Tuesday, 25 January 2011

An American Dream

In San Francisco's Mission District, there is a bar called Amnesia. It is dimly lit and reasonably priced- pretty typical of the area, even of the city in general. But inside there is something distinctly unusual, phenomenal even, taking place. 55-year old Toshio Hirano is a local hero- a teaching assistant by day, and a yodeling, crooning, country music jukebox by night.

Standing alone on stage, Toshio picks and sings his way expertly and without irony through classic country songs by the legendary Jimmie Rodgers, and those in his esteemed company. Each new song is met with a roar of applause, and his eccentric banter in between is lapped up with palpable adoration by the near 50-strong audience.

Since leaving Tokyo in his 20's, Toshio's quest to find the spiritual home of American bluegrass and country music has taken him from the Appalachians to Atlanta, from Nashville to the Lone Star State. Now Settled in California, he's doing what he loves best- singing the blues, and spreading the words of great Old Timers, the grandfathers of folk.

Monday, 29 November 2010

The Greatest

Here is my effort. It's supposed to be a hand...?

I was Stumbling around the internet recently when I fell upon this website called johnnycashproject.com, and it's one of the most unique, original ideas I've come across for... well, ages. Basically it's a sort of living, changing, international cyber-memorial for Johnny Cash. The idea centers on a music video for Cash's song Ain't No Grave, a great song in it's own right, and one I'd never heard, but will definitely go and buy. Each visitor is presented with a choice of three frames from the video, from which they may choose one to trace over using an array of what are basically beautified drawing tools. When finished, your unique frame is then slotted into the video itself, and is in turn replaced by someone else's, and someone else's after that. Some of the drawings are quite crude, some completely abstract, and a couple mind-blowingly good. The end result is an absorbing, eclectic, and strangely moving tribute to one of the coolest dudes to have walked the planet.
I've put a couple of my favourites up here, but to get a better idea of what it's all about, I strongly recommend having a look.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Christopher Wilson

I was told about this photographer, Christopher Wilson, by a friend who saw his photography in the new Band of Horses album inlay. The themed series of photographs on his website christopherwilsonphoto.com are largely of America and the stuff in it, and are collated without preciousness, so the sublime and the absurd, the ugly and the beautiful sit alongside each other. I think they're amazing, and his music photos of bands like Black Mountain, Gnarls Barkley and The Flaming Lips are good too.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Horses, Trucks and Creepy Houses

A couple of sepia-infused sketches to evoke America.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Robert 'Droolsworth' Bechtle

Today I went with an old friend to a retrospective exhibition of the work of Ed Ruscha, (see earlier post) a modern American painter, photographer and typographic loon. The exhibition was great, I'd been to it before, but there was plenty of work I'd never seen. Highlights included a giant blue canvas with the word OOF printed in bold yellow letters across it and a quote about how he'd always imagined assaulting the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which he painted on fire. However, it was after the exhibition, in the gift shop that I made the discovery that, in turn, made my afternoon- a man called Robert Bechtle. Bechtle paints hyper-real scenes taken from his own photos of family, friends, houses and cars. Lots of cars. He lives and works in San Francisco and taught for 20 years at San Francisco State University. Journalist Peter Scheldahl summed up a 1969 article on Bechtle's paintings with this sentence

"Life is incredibly complicated, and the proof is that when you confront any simple, stopped part of it you are stupefied."

Monday, 4 January 2010

Paul Bunyan, The Red River Lumber Runner

So at the moment I am trying to figure out a way to write about this guy, Paul Bunyan ---->

Paul is unique in many ways: for a start he is between 28 and 37 feet tall, is over 100 years old and uses pine trees as disposable hair brushes. Oh, and he also has more than one birthplace. One legend has it that he was born on the East Coast, in Maine, and that when he was given a double-sided axe as an 18th birthday present, he was off, cutting his way across the country. Others claim he was raised in Minnesota, brought to life by the tales of the woodsmen and lumberjacks, some of who allegedly tied whole sides of bacon to the bottom of their boots and used them as skates to grease his pancake griddle. Those who know him as a resident of Westwood, CA would say that was his true home, and they may have a point. In the early 20th century, a man called T.B. Walker built a town on the back of an enormous wealth made with the Red River Logging Company. He envisaged Westwood as the lumber capitol of America, and for many years it was, owning both the world's largest pine timber mill and consequent pile of sawdust. Paul Bunyan appeared in his trade-mark plaid shirt and jeans combo in advertisements devised by William Laughead, ex-logger and author of The Round River Drive, a book of tales about the logging camps, in which the giant lumberjack made his first appearances. Now Westwood is a shadow of its former self, its population reduced to a tenth of is original size, it relies mainly on tourism, and owes much to Laughead and Bunyan. Much like T.B. Walker and the Red River Lumber Company, Paul Bunyan always went 'where there's lots of trees and plenty of room', which was most of the North West of the country. In American Folklore, Bunyan stands for strength, progress and determination. He is the epitome the pioneering spirit that has seen all the boom industries come, provide for a period of time, and go, leaving behind the husks of towns, and weather-battered monuments. This image (above) of a talking, moving, winking Bunyan, the tallest replication in the world, stands in front of the entrance to the Trees of Mystery, a roadside attraction in northern California. The park features a short, sign-posted nature trail, a restaurant, gift shop and museum that are all Bunyan-themed. It is perhaps the most suitable place for a Statue of the folk hero, a figure as "mysterious" as the several malformed redwoods that give the attraction its name.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Chicago, Pt. I

“ …a man in himself is a city… if imaginatively conceived- any city, all the details of which may be made to voice his most intimate convictions.”

-William Carlos Williams

Chicago: Pt. I

This young man is not a city; he’s a dash of seeds in the wind,

a swaggerer, a gambler, a pearl-diver.

He is a boy brimming with promise,

he is in many ways his parent’s child still.

There are older men in the east

who sneer at the way he holds his hand out for rain.

They can smell it coming;

they are wise now, they have developed systems,

they have pulled hard to get where they are

-it’s not something every man can achieve,

and don’t you forget it.

They talk amongst themselves of the day they arrived,

how they discovered that green tussock, that willing field,

or the way some stumbled into a valley,

and how it was on fire with sunlight and willow dust

and crimson leaves and birdsong-

they had no clue it was there!

They dug fingers deep into the soil

to test its richness,

and drank the river water to taste if it was sweet and clean.

Then they spread out on the grass,

and eventually grew roots and broad shoulders,

and beards of smoke, which tumbled into the sky.

They take a long draw on their own history

and glance across the dazzling prairies at the boy,

plunging his bare feet into Lake Michigan,

where herons drag their eyes

over the black water for bream

that flash like arrows of mercury off into the reeds.

They see him a extend a bony arm out west,

it looks like a rail road,

but they can’t hear what he’s saying.

They strain an ear,

but are deafened by their own cacophony;

jets of steam scream from pipes,

an iron hammer finds its home,

a hundred times over.

Now a wind rushes through Illinois with the cold on its tail,

it rattles the red barns,

slashes at hay stacks,

chases fat clouds across the sky.

And perhaps it’s some cock-assuredness

of youth, or just plain naïvety,

but he doesn’t seem to notice

how the sails of ships flap in the docks like panicked gills,

or how the trees huddle in copses

to moan-

their leaves are nearly all stripped away now,

look how they litter the forest floor,

and the apples! The acorns!

Still, and despite themselves, the older cities are anxious

of how the boy handles his business.

News crosses the country in gossiping droves,

follows the geese honking

into the harbours of Boston,

the damp parks of New York, knee-deep

in Fall.

He has stockyards now, bristling acres of hogs,

he has trams, he has ice trains.

He is a scientist, he is an entrepreneur.

But he is still a young man, some mutter, he has not been tested.

Not like New York, when Cholera spread to the Five Points,

and infants turned cold in their cots.

No, nor like what happened in Boston, remember,

the year of no summer,

when crops were lost, and the farmers rolled out west?

But the boy grows every day,

his houses are mushrooms, his people land like spores

amongst the weeds and the communities of wildflowers,

and they are strong and muddy and red-faced and happy

because Chicago is becoming a man.

His heart is a thick nut of industry now-

fertilizer factories muck in for the fruit, for the good of the fields,

the snaking veins of canals pull in the barges

up from the south, barrels

full to busting with grain, and liquor, and Mississippi quarrel.

The ice trains grind through Iowa, slow as hearses

on their way to California,

and the Hog Butcher of the World wrings his bloody hands,

and ushers in the next squealing mob.

And there is a steady rhythm to the growth,

like the beat of Native drums.

It is in the soil, a dull pulse,

it is in the pounding routine of feet on the sidewalks,

and the clapping hands at christenings,

it vibrates through the rusty frames of ploughs at night,

embodying Black Hawk War skeletons in the grass,

propped up on their elbows to see the stars

one last time.

On nights like this the boy is exhausted from the month’s labours,

from the drought of summer and the cold

that digs its claws into October.

Men are up in their towers on the look-out for fires,

for their suppers and for their wives.

But from their posts they cannot see how keen the straw is,

or how that persisting wind has found a way in

through a hole a field mouse might have made

in a shed.

Only Chicago feels the spark, like a fleabite on his belly,

and he chokes at the thought of the bone-dry timbers,

of the people asleep in their beds.

He hears the chants of his parents, the Potawatomis

as if for the first time,

as they float out of the land and affect the moon

behind its pale cataract of cloud, so it looks eerily upon the graveyards,

and pools in the eyes of night animals.

They stir up the silt of prophesy and they scare him

when he has feared nothing before.

The elders said he would be tested,

said he would have to gather himself again from ash

before he can be called a man.

He will have to find a pith of resilience at his core,

before he can boast of his history,

establish his economy,

before he can be known in his country as Chicago, the city.