Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Way of the Word

by Drew Martin
A couple months ago I was in Berkeley at an Ethiopian restaurant with a friend. A discussion about my friend’s vegetarianism turned towards cannibalism, specifically Russian cannibalism, and a young lady sitting behind me burst out laughing at our overheard conversation. I asked her if she wanted to join us and she eagerly pulled up a chair.

Her name was Morgan, and was one of the most fascinating people I have ever met. She was deeply intelligent, had a quirky sense of humor, and seemed like a very special person. I forgot to ask her for her email before she left and I definitely wanted to keep in touch with her. I knew her first name and that she was a grad student at Berkeley studying classic languages so it only took a couple minutes to find her online. In doing so I read something about her by a friend of hers: a senior linguist and lecturer at Standford who had written several books on the origin of languages, phonological systems, and linguistic taxonomies:

I first met Morgan when she was 15 and a sophomore at Santa Clara University. (She skipped high school.) After talking with her for two hours I realized that she had a post-doctoral knowledge of comparative linguistics. She graduated from Santa Clara when she was 18, Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude with a double major in Greek and Latin. 

I wanted to know a little bit more about Morgan and her understanding of languages so I asked her to answer a few questions for me:
_________________________________________________________

How many languages do you understand? 

I can speak English, French, and Italian. I can read German, Latin, and Ancient Greek. With some effort, I can puzzle my way though Sanskrit, Hittite, Oscan and Umbrian. I've studied Arabic, Japanese, Russian, and Tocharian, but not very much has stuck. In addition, I studied some Spanish in elementary school. 
_________________________________________________________

What is your favorite language?

English, Sanskrit, and Greek because of their enormous vocabularies. As they say, "the Greeks had a word for it."
_________________________________________________________

What is your favorite language to speak?

I don't really speak foreign languages much--I primarily read literature in them--but I enjoy speaking French, German, and Italian.
_________________________________________________________

What is your favorite language to read (and why)?

Ancient Greek--both because of quality of literature in it and a certain difficult-to-express elegance and beauty of both the script and the language itself--whatever it is, Latin doesn't have it as far as I'm concerned.
_________________________________________________________

What is it about studying languages that you like?

I like several different things: the ability to read literature in the original, the intrinsic interest of the structure and syntax of different languages, and the knowledge of history provided through historical linguistics, in which the development and mutual relationships of languages are studied.
_________________________________________________________

Is there a danger of having one big global language or do you think that would benefit us all?

I would be bored, myself.
_________________________________________________________

Should that language be a dominant/popular language like English, or a made up language like Esperanto? 

It'll be English. Made-up languages never succeed because people have to have a good reason to make the effort, and career advancement is very motivational. As for whether this would be good or bad, as someone interested in linguistics it's obviously somewhat less interesting when things are more homogenous, and there's the risk of the cultural riches of the literature in these languages being lost, but hopefully all these languages will have been recorded and can be studied as dead languages (like Latin!) by the scholars of the future. The practical advantages of having a common language--that people will no longer be isolated in cultural backwaters if they don't speak a major world language--will, I think, provide a very significant counterweight to this loss. 
_________________________________________________________

What do you think is the future of English in 100 years, and 1,000 years? And what is the future of all languages in 1,000 years? 

It's difficult to predict the future of language in a world with rapid global communications and mass literacy -- both new phenomena. I predict that dialects based on voluntary social identity, trends, and fashion (like Val-Speak) will diverge more, but geographical dialects will homogenize.
_________________________________________________________

When I lived in the Czech Republic I was told of how their language basically died (German had taken over for many years before WWI) and then was brought back. Are there any examples you know of in terms of language revival? 

Hebrew is the best known and most successful--what really made it work was that the key figure behind the revival effort was willing to speak Hebrew exclusively to his son. Efforts have been made with Welsh and Irish (of course, not even completely extinct) but without much success, and similarly Navajo has become much more widely spoken as a first language in the last generation, and there are advocates of reviving Coptic (last spoken in the 17th century, so considerably more recently living than Hebrew) as a living language. There is a radio station in Finland which broadcasts in Latin, trying to promote it as universal European language. In India, there are a few thousand people who claim to be native speakers of Sanskrit, and the Spoken Sanskrit Society is promoting its revival. 
_________________________________________________________

William Burroughs said language is a virus (from outer space). Well maybe not from outer space but what do you think of language as a virus in terms of how it spreads?

It's not so much that language itself is a virus, as that language is kind of a culture medium for ideas, or "memes" that are the real viruses.
_________________________________________________________

That being said, and knowing how languages form...if there were human beings on another planet without any connection to Earth and without any knowledge of Earth's languages. What kind of language system do you think would they form in terms of symbols (pictographs vs. alphabets), words and grammar? 

There have been some efforts to construct an environment where a language evolves spontaneously, and it has happened in real life (students at a Central American school for the deaf apparently spontaneously evolved their own sign language, with no instruction from teachers.) I suspect aliens would also have ways of representing concepts with configurations of their bodies that could be sensed by their sensors (think about octopuses communicating by changing the color of their skin or insects with pheromones). Looking at non-human species on Earth like dolphins (which some think have an actual language with words for concepts--they do seem to have names which they say to identify themselves and address each other with) would give us an example of the convergent evolution of language. Beyond that, who can say...
_________________________________________________________

Are languages an accident or are they simply part of advanced social creatures interaction? 

Well, we have precisely one certain data point -- human beings, the only advanced social creature we know about, and we have language. Referring to what I said earlier about dolphins, they are highly social and seem to have some linguistic abilities--orcas actually have "dialects" that are distinct for each pod. Similarly, crows are social birds and have impressive communicative abilities--they seem to be able to warn each other about particular hostile humans. It seems plausible that communication becomes more sophisticated as a species grows more socially complex and that human language is just the most extreme manifestation of this general trend.
_________________________________________________________

And one last question. If you could create a word, what would it be and what would it mean? 

We need a word for weakness of will--knowing you should do something but being unable to summon the will to carry it out. Now we only have the Greek term akrasia, but in the past we used the term 'incontinence'--which has, alas, now assumed a solely medical sense. 
_________________________________________________________

Thank you very much Morgan.


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Music and Lyrics: A Romantic Comedy About Making Music Together

by Drew Martin
I like coincidences and "signs" so when I was looking for a third movie today at the local library (three films for a week for $1) and saw a DVD totally misplaced, in fact - tossed on top of another section, I was indeed curious by what this could mean. And then when I saw that it was entirely about my most recent post Kopy-Kat, I had to have it even though I was not crazy about who was in it: Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. Since 2016 is the year I started eating chocolate again, after a couple decades of abstaining, why not embrace one of my least favorite movie genres: Romantic Comedies. I reasoned that since my wife likes Hugh Grant it could offer a moment for us to sit down together and put the requests of three kids on hold for a couple hours.

It turns out I really liked Grant and Barrymore together, and thoroughly enjoyed the romantic comedy set-up and resolution formula. For a follow-up to my last post, it was brilliant. The film is from 2007, which is perfect because one of the first scenes is Grant performing at a 20-year high school reunion for the class of 1987. That's my graduating class!

Grant plays, Alex Fletcher, a has-been 80's pop star from a band called POP!, who gets by performing at reunions, amusement parks, and other desperate gigs. Miraculously, a new young star, Cora, played by Haley Bennett, who grew up idolizing Alex, wants him to write a song for her and perform with her. He has not written a song in years and doesn't know where to start. Enter Sophie Fisher (Barrymore), a new person in Alex's life who comes by to take care of his plants. Turns out she is a writer who turned away from her craft after getting burned by her professor from the New School (where I got my Masters). 


After all is said and done, they make music together, and then make music together. Despite the expected matchmaking and light humor that keeps it from getting too deep, the film actually has some good writing and discusses what I covered in my last post: the difference between performing and creating a song, but this film explores how the creative process can develop into a relationship, and it has something to say about the music industry. Pop goes my heart.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Kopy-Kat

by Drew Martin
When Prince died last month his amazing artistic life and musical career swelled to the surface of our consciousness. One thing I recently learned was that he wrote Nothing Compares 2 U for Sinéad O’Connor, a song that earned her world-wide success in 1990. She was so well known for this song that when she was recently thought to be lost in Chicago the Mirror-UK wrote “The Nothing Compares 2 U singer was reported missing…”. I love that song and loved Sinéad for singing it but it makes sense that Prince wrote it, as it sounds like his words. It certainly makes me appreciate Prince and all the other pop musicians out there who not only write their own songs but feed the artists that don’t. 


Kesha, Sia, and Katy Perry, for example, are wellsprings of creativity who have got all their peers covered when they need a little help. Katy Perry has written songs for Kelly Clarkson, Selena Gomez, Britney Spears, Ashley Tisdale, Jessie James, Miley Cyrus, and Iggy Azalea. One of Iggy’s biggest hits, Black Widow featuring Rita Ora, for example, is a song written by Katy and you can totally her Katy’s “voice” in it.

I like and respect singer-songwriter-musicians such as Katy Perry much more than performers like Beyoncé. When songwriter and former 4 Non Blondes frontwoman Linda Perry, who has written hits for Pink, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, Courtney Love, and Kelly Osbourne, was asked “How do you feel about Beyoncé changing one word on a song and getting writing credit. Does that bother you as a songwriter?” she responded “That’s not songwriting but some of these artists believe if it wasn’t for them your song would never get out there so they take a cut just because they are who they are. But everyone knows the real truth even Beyoncé. She is talented but in a completely different way.

I was putting together a playlist of songs the other day that I wanted to rehearse for future karaoke opportunities. One of the songs I added is “Beyoncé’s” If I Were A Boy. But when I listened to it, I felt a huge disconnect between the lyrics and the singer. I wanted to know the person behind the song and how it was created. A quick search turned up singer-songwriter Brittany Jean Carlson (BC Jean) and a video of her singing her original If I Were A Boy. It’s amazing but for some reason her label turned it down and it ended up in the hands of Beyoncé. The reality is that Beyoncé is actually doing a cover of the song so it should not be considered “Beyoncé’s song”. People listen to this and conclude “Beyoncé is amazing”. That’s fine if they are referring to her voice but the sentiment of the song and its heart and soul is all Jean.

As to how it was created, Jean was walking around Times Square with a collaborator when she found out that her first love, a guy she had just moved in with, had cheated on her. She and her friend walked by a pizzeria and she commented that if she were a boy she would totally chow down on some pizza at that moment (she was on a diet). Her friend basically said, “go on…” and the long list of things she would do became the lyrics for the song. They went back to the studio and she created the melody. It was an emotional outburst that happened in less than half an hour. 

Jean played piano as a kid and at the age of 14 started turning her own poetry into song lyrics. Then she taught herself how to write lyrics by listening to the music she liked. She wrote down the lyrics to figure out the songs construction.



Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Pearl Arbor

by Drew Martin
Pearl Fryar was born in 1940 into a sharecropping family in Clinton, North Carolina. He liked mathematics and was later able to secure a job as an engineer in a can factory in Bishopville, South Carolina. When this hard-working man wanted to buy a house for his family in one of the better neighborhoods in the town, he was turned away because he is African American, and it was said that a black man could not maintain a well-kept yard. So Pearl went to another part of town, bought a house and a couple acres of land and since the late 1980s has transformed a nondescript patch of grass into a magical topiary-sculpture garden, which he accomplished by salvaging discarded bushes and trees from a local nursery and passionately dedicating hours upon hours of hard work combined with his personal artistic vision. Pearl and his yard are now known around the world, he receives busloads of visitors each week, he has inspired his neighbors and other townspeople to try their hand at his craft, he teaches art at a local college, and he put Bishopville on the map. What a beautiful person and a beautiful project. His story is wonderfully captured in the documentary A Man Named Pearl.





Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Cat's Meow

by Drew Martin
I recently saw two documentaries that had a lot to do with cats, and whether you like cats or not the movies are worth watching for their very human stories. 

The first film is Cat Show, about a young, blind Irish lady name Carly and her Persian cat named Tango. They live in England but travel around Europe to enter Tango in cat shows, which seems like a disadvantage for Carly because she cannot see or touch any of the other cats, but Tango usually ranks high because Persian cats require a lot of grooming, and Carly spends her days tending to Tango and a few other cats of hers.

While Carly is blind, she says she can see some light but no shapes or colors. With that she quips that she is probably the only blind person who is scared of the dark, then explains that for some reason she bumps into things more when it is dark.


She says the hardest part of being blind is dealing with everyone else's perception of how sad it must be that she is blind.

Carly is cheerful throughout the documentary and has a witty sense of humor. When she travels through Europe on trains with Tango, she keeps him on a leash. She often hears whispering that she has a "guide-cat" like a seeing-eye dog. When strangers ask her if it is a guide-cat she resists telling them the truth and says that it is. She laughs at how absurd that is and then says the only thing a cat would guide you to is a fish store.

Despite being blind she often talks about color, like all the shades of green of her native Ireland, or uses expressions like "stay focused." And one of her favorite things to do when visiting home is to go to her Aunt's boutique and try on wedding dresses. 


The other documentary is Almost There about Peter Anton, an elderly man who lives in the basement of the house he grew up in. The upper floors are too destroyed by the elements to venture into but he managed to make a home in a messy and moldy space in the basement where he is surrounded by his artwork and journals in full-on pack-rat style. It's a pathetic situation but he catches the attention of two, young Chicago filmmakers at a Pirogi festival who take him on as a project. He is later critical of their intentions despite their years of investment in him, genuine appreciation of his work, and endless personal requests that they respond to.

During the highlight of Anton's new-found appreciation as an outside artist they are able to arrange a show for him at the Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago, which houses a recreated space and the belongings of Henry Darger, another local eccentric who lived a reclusive life but created an epic illustrated narrative that is considered the longest book in the world.

A difference with Anton is that he had some art training as a young adult but his overbearing mom pulled him from classes when she found out that he was drawing nude women. It was obviously a wrong move that set him down a solitary path. Aton, like many of the famous outside artists was a bit of pedophile. This comes to the surface during the middle of filming and during his show. The news and admission that once he took pictures of young performers without clothes on in a dressing room of a talent show he ran for fifteen years shocks the filmmakers and the curators of his show and threatens to doom both projects. However, everyone perseveres and life goes on. Anton is finally removed from his condemned house and put in an assisted-living home where, despite his disorderly habits (turning over his chamber pot and saturating his new carpets with urine) he gets a healthier habitat and even goes on to use his talents to teach the other inhabitants of his new home to make art and perform.

Most of Anton's work is the Naïve art style as seen in his youthful portrait with his cats (pictured middle) but one of his most interesting works for me was a chart he made (pictured third from top) that shows which cats sat on his lap, and color-coded to show how long each of them sat on his lap that day.





Monday, May 9, 2016

I Walk Into an Empty Room, and Suddenly My Heart Goes Boom

by Drew Martin
Sometimes when I go on my long run on Sunday morning I fixate on a phrase for a couple hours; sort of like what one might call a mantra. Yesterday morning I was thinking about the difference of prose, poetry, and song. For some reason Annie Lennox's singing of one simple line got caught in my head. Listening to her magically sing this blows away any attempt to record it merely as words.

I walk into an empty room,
and suddenly my heart goes boom. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

An Interview with Tony Pierce

by Drew Martin
See the guy with the biggest smile in the picture? He's on the right with the girl's arms around him. That's Tony Pierce, and it's a staff photo of The Daily Nexus, which was taken a quarter of a century ago.

The Nexus was (at that time) a daily printed newspaper for University of California at Santa Barbara, which meant that on any given night you could walk into the office under the campus bell tower and you would find a buzz of action. It was a remarkable staff that swept the college journalists awards at the time. They were smart, young writers and editors, and had the hardest work ethic on campus. Each individual was dedicated to his or her craft. I know this first-hand because for two years I visited every night to work on the editorial drawings and for three years I contributed a daily cartoon. I got $7 a drawing and a priceless education from Tony and his colleagues. I followed some of the staff to Prague to work on the paper they started there after the Velvet Revolution, called The Prognosis, and later I contributed to an offshoot, which still exists to this day - The Prague Post.

At the Nexus Tony stood out to me because in addition to his editorial assistance he always had pearls of wisdom that he delivered with his informed thinking and cool demeanor. Even though I no longer have the privilege to go down to the newspaper office and catch a moment with Tony, I can still follow his steady flow of personal musings on his blog: busblog - nothing in here is true.

After recently reading an interview with Tony and a friend of his: 20 Questions with Tony Pierce, I wanted a piece of the action too....fortunately he was up for it. 
_________________________________________________________

Hi Tony, thanks for agreeing to do an interview. It's been like a quarter of a century since we last saw each other but your advisory asides to me have been kept close to heart.

That's super nice of you. Yes - time flies. It's crazy!

_________________________________________________________

For some reason I never tuned into the fact that you were from Chicago. Most everyone I met at UCSB was from Cali, or nearby states. Coming from Jersey, Santa Barbara was paradise but it seemed like everyone else was used to it: nice weather, stunning ocean views, attractive people. It's still my favorite place on Earth and I think you are even more enthusiastic about it than I am. How did you end up at UCSB?

It was a paradise for me too! I left for LA the day after my high school graduation and did two years at Santa Monica College. I never did well in school, but all you needed back then was like a 2.6 GPA to transfer to a UC as long as you took all the required classes.

I applied for and got into UCLA and UCSB but I didn't know which one to go to. At the time I was pumping gas at an all-full serve station near Beverly Hills. If anyone had a UCLA or UCSB sticker on their car I'd ask them about their experience.

The UCLA people would say, "oh it's great, you should go." But the UCSB people were all, "OMG it's the greatest EVER! You have to do this, eat here, drink there, hike there, take these classes, live on this street. OMG!" Their energy was wild! I'm glad I took their advice because now I am one of those cheerleaders for that school and especially the College of Creative Studies.

_________________________________________________________

What would have become of the Tony Pierce who stayed in Illinois?

I'd have a house, that's for sure. Probably a family. Couple of dogs. Backyard. I'd be the typical, fine, but forgettable dude who coaches little league and doesn't get interviewed about anything.

_________________________________________________________

How does a tenure teaching position at the College of Creative Studies at UCSB with faculty housing by Coal Oil Point sound for a second/third career? What would you teach? Give me a course description.

That would be a dream of all dreams.

One of the weird things about UCSB is the library has the largest collection of Charles Bukowski manuscripts and letters in the world and yet not even CSS has ever had a class about him as far as I recall. Even when we were in school there I was outraged that one of the greatest writers of the 20th century got no love there.

I would teach a couple of his novels Post Office, Women, and Hollywood and maybe about 100 of his poems. Then we'd watch Barfly and compare it to Hollywood. I'd also try to get his wife Linda Bukowski to talk to the kids via Skype as well as his publisher John Martin. I'd also try to get Mickey Rourke to come in and talk about what it was like to work with him.

_________________________________________________________

You refer to UCSB/The Daily Nexus as "the greatest school in the world has the greatest college paper in the world" (I totally agree). I was never officially on staff but I contributed every day for three years (for two years editorial illustrations and for three years a daily cartoon) so I felt pretty connected and I loved the vibe of the newsroom in the evening. For all of us this was on the side and yet it was such an important part of my college experience. What did you learn the most from the Nexus?

I wonder why you were never considered part of the staff. You were a regular part of the paper for as long as I could remember. And vital! Your style was so unique and unlike anything you'd normally see in a newspaper. Added to that the artwork by Debbie Urlich, Stacey Teas, Moish, Paulo, Greg McIlvane, and of course Todd Francis. And Dougie and Video Guy were doing cool things on the only Mac in the building -- the embarrassment of riches we had just on the Art Desk was insane. All of you were working at a professional level as teenagers. I could ask for an image of anything and it would be right on the money, creative, and on time every time. And it didn't look childish. And then your strip -- mama mia! I still have your book and I can't believe we didn't figure out a way to better exploit your talents.

What I learned most from the Nexus was: giving 100%, 100% of the time is easier than giving 90%. I would wake up thinking about the Nexuswhat I was going to write, who I was going to interview, what was going to happen on whatever section I was editing. Who should do what. What the page should look like. I'd go to class and then skate right over to the Nexus and stay there all night. It was a total joy because almost everyone else there was on that same routine. We were all mutually obsessed and it showed in our work.

It was also nice to learn that we were as good, if not better, than all of the other California collegiate journalists, who had actual journalism classes, advisors, and teachers.

_________________________________________________________

I went to Prague in 1992 to contribute to the Nexus + Velvet Revolution lovechild, The Prognosis but did more of a Heart of Darkness thing and disappeared into the anarchist squatter scene and moved up to a factory town with another squatter. I was in Czech for five years. I forgot what your involvement was. Did you spend any time in Prague?

I have three major regrets in my life: I was a bad boyfriend to a sweet young lady, I nearly died in Vegas, and I never went to Prague. When Matt Welch and crew moved there I was about to graduate and could have easily been the Bread and Circuses Editor but I was deeply in love with Jeanine Natalie and we had a cute little apartment on Madrid. So instead of going, I stayed in Isla Vista, got a job at Sears and sold tvs and stereos while trying to get a job at Warner Bros Records.

It was probably for the best because I'm sure I would have fallen in love with one of the first blue eyed Czech girls who would have kissed me and we woulda gotten married and right now I'd be coaching little league in Poland.

_________________________________________________________

Before I went off to Europe I was contributing to The Stranger in Seattle. They had just started up by the original staff of The OnionMy Bovina (A Tragic Cow Story) was getting a second life there but I axed it because I was leaving the U.S. for an indefinite time. I kind of regret that. I think it could have turned into something bigger had I stuck with it (more so than any other project I have ever had). What's something you worked on in the past that you regret not sticking with?

I have had a history of getting fired before I was able to quit. Even at the Nexus I was fired by Larry, and later banned by him. HA! So all of my personal projects, like busblog.com have been able to flourish because no one else could pull the plug.

But I would say any time I see an ex-girlfriend on Facebook or on Timehop, I almost always say, I shouldn't have broken up with her. Look at her. Remember how great she was? There were a few where clearly the end should have come sooner. But mostly I prematurely ended it, which was a mistake. Rarely do I make good decisions. That's why I am glad I asked those random strangers at the gas station where I should go to college.

_________________________________________________________

I like how you have a "bloggers who still have blogs" list on your blog. I am not on it but then again, I am not really a true blogger am I? I have 650ish posts since 2009 but I don't really qualify do I? I mean, I use the blog to post my musings but does a blogger in your mind have more of a journalistic bent, or is it more about spontaneity?

AHAHAH. I didn't know anyone even looked at anything way down there. To be honest, I'm shocked when I find out any one even reads my blog at all! As for those links I don't even think half of those people still blog, it's been so long since I've updated that. Even the
"copyright" is five years old.

You have been added because I do think you have had enough posts to qualify.

To me blogging can be either journalisty or arty or even a shopping list. But it has to be ongoing in a regular capacity of some sort. It has to be part of your routine in a way even if your routine is just weekly or bi monthly. We love the full moon and that bitch only comes
every 30 days or so.

To me what isn't blogging is, "oh yeah I guess I have a blog, let me repeat something someone else said in it today because I don't want to think of something myself." Or worse "hey heres a way I can make some money, quick!" Fortunately now that the fad of blogging has died, the actual bloggers have less noise to compete with.

_________________________________________________________

This blog is an overlapping of art, film, music, books, etc. I look at all of these media as one medium actually. Aside from blogging to express yourself, what is your favorite medium and what is a media project you would like to get involved with?

My favorite medium of expressing myself besides blogging is probably whispering in the ear of a hot babe right after it has been decided which Marvin Gaye album we're gonna listen to for six to seven minutes.

_________________________________________________________

Let me take that back a moment - this blog's starting point is art. What is your favorite artist /work of art and why?

I have several favorite artists. When I was in high school, every semester I took an art class. I drew every day. When I got to UCSB I would sit in on art history and art appreciation classes all the time because I didn't want to do the homework or take tests but I loved being in those huge classes where the teacher would show slides of flying buttresses and tell you how bad ass some artists were - even with their buildings.

I love art so much that after I saw "The Art of the Steal" (2009), I flew to NYC and took a bus to Philly so I could see the Barnes museum before they fucked it up. Greatest art museum I ever saw because the dude, Dr. Barnes, wasn't interested in anything other than the quality of the pieces and having them displayed in an interesting way. So you got to see Picassos right next to Van Goghs. Pieces you'd never seen before because he never turned any of them into coffee mugs or mouse pads. [read the busblog post on this]

The coolest thing I ever saw though was The Garden of Earthly Delights at the Prado in Spain. I love Andy Warhol so much. I love Shepard Fairey. Banksy. Seeing Michaelangelo's Moses blew me away, but Hieronymus Bosch was such a madman, and that piece is huuuuge. It's like seven feet tall and 12 feet wide. With sooooo much detail and beautiful color in it. The quality, technique, and mayhem going on there is amazing. That's something I'm so glad I saw in person because on the page it's weird whatever but in person you're like holy shit!

_________________________________________________________

You sometimes speak of Bree Olson and Sasha Grey very candidly. What do you think the future of pornography? Do you think it will remain in this taboo realm or surface more to even be part of people's social media interactions? Perhaps it will even be prescribed to repressed individuals. What do you think?

It's actually good that porn is in the taboo realm because that makes it hotter. And we all love and could use a little spice in our lives.

I think major things will start to change in the business of adult films soon because a lot of the profit has evaporated due to the Tube sites online. No one pays for porn.  That's got to stop. But it appears that industry is still making enough that they can churn out a bunch of titles every month.

At some point I see it going to a Netflix model mixed with the Apple music curation element because with sooooo many options, a guide is necessary.

I can also see a situation where a lot of the stars themselves worked together to make a Snapchat channel or pool together to make their own Snapchat-like app where they all put up snaps on a regular basis that are, unlike Snapchat, fully nude, and unlike the xxx industry, financially favorable for the performers. I could see them charging a small membership fee each month and placing clickable ads in between every 7th or 8th snap that would lead to merch or toys or ways to get custom items from ones favorite star.

But this giving away the farm is unsustainable and ridiculous. Maybe they should just call themselves charities right now.

_________________________________________________________

What are you looking forward to in the near and distant future?

The Cubs are on a very clear path to win the World Series. I feel like an expectant mother. Fortunately I can drink and eat sushi.

_________________________________________________________

Do you have any questions for me?

What do you do when the creative juices decide to take a vacation?

Ha. Good question. I have so many different projects for my work and personal artwork/side projects that the "creative juices" just keep flowing (fortunately). With work it's like I know that's what I am there for, to be creative, so if something is not coming forth I blame it on sitting in an office and limiting myself on purpose so I get up and walk around SoHo or the West Village and go to a nearby gallery to clear my head. Looking at art, even bad art restarts my kid brain. Also, if I cannot come up with the right solution for work I usually forget about "the company" for a moment and just respond to it personally, which usually works. Sometimes that goes into a very quirky zone, but then you realize that's what people actually want. With my personal artwork and projects, it's a little different. This blog is really helpful because it allows me to step back and be a little more analytical, and then I can forget about it and roll up my sleeves and do artwork, which always feels like playing. Sometimes I stump myself if I think about what art has to be and then I remind myself of artists I deeply like such as Andrea Zittel, who is more about creating systems to live by and systems to live in. Her work always reminds me that art can be very personal in a practical way without needing to be emotional or even expressive. Or I look at work by Toshio Saeki. His stuff is so bizarre and perverse that it always teaches me to let go of inhibitions. So to answer your question...I think if creative juices take a vacation it's because we set ourselves up for that. One thing that helps me a lot too is that I run every day, and once a week I do a really long run, which clears my head and let's me start anew. It's the eddying of pointless thoughts that bogs down the creative process. If we return to our base of childhood curiosity there is no limit.   


Thanks Tony!


Since this interview, Tony has posted a great write-up about me on his blog. Click on the image here to read:



Died (Laughing) on the Vine

by Drew Martin
I saw an article about Lele Pons last week in Adweek that quickly had me looking into her videos as one of her 11 million followers on Vine, where her friend-sourced six-second clips have been looped more than 8.3 billion times. The most ever viewed on Vine, where she coined the phrase Do it for the Vine! She has another 5.4 million followers on Instagram. 


From pictures/stills, such as this one here, it would be easy to explain this phenomenon based solely on her looks as a young buxom blonde but watch her videos for a few minutes and your attention quickly switches to her often goofy athletic performance, and social commentary.

While there have been great queens of physical comedy such as Lucille Ball, Lele takes it to a whole new level and channels her inner Buster Keaton. On one of her stunt-driven compilations there is a caption that she is surprised she has not broken any bones doing the videos, and you are thinking the very same thing as she runs into walls, dives on friends, flings herself off of bridges, and gets dragged down the road by a car.


Lele's full name is Eleonora Pons-Maronese and she was born (1996) and lived her first five years in Venezuela. Her Latin heritage is a big part of her material, which she trades with friends from other backgrounds to comment on cultural differences, such as how one might act when breaking up. In a spoof of the shower scene from Psycho, to show the Latin horror film alternative, the knife-wielding stalker is pelted away with handfuls of beauty products thrown by Lele as she screams him off. 

My favorite video by Lele is one titled Latin Mothers. It shows four guy friends walking in the door of her house and passing her Venezuelan mom who is doing dishes. The first three are "all-American" boys and they greet her as they walk by: "Hey" "Hi" and the third yells excitedly at the top of his lungs "Hi there Mrs. Pons!!" For all three, she doesn't bother to turn around, only half-heartedly raises an arm to acknowledge them. But then the fourth and last one walks in and politely says "Hola!" and Mrs. Pons spins around with a look of ecstasy. The boy, to answer her surprised look, says "Mexico" and they hug and start dancing together while Lele and her three other boy friends look on in awe, saying "Hola?"

The amazing thing is that this all happens, like most of Lele's videos, in six seconds so they have the efficiency of a cartoon strip, the slide-splitting humor of a classic silent film, and she tackles issues of race and gender through teenage micro-dramas. It is also remarkable that, despite her inherent (and inherited) good looks (her aunt was Yajaira Vera - Miss Venezuela in 1988) she can flip her beauty switch off and make herself as unattractive as she wants for the effect she desires. It's in those moments of self-judgement and self-humiliation that she gains the strongest allies in her fan support.

The boobs out shot of Lele here is the perspective and envious stare of a flat-chested girl friend, whose two bosom buddies come to her aid with falsies made with party balloons.


Lele has recently released her book, Surviving High School, to help kids cope with the frustrations of puberty, dating, and parents.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

De NADA

by Drew Martin
Following art can take you around the world: Basel, Berlin, Bilbao, etc. Thursday night it took me to Basketball City, Pier 36 on the Lower East Side for the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) art show. I think the battle of the booths approach to seeing art is an overwhelming, if not horrifying experience, but there were a few interesting pieces that caught my eye.


The first piece that pulled me in was an animated video encased in a quirky, stone-like monitor by Ashley Wick. In the same, smallest of the small booths, was an even more curious piece by Scott Kip; a dust clock. Tall and narrow, like a handsome wall clock, the piece is the closest thing I have ever seen to a living Švankmajer film. At the top of the dust clock is a small window to spy on a bead of metallic dust revolving on a path within the space. It moves like an old-school stop-action film. Open a small drawer at the bottom and it stops. Put your hand into a circular orifice in the center and it lights up.




One painter I liked there was Akira Ikezoe. When I mentioned to the lady at the booth that it is so much like Hieronymus Bosch, she sighed and said they get that a lot. He also had a video on display, but even more interesting than the animation were the individual sculpted cases for the flash drives of the movie file.



Two other works that caught my eye included a model of a jet engine, cutaway and made of foam, plastic, and wood. Colorful little globs of plastic demonstrate air density and flow. The other piece was a once drum-set stool sliced, reupholstered, and accented with what looked like blond horse hair. It's as if Méret Oppenheim were still around and had a couple classes at FIT under her belt. I especially like the surreal stool because I have a drum-set stool in my basement, which I have looked at sacrificing for an art project, but would never have been able to come up with something that is both fashionable and erotic at the same time.





Similarly, with all the amps lying around my house, I also liked a booth with a series of large, acoustic-softening wall hangings with one side perked up by an amplified wire. Pluck the wire to play a tune through the amp.



One of the more subtle surprises was a large, circular op-art spiral design. The unique effect of this piece was that there was a play of shadows across the surface, from the slightly raised pattern.



I also liked a booth with a dark wall and a series of measuring sticks leaning at an angle from the floor and holding pictures to the wall, which ranged from personal shots like this one below, to pictures of mountains.



And finally, the most controversial work in the show, and perhaps one of the less visible (I did not look up to see it when I fist walked by) was the Star of David made with bacon. A Piss Christ of sorts.



Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Character Development

by Drew Martin
Never in my life did I expect to put political signs outside my house, but there they are: Voigt, Walsh, Hache. I have always been withdrawn from politics but what changed me very recently was having attended a public meeting over urban-scale development in our small town where I have lived with my family the past 16 years. 


With an overwhelming majority of residents arguing against the development of a monstrosity of a parking garage and high-density housing in the town center that would dwarf the historic buildings and drastically increase traffic, it was remarkable to witness how our mayor flat-out ignored the consensus of the people who live in the area.

My main argument was not against any development but for reasonable buildings that fit into the town. At the meeting I addressed the council and spoke about character. Most of the new development is going to happen a couple blocks from my house so I felt a specific need to defend the character of our neighborhood as well as that of the town. I gave personal examples of beautiful places I have lived including Santa Barbara and Prague and explained how these cities have character that was nurtured into places that everyone wanted to visit.

But forget about my ideals, and think about those places you love the most. You have at least one place in your mind. Perhaps it's your hometown, or an off-the-beaten-path village you visited somewhere on vacation. And then plop a five-story parking garage in the center of it with a couple hundred cars pulling in and out of it. Not so nice anymore is it?

It seems a little trite to talk about these local politics against what's happening at a national stage but it comes down to stewardship and having a sense of control where you live to make you understand that government at every level needs to be of the people, by the people, for the people. What also needs to be very clear is that many mistakes that have dire consequences, such the contaminated water of Flint, Michigan are not pure accidents but rather inevitable disasters, often due to the poor planning of a few people.

Addendum:

It was a landslide victory for Voigt, Walsh, and Hache. Power to the people!