Presents...My Favorite Things
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These are links to things that I think are beautiful and/or worthwhile. And I don't give praise lightly...

Music | Film | Books | Politics

Brilliant Postcards Brilliant Dancing
Supremely clever, witty, heartfelt and amusing original postcards (some would even call them art) by one of the masters of the Modern Postcard, David Jouris, are available at www.holdthemustard.com. The G-Spot Art Gallery now has one in its permanent collection (featuring Gunnar in a pointillistic mood). Go thence and be amazed! Gunnar worked withJamey Hampton and Ashley Roland when they were dancing first as Momix, and later as ISO. They've gone on to found a new dance company which continues their breathtaking choreographic style - BODYVOX. Based in Portland, OR, their shows are dazzling, humorous, haunting. Catch them in Portland or in a city near you soon!
©1999 Hold the Mustard

The Story of The Bobs:
Western Onion went broke. Say what? Yep, they went broke, leaving all the singing telegram deliverers broke and unemployed. That was the Great San Francisco Singing Telegram Depression of 1981. Two of the unemployed were Gunnar Madsen and Matthew Stull. They placed a twenty-five-words-or-less ad in the free classifieds, looking for a bass singer. They got one call, from Richard 'Bob' Greene who was not only a bass but a songwriter and recording engineer....

Read and understand more about the Bobs at their very own website!

Children's Links:
BestChildrensMusic.com Noted children's music authority and reviewer Fred Koch has assembled this excellent site that guides you to the very best in children's music. Everything there is top-notch, and all products are available online.
Children's Music Web A non-commercial site dedicated to children's music in all it's forms. Info on a wide variety of musics, and the best internet radio kids show on the web (Radio Refrigerator) featuring music and stories.
Tell Us a Tale Hear stories (ie 'Horton Hears a Who', 'StellaLuna') produced by Peter Jones of Public Radio WTJU in Virginia, plus games and loads of other hi-quality children's stuff.
Ralph Covert - One of the very best children's music writers. Like Gunnar, his songs have depth and wit and musical complexity - highly recommended
Dan Zanes - Dan delights in covering classic tunes from folk, blues and even broadway with a warm-as-a-campfire voice and great instrumentation. Exciting guest stars join him on his recordings. He's like a Pete Seeger for the next century
Laurie Berkner - Laurie's music is aimed at younger kids (2-5), but it's got qualities that put it head and shoulders above most of the stuff aimed at pre-schoolers. It's so good, family members of all ages will probably get a kick out of it.
Caspar Babypants - Focussed for younger kids (2-5), BUT it's rockin' good, great pop melodies. Caspar is aka Chris Ballew of the indie pop band The Presidents of the United States. Let him rock your socks off.
The Hipwaders - For kids 5 and up, this band has a serious groove and sound, and makes interesting music that wears well with adults in the car/househould.
Headphone.com - Headphones? For Kids? No, but this is a link on their site that has some great recommendations and resources for classic kids' song. Check it out (Thanks to Emily for the heads-up!).
Justin Roberts - High-quality music for the 2-6 year old set. Justin's voice is sweet, like James Taylor, and the musicianship and production is impeccable.
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From the world of Music:
Blues Dream | Bill Frisell - He's a quasi-jazz guitarist, but he's also a gifted composer and arranger. His albums til now have intrigued me, but, for my money, he's hit a home run this time. Think Miles Davis' 'Kind of Blue' meets Hank Williams Sr., with a light basting of memphis blues/Van Morrison/Captain Beefheart and a demiglaze of Anthony Braxton/Carla Bley. Yeah, i know, sounds like food you wouldn't want to eat, but I'm telling you this is one tasty record.

J.S. Bach | Cantates BWV 21, 42 | Philippe Herreweghe, Conductor - I'm not a fan of choral music, or classical vocal music in general...it's just not my bag. But, when it's done THIS well...when the music is this gorgeous, and the conductor lavishes such love on every line and phrase...well, I'm in Love! I've been enjoying very much Mr. Herreweghe's version of Mozart's Mass in C minor for a few months - this guy really lives his music, and brings a clarity to the mass that I've never heard before. A commendable record, the Mass in C minor. But these cantatas are way beyond. It's some of the most accessible and beautiful writing by Bach (if you like Handel's 'Messiah', that's the kind of stuff this is). Nuff said? Nuff said!

Radiohead | Kid A - I loved their last recording, OK Computer. They are a band that plays together so well, and they know how to create a recording that is of a whole - when I got to the end of OK Computer, it was the same feeling I got from listening to an entire symphony - a sense of journey, of arrival at the end. Kid A is a radical departure - the Band is not there, it's more loops and synths and a pastiche. At first I was disappointed, and it seems a shame for them not to be grooving together as a band. But as a record? It's another very satisfying journey - it takes you somewhere, and when you get to the end, it's a great feeling. It's a rare thing in music these days to hear someone with a grasp of how to put a large piece of music together. I like this one.
Paul Bley | Open, To Love (1973) - One of my favorite recordings of all time is of Paul Bley and Neils Henning Orsted Pedersen, a piano and double bass duo album from the early '70's. It's long out of print, and my copy is scratched but revered. I just recently bought, on CD, "Open, To Love", Paul Bley's solo piano recording from the same era. This is not typical jazz piano - it's closer to contemporary classical piano (reminds me in some ways of the tonality of Oliver Messiaen) - dissonant, but not aggressively so. Paul Bley's playing here is very spare, and the most enjoyable thing about it, to me, is his sense of harmonic rhythm. Almost all the music here is rubato, there's really no sense of groove, but he w...a...i...t...s.........til the very last moment to move from one chord to another, and it's never too long a wait, every movement is full of anticipation and delicious suspense. Only the very best classical players seem to understand this kind of attention to harmonic movement (see Philippe Herreweghe above) - most jazz players are paying attention to other musical aspects. Paul Bley understands a different pulse in the music, and it's a delight to hear.
LIVRO - Caetano Veloso - Takes my breath away! This is the kind of writing, the kind of music, the kind of album I aspire to. First cut sounds like it's going to be a bossa nova record, but the percussion is too strange and off-kilter to be mere mood music. Then it gets richer, wilder, and by the end of the record you've been through big band, and reggae and through exuberant exultation and post minimalist microcosms and, yes, even a bossa nova. I guarantee this record!
Rufus Wainwright - It took a while to grow on me, seemed too amorphous at first ("Where's the structure?"), but now it's a bona-fide favorite. It's more akin to classical in the depth of it's melody and counterpoint, the richness of the arrangements, and the individuality of it's song structures. Really worth listening to.
Dar Williams - The Honesty Room - I've heard of Dar for a while now, but only recently got around to listening to this one. The opening tune, "When I Was a Boy", is the best 'explanation' of the male and female energy we all carry inside us - oh, god, that sounds way too prosaic, but it cuts to the bone for me. If there were a way of singing this song from a male perspective, I'd do it in all my concerts. The rest of the album holds up - she's a unique voice in the world!
CAKE - Fashion Nugget - A good friend turned me on to this one. He cautioned me to give it a chance. And, yes, when I first put it on it seemed a little whine-y, a sense of "I'm so cool I'm bored" attitude. But you know what? There's real stuff under that first impression, and the music is so very very good, melodies and counter melodies all over the place, a nice variety of styles, and an interesting instrumentation (a rock group with a trumpet?). And the lyrics, they paint some vivid and wonderful pictures. I'm diggin' it.
Marlui Miranda - Ihu, Todos os Sons I worked with Marlui on the soundtrack to "At Play in the Fields of the Lord". One of the most fantastic and soulful voices I've ever worked with. She is an expert on the musics and cultures of indigenous tribes in the Amazon rain forest. But her new album is not mere reproductions of tribal songs fit for ethnomusicologists. Oh, no. She's 'interpreted' them, made them her own, infused them with her own voice while keeping the raw spirit alive. I play this one over and over, it's a rare treat. It features the work of Uakti and Gilberto Gil and many others.
Rubén Gonzàlez - Introducing... I don't know the man, never been to Cuba, but this album is as alive as they come. Born in 1919, Rubén was once a star piano player in Cuba. In recent years he'd been forgotten, he was without a piano to play on, but he apparently lived for the chance to play. You can hear the stiffness in his fingers, but his rhythm is impeccable and his mind is alive with playfulness, and the character of the recording is so fresh, you can hear every musician as if they were in the room with you. Delicious.
Don Byron - Bug Music Fantastically fresh re-creations and re-interpretations of Raymond Scott and a few others. Raymond Scott's music is familiar to almost everyone, as it was used in by Carl Stalling in Warner Brothers cartoons (Bugs Bunny and etc.). This record shows off how wonderful that music was and is - The images of the cartoons have faded from my mind as I've listened over the past year, and the music stands on its own now. Very engaging.
Jane Siberry - When I Was a Boy A record seemingly all about love. Yes, some romantic love, but mainly love in the largest sense of the word. I mean, you know, BIG love. It's a strange mishmash of moods and styles, but it's a true journey of a record. I put it on and just go.... I do stop it before the remix of a song which comes 10 seconds after the end of the CD - That kind of ruins the mood. But hey, there is genius here, and a lot of heart.
Radiohead - OK Computer I don't tire of this one. Melody everywhere, layers of it. Another 'journey' of a record, not just a collection of songs.
Honorable Mention:
Vanessa Lowe - Her House of Sin Local songwriter/friend just oozing with talent - this is a very good record, surprising melodic and harmonic twists, lyrics that invite you in for a closer listen, and an expressive voice - It's available at Amazon.com (this link will take you to her Amazon page - soundbites n' everything!)
Karnak - Karnak Music from all over the world from Brazil. A sonic feast, though it's a high energy thing, I long for some slower, mellower moments.
The Birdwatchers Pop music with heart and soul. Great songs, lush vocal harmonies. CrosbyStillsNash meets the Beach Boys meets the Beatles. Or something like that. We've got some gigs together coming up soon...meantime, buy their record at NOTLAME Records (the ONLY place you can find this gem!).
...After my recent gig doing Sammy Davis Jr. vocalizations over my pal Mark Adler's steamingly creative big band arrangements, I've gone back to a coupla records that share a similar edginess in their big-bandedness. They are:
Thelonius Monk - Who's Afraid of the Big Band Monk? This is an old two-record set, don't know if it's still in print. One record is a tossaway for me, Oliver Nelson and Monk in a studio, it misses the mark. The other LP is a live recording of Hall Overton's arrangements for Monk, and it's as if Monk just lifted handfuls of notes from the the piano and threw them at the horn section. A marvelous, marvelous record.
Carla Bley - Musique Mechanique Playful, dark, arty, but almost a rock n' roll record to my ears. One of the songs is orgasmic, it out-does Ravel's Bolero in terms of sustained crescendo.
Frank Zappa - Waka Jawaka The whole second side of this record is still a pleasure lo these many years later, but it is the title track, Waka Jawaka, that steals my heart. The big band arrangement is derivative of detective soundtracks, but it's its own thing, and the wacked out solos by Don Preston and Zappa himself are a treat. The extended trumpet/guitar duet leading to the major horn blast is also a tasty morsel. Yum.
 
 

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Films I like:
You Can Count on Me - A single mother in upstate New York gets a visit from her ne'er do well long-lost brother. The acting is tremendous (Laura Linney is nominated for Best Actress for her work), the script is true and full of surprises. It's funny and touching and everything you could want. (Well, there's no car chase, but there is a brawl and an illicit drug is imbibed...) This movie got a small release, it may be off the radar screen, but it's worth searching for.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - It's as jaw-dropping as Star Wars was 24 years ago, and the tale is engaging in the same broad, mythic way. Yes, it's in Chinese with subtitles, and yes, it's a shame you have to read when the screen is so beautiful to watch, but that just means you get to go see it a second time to see what you missed the first time around!
The Celebration - Wow! Kinetic storytelling/filmaking at it's tippy-top best. Truth never tasted so good, was never so visually compelling. From Denmark.
Office Space - I nearly peed my pants! Spot-on comedy - this is so true to office life, if you've ever worked in an office...
Central Station - Brilliant, touching, surprising, with fascinating glimpses of life in Brasil.
Smoke Signals - So sweet, so funny, so real, so good. No mere art-house pleaser, a beautiful, full movie. Go see it!
Waiting for Guffman - Spinal Tap for the community theater crowd. In the best sense. I saw it twice, fer goshsakes!
The Apostle - Good script, good story, good acting. Good work.
Delicatessen - Post-apocalyptic fantasy/comedy. Very funny, very dark, wonderful superb visuals.
Lawrence of Arabia - I never get tired of this one. Don't rent it. Must be seen on big screen. Make a date for the next time it's shown in your area.
Hamlet - Kenneth Branagh kept all the lines in. I know, I know, I had trouble convincing myself to go see a 4 hour movie, but the characterizations are so rich, so true - I understood the story in entirely new ways. And the 4 hours? When a story's this good, who's counting?
Ma Vie en Rose - Brilliant, fucking brilliant exploration of growing up different (in this particular instance, growing up gay, but hey, if you're alive you can relate). The family's reaction, the community's reaction all seem true, no punches pulled, yet it's all delivered with a sense of compassion and humor. The kind of movie I'd like to make.
 
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Books I Like...
The Bone People - Keri Hulme. Extremely rich, deep and dark and fulfilling. The style is reminiscent of Kesey, lots of shifts in perspectives, jumps in time, and yet (for me, at least) always clear and narrative. The story revolves around a Maori man, his foundling mute white child, and a hermetic, insightful and guarded woman of mixed race. It's violent and beautiful.
The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver. A great adventure, compassionate and passionate storytelling, and a vivid and eye-opening history lesson. It's big and complex and totally engrossing.
Lost in Translation - Nicole Mones. The different forms love takes - parental, romantic, spiritual - are breathtakingly captured, there is so much truth in this marvelous piece of fiction. Besides the core issue of love, there is fascinating and compassionate views of both Chinese and American ways of being, and a page-turning page-burning plot and suspense and...Oh, you just gotta read this one!
Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden. "I can't believe it's fiction!" Beyond fascinating, it's told with an incredible depth of feeling, and a dynamic sense of storytelling, and, yes, it is quite fascinating to know the details of the life of a geisha. Read it!
Farmer - Jim Harrison. So clear, so simple, so honest, so good. Reminds me of me and so many people I know. Beautiful. The other book I've read by him, DALVA, still sticks in my memory many years after I read it, it's one that I've always hoped to get back to.
Sixteen Pleasures - by Robert Hellenga - This is at the top of my list for the past year's reading. Just go read it!
Sometimes a Great Notion - Kesey's my favorite writer, somehow I just understand at a molecular level what he's writing about, and his style is full of beauty for me, and masculinity, but it never bogs down or gets too poetic, he always tells the story. This is for me his best work (though One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a close second). I've re-read this many times.
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Politics How to get involved and help change the world...
For no-nonsense, compassionate review of humane issues of all kinds, go to the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Nothing obtuse here, it's the lobbying arm of the Quakers, they speak straight from the heart. 
Make this a part of your daily surf diet! The United Nations Food Program has a simple, one-stop, one-click web page, where with nothing more than a single movement of your index finger food is donated to feed the hungry. It is truly that simple - Each and every person can click that button once a day, and sponsoring organizations donate the funds for food. Go there now and try it! http://www.thehungersite.com/index.html
Let your pocketbook do the talking... Working Assets provides a variety of services, including Long Distance Phone Service, Internet Access, Credit Cards, and fantastic investments (mutual funds, IRAs) through Citizens Trust. Their rates are competitive, they donate a portion of proceeds to worthy causes ($3 million last year), and they can educate you with every phone bill they send.
Global Exchange THE place for accurate, compelling info on the effects of the "Global Economy" on the average person. A great place to learn, get involved, and help guide the world towards a healthier and more respectful way of life. It's a great site, and it's EASY to get involved!

The War on Drugs in Colombia - The FCNL January 2000 newsletter has a dismaying and informative article about the push on the part of the U.S. to militarize the war on drugs in Colombia, a nation that is already the largest recipient of U.S. military aid outside of the Middle East. Forces in both Congress and the Clinton administration are lobbying for doubling and tripling the amount of aid, most of it military. It is a cruel and senseless expense of money and energy.

When I was traveling in Thailand, way north at the Burmese border, I toured a small village. In the schoolhouse was a poster put up by the government. It showed a man, blindfolded and handcuffed, being led away by soldiers, while his children and wife looked on with dismay. The poster was a warning against growing opium poppies. Thailand, in an effort to please its friend the U.S., deals extremely harshly with drug traffickers. But the people being persecuted by this so-called war on drugs are not a passel of Mercedes-driving druglords. It's the peasants, who barely get by growing their corn and coffee and rice. Who could blame them for wanting to make a little extra money by growing poppies? It might be their only hope. But the consequences are severe. The Thai army is EVERYWHERE in the north, and they are THE power.

I have not been to Colombia, but it doesn't take much imagination to see that the reality there must be very similar to what goes down in Thailand. Drugs are cultivated by and consumed by people, mere people. There are indeed 'druglords' and thugs who are making billions in between the growing and the consumption, but armies of soldiers and helicopters will do nothing against them. I don't know the answer - it could be as simple as paying more for coffee than we do for cocaine - Who then would want to grow cocaine? Nobody! I do know the answer is not war. That is mere bluster and smoke and misery. Write your senators, representatives, and the President, read up on the subject (at FCNL!), and help turn this crazy war off!

top of page updated: 7/9/12 12:21 PM