Thursday, December 27, 2012

R.L. Burnside

In 1996 I went downstairs to the Philadelphia Record Exchange to look at the new releases. This was a weekly ritual; I was passionate about music and, although I didn't have much in the way of money at the time, most of my expenses could be attributed to the art form. I saw "A Ass Pocket of Whiskey"; a curious album with Jon Spencer and an old blues man by the name of R.L. Burnside. I had been a fan of Spencer for sometime and trusted his judgement. So without so much as blinking an eye I laid my precious 10 dollar bill down and took the album upstairs where I lived.

The music that leaped from out of the speakers was raw, distorted and beautifully live; as if taped with a handheld microphone on a porch in the south (which, as it turned out, it practically was). I was a fan of Jon Spencer at the time, and had heard blues legends like Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, but nothing had prepared me for this. This gut-wrenching rhythm bleeding out of the speakers, ripping my heart out of my eardrums. I kept the album on heavy rotation for the rest of the year.

Little did I know this was just a bookend to the long life of a Northern Mississippi blues singer that had spent his years in juke joints throughout the south, trying to make ends meet as a sharecropper and, for a time, a factory worker in Chicago. R.L. Burnside was born in Lafayette County, Mississippi in 1926 and picked up guitar in 1948 after hearing the John Lee Hooker single, "Boogie Chillen." In the late 40's and early 50's he lived in a rough section of Chicago, where he lost his father, two brothers and an uncle in the violence of the era. He returned to the south to raise a family, only to be thrown in jail after killing a man during a game of dice. Burnside later said, "I didn't mean to kill nobody...I just meant to shoot the sonofabitch in the head. Him dying was between him and the Lord." Well, just another example for the need of way-overdue gun control!

After enjoying some fame in the '90's from the indie-scene (thanks in part to Fat Possum Records and Matthew Johnson), R.L. passed away in 2005 from heart failure. I just want to feature some examples of his music I found online. The most striking thing about him is his sense of rhythm. All the pieces featured here showcase him as the sole instrumentation; just vocals and guitar. And yet he carries the whole thing by himself. You can hardly keep your feet still, the rhythm is so infectious. Go, R.L., Go!!!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Electric Delivery Bikes

Please allow me to go on a little rant here while I talk about these electric delivery scooters we now see all over our city streets. They're like a virus; menacingly slithering its tentacles across each and every neighborhood, putting us all in imminent danger of being mowed down.

These "bikes" are absolutely silent and they go..FAST. They often drive at night, in the bike lane or even on the sidewalks, never following traffic laws. I've seen them without lights on, going the wrong way on a one-way street, zipping by at 20mph. So dangerous. And, I've heard they're illegal in the state of New York. City politicians have managed to double fines on the owners, and apparently the DOT has even made visits to the restaurants delivery men work for, to make sure they're licensed and trained on traffic laws. But to no avail. I guess the restaurant owners have found it's financially worth the risk of getting fined and even occasionally sued in order to make a fast buck on quick deliveries night after night.

I have had so many run-ins with these damned delivery scooters, almost getting hit by them several times while crossing the street. You can't hear them coming and since they go faster than the average bicycle, you have little time to react. They scare the crap out of me when they come up from behind while I'm riding in the bike lane at night. 

I hate these things but I see them everywhere now. It's definitely a recent phenomena and I'm hoping the laws will eventually catch up with the trend and put a stop to them for good. Until then, watch your back people!

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Jeffrey Eugenides' novel, Middlesex, has me perpetually wrapped up in its pages and as each chapter unfolds I become more absorbed and anxious of reaching the inevitable end. I don't want it to end, I love this book.  

Eugenides' uses the gender paradox to explore themes of societal alienation, the battle of free-will versus conformity and, ultimately, the strength of the human spirit. He covers today's common affliction known as the fear of intimacy extremely well. The lead character's disconnected relationship with Julie Kikuchi, which pops up throughout the book, will feel very familiar to the many lovelorn people of the 21st century. A line that really hits home for many is one of my favorites; "I never know what to feel until it's too late."

Here's a passage that occurs during the lead-up to the story's catharsis. I was almost reduced to tears in the middle of the subway car on my commute to work reading this. The "Obscure Object" is referring to the girl who is the subject of our protagonist's affections. Again, the fear of intimacy is inferred due to the fact that this important character doesn't even have a name and is simply referred to as "obscure."

The stretcher was wheeled down the corridor and my arm stretched out towards the Object. I had already left on my voyage. I was sailing across the sea to another country. Now my arm was twenty feet long, thirty, forty, fifty. I lifted my head from the stretcher to gaze at the Object. To gaze at the Obscure Object. For once more she was becoming a mystery to me. What ever happened to her? Where is she now? She stood at the end of the hall, holding my unraveling arm. She looked cold, skinny, out of place, lost. It was almost as if she knew we would never see each other again. The stretcher was picking up speed. My arm was only a thin ribbon now, curling through the air. Finally the inevitable moment came. The Object let go. My hand flew up, free, empty.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Black & White Berlin II

As I mentioned 2 posts ago, I took some photos with my Canon FT QL 35mm while in Berlin. One roll of 400 tri-x pan film. I already posted black and white photography from the trip (mostly architecture) but these came out so much better than the digital ones I think.

Tacheles in Mitte. Former SS headquarters turned artists commune. Due to gentrification the future of this building is unknown.

Sammlung Boros in The Bunker. Built by the Nazis as an air raid shelter, it has concrete walls up to 2 meters thick. It is now a private exhibition space.

Breath-taking examples of modern architecture in Berlin. I believe this building is part of the Gemadlegalerie complex.

Jewish Museum by Daniel Libeskind. This building was one of my obsessions during the architecture school days, so it was great to finally see it in person.

It was such beautiful weather while I was in Berlin in October. Look at that sky.

Sexy gargoyle time in Potsdam.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Observations on Berlin

Here's a few light-hearted observations I made during my stay in Berlin. I'm not claiming them all to be accurate.

1. Berlin is hipper than New York

2. Everything is cheap in Berlin (except vinyl)

3. Berlin is still visibly recovering from the cold war

4. Mastercard often isn't accepted at restaurants but they take one called Maestrocard that looks just like it

5. As women are enchanted with owl accessories in New York, so they are with elephants in Berlin

6. Energy conservation is cool but walking into a pitch-black hallway at night is scary

7. Apparently drug dealers in Gorlitzer Park check your ID before selling to make sure you're at least 18 years of age

8. Everyone I encountered except 1 person spoke English really well

9. Becks is the Budweiser of Germany (only much better tasting)

10. Everyone has tattoos in Berlin

11. There's an area for drinking in the supermarkets, right after the check-out

12. The public transit system in Berlin is excellent, but biking is even better!

Black & White Berlin

Here's a collection of black & whites taken during my trip to Berlin. These are all with my digital camera. I brought along my Canon FT (film) as well and took 36 exposures. If those turn out I may post some selections on here as well. You can see how many great examples of architecture inhabit this breathtaking town.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Gunks

I recently got back from another trip upstate to the Gunks, or the Shawangunk Ridge, where some friends of mine and I spent a few days camping and climbing. The Gunks is the first place I ever went rock climbing. That was about 3 years ago now and I had a blast. I can't remember the name of that first route, but I can describe it as a 1 pitch crack climb which had been set up for me like a top-ropeMost of it involved a lay back with several hand jams, so it was a good introduction to the sport. A later climb that day resulted in my first rappel, which was awesome.
Since then I've been pretty regular at it and have been to some amazing places for climbing; Yosemite, New Hampshire, Mexico...I have many more on my list for the future of course. But the Gunks is the closest to my home, and my friends and I have made many trips up there; either staying overnight or making a quick day-trip. I rely mostly on my friend Jesse to go with, who is experienced, has his own trad rack and is a damn good climber. I don't know how to lead trad, or at least I haven't tried yet. The whole anchor set up kind of boggles me a bit.

Sorting out the gear

Climbers love to have inside lingo for things, mostly abbreviations. Therefore the Shawangunks is referred to simply as "the gunks." The word Shawngunk comes from the dutch for "smokey air," although these mountains aren't particularly smokey. The rock is quartz conglomerate, which has quite a variety of features; horizontal cracks and overhanging roofs mostly. It's right outside of New Paltz, a college town with a fair amount of tie-dye. People have been climbing here since the 1930's. There are a few bolts and pitons in the cliff face but they aren't allowed anymore and as a result the Gunks is almost all trad (or traditional) climbing (as opposed to sport climbs which involve bolted rock for easy clipping). The area is separated by a road into two parts: The Trapps and the Nears. The Trapps is a bit more popular and can get real crowded on weekends. Both areas have great climbing and bouldering.

Some of the classic climbs I've done over the years are Something Interesting, Modern Times, Le Teton and High Exposure. There have been many more but I can't remember the names of them right now.

I hope to have a chance to take one more trip to the Gunks before winter comes!

View from my tent
 Jesse, James!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Emoting with Icons

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the modern-day emoticon :)

The use of punctuation marks to represent a face in order to convey an emotion was first used by computer scientist Scott Fahlman at Carnegie Mellon University on 19 September 1982.  It was during a misunderstood humorous post on the university's online bulletin board that Fahlman suggested to use a punctuation mark to set apart the jokes from the usual serious announcements.
And so the emoticon was born.

There have been earlier examples cited by historians, my favorite reference being that of a 1969 New York Times interview with Lolita writer Vladimir Nabokov in which he is asked how he ranks himself amongst other writers.  He replies, "I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile - some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question."

I find it quite annoying when microsoft platforms and instant message automatically turn your emoticon of a smiley face into a picture of an actual smiley face.  When this :) becomes this

 I think this loses the point of using the punctuation marks in the first place.

A girl I dated once told me that men shouldn't use emoticons because their use is quite feminine.  I don't know how this makes any sense but I have to admit that since our conversation I have used them sparingly.

I will end this post with a link to an online emoticon dictionary, equipped with a dizzying array of the facial punctuation marks.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Crewdson and Hopper

Edward Hopper is one of my favorite painters; Gregory Crewdson is one of my favorite photographers. Their styles are very similar; stark subject matter portrayed with moods of isolation, resignation, and foreboding. Their works evoke a cinematic viewpoint, with sharp contrasts of light and shadow, like a film noir movie still. I have known Hopper's work for years, since childhood, thanks to famous examples such as as Nighthawks (1942), and as I learned more, I came to admire his vision greatly. I personally connect with his subject matter. I can feel the quiet solitude his characters are experiencing.  Their wistful look; the subtle interaction of human beings in their environment. It truly moves me.

Gregory Crewdson is an admitted fan of Hopper and his own work evokes a similar construct. He works with a large crew and uses elaborate set ups for his staged vignettes. I have never seen a proper exhibit of Crewdson's, I only know of his work through books. I love the eerie moods he achieves through the painstaking lighting and effects set-ups of his shoots.  Many of his photographs are suggestive of a crime about to occur (or one that has just passed).

Hopper (b. 1882 - d. 1967) and Crewdson (b. 1962) are both native New Yorkers. I am posting examples of their works below, alternating between the two artists to exemplify their similar approach.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Missed Connections on the Subway

Sofia, for god's sake, CALL JOE!!!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Me and Bruce

I'm not saying I look like Bruce Springsteen but I think these photos have a similar feel to them.  The overall look and composition maybe.  Or perhaps it's just wishful thinking.  At any rate it was unintentional.  I actually started to cut the "spine" of all my v-neck undershirts because of this album cover (you can barely see it beneath my white-collar shirt).

The photos of me were taken on a late Saturday night after my best friend's wedding of which I was the (un-official) best man.  I was standing in front of the closet getting undressed when the friend I was crashing with took these pictures.  It was a good night well spent and we were feeling quite relaxed and satisfied.

This is a great Springsteen album by the way.  I think my favorite, next to Nebraska.  Racing in the Street floors me.