Travels With Gloria

Finding beauty mile by mile.

Category: Pop

Where I will be from?

Beaded Skull, made by the Huichol people of Western Mexico for Late Night Chameleon Cafe. Via TwistedSifter.

I’m back.

And I’m leaving.

I move to Los Angeles in three weeks. This is scary, and exciting, and very new. The move itself has been in the works for the last two years, as I’ve become less excited about living in New York and more excited about screenwriting and moving on to new horizons.

Stay tuned here as I talk about the last days of my New York life, the first days of my California life, Los Angeles art and culture, and furnishing my very first apartment!

(Want more beaded skulls? Check out the Late Night Chameleon Cafe! They are for sale, apparently.)

Traditional Home of the Way Out

The Human Be-In, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, 1967. I would love it if someone could help me find out who took this photograph.

As I’ve said in the past, I sometimes feel uncomfortable about the place/travel aspect of this blog. I live where I live and am the person that I am. I have the culture that I’ve been brought up with. So to me, everything else is “other” and thus fair game for this website. This is why I like to talk about New York culture, and why I hope to come across an excuse to talk about the South Louisiana/Cajun culture I grew up in. I feel like if I’m talking about my own stuff as often as I’m creating a window on Vietnam or Nigeria or Turkey, at least it’s fair. But then I’m constantly worried that the goal of my blog is to other people through the arts.

I found out this week that someone has already done that. And they’ve done such a good job at it that the piece of American culture they chose to highlight feels not just like another place and time, but another planet.

I’m referring to the BBC documentary series Whicker’s World, in which British journalist Alan Whicker covered social issues in places as diverse as Haiti, Paraguay, and Hong Kong.

In the summer of 1967, Whicker cast his camera lens on San Francisco, and the resulting film is one of those odd examples of earnest British reportage in a world that is decidedly un-earnest — in the case of the UK press reaction to Bob Dylan shown in D. A. Pennebaker’s Dont Look Back — or maybe too earnest, in the case of this Whicker’s World thing. The honest, straight ahead, unironic treatment of the Haight-Ashbury scene is wilder for the fact that the hippies are completely honest in return. The documentary doesn’t flinch or attempt to exploit the titillating subject matter, which somehow makes the subject matter seem even stranger.

Poster from the Human Be-In designed by Michael Bowen, with photography by Casey Sonnabend. This event kick-started the Summer Of Love and alerted the media and the wider world to what was going on in San Francisco.

In reality, that world isn’t that far away from me. Yeah, it’s the other side of the country in a city I’ve never actually visited, but it’s a cultural moment that backlit everything that was to come in American culture. My mom had Janis Joplin records as a kid. LSD, not Crack, was the real spectre behind the curtain of After-School Specials and the Just Say No Club. Growing up in America in the eighties, The Sixties was the basis of everything. I don’t think The Summer Of Love stopped being relevant until probably September 11, 2001. And in a lot of ways it’s still relevant. But in Whicker’s documentary, it seems a million miles away. Is this my culture? Is this where I’m from? Worse, what about the society the hippies rejected? If the hippies look bizarre, the larger American culture — as described by the BBC, in any case — feels outright foreign.

I wonder if this is the feeling that inspired Gita Mehta to write Karma Cola?

Thoughts on Vinyl

This is my actual record player spinning my very first record post toddler-hood. Photo by Sara Clarke.

I took the plunge and bought a record player. I’ve been wanting one since sometime last year.

I have four records so far:

I guess this image is courtesy Columbia Records? The album itself says "Cover Photo By Machine". Not sure if that's a groovy sixties nickname or if they mean, like, a photo booth of some kind? Aren't all photos "by machine"?

#1 “Songs of Leonard Cohen” – I bought this at The Colony, the record store on the ground floor of the Brill Building, where I work. They have a pretty small selection, and it’s overpriced. But I needed a record to play on my new turntable, so I forked over the $35 for a re-issue that’s easy to find in any other shop for $20. It’s not even my favorite Leonard Cohen album. Then again, one of the things I like best about vinyl is the fact that your collection depends on what’s actually available to you at any given time.

Photo by Tom Wilkes.

#2 “Pearl” by Janis Joplin – This one was in one of those obligatory crates I mentioned above, at a stoop sale in my neighborhood. The sleeve is in horrible condition, but the record itself is pristine. For some reason the guy only wanted $2 for it. It turns out this is one of my mom’s favorite albums from when she was a teenager.

Photo by Robert Mapplethorpe.

#3 “Easter” by Patti Smith – come on, you knew I was going to get a Patti Smith record right away. It could have been worse, I could have picked Dylan’s “John Wesley Harding”, which Smith reminisces about Robert Mapplethorpe giving her in Just Kids. That would be way dorkier, no?

Photo by Michael Carney.

#4 “El Camino” by The Black Keys – I figured I needed something that wasn’t pompous folk/classic rock*, and this one came with a free download of the album. Which is cool, because I hadn’t gotten around to buying “El Camino” yet. I like the idea of supporting bands by getting new albums on vinyl, and the download codes make it a no-brainer.

Because this entry has nothing to do with the place-based side of my nonexistent Mission Statement, I hereby give you this kickass video that my roommate worked on (she’s the hippo at the end!), which is maybe about Brooklyn stoop sales.

 

*By the way, DID YOU KNOW that Leonard Cohen, Janis Joplin, and Patti Smith all hung out at the Chelsea Hotel kind of around the same time? Just Kids mentions that Smith knew Joplin, and Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” is basically a brag that he slept with Joplin there.

Hurry, boy, it’s waiting there for you

In the audience at the Festival Au Desert in northern Mali. Photo by Alfred Weidinger, via Flickr.

Rock stars of the eighties cared a lot about Africa. There was “Heal The World”, “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, and “I Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City”.  There were also more aesthetic influences, for example Paul Simon’s album Graceland.

And then there was Toto. Created neither to raise awareness for the plight of the oppressed nor to celebrate a rich cultural heritage, Toto’s song Africa managed to jump on the eighties sub-Saharan bandwagon with a vague global outlook and paternalistically nonsensical lyrics. I could break out all the reasons this song is abhorrent, but I’ll let Steve Almond do it instead, in this hilarious reading from Tin House Magazine‘s tenth anniversary celebration a few years ago:

 

Even if your pop music tribute to Africa was a little more well-meaning — or at least well-crafted — than Toto’s ode to Mount Kilimanjaro rising over the Serengeti (by the way, it doesn’t), there was a strong chance that it was performed by white people, or at the very least by people who had never actually been to or lived in Africa.

It’s perverse that for Americans to get behind African social causes and artistic contributions, it had to be done under the guise of whitebread normalcy. As opposed to, I don’t know, making Fela Kuti the international megastar he deserved to be.

 

It’s good that Paul Simon shared some of the credit with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and I think this weird intermediate period in American and British pop ultimately led to the more diverse musical landscape of today. But how many singles did “Do They Know It’s Christmas” sell compared to anything ever released by Miriam Makeba or Ali Farka Toure?

Sidenote: before I die, I’m going to the Festival Au Desert in Essakane, Mali. It’s a three-day music festival celebrating peace through music. Bono made a surprise visit this year, which I suppose means it’s officially jumped the shark. But I don’t care, I still want to go. Maybe 2013 is my year…

The past is a Yakov Smirnov joke.

1961 USSR postage stamp celebrating Yuri Gagarin's space flight. via Flickr.

I have a fascination with Soviet Russia, especially the aesthetics of the USSR from the 60’s through the fall of the Iron Curtain. Call it ostalgia if you want. I’ve always wanted to visit Russia, even nowadays when obviously most reminders of the Soviet days are long gone.

I think it comes from the mystique of the Soviet Union as “other” when I was little. I remember taking a theater workshop when I was like seven years old (yes I was always a dork) where we were given the improv prompt “what if a Russian kid moved to your town?”

The teacher was really mad when I said I would ask him what it was like in Russia and try to become his friend.

Via Coolhunting.

Of course, now ostalgia is trendy. A museum of Soviet arcade games recently opened in Moscow.

There are also two recent books on design behind the Iron Curtain. Iron Curtain Graphics is a book of Romanian communist poster and propaganda design, while Made In Russia: Unsung Icons of Soviet Design is an exploration Russian product design.

A Krugozor cover from 1964. Via krugozor-kolobok.ru

My favorite Soviet product, though is Krugozor, a music magazine published from 1964 through 1991. It came with a flexible record, though I’m having trouble finding out exactly what was on the records. A 99% Invisible podcast episode dedicated to Krugozor claims that the records included sound effects and music, and that somehow the editors were allowed to include rock music. Which sounds weird to me because rock was apparently censored or at least stifled in the Soviet Union at the time. Then again, I’m not up on my Soviet policies on Rock n Roll through the ages — maybe it was only later issues of Krugozor that included that sort of thing, during Perestroika.

It’s really difficult to find out exactly what Krugozor was or what it included, because virtually everything I can find written about it is in Russian. This definitely adds to my fascination with it. If I could read Russian, I would probably discover that Krugozor was the Soviet equivalent of Readers’ Digest, and it would cease to be interesting.

Another Krugozor cover, this time from 1971. Same source.

Sidenote/pointless quasi-proustian reminiscence: For years, there was a Taaka Vodka billboard featuring Yakov Smirnov on Veterans’ Memorial Boulevard (AKA “Vets”, to the extent that I just had to look up the actual name of the street) in New Orleans on the way to the airport. My mother’s parents spent most of the 80’s living in Cameroon, so Driving To The Airport was always a momentous occasion. I will always ever so vaguely associate world travel, the Cold War, AIDS, terrorism, apartheid, Ronald Reagan, and Duty Free, with Taaka Vodka. For no reason other than that this billboard happened to exist and perfectly symbolize everything my five year old brain didn’t understand about the world. (I still totally don’t understand Duty Free.)

Wednesday Round Up.

Screenshot diptych from Pollock. Via Design*Sponge.

Design*Sponge did a Living In post on Pollock. I remember disliking this movie when I first saw it, but damn, it really gets the Abstract Expressionist aesthetic right. I think the main reason I wish I were an artist is the idea of having a ramshackle old studio-slash-house out somewhere nobody else wants to live. In the 50’s that was eastern Long Island. Which is funny because now the Hamptons is the land of spray-tan and appletinis, a place the least imaginative people in the world want to be. I think now you’d have to be in Detroit or a ghost town in the rust belt. Will those places be the hot vacation spots of 2062?

Image courtesy Huffington Post.

The Film On The Rocks Yao Noi Festival — curated by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Tilda Swinton —  created a floating island cinema for screenings.

La Guardia Airport, 1961. Via Retronaut.

Just in time for the new season of Mad Men, Retronaut has a photo series on flying into La Guardia airport in 1961.

This picture of Clarissa Darling wearing a Keith Haring t-shirt brought to you by the fact that I can't get any good MTV Art Break video clips to embed properly. Image blatantly stolen from Flavorwire.

Remember how yesterday I mentioned that Keith Haring did stuff for MTV in the 80’s? Well it turns out MTV is bringing back the Art Break. Too bad nobody cool watches MTV anymore. Also, too bad I suck at embedding video. Click the link, I guess.

Painting Myself Into A Corner

Untitled, 1982. Sumi ink on paper. Image courtesy Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Keith Haring was an oddly ubiquitous part of my childhood. Oddly because, well, I grew up in a socially and culturally conservative small town where there is little appreciation for art of any kind, let alone the dingy grafitti-inspired oeuvre of a gay painter from the New York underground club scene.

And yet his work was everywhere in my childhood. Maybe it was his later status at the epicenter of the AIDS crisis, a supposedly gentler alternative to controversial artists like David Wojnarovicz and Robert Mapplethorpe. Or it could have had something to do with MTV’s commissions of their trademark astronaut as a Haring cartoon stick figure.

My memory of his work is so cuddly and bland that at first I wasn’t that interested in seeing the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition Keith Haring: 1878-1982. But I was surprised by the work. It’s more raw than the dogs and babies that made Haring famous, oddly violent and often centered on images of penises and men fucking. This is not the ubiquitous Keith Haring of my childhood.

There are two pieces in the show that not only changed my understanding of Haring’s work but, frankly, blew my mind.

Untitled, 1979. Acrylic and ink on paper. Image courtesy haring.com.

The first is a study in abstraction done in 1979 when Haring was at SVA. The swirling figures interlock like puzzle pieces, suggesting a pile of humanity. It’s a bridge between Bruegel and Pollock, a mass of dynamic energy that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm (Number 30). 1950. Enamel on canvas. Image via metmuseum.org.

Pieter Bruegel The Elder, The Wedding Dance. Oil on panel. Image via Wikipedia.

The other piece stood out to me in a much less didactic way. It’s just… perfect. It’s the kind of painting you can’t describe in words. This is a masterpiece in a completely sincere way. It scratches the part of your brain that can find euphoria in a line or a shape. Unfortunately, I can’t find an image of it online. However, I did find a still of a video piece Haring made around the same time that features himself creating a painting that looks very much like the one I’m thinking of. So I’ll give you that, and then you have to go to the Brooklyn Museum to see the piece I’m talking about. Trust me, you’ll recognize it.

Still from Painting Myself Into A Corner video, 1979. Image courtesy Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Also brilliant, and a reason to check out the Haring show at the Brooklyn Museum even if you’re not a huge fan of his work: it’s one of the best curated shows I’ve ever seen. I especially love the choice to feature the music of 70’s and 80’s New York in some of the rooms. It’s rare that museums connect fine art with other artistic forms from the same period, and for Keith Haring, who exhibited work in nightclubs and made drawings on the subway, I thought it was a perfect choice.

UPDATE: Check out this tumblr with scans of Keith Haring’s journals. They start when he was thirteen years old!

The Man Who Saves The World

Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam: the limit of my knowledge of Turkish culture before visiting Istanbul. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

I have a confession to make.

A few months ago, when I bought a ticket to Istanbul pretty much on a whim, I knew only one thing for sure about Turkey. Was it the fact that the Ottoman Empire brought Islamic culture almost to the gates of Vienna in the sixteenth century? Was it the sacking of still-Byzantine Constantinople by their fellow Christians during the fourth Crusade? Was it the beauty of Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace?

It was none of those things.

I knew that, in the 1980’s, Turkey made its own version of Star Wars. The special effects and John Williams’ score were ripped directly from the genuine article, because (this part of my research is a little shaky) apparently Turkey hadn’t signed some international copyright treaty that would explicitly ban such behavior. Or maybe that isn’t true, maybe the Turkish film industry just thought, hey, you know, we’re Turkey. Hollywood has no idea we even make movies. Our language has lots of umlauts in it. We can do whatever we want.

Turkish Star Wars action figure. Image via the Starswar Collector Archive.

For a long time, Turkish Star Wars existed for me in a web of rumor. It was discussed in hushed tones over bong rips and rounds of Goldeneye on Nintendo 64 in the dorms my freshman year at Emerson. A few people boasted of having seen it, and yet nobody could produce a copy. We had no way of verifying any of it in this barely-internetted era, so the stories got more and more ridiculous. Some insisted that there was a whole movement of Turkish copycat films: Turkish Jaws, Turkish Superman, Turkish Wizard Of Oz.

 

And then one day, after I left Emerson for New York, I was digging through old VHS tapes at Kim’s Video in the East Village. It was there: a Radio Shack brand blank tape with a moldering label scrawled with the words TURKISH STAR WARS, a bootleg of a bootleg of a bootleg. I took it home. I’m not sure if it was the cheap production values, the seizure-inducing jump cuts, or the fact that it of course had no English, but it was completely inscrutable. I watched twenty minutes or so, grew bored, and switched it out for The Happiness of the Katakuris, which I’d also picked up that day.

By the time I bought that ticket to Istanbul a decade or so later, the internet had changed everything. Nothing will ever be shrouded in as much mystery as Turkish Star Wars — which Wikipedia now reveals is actually titled Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam — used to be. The world is now laid out in explicit facts and fictions. This film was made; here’s its IMDB page and a clip from YouTube. The kid from the Life Cereal Box did not die after mixing pop rocks and coke; that’s an urban legend. There are obvious benefits to the new way of seeing the world through a constant stream of information. I don’t think Barack Obama would be president if it weren’t for the good people at Snopes. And, hell, I wouldn’t have bought a ticket to Istanbul on a whim if the internet hadn’t laid bare the details of Delta’s winter fare sale.

But a part of me is nostalgic for a time when you could believe that Turkish filmmakers had created a shot for shot reproduction of Star Wars down to the pastries in Princess Leia’s hairdo, and that they might have even done the same for E.T., The Excorcist, and Gone With The Wind.

Side note: I would really love it if someone could explain the existence of these ripped off Star Wars action figures from Turkey. Clearly they are not relevant to Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam, which doesn’t much resemble Star Wars at all and wasn’t branded as Star Wars in Turkey. And yet they share the same bootleggy mistranslated weirdness with the phenomenon of Turkish Hollywood ripoffs. I think this is just a coincidence allowed for by the time before the internet allowed everyone to share the same mass culture and also allowed huge megacorporations to make serious bank by enforcing mass culture uniformity. But who knows?

Disclaimer: Turkish Gone With The Wind does not exist. As far as I know…

Other People’s Travel Snaps

Woman at a bus stop. Photo courtesy House Of Mirth.

It started when I worked in the art department.

We did a lot of photoshopping on the TV series I worked for, and as an art department PA, photo research was a large part of my job.

New Zealand. Photo by trailofants, via Instagram.

It was the early days of Flickr. People would upload just about anything, unwatermarked and in huge resolutions. And thus I discovered that other people’s vacation photos (the less interesting, the better) made great backdrops for times when the script called for our actors to be photoshopped into Beijing, Washington, or Key West.  This is terrible karma, I know.

Woman on bridge. Photo courtesy House Of Mirth.

Even though I don’t get paid to peruse travel snaps on Flickr all day anymore, I still love them. Sometimes when I’m bored and feel like I’ve come to the end of the internet, I’ll run a Flickr search on places that top my bucket list. Instagram and Pinterest are making this odd form of armchair wanderlust even easier.

The best random travel photos, however, are the ones that trickle down from another era, shot on Brownies and Polaroids, printed on actual photo paper, and stuck into albums with those neat little corners. I try not to buy too many; it seems creepy to have an apartment full of photos of other people’s relatives. But I love to dig in the piles of snapshots at flea markets, and every once in a while if I find a really perfect one, I’ll take it home.

Mumbai cityscape. Photo by jimeryjem, via Instagram.

 

Mexican souvenirs. Photo courtesy House Of Mirth.

 

Tip of the sombrero to Jaunted, where I discovered the Instagram travel photos that inspired this post. Hours of vintage photo browsing (and shopping!) are on the agenda over at House Of Mirth.

The Fruited Plain

Airship Brand Oranges. All images in this post courtesy of the Smithsonian.

This is a label for a crate of oranges But it doesn’t just say FRESH ORANGES, or BEAUTIFUL ORANGES, or even CALIFORNIA ORANGES.

It says “Airship”.

This was no mere box of citrus fruit, it was a dream of a better life. In the future, the label seems to say, you’ll go wherever you want, and on the way, you can eat an orange. And in the first half of the twentieth century, in Orange County, CA, the future was now.

Airship wasn’t the only brand to use wanderlust-inducing images to sell citrus fruit. Every citrus growing concern, from Sunkist to the Ventura County Citrus Association, had its own mouthwateringly illustrated crate label extolling the promise of California, the new American paradise. Making lemonade or peeling an orange wasn’t just a way to get your daily vitamin C. It was a destination. Buy this fruit and be transported to a warmer and sunnier place, where there’s fruit on the trees year round, and everything is fresh.

All Year Lemons, Fillmore Lemon Association. Dig how, when fruit is depicted, it's usually drawn individually wrapped. Like a present. A citrus present.

 

Sunkist California Dream. Check out the proto-Disneyland in the background!

 

Passport Lemons. It's rare that a lemon makes me want to forget blogging and go play around on Kayak Explore instead.

 

Ramona Memories. Remember that time you took a bite of lemon meringue pie and were instantly transported to a hacienda, where this girl did unmentionable things to you? Yeah, that was great.

 

Then there’s this gem, which has nothing to do with wanderlust but is trippy as all hell. Seriously, this vies with the Sunmaid Raisin maiden for mind blowing illustration in marketing.

No, you have one! OMIGOD IM HAVING A BAD TRIP (studies show citrus fruits are unlikely to be hallucinogenic)

 

By the way, apparently the Smithsonian has blogs. This post was inspired by a six-part series on their new design blog all about the use of design to market citrus fruit to Americans. I mean, that’s what the series was about. There are hopefully going to be all sorts of other neat things on the blog, very soon. There are also blogs about history, archaeology, film, science, dinosaurs, and a million other cool subjects you’re probably interested in. Who knew?

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