Friday, October 16, 2009

Incorrigible Puppy turns one-year old today

From here, at one-day old...

To this, at one-year old, and, appearances to the contrary...

He is not a drunk...

But he does have good taste in beer!

Dogfish Head Raison D'Etre,
brewed locally in Delaware (I dig the locals)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Never Forget You

I heard this song last night on WTMD, found it on YouTube, and am posting it here.

The group is Noisettes, a UK indie rock band and their lead singer (and bass player)is a stunning Afro-British (English-Zimbabwean says Wikipedia) sister named Shingai Shoniwa.

I dig the whole 60s girl-group sound of the song and she can really sing (kinda like Amy Winehouse without the pathology). I also like the way it pays homage melodically to one of my favorite songs, Joan Armitrading's great anthem to individuality "Me, Myself, I."

When I first heard it I thought it must be some kind of 60s tribute song, maybe something from the "Hairspray" soundtrack for example, but they wrote it and produced it themselves.

Noisettes and particularly Shingai Shoniwa definitely bear watching. I wish them well.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

DC Mural Art, part II.

Days after my post about Garin Baker's LeDroit Park mural, Prince of Petsworth blogged about a mural I had photographed last Summer behind Morgan's Seafood restaurant, not knowing the name of the artist or how to find it.

Morgan's Seafood. DC Landmark at Georgia Avenue and Irving, NW.
photo (c)Incorrigible Curmudgeon

Mural behind Morgan's Seafood restaurant.
Mural: (c) Joel Bergner
Photo: (c) Incorrigible Curmudgeon

Turns out his name is Joel Bergner and he has created several other murals in DC. I like that he makes it his mission to involve the communities in which his art is being created. In the course of creating his murals, he hires and trains local talent in the art of mural painting.

To me he has a 'primitivist,' almost 'fauvist' quality about his work. It is impossible to look at his Morgan's seafood mural without thinking about Paul Gaugin's Tahiti paintings.

Check out his interview and some more of his murals at Prince of Petworth.

In the meantime, another DC mural painter has emerged (courtesy of one of the commentors on Prince of Petworth), named Lisa Marie Thalhammer. Check out her images and insights on her website. Her work is more edgy, more confrontational. Here is her Boxer Girl mural

Boxer Girl mural, 73 'W' St. NW
Mural: (c)Lisa Marie Thalhammer
Photo: (c) Incorrigible Curmudgeon

Boxer Girl Mural, side of 73 "W" St.NW
Mural: (c) Lisa Marie Thalhammer
Photo: (c) Incorrigible Curmudgeon

on the side of a rowhouse in Bloomingdale (neighborhood just to the East of LeDroit Park). Her work has a comic book quality (in a 'Beavis and Butthead' sort of way) with an in-your-face grotesqueness not unlike Avedon's American West photo portraits or even the paintings of Francis Bacon.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I love this mural

Actual LeDroit Park Gate,
looking East down 'T' Street, NW,
5th St. crossing in foreground,
Florida Avenue to my back.
Photo (c) Incorrigible Curmudgeon

"This is How We Live" Mural detail
(c) Garin Baker

"This is How We Live" mural looking East on Elm Street, NW
Mural (c) Garin Baker, Photo (c) Incorrigible Curmudgeon

"This is How We Live" mural, a little closer.
Mural (c) Garin Baker. Photo (c) Incorrigible Curmudgeon

Mural as seen from Howard University Hospital
(thanks, Cecelia).

Mural: (c)Garin Baker
Photo: (c) Incorrigible Curmudgeon

I dig mural art. Always have. Howard University was briefly graced by some impressive mural art in the late 60s-early 70s: Eugene Edaw's epic Frederick Douglass piece on Cramton Auditorium, James Padgett's muscular red, white, and black pieces at either side of the Fine Arts bldg. and a piece on the side of Ira Aldridge Theater by an artist unknown to me. I think James Phillips may have had an Africobra mural on Cramton too for a time. And of course there was Ron Anderson's mural on the wall of the original Howard University Punch Out restaurant (from his student days before he evolved into Akili Ron Anderson).

Ron Anderson's mural in the original Punch Out restaurant, ca. 1971
Mural (c) Ron Anderson. Photo (c) Incorrigible Curmudgeon

In DC, the best murals (at least the photo-realistic ones I tend to like) all seem to be the work of G.Byron Peck, particularly his 'U' Street Ellington mural

Duke Ellington Mural on 'U'St. NW across from Lincoln Theater and Ben's Chili Bowl.
Mural (c) G. Byron Peck. Photo (c)Incorrigible Curmudgeon

and his Connecticut Avenue Dupont Circle Fountain Trompe l'oeil mural

Dupont Circle Mural on Connecticutt Avenue just south of Florida Avenue, NW.
Mural (c) G.Byron Peck. Photo (c) Incorrigible Curmudgeon

above the place where the old lefty-hippie-veggie restaurant 'Food for Thought' used to reside.

The late and lamented Food For Thought Restaurant beneath
G.byron Peck's Dupont Circle Mural.
Mural (c) G. Byron Peck. Photo (c)Incorrigible Curmudgeon

Now I've found a new favorite mural in LeDroit Park at the corner of 3rd and Elm, NW, right up the street from Slowe Hall, the Howard University dormitory where I once lived.

It's the work of artist Garin Baker, a New York artist with a studio called Carriage Art which (according to its website) executes mural art on commission. He works in the tradition of the New York Realists and the depression-era WPA muralists.

This one is called "This Is How We Live," an idyllic photo-realistic scene behind the fairly recently erected LeDroit Park arch at 5th and Florida Avenue, NW, across from the Howard Theatre. His is an idealized vision of the newly gentrified LeDroit Park area just south of Howard University with the U.S. Capitol building in the top center, Howard University's Founders Library imbedded above to the left, and four beautiful Black children smiling beatifically from the upper right, all tied together with the banner imprinted with the title "This Is How We Live."

I like the way Baker breaks up the realism of his work by incorporating squares of intentional simulated pixelization , acknowledging the artifice inherent in any work of photo-realism. This is the only mural of the many displayed on his website in which he does so. Interesting. The piece is copyrighted 2008 but I first happened upon it and photographed it in January 2009. Baker was born in 1961 which makes him a relatively young 48. He's a former illustrator (like Norman Rockwell and Andrew Wyeth) and it shows, which is not a knock on him (or them).

He has created other murals in DC, as well as in New York, Atlanta, and elsewhere throughout the U.S. I also really love the piece he created for the Turkey Thicket Aquatic Center in Brookland Northeast DC. This piece is so kinetic it exudes an almost comic-book sensibility though it fiercely maintains Baker's penchant for hyper photo-realism.

Turkey Thicket pool mural
(c)Garin Baker

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Michael Jackson's demise

Like everyone in America, I became a fan of the Jackson 5 when they first hit the scene. Who didn't like the idea of a group of kids from one family (except maybe the Osmonds) performing with such professional aplomb, led by their cute and charismatic little pixie, Michael.

Of course I was finishing up college when J5 was at their peak and we at Howard were probably more into the Five Stairsteps (World of Fantasy, You Waited Too Long, Oo Oo Child, etc.). They were the same deal basically although one of the five was a sister. Don't know why they didn't go on to enjoy similar success to the Jackson 5, although not having the support of a Berry Gordy and the Motown machine is probably the biggest reason.

That said, I've been trying to figure out why I'm not as bummed out about Michael's death as so many people world-wide seem to be. I suppose the main reason is the inescapable conclusion that Michael led such an unhappy life that his death gives him some respite from the suffering.

Still, I made a list off the top of my head of the entertainers I was most bummed out about after their premature deaths and Michael comes in at, I don't know, somewhere in the lower half. After Hendrix, the list is in no particular order and is not exhaustive in any case:

The List:
[1] Jimi Hendrix
[2] Otis Redding
[3] John Belushi
[4] Natalie Wood
[5] Curtis Mayfield
[6] Richard Pryor
[7] Gilda Radner
[8] Phyllis Hyman
[9] Isaac Hayes
[10] Bernie Mac
[11] Minnie Riperton
[12] John Lennon
[13] Marvin Gaye
[14] Michael Jackson
[15] Luther Vandross
[Honorable Mention] Barry White, Eddie Kendrick, Levi Stubbs, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin.

Don't get me wrong: Michael Jackson was a supremely talented man who tried to make the world a better place through his music and humanitarian efforts. He meant a lot to a majority of people whose lives he touched and he will justifiably be missed (even by me) and mourned. I am saddened by his death. I'm just trying to understand why I'm not more moved by it.

For the record, my favorite Michael Jackson song is "The Lady In My Life," which saw a lot of air time on WHUR's Quiet Storm back in the Melvin Lindsay days, although there are many more that I liked as well. I remain more drawn to Michael Jackson's ballads than his dance music.

I'm sure others (entertainers I will miss) will pop into my head but R.I.P. all of them including Michael. And Steve McNair, too.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Dutch Country Farmers Market, Burtonsville, closes

all photos (c)2009 Incorrigible Curmudgeon

The so-called Amish Market has been a Burtonsville, MD staple for over 20 years. Now the strip mall where it sat has been bought and the tenants all booted out so they can build (drum roll) another strip mall. Only now the anchor will be Giant Foods, the Supermarket currently resident in a similar strip mall right across the street. That mall, Burtonsville Crossing, is apparently being allowed to die, having already lost almost a third of its tenants.

I won't miss the Amish Market as much as most. I have shopped there maybe 5 times in the last 10 years, though I have elderly residents in DC who make regular pilgrimages 15 miles out to Burtonsville to shop here. They swear by it, particularly its rotisserrie chicken. Definitely an AARP kinda vibe to the place.

As a veggie, I always found the store heavy on the meats, and the air was always thick with the smell of meat, like a butcher store. The produce was okay, but the prepared foods were all heavy on the fats (usually cooked in lard), with lots of doughnuts, cakes, pies, home-made junk food, candies, potato salad, and ice cream. Think fried, sweet, salty, creamy. Gag.

Then there's the subtle but undeniable creepiness factor: most of the workers are dressed in nineteenth-Century attire (women in black an white floor-length dresses with white bonnets, men in black trousers with suspenders with white long sleeve collared shirts, the ones old enough sporting Abe Lincoln-style beards with no mustaches, some also wear the standard black and brimmed 'preacher' hats). Its like a casting call for Peter Weir's 1985 movie "Witness" (Harrison Ford as a cop who falls in love with an Amish woman, Kelly McGillis, while solving a murder) which for most of us is the only exposure we've had to the Pennsylvania Dutch culture. Nice people, just kinda cult-like.

Still I swept through one last time today on its closing day in Burtonsville, though it will be re-opening in 6-8 weeks in Laurel, MD, about 5 miles East of here.

I bought a pretzel and a half-dozen onion bagels (Amish bagels: now thats an oxymoron).

Aw hell naw!!!

photo by Kiichiro Sato/AP

photo by Kiichiro Sato/AP

photo by Frank Polich/Reuters Photos

photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Today the Sears Tower in Chicago, tallest remaining bldg. in the U.S., opened four glass enclosed balconies extending four feet out from the edge of their observation deck on the 103rd floor.

Visitors can walk out and look straight down through the glass floor to the street 1,353 feet below or they can look straight ahead and see 50 miles on a clear day. Of course they can do that without walking on glass.

The glass has variously been reported as being somewhere between 1/2 inch and 1-1/2 inches thick and the balconies are supposedly engineered to support 8 people or 5-10,000 pounds. The Washington Post indicates that the floor is a laminate of three 1/2-inch layers of glass bonded together by the same polymer as windshields on cars.

While Incorrigible Curmudgeon has a pilot's license and has been known to go sky diving, it is safe to say you will not be seeing any photos by Incorrigible Curmudgeon taken from any of these balconies. I'll leave the photos to my Chicago friends: Joyce and Danielle :).

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rainbow photo

Rainbow, 6-30-2009 (c) 2009 Incorrigible Curmudgeon

Whew! I finally received my new Canon A590IS PowerShot point-and-shoot camera from eBay and like I said before, I felt right naked without it.

One of the first things I got to photograph with it was this rainbow.

A good sign, I think.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sobering video

This is a sobering video.

That said, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information, nor do I know who compiled it or what their agenda may be or even if they have an agenda.

I'm posting because it made me stop and think.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Why I love Trader Joe's

(c)Incorrigible Curmudgeon

My California cousin (a veggie, like me) always raved about Trader Joe's whenever I'd visit LA.

And so when one opened up fairly near me in MD I hurried over to check it out. Unfortunately, after all the hype I was underwhelmed: smallish size store, somewhat meager selection, not all that veggie, etc.

I just didn't get it and it wasn't until I saw this unofficial Trader Joe's commercial on YouTube that I finally understood the appeal.

Now I get it. The staff is laid back and very service-oriented. I just dig the whole funky, proto-counter-culture vibe. Green but not pedantic. Prices are competitive too (thought they would be 'Whole Paycheck' high). Certain friends of mine like it because of all the attractive middle-aged women which shop there (they have rather un-gallantly taken to calling Trader Joe's 'MILF Mart').

The video was apparently created by some guy named Carl Willat using the video camera on his Palm Treo. It is exceedingly clever in its writing and editing and the tune is relentlessly catchy.

Intrepid researcher that I am, I determined that the tune is called Aguas de Marco, or the Waters of March. Written by Antonio Carlos Jobim, who did the music for Black Orpheus (my favorite movie). I downloaded the Jobim original recorded in 1974 with vocalist Elis Regina, though I haven't figured out how to (legally) link to it here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Stormscapes, June 2009

All photos (c)2009 by Incorrigible Curmudgeon on my now-defunct Canon A570IS PowerShot point-and-shoot camera.

One of the reasons I've grown addicted to having a point-and-shoot camera on me at all times is so that when I come upon a storm brewing like this one as I left my job, right before the skies opened up, I can document it in my photographs.

Like today there was a horrific Metro train crash on the Red Line in DC. The only thing worse than being in the crash (aside from death or injury) would be being in it without your camera.

I'd rather not take that chance. I guess I'm just going to have to lug around my 3 lb. Nikon D200 DSLR until my new point-and-shoot arrives.

My point-and-shoot died

Landscape while walking the dog

Incorrigible Puppy, smiling

Incorrigible Puppy chillin' from sidewalk level

Fogscape while walking the dog

Artomatic: "Catharsis and Karma" by Deb Jansen (purported screed by the artist against the woman who slept with her husband. Note the so-called 'skank' dolls on side). I had to focus by hand because the motor that moves lens in and out to focus had started to die.

I primarily use two cameras these days: my workhorse digital SLR Nikon D200 and my point-and-shoot Canon A570IS PowerShot point-and-shoot camera which I keep parked on my belt and have with me everywhere I go, ever ready to capture anything I see--until now. Like most of the photos on this blog, and like these last few above (all photos by Incorrigible Curmudgeon (c) 2009) on my now-defunct Canon A570IS PowerShot point-and-shoot camera,
taken shortly before my camera crashed).

I know digital cameras are ubiquitous and cheap these days but I'm a professional and I'm picky about my cameras--even my point-and-shoots. I got the A570IS because it had an optical viewfinder (I need reading glasses to see the LCD screen on the back. Plus I don't feel all amateur-dorky looking through a viewfinder).

And the A570IS has manual override. I NEED to be able to set my own shutter speeds and f-stops. And I like having a camera powered by 2-AA batteries. I use re-chargeables and they last a long time. I keep a spare pair on me at all times so I'm never without a working camera

I think I paid about $130 for this puppy new a year-and-a half ago but now that it has died I find that Canon no longer makes anything comparable for under $500. Ditto Nikon and all the rest. All the Canon PowerShot cameras under $500 have dropped the Manual setting from their shooting choices, a colossal deal-breaker for me

That's why I'm left with two choices (in order to get a comparable and comparably-priced replacement): pay $135 to get it fixed at the go-to DC camera repair place, or take my chances on eBay. I've been trying to do the latter for a week now and I keep losing the cameras I bid on.

I know, there's always Amazon, and I usually swear by them, but the Canon A590IS is the only thing comparable to mine and Canon no longer makes it either (they used to list it for $129.99). It is going for $239.99 new on Amazon. All the other web venues are out of stock. My own Canon A570IS is now going for $299.99 new on Amazon! This is crazy.

Addendum: I finally won a bid on eBay for the Canon A590IS Powershot. Cost me $148.50 plus S&H. Whew!! Now all I have to do is wait. Damn, I feel naked without my camera.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

R.I.P., my brother

Some of you (okay, one of you) wanted to know what's up with me not posting since February 1st?

Well, this has been a very stressful Spring, beginning with my brother's illness. Then the college where I have spent my entire career and where I continue to toil began offering buy-outs and instituting mandatory unpaid furlough days, all in an effort to forestall RIFs and Layoffs (aren't they the same thing?). Those of us who opted to stay and take our chances so we could hold on to our health insurance are on pins and needles. It used to be like working for your family but now everyone's looking over their shoulders.

Thirdly, I turned 60 this Spring. Actually that part hasn't been that bad. My health is still sound (knock on wood) and my weight has been down and stayed down for the better part of a year (walking my puppy a mile first thing each morning rain or shine has certainly helped).

My friends and I have lost so many contemporaries these past few years that one friend postulated "if you can just make it through your 50s, you are home free." So it was actually with a sense of relief that I turned 60. So how did I celebrate? Ate some Whole Foods carrot cake with candles on it with my daughter and my dog.

Which brings me back to my brother. He was my baby brother and my only sibling. As army brats, we grew up traveling the world together (Japan, Germany, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, DC, MD, Virginia, and Texas), moving every three years or so, so that when we both made it to college we sprouted roots, me in DC and he in Texas. He loved Texas as much as I love DC (I've loved DC ever since second grade, my first stint here).

My brother and I grew up fighting like cats and dogs, yet as grownups we were always there for each other. Fiercely competitive, my brother prided himself on outdoing me in everything: athletics (he played football, baseball, basketball, and golf. I rowed crew), Boy Scouts (I made it to First Class, he went all the way to Life Scout, one rank shy of Eagle Scout), grad school (he earned his Masters in Business and Public Administration 10 years before I even entered graduate school), salary (he had a string of well-paying jobs. I've stayed in the same low-paying one my whole career). Hell, he even got laid first (not something I'm proud about). He got married first too, and then did it twice more. I quit after my first and only try. You name it, he took pride in doing it first or better, and I in turn prided myself on not letting on that I cared (and I didn't. No really I didn't). I did beat him at children though, I have one (and he doted on his niece), he had none.

By the time I was in 8th grade, he was taller and bigger than me so our whole lives people naturally assumed that he was the oldest. In all honesty it was probably more due to the (ironically) sober and purposeful way he carried himself.

My brother lived hard, played hard, and partied hard. He was one of the last of the 'Good-time Charlies,' a sobriquet he embraced with relish and tried to live up to for as long as he could. He used to joke that what was the point in giving up drinking, smoking, and fatty foods, since he wasn't going to live past 50 anyway? He started smoking at 11, drinking not long after, and he scoffed at his non-drinking, non-smoking, vegetarian older brother, particularly since I had my stroke first (a mild one, thank God).

Ultimately, all his challenges, health, personal, marital, and job-related, were related directly or indirectly to his depression, which, for most of his life went undiagnosed and untreated. Sadly, the Black community in general is squeamish about acknowledging, let alone seeking and getting help for, depression and other mental problems.

Still he was healthier than me about some things. He never let worry get to him the way I do. And he had a temper and was quick to vent instead of keeping it all inside the way I do. And most important he went to sleep when he was sleepy. I fight sleep with every fiber of my being and then want to sleep as late as possible, fully awakening only after drinking one of my prodigious mugs of coffee. My brother was famous for throwing parties in his house and then once the party was jumping disappearing to go to bed. To sleep. My brother was a morning person and loved to rise with the birds.

Among the things I admired about my brother I most admired his fearless freedom from vanity. I mean he could have cared less about what people thought of him, what he did, what he said. He could be vain about grooming (particularly his hair which he managed to hold onto for life) but he never lost a moment's sleep fretting over what people might think or say about him. While I was the one fearlessly jumping out of airplanes, getting my pilots license, driving motorcycles and skiing (okay not exactly fearlessly but I did it), he was the one who was fearless in life, particularly socially. He was the one winning a twist contest in his teens, and I'm the one still reluctant to get on the dance floor at all.

In February, I took my brother (who had just finished aggressive treatment for an advanced case of prostate cancer) to the emergency room with stroke symptoms. The first stroke was mild, milder than mine had been in fact. Then a day later he suffered a second stroke accompanied by seizures. This one left him barely conscious, unable to communicate other than through nods and shakes of the head in response to yes-no questions, and through squeezing my hand with his right hand (his only still-functioning hand).

A physician friend of mine said it was "locked-in syndrome" which I had only recently learned about after seeing Julian Schnabel's great film "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" at Talk Cinema at the AFI. The character in the film, a true story, suffered a massive stroke and was left with his mind intact yet unable to move any of his body except for the eyelid of one eye. A therapist was astute enough to devise a way for him to to communicate with her by blinking this one eye every time she said the letter he intended as she painstakingly repeated the alphabet over and over awaiting his blink. In time he was able to dictate his memoirs (He had been a famous magazine editor, for French Elle, I believe). His memoir, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" was published shortly before he died from complications related to the stroke. Definitely add it to your NetFlix queue if you haven't seen it, but I digress...

After 8 weeks of hospitalization, my brother's condition essentially unchanged, he suffered a third and final stroke leaving him completely comatose and he died two days later. He was 58 years old.

Looking back, I am not as sad as I would be had I not visited him all but two days out of that 8 weeks in the hospital.

Also, in recent years, as his challenges mounted, personal and health-related, I am happy that we always managed to get together for his birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. I've learned the hard way not to leave oneself open to regrets about things left unsaid or issues left unresolved, so even though we spent much of those dinners together in awkward silences and small talk, at least we gave ourselves the opportunity to express ourselves. Neither of us was given to navel-gazing or talking about our 'feelings' (ew!) so we expressed ourselves in the only way we knew how, talking about family and sports and trivia. We both had a mind for trivia and when we were on the same team at Trivial Pursuit we were unbeatable!

We did not grow up in a touchy-feely family environment, though we were never in doubt about our parents' love or their pride in our accomplishments. One time a well-meaning friend guilted me into giving my father a hug. She was incredulous at the thought that I never had. My retired military father was so surprised he responded in the only way he could: with a perplexed "what's wrong, son?"

My brother would have been severely discomfited too had I tried to hug him. Once in the hospital, after my having complained about some aspect of his care, the hospital responded by sending him a music and massage therapist. I had to smile watching my brother getting his feet massaged as new-age music wafted through the air. While I am sure he enjoyed it (he likely hadn't ever had one or even considered getting one before) I could imagine him telling me "when I get well, I'm going to get you for this!" He disdained what he would have referred to as "all that new age hippie shit."

Same thing with the beard. While I have always been a liberal/progressive, tree-hugging, latter-day hippie kind of guy, my brother always played the conservative (I'm convinced it was just an attention-getting act). I think under all that bluster, he was actually a card-carrying contrarian. His brother was a hippie so he played the Alex Keaton of the family. His brother sported an afro and a life-long beard, so he affected the clean-shaven Black man look (what's more contrarian than a Black man with no facial hair?). His brother loved the R-words so he loudly proclaimed his love for the hated Dallas Cowboys, particularly during his years spent in and around DC.

I suppose I should feel guilty that, when he was essentially paralyzed those last several weeks, the nurse's aides would groom and trim his hair and the beard he had involuntarily begun to manifest. I always told him the beard was a good look for him whenever he'd take furtive steps toward growing one (which, contrarian that he was, was the surest way to guarantee that he'd quickly cut it all off).

On the morning when they called me to tell me he had passed away in the night, I went to see his body, say some things to him I couldn't/wouldn't say in life, and collect his things and I have to say, he looked down-right dapper in that salt-and-pepper goatee he was sporting. Naturally, I took some photos 'cause I'm a photographer and that's how I roll (actually that's how I distance myself from trauma).

In keeping with his wishes, he was cremated and I plan to spread his ashes in places that meant a lot to him: favorite golf courses, various places in Texas and New Mexico (he really dug the Southwest) and others I recall as time goes by. I have already spread some on our father's grave in Arlington National Cemetery.

Bottom line is I miss my brother a lot. He was always the charming, engaging, outgoing one and I was the shy quiet one. He had a gift for the witty put-down and a droll, cynical, world-weary sense of humor. He made friends easily, and everyone who took the time to know him loved him.

Though he once majored in religion ('pre-God' he called it) he was not much for church-going so we all thought the appropriate way to memorialize him was to throw him an 'Irish wake' at which friends and relatives would gather to toast to his memory. In May we did just that and the love and friendship and warmth we all shared through our remembrances of my brother made for an uplifting send-off.

My brother was a character and he lives on through the memories of those whose lives he enriched by his presence in them. Rest in peace.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Art-O-Matic 2009 is upon us

Just a reminder that Art-O-Matic 2009 is upon us, running from May 29-July 5th.

Each year they take over several floors of an empty office bldg. in or near DC (under construction or renovation) and provide space for a wide-ranging and diverse collection of artists to show their work.

Much of the art is quite good, some not so much, other work is tacky and many works are provocative for the sake of being provocative. You'll experience the whole range: from edgy and cutting edge to safe and boring, from work you would like to buy (some are available for sale) to work they couldn't pay you to take. The proverbial sacred and the profane.

In any case, its an art happening, pulsing with energy and live music, and its all free (donations are accepted).

Last year it was in one of those 'NOMA' bldgs. (real estate speak for 'North of Massachusetts Avenue') near the NY Avenue Metro stop.

This year it will be at 55 'M' Street, SE, a bldg. called Capitol Riverfront, near the new Nationals baseball stadium and directly above the Green line Navy Yard Metro station.

Closed Mondays and Tuesdays, it runs:
Fri + Sat: noon - 1am
Wed, Thurs + Sun: noon - 10pm

As the website proclaims, it is "the wildest Free arts extravaganza on the East coast--275,000 square feet of unfiltered art on 9 floors. Five weeks of days and nights filled with amazing visual, music, dance, performance, film, workshops, and collaborative creative expression of every kind."

Who says you gotta go to New York to experience an art scene?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dawoud Bey in Baltimore

Before watching the SuperBowl 43 (XLIII?), I waded through a month’s worth of unread Washington Posts so I could finally recycle them and found an article that reminded me that a significant African American photographic artist, Dawoud Bey, has a show up in Baltimore at the Walters Art Museum, which will soon be coming to a close.

One of the great things about living in the DC area is having a city like Baltimore, so utterly different in every way from DC, a mere half hour up the road (at least from my MD suburb). Baltimore has it all, Old World European architecture strewn about in pockets throughout the city, modern contemporary architecture (like the Walters itself), the storied front-yard-less rowhouses with the steps that empty onto the sidewalks, and of course the neighborhoods popularized (maybe even romanticized) in my favorite TV shows “The Wire” and “Homicide: Life on the Streets.” There's the tourist crap like the Baltimore Harbor and the National Aquarium, but there's also a gem like the museum of outsider art known as the American Visionary Art Museum.

But I digress. Bey, a Chicago artist/educator, was in town last Summer doing an artist-in-residence at the Walters in which he collaborated with Baltimore High School students from throughout the city on a project called “Portraits Re/examined: A Dawoud Bey Project.” In the course of the program, Bey shot some of his patented large format photographic portraits of a number of young people, most of them in color. These portraits are now displayed in his show of the same name at the Walters, each juxtaposed with a classic painted portrait from the Walters collection from the 19th and 18th Century. The portraits themselves have been critiqued by the students in accompanying placards and orally on museum iPods using the vocabulary and knowledge they have acquired as part of this program, displaying a remarkable depth of insight.

Bey has a knack for shooting portraits that appear to have been casual snapshots but which, because of the old-school nature of large-format photography, involve scrupulously posing his subjects before his tripod-mounted 4x5 camera. This is a remarkable illusion in part due to the fact that once the subject is focused and in place, the shutter is closed and the film pack put in place and the subject has to remain absolutely in place when the shutter is released or risk falling out of focus. Bey’s photographs are all clinically sharp, revealing every hair, pore, and blemish. The photos themselves were all enlarged to about 3 ft. x 4 ft. and framed without mattes.

As compelling as the photographs and the show itself were, the companion show in the next block at the Contemporary Museum (actually a one-floor art gallery), called “Class Pictures,” was even more so. Bey had done a portrait project in which he photographed selected Chicago High School kids in their schools, all but one posed in a single classroom set up for the portrait session. Some are seated, some not, some rest their heads on their hands , others effect different gestures, all but one un-smiling, all manifesting the body language, clothes and hair styles unique to that age, wary, often self-conscious, a visual time capsule of this pivotal time in the lives of these young people.

Everyone has gone through having to put up with yearly school portraits throughout their matriculation from K-12. Bey’s work is so much more. He photographs his subjects with his large-format camera using a single umbrella (judging by the catch-light in their eyes), match-lighting in a way that allows us to view the background ambience, informed but not distracted by it. Bey’s technique is old-school 19th Century portraiture but unlike his predecessors, Bey’s subjects make a point of staring directly into the lens, locking the viewer in an unflinching gaze that forces us to engage with the subject.

Bey’s portraits are hauntingly, heart-breakingly beautiful in the enforced relationship he imposes between the viewer and subject. As an oral historian, I was particularly drawn to the captions by which the subject addresses the viewer, some are brief, some flippant, most talk at some length in prose at once poetic and hauntingly revealing. Portrait photography can be as intimate as a dance between the subject and the photographer, and Bey’s camera with its unflinching sharp focus studies the faces of these students in discomfittingly intimate, clinical, acne-and-all detail, and their eyes bore back into the viewer just as uncompromisingly.

The Walters show prominently features three quotes that speak to the art of portraiture and the complicity that occurs between the subject and the photographer/viewer when it its done well:

Nothing in a portrait is a matter of indifference—Dawoud Bey

The Meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances. If there is any reaction, both are transformed.—Carl Jung

I am what time, circumstance, history, have made me, certainly, but I am also much more than that. So are we all.—James Baldwin

Two videos accompany the show, one in which Bey lets four individual subjects talk to us as candidly as the captions do, Bey’s video camera zoomed in so close that only one eye at a time is visible, the camera tracking leisurely from eye to eye, down to the the lips and back. The other video appeared to speak to the project itself, with Bey and the students recounting their impressions. Didn’t get to stay for this one though since it was getting close to SuperBowl time. Oh well.

Portraits Re/Examined: a Dawoud Bey Project ends February 16, 2009

Class Pictures ends February 21, 2009

Dawoud Bey's blog

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Talk Cinema, 1-25-2009, Wendy and Lucy

After 6 weeks, Talk Cinema has resumed at the AFI for the start of the Spring session. Today’s film was “Wendy and Lucy,” an unabashed indie film in every way (and the third movie I have seen this month featuring a yellow Labrador Retriever, same breed as my incorrigible puppy.

The 4th feature from director Kelly Reichardt, Wendy and Lucy follows a brief slice of life for young Wendy, a barely out of her teens waif and her beloved dog Lucy, enroute from Indiana to Alaska to find work. We find them as they sojourn briefly in Oregon. Down on her luck and her money, Wendy foolhardily shoplifts some dog food for Lucy, leaving Lucy tied up outside of the store. Wendy is apprehended and arrested and spends several hours in jail before being allowed to pay a fine and get set free. By the time she returns to the store to retrieve Lucy, Lucy is gone. Much of the movie involves her efforts to find Lucy despite increasingly daunting odds.

This turns out to be a much bleaker movie than I was prepared for, though, like all good films, it has managed to linger in my mind for days after viewing it. The only star is Michelle Williams as Wendy, Lucy played by the director’s own dog, Lucy (why bother to contrive fictional names?). Most people remember Williams as Heath Ledger’s wife in “Brokeback Mountain” (and his 'baby mama' in real life) but she remains that indie film staple: the relatively unknown actor. Her portrayal is low-key, almost invisible, yet she displays enormous depth without the usual actorly histrionics. Her Wendy, like the movie itself, lingers. Talk Cinema moderator Bob Mondello referred to Wendy and Lucy as the first recession era movie, likely the first of many.

The movie is scoreless, save for the tune Wendy hums throughout the film (to the annoyance of many in the audience). The photography is competent but unremarkable. The acting throughout is good in that indie way, with none of the disquiet we feel watching non-actors in low-budget films. All of the actors have acted before in something or somewhere.

The movie is bleak, but not slit-your-wrists bleak, more of an Edward Hopper/Andrew Wyeth/Hughie Lee-Smith bleak. Sure won’t do much for Oregon tourism, though. Never been and based solely on this film, feel no desire to go. Ultimately a difficult film to recommend to all but the most die-hard film nerds (like myself).

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"Gran Torino," the other yellow lab movie

I caught the other yellow lab movie last night, AKA "Gran Torino." Clint Eastwood plays a crusty but ultimately lovable curmudgeon, Korean War veteran, retired Ford auto worker, spewer of politically incorrect ethnic rhetoric, and last European American White guy left on the block (he's Polish American). Oh, and he owns an aging yellow lab named Daisy.

Much of the film plays like an after-school special version of racial healing, but I give it kudos for introducing us to the Hmong culture ("a people, not a country" as spunky Hmong teenager/next door neighbor Sue Lor corrects Clint, a people who sided with the Americans in Viet Nam and who had to flee with the Americans with the fall of Saigon, these particular Hmongs winding up in Detroit courtesy of Lutheran charity).

With the exception of Sue Lor ( Ahney Her) the acting is spotty (Clint's direction or inexperienced actors?). The subplot with the earnest and naive local Catholic parish priest goes nowhere and compared with a powerhouse film like "Doubt" suffers immensely in comparison.

Some critics have complained that Eastwood's character is profligate with the ethnic slurs yet he assiduously avoids using the 'N' word. I am not among them. Eastwood's real-life son Scott plays a hip-hop loving dilettante loser whom Clint's character takes apparent delight in excoriating in their scene together.

Don't get me wrong: its a good movie and worth watching on a number of levels. Still its a flawed film which is being hyped as though it were Eastwood's swan song. As an Eastwood fan since his Rowdy Yates days on TVs "Rawhide," I prefer to hope that he has many more films in him.

The film's theme song BTW was co-written by Eastwood's son Kyle. The song was nominated for a Golden Globe and Clint manages to croak out the first verse over the closing credits (shades of his "Paint Your Wagon" warbling). Not a bad song when song by the pros.

Monday, January 12, 2009

"Marley and Me"

Though Daughter Curmudgeon and I recently brought home our new Puppy Curmudgeon (the Incorrigible puppy), and though he happens to be a yellow lab, we only recently got around to seeing the movie about the yellow lab, "Marley & Me." Apparently yellow labs are the new 'in' dog. Even crusty Clint Eastwood's character in "Gran Torino" has a yellow lab.

As to the movie, it is being publicized as a none-stop laugh fest as stars Owen Wilson and Jennifer Anniston bring home their wreck-happy 'clearance puppy' Marley (as in Bob Marley).

Instead what we get is a wistful mediation on the impermanence of life and the fragility of marriage and love. A funny movie, to be sure, but mercifully largely free of the proverbial madcap mayhem and contrived hilarity we've come to expect from Gollywood.

By the end of the movie when Marley's brief life has run its course there is a protracted death scene which approaches maudlin but stops short (like a dog in response to an invisible fence) and in the final analysis the filmmakers earns every one of those sniffles and sobs and moist eyes throughout the audience.

Producers seem to have caught on because as I sit here typing this a re-packaged "Marley and Me" TV commercial just aired which actually said "You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll fall in love." (Gak! Please tell me they were being ironic, or even meta-ironic.)

Go see it anyway.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

"Cadillac Records" is not a hoopty

I caught "Cadillac Records" tonight, which curiously is only showing at a couple of suburban MD theaters, one of which was the Magic Johnson theater (which I avoid like the plague because people still don't know how to turn off their cell phones there. Plus they've managed to turn the place from a jewel into a dump in record time, but that's another blog post).

Anyway, I caught the movie at Muvico Arundel Mills, on a Saturday evening and the place was packed. I LOVED this movie, flawed though it was.

They keep trying to push "Cadillac Records" as a starring vehicle for Beyoncé Knowles who plays Etta James. Truth is, Etta doesn't show up till one hour into the film. Beyonce acquits herself well enough, particularly with her acting. As the great blues singer though she manages merely to suggest Etta James' singing more than embody it. James' trademark growl is reduced to more of a purr, too polished and refined to 'feel' the pain in James' vocals. Or put another way, Etta James sings like a beat-up '54 Ford rusting in the yard and Beyonce Knowles sounds about as rough as a new Lexus in need of a tune-up. This not a knock on Beyonce, who has worked her entire career to sound as smooth and polished as she could. She certainly doesn't embarrass herself in this role (for embarrassingly bad think Diana Ross as Billie Holiday in "Lady Sings the Blues").

I spend entirely too much time defending Beyonce to my co-workers (the DC Curmudgeon and the Jamaican Curmudgeon) who insist that she is just a talentless beauty with a body. I don't get the hate and the resentment. Anyone who has heard Beyonce's duets with Luther Vandross (try "The Closer I Get To You") can tell she can sing, and most of her songs are not badly sung, merely mindless pap, today's version of bubble gum music. Like the old commercial used to say "don't hate her because she's beautiful." She's also been blessed with talent and good fortune, none of which should take away from her trying to stretch and embody women who weren't.

The revelation in "Cadillac Records" is DC's own Jeffrey Wright (who's been great in all his roles, but most notably in "Basquiat," John Singleton's "Shaft," "Angels in America," and "Syriana") as Muddy Waters. His is a portrayal worthy of strong consideration come acting award season. And not far behind is Columbus Short as harmonica player Little Walter. This brother seems to have come out of nowhere to almost steal the movie. Close behind (but not by much) are Mos Def ("Something the Lord Made") as Chuck Berry and British actor Eamonn Walker ("Oz") who is downright scary as Howlin' Wolf.

Adrien Brody ("The Pianist ," "The Darjeeling Limited ," "Summer of Sam") was reliably good as Chess records owner Leonard Chess (although I overheard a White lady grousing as she exited that they should have chosen someone not so pretty to play Chess).

The film's African American director is Darnell Martin, a woman whose only other movie was 1994's "I Like It Like That ", a Hispanic love story set in NYC, and a very good movie in its own right. I like the way Martin embodied the time periods in "Cadillac Records" both in cotton-picking Mississippi and Northern migration Chicago, much more believable an evocation of the time period than one normally sees in most biopics, including "Ray." As with all biopics the film is necessarily episodic. Still I'm glad she included such seminal figures as Alan Lomax who travelled the deep south in the 30s and 40s recording blues singers and other rural folk artists for the Library of Congress.

"Cadillac Records" is a wonderful addition to the pantheon of historical cinema and an invaluable history lesson to those to whom this period and the blues are foreign.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Last night, my daughter (AKA the kid curmudgeon) and I brought in the new year by christening the fireplace in our new house and roasting marshmallows and making 'smores just like she used to do in the Girl Scouts. Doesn't get any better than that.

2008 turned out to be a good year for the IC. I became a home-owner at long last (one man's downturn is another man's opportunity) and we became dog-owners finally (a yellow lab, AKA the puppy curmudgeon). And of course Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential sweepstakes to see who would get the opportunity to clean up George W. Bush's 8 years of pooping on the US and the world's carpet and peeing on our constitution and our rights.

Here's to Barack Obama getting us back on track in 2009 and for a happy and healthy and safe New Year for us all!