the better since the original line up reunited), but GBV are also one of my absolute, all-time favorite bands. So, of course I'm going to shove 'em down your throat. Open wide!

5. No Joy "Hare Tarot Lies" (via Soundcloud)
From the album Wait To Pleasure (2013, Mexican Summer)
     Of all the alt-rock genres out there, I think shoegaze has aged the best. At the point when this dreamy chill-pop genre was about to explode in the early 1990's, grunge came along and stole shoegaze's thunder. British bands rebelled against grunge the best way they could, by going stuffy with Britpop (Oasis, Blur, Pulp, etc.) Even those old shoegaze bands like Lush, Ride and Boo Radleys went the bespoke route. Meanwhile, here in the States, a slew of underground bands started reviving the shoegaze brand, and the genre's been floating along ever since. No Joy is one such band, and they do "the scene that celebrates itself" proud with this gauzy and spacial bit of dreampop. How does it feel to feel? Um, like this song, actually.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Daily Essentials, Part 1: The Stuff of How I Get By

We all have every day essentials we absolutely cannot live without. You know, those items that, if went missing or forgotten, would wreak havoc on how one would be able (or, sadly, unable) to conduct their day-to-day business of self.

This lowly blogger is no different from you in that department (I put my pants on the exact same way everyone else does: with the assistance of two handmaids and an industrial hydraulic winching system). Below are some items I simply could not live my life without, followed by an exhaustive and enthralling explanation of each.

A. Timex Weekender Indiglow Watch I've wanted a white-face wristwatch for the longest time, but didn't really have the ducets for a vintage Rolex or Logines of comparable quality, so I opted for this $35 Timex version instead. Takes a licking, keeps on ticking and lights up in the dark!

B. Keys Besides having the key to my car, my wife's backup car key and an anodized black house key, my key ring also features a bottle opener from Powell's Books, which is absolutely essential to any party situations/alcoholism situation.

C. Thin Bill Fold Wallet Bulky-ass wallets are cut. Thin, bill-fold wallets that carry the essentials (cash, cards and I.D.) are where its at. Your ass cheek(s) will thank me later.

D. iPhone 4 Until the iPhone 5S comes out, my trusty 4 model will get me through. Suck it, Siri!

E. iPod Nano 8g I'm not sure what version iPod Nano this is. My wife got it for me a few holidays back (automatic sentimental value, right there), and it still works great for jogging and car trips. Currently it's loaded to capacity with Guided By Voices, Parquet Courts, The Caretaker, Dinosaur Jr, and Lilys.

F. Macbook Pro Couldn't live without this baby. Whether it's writing articles, reviews and screenplays, making mixtapes or watching Archer in bed, this laptop is absolutely essential to my daily routine. "Cult of Mac"? Oh, hell yeah! And proudly.

G. Mexican Coca-Cola If there is one thing I'm absolutely 100% addicted to, it's Mexican Coke ...a-Cola. Made in Mexico  with pure cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup (so, you know, more healthier!), Mexican Coke-Cola just tastes better. The corner store on my block sells the slightly larger "Medio Litro" version, which I'm assuming is Spanish for "Medical Grade," no?

H. Sharpie Red Fine Point Marker For copy editing, of which my wife is far, far, far superior at than I am.

I. Sharpie Standard Black Marker Essential, pretty much. I mean, duh!

J. Titanium Wedding Band Allergic to gold, white gold and platinum like I am? Silver just not cutting it? Why not go surgical grade titanium and tell people (when they ask, of course) that your wedding band is made from adamantium. Hilarity eventually ensues.

K. You Are Pretty Handsome Boutineer/Lapel Flower Pin My friends Skylar and Jairus custom make each of these decorative and amazing lapel pins by hand (mine features a crown, since I'm a total narcissist). For those times when a suit or sports coat is required, I usually pop one of these on and get, "Cool pin. Where did you get it?" Ah, attention.

L. Standard Deck of Bicycle Brand Eco Cards Whenever we go out to eat, my wife and I usually bring a deck of cards with us and commence with a round or five of the card game Speed. We've altered this game slightly by making the Jokers and standard issue info cards into wild cards al a Uno. Competition can get heated, and the loser is known to "throw jaggers" while the winner celebrates by proclaiming "Eat at Joe's!" Yes, we're lucky to have found one another.

M. Brushed Silver Zippo Lighter I don't smoke anymore (I was pretty much take it or leave it with the coffin nails, anyway - more a luxury than a compulsion, and a seriously stupid habit), but I keep this lil' fella handy just in case fire is needed for candles, other people's cigarettes lighting needs or Frankenstein's monster run-in's. Fire good!

N. Vintage Art Deco Cigarette Case This silver 1920's cigarette case used to exclusively carry Lucky Strikes, but now it houses my vast array of credit cards, gift cards and grocery store rewards cards. What can I say? I'm a baller.

O. TDK Certified Plus Blank CD-Rs I'm "old school" in the modern sense that I still enjoy making mix CDs. Putting together a play list, editing it to fit on an 80 minute disc, making the cover art (hand-drawn or collage) is something posting my mixes online can never duplicate. I love these TDK blank CD-Rs simply because of their blank silver tops free of any and all corporate branding screened on to 'em.

Q. Pottery Barn Leather-Bound Flask I purchased this flask years ago, and it still comes in handy today. Be it a tweed ride (for which I have an Ahern flask cage mounted to my bike) or a Mormon wedding, this pocket-ready flask filled with Grey Goose vodka and a cold class of Jamaican Ginger Beer is all I need to have a good great time anywhere.

R. Black Moleskin Drawing Book When an idea for a painting or a new shoe design comes to me, this little Moleskin notebook is always readily at hand. It's hard to explain exactly, but I just feel like more of a gentleman using one of these notebooks. 

S. Vintage Paperback of Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf Besides being my absolute favorite novel of all time, I simple love the tactile experience of having this well-worn 1960's version of Herman Hesse's classic on my bookshelf. The cover is creased, the paper is yellowed and it has that wonderful old book smell, which is one the best scents in the known world next to newborns and gasoline.

T. Kleen Kanteen 18oz Stainless Steel Water Bottle with Stainless Unibody Bamboo Cap You can drink water, or You Can Drink Water. I choose to do so in style with this stubby, ecologically sound Kleen Kanteen water bottle with a Stainless Unibody Bamboo cap. This set-up keeps my water cool, debris free and fits my bicycles water cage perfectly. Essential, if for anything else, it houses water (you know, the fluid a human body requires the most).

U. My Bike I love, love, LOVE my bike! It's been through many permutations (first powdercoated silver, then re-powdercoated pearl black), and has always remained my favorite (and preferred) mode of transportation. It's a 58cm fixed gear road bike conversion with a 46t-16t drivetrain. The frame was hand-built sometime in the 1970's, as evidenced by both its braze-ons and side-by-side bottle cage mounts. I had the drop-outs swapped for track ends three years ago, and have gone through a series of set-up alterations until ultimately settling on a more comfortable up-right riding posture. This bike features a Brooks B67 saddle, Velo Orange Montmartre handlebars with Brooks Plump Leather Grips, a Nitto Technomics stem and a Chis King headset, IRD Defiant cranks with a Phil Wood bottom bracket and MKS Sylvan pedals, Velocity 700c Deep V rims with Phil Wood hubs and Dia Compe Gran Compe Eno Cilio tires, a vintage SunTour front brake, and a Crane Ritan brass bell. Riding my bike is one of the best feelings in the world, and doing so frees me from any and all daily stresses and anxieties. I also love tinkering and tweaking my bike from time to time, or getting out the tools and fine-tuning what there is to wrench-on (which isn't much, since it's a fairly simple and spartan set-up). This simple little machine makes me feel good, and that is invaluable.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Captain, My Captain: Remembering Roger Ebert

I always made time for Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. It didn't matter how good the day's campaign in G.I. Joe game play was going, every Sunday evening was reserved these opposing film critics from Chicago, Illinois. Even as a youngster in the early 1980's, I'd shun interaction with my peers just to watch to two grown men with Mid-Western accents pontificate and (more often than not) argue about motion pictures.

I grew up in a single parent home. We were poor, and going out to see movies was a luxury my Mom could rarely afford. The best we could do for cinematic entertainment was watching third run movies through the static of the the local UHF television station. Siskel and Ebert were my window into the world of modern cinema.

Watching At the Movies was as near to a religious ritual as I would get on Sundays. If you were to ask the 8 year-old me what it was that I loved about watching this program, I don't know if I would have the wherewithal to concisely say why beyond enjoying watching the clip reels included with Siskel and Ebert's reviews. On a deeper level, though, I enjoyed the discussions between these two newspapermen (Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, and Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times).

As I got older, I came to understand exactly why I loved watching Siskel and Ebert's reviews. These were two intelligent men who loved movies. They would often hate movies, too, and sometimes not the same ones. And this is where their opinions would flair, inciting unscripted, off-the-cuff discussions. That was the magic of this show; the genuine (and at times) heated debates on the merits of film, storytelling and art. We, the audience were engaged because Siskel and Ebert were engaged. 

Neither critic were shy about speaking truth to power, either. If they felt the motion picture industry were cynically targeting and exploiting a certain demographic (like, say, the Friday the 13th franchise), they'd say so on the air. Siskel and Ebert's words carried weight, something their imitators never could.

What got me the most in those formative years, however, was the idea that people got paid to not only watch movies, but that they also got to go on TV and rant or rave about them (Roger Ebert was the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1975). Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert are my first (and still very much primary) influence for going into writing.

After Gene Siskel's death in 1999, Roger Ebert continued to review films on the air with Richard Roeper. After his health started to decline due to thyroid cancer, Ebert eventually "retired" from his on-air duties, but maintained a presence in the review sections of the Chicago Sun Times. Ebert's cancer would eventually claim his jaw, depriving Ebert of those things he loved to do most in life the most: speaking and eating.

But the cancer could not quiet Roger Ebert's voice. He would continue to review films and write books in that inclusive, welcoming and often times humorous writing style of his. He became a force, branding himself anew through his website, blog and twitter accounts. I even followed Roger Ebert on Facebook, where his asides and observations always seemed to make the gloomiest days seem brighter.

In this way, Roger Ebert inspired me for a second time. Here is a man who has lost his ability to speak; to say his words aloud. He could have wallowed with the hand life had dealt him, but instead Roger Ebert, with the aid and support of his loving wife, Chaz Ebert, mounted a phoenix-from-the-ashed relaunch of himself. Here he was, more prodigious than ever. His speaking voice then became a text-to-voice computer assistant and the Internet became his outlet; his sounding board. 

Even when it was recommended he not, Ebert posed for pictures; his jawline now slung low, but his eyes peering back at the viewer with warmth and optimism. It was a triumph. Roger Ebert wouldn't allow cancer to claim his soul.

Roger Ebert meant a lot to me. He was an accomplished reporter and writer who loved the cinema, traveling abroad, living in Chicago, and being surrounded by his friends and family. His words carried weight, and more than a couple of times he saved several hours of my life from watching bad movies (though the review in his book Your Movie Sucks of Battlefield Earth made watching that film too much of a so-bad-it's-good movie-watching experience). Along with Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert defined the face of film review. It went beyond the simple "thumbs up/down" gesture that became their signature for rating movies. They encouraged America to discuss and have opinions about movies, whether you agreed with their assessments or not. The way we look at film in this country owes a debt to these two.

Roger Ebert is someone I hold in the highest of esteem. A big regret in my life is never having had met the man to tell him how much he and Gene Siskel inspired me to write, review and debate not just movies, but life in general. I'm sad to see Roger Ebert pass from this mortal coil, but I will always remember the impact he had in it. 

Rest In Peace, Mr. Ebert. The balcony is closed.

Roger Ebert
6/18/42 - 4/4/2013