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Saturday, July 28, 2007

wish granted

In my entry for February 3, 2007, I publicly asked David Byrne to issue his 1985 album Music for the Knee Plays on cd. I don't know him personally and I doubt he reads my blog, but, nevertheless, according to his blog, the album will be re-issued this coming October with bonus material. That is excellent news.

Coincidence or not, I am going to try this trick one more time: hey, David, would you also reissue your only other album never released on cd, Sounds from True Stories (1986)? (If not, could you make me an mp3 disc with the songs? Lauren P. has my address. I would be very grateful.)

It never hurts to ask.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Cookie Puss lives

Like many people, if not most, I have an inordinate fondness for the sights and sounds that surrounded me in my youth. In my case, that includes the Carvel ice cream chain's endearingly low-budget commercials of the early 1980's. Apparently, I'm not alone. Wikipedia's entries for Cookie Puss and Fudgie the Whale include ample sections on the character cakes' many appearances in popular culture. [Note: the Fudgie entry, to which I have contributed in the past, has recently been vandalised. At least people still care.]

People will make culture out of whatever material is at hand and they always have. If the past century is any different in this regard, the difference lies in its shamelessly omnivorous embrace of high and low on equal terms. We can see signs of this tendency as early as Duchamp's Fountain, if not Picasso and Braque's cubist collages, but there the artists were still consciously practicing cultural and æsthetic rebellion. It was not until decades later that Rauschenberg, Warhol, Liechtenstein, and others could develop an artistic practice of recycling 'junk' without apparent thought to the historical novelty or brazen amorality of doing so.

The consequence for all of us, artists or not, is the abolition of guilt in our personal tastes. Indeed, the doctrine of Taste with a capital T—so fretted over by public thinkers since at least Addison and Steele—now seems as quaint a relic as the powdered wig. I don't think any modern person thinks twice about admitting that they like sitcom X or pop star Y, and why should they? There are no more guilty pleasures: now there are only pleasures.

Reader, one of the great childhood delights of my youth has finally made its way onto the internet. Yes, I am speaking of the classic Carvel commercials mentioned above. For anyone who grew up in New York in front of a television while the city burned in the late 70's and early 80's, the gloriously bizarre Carvel ads were a steady companion and, for me in particular, a source of endless material for comic impersonations.

Before we go any further, have a look:
Cookie Puss and Cookie O'Puss
Cupie Puss
Dumpy the Pumpkin et al.
Cookie Chick
Fudgie-Shaped Santa and Cookie Puss-Shaped Menorah

(Unfortunately, the original Fudgie the Whale ads are not online yet. Even so, it's a whale of a cake for a whale of a dad.)

It did not take long for members of my generation to start recycling the Carvel ads, especially the character cakes. By 1983, Carvel's heyday, the Beastie Boys had already recorded their song 'Cooky [sic] Puss'. I, too, have made some Carvel art that I have distributed privately among friends. My first piece in this style combined Cookie Puss, Fudgie, and Velázquez's Las Meninas. More recently, I did a piece with Cookie Puss and the Rokeby Venus. (I am sure that if Basquiat had been born ten years later, he would have devoted many paintings to Cookie Puss and friends. Imagine it with me, if you will: 'Wednesday is Sunday © SAMO'.)

What strikes me now when watching these ads again, after twenty-something years, is how wrong my memories of them have been. I have been reciting, when my hysterical laughter permits, the voiceover from the Cookie O'Puss ad at family occasions and among friends for twenty years, but my recitation has been all wrong, unless there's another version out there somewhere. I remembered a far more stereotypically comic Irish voice saying, 'Oh hello dere. I'm Cookie O'Puss, just in time for Saint Paddy's Day.' You can see for yourself that that's not what CO'P says, and, although there is some ethnic imitation in the ad, it's far less uproarious than I remembered. Some of the cakes, like Dumpy the Pumpkin, I had completely forgotten. And, most surprisingly, Tom Carvel's voice is nowhere nearly as emphysemic as I've portrayed it.

It's a commonplace these days to reflect on the slippages and revisions of memory over time. I'm grateful to have access to these ads after a long separation. Hopefully, more will turn up. But now that I can correct the historical record, I have no intention of doing so. At family holidays and among longtime friends, I'm going to stick to my incorrect versions of the ads, and I will do so shamelessly. My Carvel recitals are my own brand of performance art and ought to stand alone as independent cultural objects. That's what recycling is all about: making something new out of something old. My 'mistakes' constitute my own contribution to the Carvel canon, and there's plenty more Carvel-inspired original pirate material on the internet. May a million divinely insane Carvel performances, songs, and paintings bloom.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

I was just watching you on C-Span

There is plenty to blog about this week, but I've been writing several hundred words a day on that other big project I'm working on. In the meanwhile, a longtime reader has asked me to link to the Obama Girl video. Here it is, comments to follow.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

index schmindex

Has there ever been a more meaningless datum than the heat index? (Yes, the wind chill factor, but that blog entry can wait until the winter.) Our experience of climate depends on a number of factors, chiefly temperature and humidity. Obviously, high humidity exacerbates the effects of high temperature on the human body. But the heat index is an empty number that provides meaningless data. The meteorologists may as well say, 'Yo, it's hella hot out today.' That would mean a lot more than a heat index of 105.

The heat index is an American measurement maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Strangely, the NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, but we'll have to let that tangent go for now. Canadian meteorlogists use a different scale called the humidex, wherein the dew point takes the place of relative humidity in the American formula. I'd like to think the rest of the world does not waste their time with these bogus indices.

According to this chart at the NOAA's website, a temperature of 90°F and relative humidity of 70% yield a heat index of 105, i.e. the climate is said to feel like 105°F. But why does no one ask the obvious question: it feels like 105°F at what humidity? Are we meant to infer that that is what 105°F would feel like at 0% humidity, not that anyone would necessarily know what that feels like anyway? If so, how is that any more meaningful than telling us that the temperature is 90°F and the humidity 70%?

What the heat index really measures is scientific illiteracy. The teleprompter-readers on the news programs disseminate the heat index, people hear it and repeat it to each other, and no one bothers to ask what it means. And the more one looks into it, the more ridiculous it reveals itself to be.

According to this technical document, at the website of the Southern Regional Headquarters of the National Weather Service, the heat index equation is based on several assumed magnitudes including the following:

'# Dimensions of a human. Determines the skin's surface area. (5' 7" tall, 147 pounds)
# Effective radiation area of skin. A ratio that depends upon skin surface area. (0.80)
# Significant diameter of a human. Based on the body's volume and density. (15.3 cm)
# Clothing cover. Long trousers and short-sleeved shirt is assumed. (84% coverage)
# Activity. Determines metabolic output. (180 W m-2 of skin area for the model person walking outdoors at a speed of 3.1 mph)
# Effective wind speed. Vector sum of the body's movement and an average wind speed. Angle between vectors influences convection from skin surface (below). (5 kts)
# Clothing resistance to heat transfer. The magnitude of this value is based on the assumption that the clothing is 20% fiber and 80% air.'

Basing models on assumed conditions is not unusual, but are we better off for assuming a height of 5'7" and trousers? This is science? I have a better idea. From now on, meteorologists should tell us the temperature and the humidity and, when the combination of the two is dangerously high, they can tell us, 'Yo, it's dangerously hot.' That is a warning we could all readily understand.


Friday, July 6, 2007

calling all hip hop hipsters

I have been asked to moderate a panel on 'Comic Books, Kung Fu, and Hip Hop' at this year's CMJ in October. The organizers and I have some ideas about people to invite to be on the panel (e.g., Ghostface Killah), but I figured that my readers might have some suggestions, and possibly contacts, of their own. If so, let me know. I'd like to think big on this one and get some exciting people whose work or expertise brings together the panel's subject areas.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

the brother from another Cincinnati

[Update: I have since changed my mind about this dreadful, humourless show. I would say more, but it's not worth the words.]

It has been a while since I saw John Sayles's film The Brother from Another Planet (1984), but there's no mistaking it as a primary source for the new HBO series John from Cincinnati. (JC, get it?) If there was any doubt, a line in episode 2 referring to John as a 'brother from another mother' provides suggestive corroborating evidence.

In the film, Joe Morton plays an alien who arrives in New York, where he is distinguished from the human beings by his muteness, his three-toed feet, and his ability to heal broken arcade games by touching them. On the HBO show, John sports a 1980's hairdo and wardrobe, including Sean Penn's classic shoes from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. At his arrival, various people and even a bird mysteriously wield the power of reviving the dead or healing grave bodily injuries. John's mission appears to be to heal the family of broken surfers and their supporting characters.

The great thing about the series so far, four episodes in, is that it is full of mystery with scant expositional help. In fact, there is virtually no exposition despite a steadily growing number of characters. The show does not go out of its way to be likable either. It feels more like a late season of The Sopranos or Six Feet Under, where multiple plots run simultaneously and new viewers can't possibly be expected to know what's going on, except that John from Cincinnati is that way right out of the gate. The show is apparently generating negative buzz on the internet, but I am already looking forward to each new episode.

I realize that HBO is expensive, but people who care about culture owe it to themselves to subscribe. The past ten years of HBO original series have been a true golden age of television. There has never before been serial screenwriting with such sophistication as one encounters on the typical HBO show. I hate to parrot corporate slogans, but, compared to everything else out there, they're justified in denying that their work is mere TV. No, reader, it's HBO.

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Sunday, July 1, 2007

accidental poetry no. 2

Another month has ended. That can only mean it's time for a new installment of Accidental Poetry. (The first installment appeared in my entry for June 7, 2007.) The rules are the same as last time: everything that appears below was taken from the Google searches that brought people to my blog in the month of June. For those of you who don't know, yes, we bloggers can see all kinds of data about our readers, just about everything but your names, thanks to Google Analytics. All I did was copying, pasting, cutting, and layout. I have not added a single word of my own. Again, mad props to Steve Poole at Unspeak for coming up with the idea.

"sonate des guten menschen"

what has happened to daniel day lewis lately
what happened to valery on sopranos

a person has no constitutional right to engage in sexual intercourse, at least outside of marriage
he joined forces with bush

poisonous spiders on staten island
arabs call the spiders
rappers sell cocaine
men like pastries, women like custards

jane austen
raps on political things
best hip-hop today
brazilian gangster rap
motown in a foreign language
holly wood only shakeera songs
scorsese's compromise

taiwanese film watermelon
frightening painting
i have got supermodel on my dick (fun loving criminals)

today is an important occasion
important occasion of the year
people will remember you better if you always wear the same clothes
david byrne body odor

venus velazquez critique
stuyvesant french
fading sun in japanese
bush statements cancel refineries

atlantic yards
whole foods park slope
life ain't bitches and money

jeff strabone