Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Irish Pub

by Drew Martin
Last week I watched a really nice documentary, The Irish Pub, about the traditional pubs of Ireland. While these public houses are known for drink, the film emphasizes their place in the community for intermingling, and most of all good conversations and the feeling of belonging.

The latent linguist in me loved the hour + of Irish brogue, while the junk artist that I am loved the eclectic nick nacks that cover the walls and ceilings of these establishments and are part of the tales of each place: "nice tongs" from Canada, a mole trap from America, a blood-stained jersey from 1963 of someone who was hit by a car nearby, a camogie, an odd wellington pegged to a rafter, a samurai sword from a pub owner who was a prisoner of war for three years in Nagasaki where he survived the atomic bomb blast, an iron deadlock bar bent by the Black and Tans, and the painting here of a scene from John B. Keane's play Sive.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Doodling Dreams

by Drew Martin
I took the day off for my little kid's 9th birthday but then I ended up taking too long of a nap so now I can't sleep and it's past midnight. My 17-year-old daughter is up working on her portfolio so I am hanging out in her room doodling dreams I recently had while her affectionate cat makes it difficult to do anything.

A couple days ago I dreamt that I was stranded on a deserted island which had two humps of land masses. The water rose so much that the section I was on got cut off from the higher area, then became submerged. I needed to get to the other side but the rising water was shark infested. Apparently there was a headless whale carcass at hand because the plan I devised was to swim with the big body to the remaining part of the island, and shield myself with/hide under the dead whale.

Today, during my long nap, I dreamt that I was on a bus going to a Philip Morris Museum in some suburban part of Virginia (I think). I had wanted to go to take a picture of something on the museum grounds but forgot what it was during the bus ride. The sun was setting so by the time I arrived not only had I completely forgotten my reason for going but it was too dark to take pictures of what I did find there. On the way to the museum the bus passed a house, which had Pop Art versions of its own facade that were coming out of the front of the house, like in an exploded view, which continued to where the car was parked out front. I wanted to get off the bus to take a picture of it but figured I would first see where the museum was and then walk back but it was too late, too dark and too far.

That got me thinking, it would be cool to actually design this kind of house, or maybe one where the front of the house looked like a cross section of itself and then a garage out front would look like the front corner of the house, so elements of the yard/garage in front of the house would look like an exploded view of its interiors. I think I need to illustrate that too.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Shining Stars of a Dull Hotel

by Drew Martin
I never read or watched The Shining but I do think a lot about it, particularly because my parents often took me to the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York, where Steven King supposedly wrote it. So with that, in combination with the horrifying happenings at the Bates Motel in Psycho, and the unsettling lyrics of the Eagles’ Hotel California, I really need a hotel to work hard at making me feel like I will survive the night and that it is not some warped playground for a wacko. But more than that, I am typically more unnerved by the existential crisis I feel at the lack of culture and intelligence in a boxy, nondescript place.

When my family and I recently checked into a place in Massachusetts for a four-night stay, I immediately panicked. It was a tired, cavernous structure, with old carpets, shoddy construction, too much unpainted dark wood, and it seemed depressingly empty. But then I started noticing a couple young dancers trickling in and milling about. Within a couple hours the place was filled with hundreds of bouncy teenage girls in satin dance school jackets, and their perhaps-once-attractive middled-aged moms not far behind, moving slowly like pack animals. 

Lo and behold a regional dance competition filled the void for almost the duration of our stay. Sure it was noisy and chaotic, and the teens were splashing around in the indoor pool while eating chocolate donuts, but there was an infusion of youth, color, and creativity into the old, drab, and boring hotel. 

Due to the fact that I am on vacation with my family, I could only pop in on the events for fifteen minutes each day because my wife and kids were shockingly disinterested. My initial reaction from my arts background was that this was a gold mine and that I needed to document the event/take hundreds of pictures, and make a movie of it all: the costumes, the dancers, and the moms reliving their dreams. 

It was a fascinating occasion because on one level it was entirely inspiring to see all these kids honing their craft and doing something creative and physical with their lives/bodies, but then on another level there were all of these tense hopes and mini-dramas at work; somewhere between a kids beauty pageant and a varsity sporting event.

But alas, I only took a couple pictures with my phone camera and saw a tiny fraction of the phenomenon. And when they all took off today at the conclusion of the competition, and the hotel emptied out, it felt like someone poked a little hole in my soul. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Unique Concrete

by Drew Martin
I have a thing for concrete. If you search this site for "concrete" you will find more than a couple dozen posts referencing the material. I am amazed by its properties and artistic possibilities. And as part of my "peripheral art" notions, I am fascinated by the concrete sculptures that surround us in multitudes. You have seen them on lawns and at garden centers but you probably never thought about how they are made and who makes them. I used to live next to Fountains of Wayne in New Jersey, from which the rock band took their name, and I have several artist friends who work in concrete.

So today, when I was washing my family's clothes at a laundromat during vacation in Sturbridge, Massachusetts and noticed Cornerstone Creations: Unique Concrete Home and Garden Art, I moseyed on over and had a look.

I was greeted by Pete Robitaille, a pleasant young man running his own shop who showed me his work and answered the biggest question I have had for several years regarding concrete statues: Do people ever ask to have the cremated ashes of loved-ones mixed into the cement to make a concrete sculpture of Buddha, Ganesha, or something symbolic of the deceased?

I have been thinking about this because it would seem like a nice alternative to sticking someone in a box underground, or putting their ashes in an urn. It might be reassuring for someone to at least have a custom statue reminder of a special person, which he or she could place in the garden or in the woods. Pete said he has done a couple such requests for markers for pets graves but that it is not a common thing.

Here is a picture of Pete at work, and some of his creations including a cat candle holder with glowing marble eyes (the finished works are painted), the fountain at the hotel where we are staying, an Escher-inspired piece, and two pieces that you probably would not otherwise see placed together: a trio of mushrooms and an Aztec fire god.

more at Cornerstone Creations: facebook  ebay 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Waiting for the Barbarians

by Drew Martin
In a Carpool Karaoke episode with James Corden and Gwen Stefani, the two of them pause from singing her songs and wander into a conversation about different terms for male genitals. James starts a list: eggplant, the prize, the truth. Gwen stops him at "the truth" and asks him to explain that one. He replies, because the truth hurts, and, you can't handle the truth. Gwen laughs and says, You know what the name of my record is? This is What the Truth Feels Like.

In many ways this multi-meaning of the truth, both this sexual distinction and as the verity of fact, is a theme of J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians. Coetzee cleverly uses a tactic with his readers that his barbarians use to draw out and isolate the Empire's guard to leave them abandoned. The book is set in an outpost of an empire, and while the main character, who is a magistrate of the fort-like town, refers to this place as an oasis and paradise, we are in fact abandoned there, and it is not a good feeling. The is no reference to the era or a specific location. We come to know that there are extreme seasons and the land wastes away into a desert, where the barbarians lurk and evoke a constant fear of attack. Is it even Earth? Most likely because the characters are all too human.

The magistrate is a hapless character who is sympathetic to the barbarians, and even takes in one young barbarian woman with whom he sleeps. He also visits a young prostitute to fill the voids in his life. And while he is not a great leader, his aloofness does not disrupt the rhythm of the outpost. This is later contrasted by the colonel and an influx of soldiers. During that authoritarian regime he is held in prison, and tensions with the barbarians lead to failed troop maneuvers, flooded crops, and abandonment of the outpost by many civilians.

The truth is, of course, countered with lies:

For I was not, as I liked to think, the indulgent pleasure-loving opposite of the cold rigid Colonel. I was the lie that the empire tells itself when times are easy, he the truth that the Empire tells when harsh winds blow. Two sides of imperial rule, no more, no less.

I like how Coetzee also plays with the word lie as a sexual twist; to lie in bed with the naked body of the barbarian consort, and the prostitute. One of the more interesting uses of lie is a passage when he confronts the man who imprisoned him.

Thinking of him, I have said the words 'torture...torturer' to myself, but they are strange words, and the more I repeat them the more strange they grow, till they lie like stones on my tongue. 

Torture and language are two other themes in this book, which pair nicely with truth and lies. In fact, we start this story with torture. The colonel speaks about the process of torture and how truth has a certain tone of voice.

First I get lies, you see - this is what happens - first lies, then pressure, then more lies, then more pressure, then the break, then more pressure, then the truth. That is how you get the truth.

Pain is truth; all else is subject to doubt.

In the first line of the book we are contemplating the dark sunglasses of the colonel:

I have never seen anything like it; two little discs of glass suspended in front of his eyes in loops of wire. Is he blind? I could understand it if he wanted to hide blind eyes. But he is not blind.

And with this, from the start, the idea of blindness and truth go hand in hand. The young barbarian
consort was partially blinded during her initial detention at the outpost, before the magistrate took her in. His comments include visual arousals such as...

She lies naked, her oiled skin glowing a vegetal gold in the firelight.

...but there is another level he accesses by abandoning his vision...

I shut my eyes, breathe deeply to still my agitation, and concentrate wholly on seeing her through my blind fingertips.

Eventually the magistrate decides to return his other-worldly mistress to the barbarian people and sets out on a life-threatening trek with a handful of men. But when they are finally face to face with hostile barbarians, the magistrate asks her to tell them the truth.

You really want me to tell them the truth?

Tell them the truth. What else is there to tell?

She shakes her head, keeps her silence.

It is a moment when only the barbarian consort is in possession of both languages. The magistrate thinks the truth in their own language will diffuse the tense meeting, while she knows the danger of the truth, particularly that she was the old man's consort.

One of my favorite passages about language discusses their communication common ground. 

In the makeshift language we share there are no nuances. She has a fondness for facts, I note, for pragmatic dicta; she dislikes fancy, questions, speculations; we are an ill-matched couple.

And when the magistrate is imprisoned and tortured with a sloppy, failed hanging he cries out...

From my throat comes the first mournful dry bellow, like the pouring of gravel....Someone gives me a push and I begin to float back and forth in an arc a foot above the ground like a great old moth with it wings pinched together, roaring, shouting. "He is calling his barbarian friends," someone observes. "That is barbarian language you hear." There is laughter.

This is later revisited when he accepts the hospitality of the "quartermaster's plump wife",

I ramble on; she listens to these half-truths, nodding, watching me like a hawk; we pretend that the voice she hears is not the voice of the man who swung from the tree shouting for mercy loud enough to waken the dead.

The deepest dive into language is when the magistrate returns from the trip out into the barbarian wasteland. The colonel accuses him of espionage. A chest of hundreds of barbarian messages are found in the magistrate's office and he is directed to translate them.

I look at the lines of characters written by a stranger long since dead. I do not even know whether to read from right to left or from left to right. In the long evening I spent poring over my collection I isolated over four hundred different characters in the script, perhaps as many as found hundred and fifty. I have no idea what they stand for. Does each stand for a single thing, a circle for the sun, a triangle for a woman, a wave for a lake; or does a circle merely stand for "circle", a triangle for "triangle", a wave for "wave"? Does each sign represent a different state of the tongue, the lips, the throat, the lungs, as they combine in the uttering of some multifarious unimaginable extinct barbarian language? Or are my four hundred characters nothing but scribal embellishments of an underlying repertory of twenty or thirty whose primitive forms I am too stupid to see?

After this contemplation, the magistrate begins to "read"/fake-translate the slips, and gives a voice to barbarians that is critical of the Empire. 

This one reads as follows...I am sorry I must send bad news. The soldiers came and took your brother away. I have been to the fort every day to plead for his return. I sit in the dust with my head bare. Yesterday for the first time they sent a man to speak to me. He says your brother is no longer here. He says he has been sent away.

The magistrate's creative ad lib translation even explores a fantastic structure of a language that actually stumps him.

...Now let us see what the next one says. See, there is only a single character. It is the barbarian character 'war', but it has other senses too. It can stand for 'vengeance', and, if you turn it upside down like this, it can be made to read 'justice'. There is no knowing which sense is intended. That is part of barbarian cunning...It is the same with the rest of these slips...They form an allegory. They can be read in many orders. Further, each slip can be read in many ways. Together they can be read as a domestic journal, or they can be read as a plan of war, or they can be turned on their sides and read as a history of the last years of the Empire...

Coetzee's strongest voice, however, is a very personal unveiling of emotions by an older man with a younger love interest. 

I have known her a year, visiting her sometimes twice a week in this room. I feel a quiet affection for her which is perhaps the best that can be hoped for between an aging man and a girl of twenty; better than a possessive passion certainly.

As the magistrate ages and his circumstances in the outpost worsen, his understandings of his relations with the young women becomes much more self-critical.

Her beauty awakes no desire in me. Instead it seems more obscene than ever that this heavy slack foul-smelling old body...should ever had held her in its arms. What have I been doing all this time, pressing myself upon such flowerlike soft-petalled children - not only her, on the other too? I should have stayed among the gross and decaying where I belong; fat women with acrid armpits and bad tempers, whores with big slack cunts. I tiptoe out, hobble down the stairs in the blinding glare of the sun.

Near the end of the story the magistrate contemplates various scenarios of the final breech of their insulated outpost by the barbarians and how his life would terminate but then he finishes his more brutal thoughts with something quite elevated:

I lie on the bare mattress and concentrate on bringing into life the image of myself as a swimmer swimming with even, untiring strokes through the medium of time, a medium more inert than water, without ripples, pervasive, colourless, odourless, dry as paper.

For me this is symbolic of the writer and his story. Coetzee is not a linear narrator. His magistrate ebbs and flows through the happenings around the outpost. And even while the empire seems to be going to hell in a handbasket, the magistrate bobs between hardships and pleasure. 
Despite all the abuse and humiliation the magistrate endures, he finds comfort in the arms of women who sympathize with him, even if for a short while. After getting out of jail he wanders through and around the outpost. He lives on scraps of food tossed to dogs as well as the offerings of the women who want to hear his story. Just as the outpost is an oasis to him in the barbarian desert, women are oases within the outpost. 

How can I believe that a bed is anything but a bed, a woman's body anything but a site of joy?

His organic dependence on woman is in contrast to the military men. When he goes to speak with the colonel and must first address a man sitting at his old desk, he describes the over-confident man.

I picture him sitting up in bed beside a girl, flexing his muscles for her, feeding on her admiration. The kind of man who drives his body like a machine, I imagine, ignorant that it has its own rhythms.

[some words I came across in Waiting for the Barbarians, which I did not know: palliation, palaver, apposite, jute]

Sunday, June 19, 2016

If You Think Going To The Moon Is Hard, You Ought To Try Staying Home

by Drew Martin
When my parents came over today to celebrate Father's Day I asked my dad about his applying to be an astronaut back in the late 1960s. He had wanted to be a scientist astronaut but said he was turned down because he had not yet completed his Ph.D. in nuclear physics. My mom thought it was because of a varicose vein found in his leg during the rigorous physical exam. Either way, he stayed home (on Earth) and raised a family and was/is a great father.

Yesterday, I finished watching The Last Man on the Moon about Gene Cernan, who was the pilot for the Gemini 9A mission, during which he did one of the first space walks, in June of 1966. He was also the lunar module pilot of Apollo 10 (the first Apollo mission, which orbited the moon at a low altitude but did not land) in May of 1969. And he was the commander of Apollo 17 in December 1972. Originally there were supposed to be ten Apollo missions but the program was shortened to seven flights so Cernan became the last man to walk (and drive) on the moon.

Most of the documentaries I have seen about the United States space program focus on the missions but this film is much more reflective and contemplative, and Cernan is obliging to share his experiences. He does talk about the bravado and ego of his fellow astronauts but there is much thought given to the lives of the families of the men, including his not being around a lot for his daughter, and this absenteeism and self-centered personality that led to his divorce from his first wife (pictured above on the ground) who sums up the tensions and frustrations with a zinger of a line, "If you think going to the moon is hard, you ought to try staying home."

It is a bittersweet tale but the overall positive tone to the documentary is about the phenomenal achievements that happened at NASA during the Apollo missions and the profound feeling of being on the moon and seeing the Earth, which Cernan tries to relay to everyone he meets.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

You Are Like The Water, In Your Loving I Could Drown

by Drew Martin
I have done my share of trying to pause pedestrians in order to take their pictures for my own art projects. So when I was asked to pose the other day while heading back to my office from lunch, I did not think twice about it.

The young lady who waved me down was assisting the photographer Marian Sell, and the musician Adam Bonomo for Adam's new music video. Neither I nor the other subjects understood that we were actually being filmed for two-second black and white clips that are shown in sequence for the entirety of the four and a half minute video. And I am not sure if any of us knew Adam. I didn't. But his talented band, BONOMO, and their smooth song Water, have made a big splash. 

For starters the video is gorgeously filmed and edited with a nice mix of people from different walks of life, walking the streets of Manhattan. Pictured here is one of my favorite shots Marian took of a young lady (top) and me (bottom). The fact is, they are are all great images. In the super-detailed, warts-all close-ups there is nowhere to hide but they are balanced with a certain kind of thoughtfulness and patience that say, we love you just the way you are. The result is an overwhelming sense of humanity.

And the song! It flows like a long, meandering river and it has the romantic undercurrent of a blissful Rumi poem. The line - you are like the water, I'm green when you're around - deepens that association (green is the color of love in Islam) and this is the first time the relationship hits home for me: your special someone's presence makes you feel alive in this world and lush.

That being said, Water is perhaps one of the most universal songs I have ever heard, and the video itself is a celebration of diversity and inclusion. Marian, the assistant, and Adam shot in four locations in Manhattan in one day and all the portraits, except for cameos of themselves, were of random passersby, like me. They filmed about 180 people and used around 120 portrait clips, which were first algorithmically placed in the movie timeline, and later moved around to suit the song.

After I received an email from Adam with my portrait here and a link to the video, we arranged to sit down this morning over tea so I could learn a bit more about him and his music. Aside from his obvious music abilities, Adam is also one of the nicest guys you can meet. He hails from Jupiter, Florida where we grew up in a musically inclined family; his mom was a concert pianist. And even though Adam was always toying around with music and creating songs, he was a late bloomer: he started playing piano at 18 and started singing only a year ago. He is now 26.

This makes sense when you hear his music. Never forced, it feels infused from many different sources, and he has a deep respect for performers such as Ray Charles. Adam offered his mantra: Hold on to your [musical] grandparents.

When I asked him about his process, Adam explained that he does not approach it from just writing first, or from laying out a tune to marry words to. It is more of an integrated process, based on what he says is an inseparable relationship of words, rhythm, and melody. When I asked specifically about the songwriting for Water, he politely declined to go there and explained that he did not want to dissect the meaning of all the lyrics. He joked that it would be disappointing if it turned out to be about a glass of water he had with breakfast. When I asked how he and Marian met before they began to collaborate on this video project, he said it was while kite boarding out on the open water near Coney Island. I continued the joke, "So it's really about kite boarding then?" Adam laughed and concluded, "It's definitely NOT about kite boarding!"

That's a picture of Adam in the title slate of the Water video here. Enjoy!

by Adam Bonomo

You are like the water
Those blues don’t slow you down

You are like the water
In your loving I could drown

Carry this old vessel out to sea
Capsize me if you will and I'll be yours
to keep

You are like the water
in you I see me

You are like the water
When I breath you carry me

I am only swimming in your sea
Willing I will wade in waters oh
so deep

You are like the water
everything is clear

You are like the water
If I could draw you near

Let the river carry you my way
tidal waves may come but they wont sweep
me away

No they wont Keep me away

You are like the water
I’m green when you’re around

You are like the water
Like heaven on the ground

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 her 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


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 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: