Category Archives: Culture

Sneak a Listen at 826 Valencia Benefit Album Tracklist

This photo is from the pirate store at 826 Valencia St. in San Francisco. They have drawers full of swarthy things, a small theater that faces an aquarium, and a trap door that I can reveal no more about. They sell practical seafaring goods like sypglasses, powder horns, mermaid bait, etc., in order to fund the after-school writing program that meets there daily. The pirate store and writing center was designed by the same folks who make McSweeney’s, which is to poetry what Apple is computers, so you know it’s done with style. This enormously successful non-profit founded by Dave Eggars has gone on to birth other 826 after-school programs around the country. But each has their own focus: New York has a shop for superheros, the Seattle shop is for space travellers, Chicago’s “Boring Store” is secretly an undercover secret agent supply store. But all of them are a space for professional writers working one-on-one with local kids.

Now that you know how marvelous 826 Valencia is, you can bet that when they put out a benefit album, it’s going to feature a bunch of music that you’ll want to get your hands on.

826 valencia benefit album conver you be my heart

The album is called You Be My Heart and it features The Cloud Room, Melissa Nadler, Bowerbirds, Maps & Atlases and more. Here’s a taste.

The track Mrs. Marquis de Sade from The Cloud Room has an early-nineties jangly vibe.

The Bowerbirds track begins “I’ve seen seven wonders but two were your eyes” and has a lovely keyboard melody.

You’ll be able to buy your own copy of You Be My Heart on December 9th. If you want to know more about 826 Valencia, Dave Eggars’s TED Talk about it is a good start.


Hipster Hating Lives On

I love the latest article in The Awl, I Am An Object Of Internet Ridicule, Ask Me Anything“. It’s about a typewriter busker who ended up getting labeled as a hipster in an Internet meme. For one thing, I dig typewriter buskers.

the photo of the typewriter busker who got hated on for being a hipster
If only people were as upset about NSA surveillance as they were about this picture.

More importantly, as my regular readers may recall, I’ve written two articles about hipster hating, which were republished in a Kansas City entertainment weekly.

It’s this weird quirk of mine that I’m opposed to threats of violence against strangers, simply because of their fashion, beer and bicycle choices, no matter how strange those choices may be. The post in The Awl chronicles what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such threats, and reminds us that people doing weird things (like God-effing-forbid, taking a typewriter out in public) often do them for perfectly understandable reasons. Personally, I take an even more radical position that I don’t think people should be bullied for weirdness, even if there’s absolutely no rationale for their fashion crimes. If only the people posting their hatred of hipsters could devote that passion to fighting climate change or fixing the economy. But no, those are not issues they feel affect them personally, not in the way a guy with clunky glasses, shorts, and a typewriter does. I mean, WHO GAVE THAT GUY THE RIGHT TO SIT IN A PARK WITH A TYPEWRITER?

Before you call the lynch mob though, I ask that you please read the articles I’ve posted on this. Maybe some reason can be talked into you hipster haters before your pitchfork and torches army burns down the whole village.

Hipster Hating

Hipster Subculture Ripe for Parody [Time Magazine]


The Freaks and Geeks Parents

Just wanted to share this photo of the parents from Freaks and Geeks. This was a screencap that I grabbed that just happened to be where the show was paused. I thought it was a great shot, each of the parents looking uniquely funny. Supporting cast never get enough love, you know?

This is from Episode 15, “Moshing and Noshing”.

Freaks and Geeks parents

Oh, I know, ya’ll are so spoiled you expect a music track on a silly little post like this. OK, fine, but only because Childish Gambino happens to have titled a song as a tribute to the show. Here’s a remix from Star Slinger, who is one of the hottest electro DJs to come on the scene in the past few years. There’s a free download too.

Alan Watts, Natural Animal and Serendipity

You know how when you learn a new word, suddenly you start hearing it everywhere? Well my new word is “Alan Watts.” Someone on Reddit mentioned this fellow, so all week I’ve been listening to his lectures on YouTube. New Age stuff isn’t generally my thing, but someone on Reddit linked to a video which had the line “What was it like to wake up after having never gone to sleep? That was when you were born.”

alan watts quote in sudden clarity clarence memeHaving had my Sudden Clarity Clarence moment delivered to me (my actual thought was, “Like, whoa.”) I figured I’d give this guy a listen, even if he does advocate sitting really still and thinking about nothing.

A fun way to get the flavor of Alan Watts is with this Alan Watts animation from the makers of South Park.

…good stuff, though in fairness I don’t think these videos capture Watts’s sense of humor.

Anyhow, my intent isn’t so much to focus on Alan Watts as that feeling that “I bet now that I know who this guy is I’m going to see his name everywhere.” Kind of like how before I knew who Joseph Campbell was, he was never mentioned, and then suddenly I heard about him on a weekly or monthly basis.

So today I was listening through the most popular new releases in the blogosphere, and this chilled out little electro tune buzzed in my ears by Natural Animal. I didn’t pay it much attention, until Alan Watts started talking over it. I had a YouTube tab open and paused on one of his lectures so I figured it had kicked in it’s autostart. But it turned out to be embedded in the song. Which was pretty neat, because I got to feel in-the-know. And now that I’m feeling all in-the-know, I must praise Natural Animal for being in-the-know as well.

And here I just wanted to share that little moment of serendipity with ya’ll. So you can be in-the-know, because nothing screams “hip” like a  Buddhist lecturer who died twenty years ago.So you can raise your eyebrows knowingly when they start selling Alan Watts t-shirts at Urban Outfitters.

Is there a name like that, or a word or a place, that once you learned about it you started hearing about it everywhere?

Here’s that song by Natural Animal, “Who You Are.” Also check out “Dance Alone,” just as dreamy but a bit more uptempo. If you dig “Who You Are,” you can download it for free.

Why the Daily Show Keeps Winning Emmys

In a recent segment on The Daily Show Jon Stewart notes the contrast between hackers and potheads whom the DOJ targets and the big banks that continue to be prosecution proof. He leads into this with a segment that compares the Obama administration’s words to their action in their commitment to freedom of the press.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Priorities USA
Daily Show Full Episodes Indecision Political Humor The Daily Show on Facebook


The LULz just keeping coming over a juxtaposition of news clips that no other news source would put together. You get news stories about: the prosecution of state-run marijuana shops, a man who faces twenty-five years for hacking a Taylor Swift article, and otherwise boring C-Span clips of the coverage of the DOJ’s attempts to find a bank they can prosecute. This isn’t news, it’s political commentary with jokes. What distinguishes political commentary from news is that it goes beyond stating facts, it combines facts to suggest new ideas.

The Daily Show on Hackers, Potheads, and Banks (not) “Too Big to Jail”

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Priorities USA – Too Big to Jail
Daily Show Full Episodes Indecision Political Humor The Daily Show on Facebook

Thirty years ago, Jon Stewart’s role would have been filled by a columnist, nestled below Doonsebury on the back of the Opinion section. But Jon Stewart doesn’t have to state his facts. With the power of video to show you, rather than tell you, the news-makers hang themselves with their own words.

Most of what he says are jokes; the commentary is in the juxtaposition itself. This is what The Daily Show does best. Where the newspaper columnist of yore would paint a picture with facts and statistics, they make a collage of news clips that, alone, would be the tripe of another news day but together emphasize the hypocrisy, folly, or failure of their target. He doesn’t have to say that the administration’s targeting of journalists and sources goes against their stated values, he can prove it by showing clips of Obama’s words contrasting with his actions. Likewise, by showing a bunch of clips wherein the DOJ passes out prison sentences to hackers and potheads while those who caused the bank crisis go free, he can let the condemnations go unsaid. The video clips say it all, leaving him to make a joke of the irony.

They don’t have to do this. Nothing about The Daily Show requires political analysis. When it began, it was little more than a half-hour competitor to Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update.” If you’re old enough to remember the show Not Necessarily the News you know that jokes can be thrown over a news show without giving analysis too. But it’s often the case that while Jon Stewart is making Jew jokes and funny faces, the clips his team puts together are making astute political arguments that can make you angry and make you laugh at the same time. Any given episode of The Daily Show inspires more pathos than an entire season of The Cosby Show. As it should, because you begin to think, hey I listened to CNN all morning and nothing hit me as hard as that four minute segment on The Daily Show.

Following this is an equally brilliant segment wherein Jason Jones interviews a conservative lobbyist who was a victim of the IRS’s recent political targeting. Then it’s a Physics chat with Morgan Freeman. Here’s the full episode: The Daily Show with Morgan Freeman 5-23-2013.


Screenshots of Endless XKCD Click and Drag

Need a New Desktop Background?

XKCD, the greatest stick figure comic off all time, has today posted a ginormous one frame comic. You use your mouse to click and drag around the image…for what seems like forever. Not just left to right either: there’s a section that features the Super Mario Brothers, and if you go down the pipe it seems to go on forever yet again.

I saved some screenshots of the comic because I thought they would make nifty desktop backgrounds and I figured I’d share them with ya’ll. Remember, these are all just screenshots from one single frame comic. So nifty!

Not sure how hard it is to download images from this fancy newfangled gallery, but you can download all the XKCD screenshots as a zip file here.

Edit: This genius on Reddit posted a zoomable version of XKCD Click and Drag. Way to cheat it, hero. All the upvotes for you!

Crazy San Francisco: Adults Race Big Wheels Trikes Down the Curviest Street in America

Lombard Street in San Francisco is known as the “curviest in America,” but city residents know that’s a big lie. Vermont Street in Potrero Hill is the curviest street in San Francisco, and therefore in the US. Good thing too, because if it were in some other city they probably wouldn’t spend every Easter dressing up in costumes and racing down dangerous curves on the tiny Big Wheels tricycles designed for Kindergarteners.

Continue reading Crazy San Francisco: Adults Race Big Wheels Trikes Down the Curviest Street in America

30 Years of MTV: The MTV is dead, long live the MTV

August 1st marks 30 years since MTV went on the air. Many young people today may look at what the station has become and wonder, so what?
Every American I know who grew up in in the eighties has a little hole in their heart for what happened to MTV. It’s similar to the way one might remember a clever acquaintance who fell to addiction. They shake their heads, bite their knuckles and look wistful. Whether the thing MTV was hooked on was reality programming itself or the ratings boost it provided, I can’t say, but lost it is. I remember in my teens I would stay up late to record Matt Pinfield on 120 Minutes, because by the mid-nineties the only time they played music videos was in the middle of the night.
But in the heyday of MTV, you could watch videos any time, day or night. What was so great about it was probably all the things the executives behind the scenes hated. The VJs were unscripted; there was little product placement. I have an MTV t-shirt that my mom won from the station in the eighties, when they would do giveaways as if they were just another station on the radio. You could pick it up on your radio, too. Even as a tween I had an inkling that their slot in the TV Guide which said nothing but “Music Videos” for six hours couldn’t be a dream for the person who sells their advertising. But that authentic, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience was a fine fit for rock and roll: that ever changing, never planning, tumultuous beast. Rock and roll never sounded better followed by “We’ll be right back after these messages.”

The funny thing is, the way people watched MTV didn’t really change. The people who watch reality shows are the types to use the telly as background noise. MTV was perfect for that: no plot, no characters that would distract you for more than four minutes. Everything they were showing would show again in several hours. It was all that made cable wonderful and terrible. With MTV on, mom could balance her checkbook and I could do my homework. Hell, MTV probably invented the idea of using the idiot box for background noise.
Thus if you ask anyone over 25 they will say that the golden age for music video was the eighties. Not because the videos were better. No, they were low-budget and jakey as hell. CG wasn’t even a word then. It was a golden age because people actually watched them. Today’s youth may share Internet memes, but back in the day if you met a kid from the other coast you could bond of your shared memories of videos. There is a whole generation of people who can’t hear “Take On Me” without thinking of a cute girl caught in a comic strip. If you’re one of those people, you might think Rick Ocasek has the body of a fly. For better or for worse, Dire Straits is more than a band. They’re also a bunch of singing, animated blue collar workers bitching about rock stars and Sting’s voice harping I want my MTV was the voice of the nation. We all saw it, we all loved it. You could not disconnect the song from the video.


I say for better or for worse, because there was a downside. I’ve often wondered if I would have liked Van Halen’s “Right Here Right Now” if it didn’t have such a kick-ass video. We got this idea that the tiny movie was somehow the musician’s vision, when really the director’s vision usually had very little to do with the conception the artist had when they created the song. The nostalgia we have for music videos is the same we feel for any song, but it’s based on something false, that little three minute story. Wyclef’s “Gone Til November” came out after MTV had fallen to disgrace, so that song will always remind me of Spring Break at Siesta Key. It’s an association I share with only a handful of people but it’s an actual memory of my life. But when we were in love with Blind Melon’s “No Rain,” who can say for sure if it was the song we loved–or the fact that it had one of the most adorable videos of all time? Who can say what that song would mean to us, if it didn’t mean dancing bees? It seems to me to be a song about individuality, but that is the message of the video not the song.
I think we may be embarking upon, if not a Golden Age, than a yet-unnamed new era for music videos.  For me it began when the site I use for radio streaming started adding Youtube videos to its search. But I think for most people the preponderance of music video has come about slowly as we have faster Internet connections. Now that two gigs of RAM is a standard, our computers are finally fast enough to manage them. A second factor is the dropping price of hard drive space. While most of us aren’t downloading the videos to keep, cheap disc space means that more video and blogging sites are willing to let us park the videos on their servers. It is easier than ever before for bloggers to post them. If the dastardly censors haven’t gotten there yet, it is often as simple as pasting a YouTube url. Finally, because Youtube is the third most popular site in the world, often when people want to find a song they go to the video site to find it. Either way, more and more people are watching them these days. Big hits like Gaga’s “Telephone” are gaining the collective association the MTV videos of yesteryear commanded.
What’s different this time is that we control the remote on what videos we see. Not only have I seen more videos this year than in the last five combined, they’re videos I would never have dreamed even existed. I would never have thought that anti-establishment punks like The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Operation Ivy made videos. I have delved into the studio recording and music videos that came before MTV. Acts like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Nina Simone, that I have treasured for years now, have videos online just waiting for my discovery. And of course new bands are still using them to promote their new albums. It’s come full circle, as the indie bands of today are using the same low-budget filming techniques, some for budgetary reasons and others to hearken back to the same shared nostalgia of the MTV that is dead and gone. If there had never been an MTV, there wouldn’t be a generation of musicians who think setting their songs to tiny movies is a worthwhile marketing effort. After all, video wasn’t a new idea when MTV came around. It is only because these same musicians were watching MTV while they played with Transformers and ripped the heads off their Barbie dolls that the Britneys and Kanyes create videos costing a million dollars a pop.  And the bloggers posting the low-budget masterpieces to their little blogs are like the video jockeys of yesteryear: unpolished, unprofessional. We love them because they’re fans first, in it for the love of the music. So it is that while the zombie of MTV continues to ravish the flesh of washed out celebrities in a never-ceasing voyeurism, its spirit lives on. MTV is the Phoenix, rising from the ashes as Youtube and Vimeo. MTV is the Ouroboros. She has shed her mythical skin and we have emerged, with our own cameras and our own blogs and our own video channels. We no longer need the VJs, we have become the VJs. MTV is dead, long live MTV.




Some of the essential videos mentioned above after the jump. Next week I’ll be posting some of my favorite videos that I’ve discovered since the fall of MTV.