Minstrels Anonymous on Bandcamp

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Anyone For Chess?

There are simple pleasures that many people enjoy that I’ve never had any propensity with. Playing the piano comes easily to so many people but I’ve tried thousands of times to learn and I still can’t play with any dexterity. I’ve always wanted to play poker like they do in the shoot ‘em up westerns but after studying strategies and card combinations I’m still lost at sea. Another form of recreation I’ve never been able to get the handle of is chess. If I could learn how to play chess well my life would feel a lot more complete.

The coolness factor to chess was further established after watching "The Black Cat" when Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff play a game of chess with the winner deciding the fate of a young girl's soul. And of course, who can forget "The Seventh Seal" with Max Von Sydow playing chess with Death? Even in the world of cinema, Chess Is Forever.

In order to get a better idea of how the big boys (and big girls, too) do it with the board and pieces I went to my favorite search engine YouTube in the hopes I could get a ripping good visual tutorial on how to play this most intellectual of all sports. Well, chess just like any other traditional game has changed a lot. More than I ever imagined.

My first video was a demonstration of the game played by two badass dudes from the Soviet Union, Igor and Gleb (see above). They even titled their video “A Great Chess Tutorial: Two Knights Opening”. After watching their four minute tutorial I still didn’t understand what was going on, probably because they sounded like a pair of fussy cab drivers from Beverly Hills.

Chess Boxing

My next tutorial led me to a phenomenon I wasn’t aware of: Chess Boxing. Mostly popular in Germany and Great Britain, the game consists of two bad motherfuckers playing one round of chess to be followed by a round of boxing. There are two ways to look at this: either chess isn’t for nerds anymore or you need a few brain cells to get through a boxing match these days. Whoah!

Another boxing tutorial that uh, piqued my interest was some nerdy girl pin-up teaching me the game whilst striking provocative poses (see below). Unfortunately, the lilting monotony of her voice put me to sleep so I didn’t learn a thing. I also found it amusing that chess nerds commented her lack of terming the pieces properly. I’m not sure this video was that drop-dead serious in teaching the finer points of the game. If “Rachel” had serious intentions, then one of us needs a drink. Badly.

After watching these videos I was just as confused as I was before I clicked on them. I felt like Dennis The Menace in Hollywood when he’s told “it’s all make believe” and his tousled blonde head starts spinning around like he’s trying to grapple with that stark reality. Now if you’ll excuse me, I can feel my tousled black head start to spin around!

Chess Tutorial by Rachel

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bill & Peggy & Rudi & Camille & Track Lighting

One of the most infamous mixed media ménage-a-trois collaborations of the past fifty years was the brilliant work by jazz photographer William Claxton, his wife/model Peggy Moffitt, and genius designer Rudi Gernreich. Their work together has been documented well through the decades, notably in “The Rudi Gernreich Book”, edited by Claxton and Moffitt and also in Claxton’s short film “Basic Black”. So it was absolutely thrilling to attend the mixed media presentation of their work titled “The Total Look” at West Hollywood’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) at the Pacific Design Center.

The show had something for everyone: fashion, photography and dance: Moffitt started out as a dancer, and struck many modern dance poses in her modeling. It was the ultimate mixed media presentation; the ground floor had “Basic Black” playing on one screen with a slide show playing Claxton photos of Moffitt decked out in Rudi’s stunning designs on the other. On the upper floor were original and replicas of Gernreich designs dressed up in mannequins around the room. Seeing his mod fashions in the flesh complimented the great Claxton fashion photography that framed the walls around the room.

All three worked in perfect synthesis with each other, with Claxton’s photography capturing Moffitt’s expressiveness lending elasticity and shape to even the most abstract outfits designed by Gernreich. While Gernreich’s designs were amazing and dynamic enough to be modeled by any top model of their day, Peggy Moffitt added an extra dimension to his more geometric designs by ramping up the angularity in her dance poses.

Genreich’s designs have an almost architectural quality to them: cone shaped helmets, the infamous topless bathing suit, mask-like hats that cover half the face; some of them can be viewed in the modeling scene in “Blow Up”, along with Ms. Moffitt herself. He was the ultimate designer, endlessly inventive with shapes, patterns, and printed fabrics. The ingenuity of his designs displayed in the upper showroom were rich in color, composition and shape, a true inspiration for anyone even remotely interested in fashion design. I will definitely return to “The Total Look” before it closes in late May.

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Camille Rose Garcia had an exhibition at the Michael Kohn Gallery to mark the release of her remarkable interpretation of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale, “Snow White” (out now via Harper Design Books). The acrylic paintings were strikingly colorful and rendered in her inimitable style, vertical cascades of color running down the pieces like unholy stalactites in a Technicolor cave.

Her rendition of the legendary characters was priceless: The Seven Dwarfs looked like a cross between E.C. Segar’s Jeep and a pack of hairless possums. Even Snow White looked kind of out of it in these pieces; the exhibit had a nightmarish, otherworldly quality. The Prince who saves Snow White is rendered by Garcia as some kind of bizarre-looking gigolo. I liked the part where she’s poisoned in her bed with her name written on it like some kind of coffin.

I haven’t seen her book on Alice In Wonderland, but all the same I highly recommend “Snow White”. As long as she’s doing Disney remixes, maybe Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty will be next.

BTW, Michael Kohn Gallery, you might want to check what year you're living in before you print up posters. I mean really.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Roxy Music 40 Years Later

The music world has a highly selective way of deciding which bands are worthy of recognition for their achievements and equally adept at neglecting some bands from receiving the credit they deserve. One of the bands most notoriously denied credit for influencing thousands of musicians is Roxy Music. Quickly searching for a reason why this is, it can only be boiled down to one fact: forty years after their enigmatic debut album, and they’re still mysterious and different from all that have preceded and succeeded them.

Roxy Music's first album was indeed released forty years ago (1972) in the United States on Reprise Records. In an era of hippie blues bands and singer-songwriters this album landed like an atomic bomb. The effect they had following their public debut in June of ’72 was absolutely devastating, splitting audiences straight down the middle. While both Melody Maker and the New Musical Express wrote rave reviews for their debut album, Whispering Bob Harris, host of the “Old Gray Whistle Test” TV show introduced them by saying that he wished to be entirely disassociated from their inclusion on the show. But it didn’t matter, really, because by the time their single “Virginia Plain” was released it shot up to Number 4 on the singles charts, with their bizarre first LP following it to Number 6 on the album charts.

Their glam predecessors, David Bowie and Alice Cooper were impressed enough to add Roxy as the opening acts for their shows at The Rainbow and Wembley Stadium, not bad considering you’re opening for the “Ziggy Stardust” and “School’s Out” tours. But enough of that, let’s talk about that album, that weird, creepy album. The front cover depicted a Forties-Fifties era cheesecake cover with an overly made up model who more than slightly resembled the singer, Bryan Ferry.

Opening the gatefold one saw a band where half wore leather and the other half wore weird safari prints, half wearing Fifties greaser hair and the other half looking au courant Black Sabbath metal-friendly hair. The guitarist wore bug fly goggles and one member was simply called “Eno”. But “Gus”, not “Sam”, but “Eno”. The credits were ahead of their time, too: Roxy Music gave hair, makeup and stylist credits. Everything about Roxy Music was weird: their album was produced by Peter Sinfield, King Crimson’s lyricist. Not their guitarist, not their drummer, but their lyricist. Weird!

“Roxy Music” began with “Remake/Remodel”, setting the tone for the rest of the record. The song is a basic two-chord Velvet Underground drone, drenched with a screeching synthesizer, feedback howling guitar and a demented free-jazz saxophone solo in the middle. The band chants either a license plate or robot serial number “CPL593H” all through the song. Bryan Ferry put his best post-modern art lessons from his college instructor Richard Hamilton to use here, by infusing disparate cultural elements on top of each other. The end result is free jazz, garage rock, music concrete (courtesy of Brian Eno), and even science fiction in the lyrics.

The sci-fi vibe continues with “Ladytron” which adds some haunting classical oboe sounds (the only other rocker to toot a mean oboe was Roy Wood from The Move). The reasons for “Virgina Plain”’s success was abundantly clear: it’s a perfect distillation of everything the band represents: referencing Andy Warhol, more simple garage rock chord progressions and that beehive synthesizer buzzing in your face. Just like another genius art school band from England, the Bonzo Dog Band, Roxy Music managed to sonically throw everything but the kitchen sink in their sound, only these guys weren’t joking.

When I heard Roxy Music were headlining the Whisky A Go-Go in December of that year, I couldn’t get there fast enough. Roxy Music came out to a loop of droning synthesizer, much like the one that begins “The Bob (Medley)”, which they opened the show. The band looked striking – Eno in black with peacock feathers sprouting from his shoulder, Phil Manzanera in his fly glasses, Andy Mackay and Paul Thompson in their Johnny Rockets meets Captain Video space outfits, and of course, Bryan Ferry, looking like a drag queen Link Wray and crooning in that gigolo falsetto.

As a harbinger of the division that would eventually split them up, the two Brians stood at opposite poles of the stage, Ferry to the left and Eno to the right. Sonically the band was an embarrassment of riches: you had the loudest synthesizer ever heard (at the time) on stage, Ferry’s creepy Jack The Ripper saloon piano, the rhythm section bashing a monotonous Black Sabbath-style beat and more free-jazz saxophone and barfing guitar feedback. With doo-wop harmonies on ‘Would You Believe?”. I remember an early version of “Grey Lagoons” being performed, too.

If I could pitch one complaint about the show, though, it was the actual coldness and detachment they had in their performance, and while Ferry smiled at the end of “Virginia Plain”, you knew these guys were not going to hold your hand. The cold, remote detachment indeed established itself without apologies on their next album, “For Your Pleasure”, an album so dark and cold icicles could form from the grooves on the disc. From the icy transsexual model strutting in the darkness on the cover to the glacial echoes of “In Every Dream Home A Heartache” and “Beauty Queen”, there’s a dark, detached feeling all through the record. Eno’s album, “Here Come The Warm Jets”, sounds positively tropical compared to this masterwork. Not surprisingly, Eno spoofs Ferry’s vocals on “Dead Finks Don’t Talk” and sounds off him in “Blank Frank” (“…has a memory that’s as cold as an iceberg”.)

The rest is never-ending history: Ferry dates supermodel Jerry Hall only to lose her to Mick Jagger, but gets a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) from the Queen, gets to sing the theme to the BBC-TV show “Manchild” but then behaves like the lead character by marrying his son’s ex-girlfriend. Still creepy after all these years!

The bottom line is that Roxy Music have influenced every major band that followed them for the past forty years, from The Sex Pistols to The Cars to Blondie to Marilyn Manson, and have had their songs covered by Siouxsie and The Banshees, Grace Jones, The Laughing Hyenas (!) and many more. A true collection of musical mavericks, they’ve captivated the imagination of countless musicians by applying conceptual art theories rather than corny 12-bar blues scales, but somehow eventually managed to get that in there, too. And after forty years they still look and sound as creepy and demented as they did from the day they emerged, no small accomplishment in a world hungry for outrage.