Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Horrifying Statistic of the Week

In the first quarter of 2009, one in every six books sold in the U.S. was written by Stephenie Meyer.

More proof, as if any was needed, that 14-year-old girls run the universe.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Little Serra

So between the campus parking and the Festival of Books, we came across a sculpture garden by the UCLA art department. By far the most interesting piece was T.E.U.C.L.A. ("Torqued Ellipse UCLA"),a smaller work by Richard Serra -- and by "small," I mean it was only 18 feet wide and 10 feet tall.

Serra's works frequently deceive the eye and change your perception as you walk around (and inside) them. In the head-on shot above, the piece appears to list to the left, with a straight up-and-down opening in the center. But the photo below shows that in fact the piece is more of an inverted cone, with an extreme curve to the opening.

Audry enters the sculpture. Serra's work is meant to be viewed from all sides -- especially the inside.

Being inside a Serra sculpture is a little disorienting. When we are inside a man-made structure we are used to seeing straight lines, but the walls in a Serra piece are incessantly curving toward and away from you. With no plumb lines to give the eye a vertical reference, the effect can be dizzying.

The soaring curves of these gigantic two-inch thick iron plates manage to be light and heavy at the same time. ( Each plate is fabricated at a ship-building plant.)

Here is a really interesting piece
on Serra's work as seen on Google maps, including this particular sculpture.

L.A. Times Festival of Books

Every year the Times sponsors this shindig on the UCLA campus, packing the grounds with tents containing publishers, booksellers, authors and others. Hadn't been to one since '05, when we went with my sister. Plus my friend Bob Crais was doing a panel, so off we set for Westwood. (As always, click on the images to see a larger view.)

Audry sez: "I think it's that way!"

You would never know the publishing industry was in so much trouble. The place was packed. Seemed like twice as many people as the last time I was here.

Ray is in that tent somewhere...

A row of booths by Royce Hall.

I totally love Taschen Books, so of course I had to stop by their booth. A whole book about colored vinyl and picture discs!! I gotta get me that!

Heading down the majestic steps to the lower portion of the campus revealed even more booths.

Later in the day we caught up with Bob. He was so overwhelmed by the sight of me that he collapsed into my wife's arms.

"Hey -- isn't that Tony Robbins!?"

The story of how I met Bob is kind of interesting, according to my mother. In 1977 I got a gig writing for "Quincy M.E." I never got past story and assumed the project was killed. A couple of years later, I got a call from this guy named Bob, who had just taken over as story-editor of the show. He told me he'd been going through all the old unproduced scripts and came across the script the previous editor had written based on my story, and would I like to see it? (I said, sure -- and was highly gratified to see that it was one of the all-time great stinkers. Serves him right for cutting me off!) Anyway, Bob and I got to talking; turned out we'd both been to the Clarion SF writer's workshop (at different times and places); also turned out we lived about a couple of blocks away from one another. And so a friendship was born. Oddly enough, ten years later, when we both moved out of our respective houses, our new houses were also a couple of blocks away from one another.

Anyway, back to the book festival. Here's Bob during his signing:

And here's Bob before his signing. Way, way before his signing. Like a few decades before his signing. The heck with the Sexiest Writer Alive. Say hello to the most adorable writer alive!

Oh, well. None of us looked cool back in the Seventies. Here he is in action today:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cubism Is Off to War!

During World War I, German naval artillery used rangefinders with a dual-image convergence system: when the two half-images were aligned, the target ship was in proper range of the ship's gun. The Royal Navy struggled to create a method of thwarting the accuracy of these rangefinders, and the solution came from a most unlikely source: British painter Norman Wilkinson who devised a unique form of camouflage which drew upon the principles of modern art -- specifically Cubism, Futurism and Vorticism. Dazzle camouflage, as it came to be known, used bold, eccentric angles and bright colors to fool the German gunners' eyes and make it impossible for them to correctly align the two images in their rangefinders.

That's right: the Royal Navy decided to fight the German naval menace by slathering modern art all over their warships.

Wilkinson's techniques were adopted by the British, U.S., French and Canadian navies, and thousand of Allied ships sailed under dazzle camouflage throughout the war, each with its own unique visual scheme. Dazzle camouflage was created by a battery of abstract artists, including Vorticist Edward Wadsworth.

But it didn't end with WWI. The U.S. navy continued to sail dazzle ships through the second World War as well. So return with us to a time when the dazzle ships ruled the waves, and the Allies had the most utterly awesome-looking navy in the universe.

Dazzle ships under way!

The French warship Gloire:

USS Leviathan, 1918:

No color photos of dazzle ships exist, but we do have artists' renderings of some original designs:

A dazzling WWI aircraft carrier:

Another camouflage design:

HMS Empress of Russia:

Modern art comes full circle: a Futurist painting of dazzle ships in drydock:

Don't you wish we had color photos of these things? The RMS Mauretania:

And lastly, the incredible design on the USS Charles S. Sperry, in 1944. (Be sure to click on it to see a larger version):

Oh, by the way, Dazzle Ships is also the name of a great album by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

Things I Never Thought I'd Hear a Fox News Anchor Say.

No, not the "F" word. The part about torture being wrong.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mea Culpa! No, really. I mean it. Honestly.

The Democratic party has made it easy to apologize to Rush Limbaugh.

Shut up, already.

"I want to see you get better," [Judge] McDermott told Frasure.

"You want to arm wrestle?" was Frasure's reply before being led from the courtroom by bailiffs.

Read the whole story here.

Monday, April 20, 2009


I stumbled across myself on the Internet Movie Database tonight (they actually list only about two-thirds of my credits, but I'm too lazy to figure out how to add info), and was fairly stunned to find this post.

Kinda chokes me up.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sense O' Wonder

Zowie! Check out these images from the Hubble! (Click to enlarge.)

Two mighty spacefleets clashing? No, it's the Ant Nebula.

The Sombrero Galaxy:

The Cat's Eye Nebula:

The Glowing Eyes. (I'm convinced this is where Cthulhu comes from.)

And of course, the Eye of Sauron, unblinking, eternally evil...

Friday, April 17, 2009

For my sister Juliet...

...probably the only person reading this blog who -- well, probably the only person reading this blog, but even more probably the only person reading this blog who will get the following. It's a Tweet I somehow ran across this morning (dear God don't ask me how) by Curt Smith, who is half of the band Tears for Fears.

Here's the link
, if you must.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Oh, Canada

There was a time, between 1981 and 1984, when 11:30 on a Friday evening meant just one thing for me and thousands of other obsessed fanatics: SCTV was on the air! This most brilliant of all sketch comedy shows was made with no budget, no frills, just awesome talents of a group of performers and writers -- among them John Candy, Rick Moranis, Harold Ramis, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Joe Flaherty and Martin Short. Working with nothing more than a tiny studio and some threadbare locations in the Canadian town of Edmonton, where they lived virtually cut off from the rest of the world, they deployed an arsenal of character-driven humor and technical innovation to make fun of television itself. Each episode centered around the broadcast day at a tiny local TV station in Melonville, and used parodies of commercials, TV shows, movies, bumpers and interstitials to tell actual stories. Classics include the Emmy-winning "Moral Majority" episode, where the station must radically alter its content under pressure from conservative activists; "CCCP-1," where the station's satellite feed is jammed by programs from the Soviet Union, resulting in an escalation that leads to nuclear armageddon; and the awesome "Godfather" parody, which turns the rivalry between the major networks into a gang war ("Sonny hit PBS!"). Only Ernie Kovacs had used the medium so creatively -- and he didn't have Johnny LaRue or Bobby Bittman.

So return with us now to a time when giants strode the earth, and a little town in Alberta called Edmonton was the center of the universe.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Best Line from This Week's "30 Rock"

Liz: "Don't worry. I have some Trix up my sleeve."

Twenty-one Fairly Obscure Desert Island Discs

So like any good music freak, I keep a perpetually evolving list of Desert Island Discs in my head. I've been meaning to write it up for years, but when I finally sat down to do it for this blog, a little voice in my head -- correction, a big voice -- kept interrupting me. "There you go, with all the same predictable choices as a People Magazine Top 25 list. And you call yourself a music geek! But what if you couldn't pick the obvious choices? What if you were denied all the albums that made the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest of All Time list? No Sgt. Pepper's, no Blonde on Blonde, no Let It Bleed, no London Calling, no Goodbye Yellow Brick Road! Only the unexpected albums! Now that would be a list! Oh, and no albums from your Top 10 Live Albums of All Time [forthcoming]. And no jazz, classical, or pre-rock singers such as Nat King Cole or Bing Crosby because, let's face it, we don't have all day." (Yes, the voices in my head are extremely long-winded.)

So without further adieu, here are my Top 21 Relatively Obscure Desert Island Discs (in no particular order, with some commentary):

1. The Youngbloods, Elephant Mountain (1969) A classic gem with unbelievable range, from the searing terror of the opener "Darkness, Darkness" to the soaring grace of the closer, "Ride the Wind." Does not include the Youngbloods' most famous song, the 60's anthem "Get Together," nor does it need it.

2. Grateful Dead, Anthem of the Sun (1968) The most psychedelic of all the Dead's albums, combining multiple live songs with trippy studio soundscaping. And you can dance to it!

3. Harry Nilsson: Nilsson Schmillson (1972) One great song after another, with killer production and an amazing lineup of musicians: "Without You," "Coconut," "Jump Into the Fire" -- and not a drop of filler.

4. Bonzo Dog Band: The Doughnut in Granny's Greenhouse (1970) The Bonzos were quite literally the missing link between the Beatles and Monty Python: They worked with several Beatles and appeared in the "Magical Mystery Tour" film, then later appeared on the British show "Do Not Adjust Your Set" with Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam just a few months before they formed Python. And head Bonzo Neil Innes appeared in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (as Sir Robin's minstrel); he also wrote and performed the songs for Eric Idle's Beatles parody "All You Need is Cash," the soundtrack to which is the greatest album the Beatles never made. (And which, frankly, I should have put on this list.) This album is their masterpiece. If Tristan Tzara were a rock band, this is what he'd sound like. UPDATE: Holy schnickey! Tristan Tzara IS a rock band! (The Bonzos will forever kick their ass, however.)

5. Bob Dylan/The Band, The Basement Tapes (1975) Weird, moody, elegiac -- and hilarious. No, really. This album cracks me up every time.

6. Brian Eno, Another Green World (1975) Arguably Eno's best album, combining great art-rock songs with short proto-ambient experiments.

7. New Order, Low Life (1985) Eighties dance music as art; one of the greatest albums of all time. Its one failing is that it doesn't contain "Blue Monday," the greatest dance single of all time.

8. Malcolm McClaren, Duck Rock (1983) After inventing punk rock and Adam and the Ants, Malcolm McClaren created this aural trip around the world, combining hip-hop, African and Cuban rhythms -- oh, and square dancing. The "Sgt. Peppers" of the 80's.

9. XTC, English Settlement (1982) That rarest of rarities, a double album with no filler. Every song could be a hit single.

10. Fatboy Slim, On the Floor at the Boutique (1998) 50 nonstop minutes of massive beats and crazy cuts; not for the faint of heart.

11. Air, Moon Safari (1998) If I were to tell you that one of the most gorgeous albums of all time was a French band's modern-day take on 60's soft-rock bubblegum psychedelia, you'd probably think I was nuts. You'd be right, of course, but so would I.

12. Boredoms, Vision Creation Newsun (1999) Hoo boy, where do I begin with this one? The Boredoms are a Japanese noise band, but with this 1995 album they started experimenting with ways to make noise...well, beautiful. And that's this album: noisy but beautiful.

13. Alexander Spence, Oar (1968) The most legendary obscure album of all time. "Skip" Spence, of Moby Grape, suffered an nervous breakdown (he was developing paranoid schizophrenia), and after he checked out of Bellevue he hopped on a motorcycle, rode straight to Nashville, and cut this haunting album on a 3-track recorder, playing all the instruments himself. I was one of maybe a thousand people who bought this album when it came out in 1968. I think I must have read the entire Ballentine Adult Fantasy series (that would be guys like Lord Dunsany, James Branch Cabell, William Morris, Lovecraft, etc.) to this album when I was 14.

15. Tom Rush, The Circle Game. Boston folkie Rush has a laser-accurate eye for talent, and this 1968 album features first-ever recordings of songs by Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Jackson Browne (he is, as someone once said, the only man who should be allowed to sing Joni Mitchell songs), capped off by the double-whammy of Rush's own "Rockport Sunday" and "No Regrets."

16. The Incredible String Band, The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter. (1968) The ISB are a highly acquired taste, but you've got to love an album with a 13-minute song about an amoeba!

17. Autosalvage, Autosalvage. (1968) This is officially the most obscure record on this list. Autosalvage was a short-lived Greenwich Village art-psych-avant-rock band, whose one album was bought by me and maybe three other people back in 1967. The singing's a bit weak, but it's one of the most musically inventive Lp's of the Sixties, and features medieval instruments amidst the wailing guitars.

18. The Beastie Boys, Paul's Boutique. (1989) The BB's least commercially and most artistically successful album, thanks to the Dust Brothers' incredible production. No music, just an endless construction of samples from Hendrix, Curtis Mayfield, the Beatles, to name a few. (Plus, I felt it was essential to have two albums on this list with the word "boutique" in their title.) [UPDATE: Oop! This one actually is on the Rolling Stone Top 500 list. Oh, well, I'm allowed one. Although truthfully I might have put The Band (1969) in this slot had I known!]

19. Frank Zappa, Hot Rats (1969) There was a lot of Zap to choose from -- "Uncle Meat," "We're Only in It for the Money," or "Burnt Weenie Sandwich" could easily have made the list. But this one, perhaps the first example of jazz-rock fusion, rocks the hardest. Mostly instrumental, with chopmeisters like Ian Underwood, Sugarcane Harris and Jean-Luc Ponty wailing their brains out. Plus Captain Beefheart on vocals!

20. Buddy Holly, The Buddy Holly Story (1959) My brother Jeremy gave me this album when I was 13. Although I was completely obsessed with the Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, Dylan etc., this collection of music from a decade earlier completely blew me away. The greatest 50's rock and roll, with apologies to Elvis. And speaking of Elvis...

21. Elvis Costello, Armed Forces 1979) Hard to pick a best Elvis C. from his Stiff/Columbia peak years, but this one wins because it's got Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" on it.