Friday, October 23, 2009
Kim Jong Il and I made some time in our stressed out schedules last night to catch "Where the Wild Things Are" at the monumentally depressing theater in Towson. We arrived early, Kim was lavished with free chemical butter-laden popcorn by a toadying concession stand worker - who took the liberty of brushing her forearm many times against the great one's khaki jacket - and since we were early (conversation was lacking at the Five Guys where the lettuce lay limp like a docile American factory worker) we were then treated with fifteen minutes of brain numbing collegiate white pretend thug pseudo lifestyle propaganda. Commander Kim said it was all very unconvincing and unsuccessful as he lightly brushed some of the yellowish butter-like concoction across his healthy vibrant Elvis-like coif.
What came next, partially brought to life by the pen of Dave Eggers, was interesting, but slightly perplexing. The movie starts with great dynamics, really catching - for me - the exhilarating slightly out of control energy of being a kid left on his/her own. After a criminally short period of time sharing the screen with Catherine Keener, little Max boards a sailboat and floats to Bummer Island. It's a visceral, exploding world of sudden violence and screaming, but also one where many furry beasts with pleasingly growly voice can all jump into a warm pile and drift off together.
I have to confess I'm not a religious devotee of Sendak. I really like his drawings, but didn't grow up with them and they didn't speak to me as a semi-adult or adult except as well done cute children's art, so I didn't come into the movie judging it against the classic book. The film kept me engaged, if not glued to my sticky seat, but it gave me a feeling I hadn't had since college days, the feeling of having indulged in the wrong drugs with the wrong crowd. Kind of like Mr. Show's parody of H.R. Puffenstuff/Lidsville.
I see Max's trip to the Island as his immersion in his unconscious and his grappling with emotions beyond his learning or understanding and I salute the director and writer for not taking an easy, cushy, pat way out. It's a movie that could easily have just gone completely safe and cute and raked in millions. And it's got me thinking about it the next day, which in this, once again for me, horrible horrible year for movies, that's a rarity. But it still seems like kind of a nice deranged movie for adults who have survived childhood, not necessarily a movie that would be entertaining or instructive or comforting for anyone under 15. In fact, I think a nice alternate ending would be Max leaves the Island and then wakes up in a mental institution as an adult. But that's just my preference.
The final shot of Catherine and Max gazing into each other's eyes was sublime, though and the actor's facial expression seemed wise way beyond his years.
Needless to say, I liked the movie far more than Commandant Kim and our Greco-Roman style wrestling in the Power Room never got off the ground. He went back to watching Gone With the Wind and I read the new Harper's.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. I am no where near as famous a writer as Eggers - in fact I'm not famous at all, other than being able to perhaps draw ten people to a Baltimore poetry reading - but if I were to get my chance to write a children's film it would be a version of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
......long enough to compile a beautiful, full Tuvan throat song of a poetry anthology! It is half full of local Baltimore edgy stalwarts like yours truly (high five me you goblin), Lauren Bender, Rictus Royer, Chris Mason, Heather Fuller, Justin Sirois, Adam Robinson, Bonnie Jones and many others too numerous to mention without more coffee. Plus national top shelf poetry legends like Charles Bernstein, Tina Darragh, Norma Cole, John Yau (also a great Normal's customer, so double big ups), Lisa Jarnot (sounds of cooing worship), Tom Raworth and Rosemary Waldrop.
This is an exciting project that's been fermenting in the pipes for a while so we at Shattered Wig are worked up into a Kim Jong Il worthy froth of pacing and khaki rustling.
To pre-order your copies of this tasty beast that will soon go the way of the dodo, get it here:
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Kim Jong padded rottso
I will take a can of corn now
or a Dr. Pepper
leave it by the moldering statue
back in some cabin woods
where makers of manifestos knit
(brows and colorful mangos)
It's all a daring centerpiece
if you happen to be right there now
punch my card
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Baltimore Magazine Names Shattered Wig "Best Literary Magazine" and an exciting call from a sufic prankster
Shattered Wig has been going for twenty-one years now (!) and is so out-of-fashion - hand cut and pasted and hand stapled - that hopefully it can be seen as a creaky cabinet of musty forgotten wonders. We are regretfully old enough now that a few of our original and favorite contributors have passed on to another plane. Its original intent was to spread the words and art of people around us we loved and who energized us and that's still the mission, we're just trying to expand that circle physically further out into the new boundless internet world.
Recent very fresh exciting news is that I got a call from Daniel A.I.U. Higgs proposing that Shattered Wig Press put out his new book of lyrics, poems and drawings to coincide with his upcoming Thrill Jockey double album release. Needless to say, more than a few of my Hummel figurines were smashed in the ensuing pinwheeling of my aged arms in ecstasy.
One of my first sights of Baltimore live music was a few weeks after I moved here (from dreaded over-congested Rockville) checking out the first Sowebo Arts Festival. As I strolled up to the main avenue of smoking meats and arts vendors I heard and saw an impassioned vaguely threatening man beast on top of the Sowebo Market building on Hollins St. It was Higgs with mic in hand singing with his then band Reptile House - which was too crunchy and metallic for my taste, but Daniel's yowling vocals and electric presence pinned me to the spot.
Then a few years later I remember catching a real early Lungfish show at the old Hour Haus on North Ave. when it was truly an old school Baltimore dump that artists and musicians lived in without heat or much else other than a lot of other sodden warm bodies around.
Some of my favorite "poetry" performances of the late '80s were ones that Higgs did with musician and filmmaker Dick Turner backing him on piano.
Senor Daniel luckily comes in often to the store I co-own, Normal's in Waverly, and his sufic conundrums are often the highlights of days that can be frequently brought down by haints and the psychically unhinged and can afford no treatment other than walking into a used bookstore or record store and dropping a bucket of bile giblets on the dusty floor. And his three annual "Christmeastermasses" that he's put on in December at the shop have been life altering.
To put it lightly, we here at Shattered Wig are thrilled at the thought of this new venture.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Screening of the film "I Will Smash You" by Michael Kimball and Luca DiPierro.
Music by Sweatpants.
Readings by Ingrid Burrington and Blaster Al Ackerman.
Last weekend's Tinklers Publication party was so solid and well attended by attentive responsive humans that it almost feels sacrilegious to already be hyping the next one, but I will just use this bliss as the new plateau from which to build higher to altered consciousness.
The November show should leave no one disappointed, either.
I WILL SMASH YOU (2009; 50 min)
a documentary from Little Burn Films www.littleburnfilms.com
CONTACT: Michael Kimball
firstname.lastname@example.org; 410-467-0966; 410-205-0075
I WILL SMASH YOU started as an open call on social networking sites. Luca Dipierro and Michael Kimball invited people to choose an object that has some personal meaning for them, to tell the story of that object (Michael conducted the interviews from off-camera), and then to destroy that object. They filmed in Michael Kimball’s backyard for 2 days in the spring and the result is this documentary film.
A teenage girl destroys a papier-mâché version of her teacher's head to get the meanness out.
A man smashes his procrastination with a cement block.
A woman stomps on family heirlooms that have become a burden to her.
Another woman cuts up an intricate lace doily as a personal and political statement about the violence and hatred in parts of Bosnia.
A man sings a Christian hymn and then swings a baseball bat at the song’s notes in an attempt to resolve his complicated relationship with religion.
Another man burns his favorite double album, the one that he listened to over and over to get through his teenage years.
A man burns his discharge papers from the Army in attempt to exorcise his recurring nightmares about being forced to re-enlist.
A woman destroys a ceramic bust of Zeus that has an uncanny resemblance to her husband.
Another woman smashes her car with a crowbar because it is cursed.
Plus many more stories and much more destruction (and catharsis).
I WILL SMASH YOU is funny and moving, angry and strange (a clinical psychologist described it as a kind of smashing therapy). You have never seen a film like this.
Sweatpants is a vigorous band that brings the rock led by Publishing Genius magnate Adam Robinson. After they opened for Springsteen in Munich a year ago Springsteen said he was too shaken to do his five minute monologue opening to "The River" and instead he told the band to leave and performed a short acoustic set.
Monday, October 12, 2009
It was a busy week at Shattered Wig headquarters. Preparing our always capricious nerves for the big publication party for The Tinklers new book, The Elements, while also getting to open up for Tao Lin at a reading at Atomic Books on Oct. 8.
Due to the lightning quick quality work of Live Bait studios typesetting and layout on the book we actually had all our copies weeks in advance of the October 9th show at the 14 Karat Cabaret. This was a very welcome change from the usual nail biting waiting at the door in dirty robe for the UPS man on the night of the show scenario.
The book looks great, the show, featuring The Tinklers and Blaster Al Ackerman reading and music by Zomes and Ghost Life, was well attended by lively enthusiastic humans who were treated to some top notch performances. Not only all that, but we actually sold a goodly amount of literature. Not bad considering we almost had to greco-roman twist Chris Mason of the Tinklers into a Pennsylvania pretzel to let us publish it.
In a mere 78 pages the courageous Tinklers take on explaining the Periodic Table of Elements (Hydrogen to Argon), the strains put on love by economic hardship and the need for a unified ecology that protects Mother Earth. All written in their uniquely cosmic populist prose. The book is out now, a perfect bound paperback and available for $8 at Normal's Books and Records and Atomic Books in Baltimore or $10 postage paid from:
Shattered Wig Press
425 E. 31st St.
Baltimore, MD. 21218
"It is a rare thing when I am jealous of the concept behind a book, but I am jealous of The Elements, and you will be too." - Michael Kimball, author of Dear Everybody and The Way The Family Got Away.
The City Paper's Bret McCabe interviewed Chris Mason and Charles Brohawn of The Tinklers about the book and here is his story:
Every Story Paints a Picture
With the publication of The Elements, long-running Baltimore duo the Tinklers return to their spry narrative roots
By Bret McCabe | Posted 10/7/2009
Consider: One morning Mary sees her husband Steven off to his first day at an aluminum beverage-container manufacturer. He returns looking broken, a shell of the man who left that morning. The next day, Mary meets a neighboring woman who tells her two very important stories. One is about how the manufacturer's greed led to layoffs and higher productivity demands, pushing the local workers to strike as the company brought in scabs. The other is about how lava cools to form granite, which includes feldspar--made up of aluminum, oxygen, and silicon--and briefly explains the long story of pressure and time producing aluminum silicate, which, when water-logged, becomes clay.
This story, one of 18 collected in the Tinklers' new book, The Elements (published by sometimes City Paper contributor Rupert Wondolowski's Shattered Wig Press), ends with Mary crossing the picket line to pull her husband out of his job and continue on their journey across a landscape that feels and sounds very much like America. "I was reading about a few different strikes at the times we were writing this," says Chris Mason, one half of the Tinklers, of the early 1990s. "I think it was one in Austin, Minnesota. And I was thinking about aluminum cans. This was all done before the internet, so we just had to read a lot of books to learn this stuff."
Mason sits next to his creative partner, Charles Brohawn, on the couch in Brohawn's eclectically decorated Idlewild home. A striking array of paintings hang on the walls, and the living room feels like an ideal incubator for creative whimsy. Mason pulls one of the duo's old rubber-band guitars out for a demonstration. And Brohawn need only walk a few steps to snag a 1950s/'60s era scientific textbook about the atom as an example of the sort of research they explored in creating The Elements.
"It's not really serious science, because we're not, you know, scientists," Mason says. "But we have researched it. Just like in ancient times people would look at the world and would be amazed by the winds and the stars and describe it to the gods, we're just amazed by what's happening inside the atom."
"The elements are kind of a frame to look at the world through," Brohawn agrees.
If authoring a book sounds like a change of pace for a musical duo, bear in mind that the idea of the Tinklers as a purely musical act is a 1990s phenomena. The pair recorded three albums for indie label Shimmy Disc between 1990 and 1993. Riddled with deceptively precious melodies and faux-innocent ideas--the immortal "Mom Cooks Inside, Dad Cooks Outside" off 1990's Casserole, "Dinosaurs Are Better" off 1991's Saplings, "Dog Sounds" off 1993's Crash--the band was, arguably, too hastily aligned with the primitive-punk naivetAc of Daniel Johnston, Happy Flowers, and the twee Pianosaurus.
When Brohawn and Mason first coalesced into the Tinklers in 1979, though, it was to create narrative performances that included songs, visual art, and theater. Brohawn was coming out of MICA's painting department, Mason out of Johns Hopkins' poetry program, and they encountered a rich Baltimore community of poets, performance artists, video artists, and punks, including City Paper photographer John Ellsberry and his brother Richard, provocateur tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE, and MICA poetry professor Joe Cardarelli. It was a hearty brew of art and DIY that, well, doesn't sound too far removed from what a different generation has discovered in Baltimore in recent years.
"That's why I wanted to start doing music," Brohawn says, recalling seeing a band such as Half Japanese deliver its goods. "Just seeing something like that and thinking, Why not?"
Early Tinklers shows were less concerts than performances that combined visual art, puppets, and songs played on homemade instruments. They performed their "History of the World"--illustrated on a gigantic single roll of paper and dramatized through songs and plays--in 1981 at School 33 and in New York. The songs themselves were often the products of free-flowing binomial idea trees that concatenate out into something else. Mason pulls out an early book of song charts to illustrate the point.
"Like, if you have 'scary things,' you can divide that into 'scary things that are moving' and 'scary things that are not moving,'" he says. "And then, scary moving things that get on top of you, that don't get on top of you; scary moving things that get on top of you could be buzzy or squirmy; scary moving things that get on top of you that are buzzy could be electric or flying; scary moving things that get on top of you that are buzzy and electric could be things that you could get your fingers caught in or things that shock you--and from that we did the song 'Don't Put Your Finger in the Fan.'"
It follows a rigorous logic, but one predicated on an outlandish idea. "On some level, we were kind of making fun of performance art by just telling these stupid stories in these stupid songs," Brohawn says. "There wasn't any mysterious aesthetic or anything going on."
Other narrative projects that became self-published books followed. "Manifest Destiny," which also involved The Elements' Mary and Steven, "was kind of an American history book with songs and performances," Mason says. "Our Childrens' Childrens' Worlds" followed in 1984, the story of Siegfried and his cousins--Marcia, Missy, Megan, Sam, and Simon--who get lost in a cave during a family picnic, during which time the world ends and begins again, and they emerge to be adopted by three utopias.
"It's kind of a poke at the post-apocalyptic thing, because the world ends while they're in the cave but starts up before they get out of the cave," Brohawn smiles. "But 'History of the World,' 'Manifest Destiny,' 'Our Childrens' Childrens' Worlds'--they were thought of as these stories with songs. I think we were thinking of Wagner or something--our own version of it."
Just don't mistake this irreverent streak for irony, and don't misjudge the Tinklers' seemingly simple sounds and drawings for insincere ease. "Simple" and "childlike" are two of the most overused adjectives when describing the band; "efficient" feels most accurate. The music and songs may sound easy, but they deal directly with sophisticated feelings and emotions. They're just delivered extremely directly. And while such economy may suggest the childish, consider how conflicted childhood is: a time period that adults nostalgically look back upon for being more innocent and idyllic, but also the locus of psychological and emotional trauma that lingers well into maturity.
The Elements is an equally complex document. It works on multiple levels: organized periodically, the stories offer basic science information, and those scientific facts frequently provide thematic structural elements to the stories themselves. The book also tells the story of Mary and Steven as they travel across the country; inside their journeys, though, they encounter the often difficult socio-political realities of an unsettled country. Given that each of these stories is but a few pages long at most--the entire book a mere 78 pages--The Elements starts to feel less like a simple, childlike tale and more like a surreal adventure of a couple set adrift across America's unstable time and space.
And it makes you curious as to what sort of big idea the Tinklers might next wrap their brains around. Brohawn mentions Darwin, and how 2009 is the 200th anniversary of his birth. Mason smiles at the idea of the Tinklers getting a grant to do research on the Galapagos. Since they've already done the history of the world, Manifest Destiny, and a good chunk of the periodic table, evolution is just the sort of small topic that fits into their bailiwick.
"And it's controversial," Brohawn smiles, before audibly deflating into the realization, "well, it is here."