Whiskers on Koshkas and Warm Woolen Mittens
It occurs to me my droogies that I've been coming off a bit the oddy knocky ded of late, a little too crotchety and bezoomy. So as to balance the scales I thought I might list off the top of my gulliver a few of my favorite things. Truly my dorogoy brothers there is much to kopat in the great big blue green world. In no particular order here's a sample for your consideration of 10 choodessny things that regularly maslo my biscuit, with brief attempts at explaining why and some links by which, if so inclined, you may investigate further.
1) One of America's greatest filmmakers, Kenneth Anger, and his Magick Lantern Cycle of films always makes me happy to be alive. I've had the pleasure of attending two screenings of the cycle with Mr. Anger present (I've included a picture of my autographed copy of Hollywood Babylon). Mystic Fire has issued videocassette versions of all the films in the cycle, although sadly as of this date there is no Anger on DVD. These films beg for a nice comprehensive DVD edition as he was constantly tinkering, updating and creating different versions. Anger was a driving force in the renaissance in American avant-garde film in the 1950's and 60's. His first widely screened short film Fireworks captured the attention of Jean Cocteau who invited him over to France, where he made a sort of sequel in Eaux d' Artifice, which roughly translates as Waterworks. Kenneth's films, in particular his use of pop music to propel and comment, often ironically, on the narrative (none of his films have dialogue) was a huge influence on what has become modern American cinema. This is most evident in the works of Martin Scorcese and his progeny. He effortlessly mingles low and the high brow culture and all that lies between. There is a distinct playfulness at work in films, a delight in the ability to create change in the viewer by the juxtaposition of sound and image. Indeed he views his films as works of magick by which he can create changes in the viewers psyche and by extension the world. But his films can be interpreted and enjoyed on many different levels and a grounding in the Occult though beneficial is not necessary for enjoying them. In addition to occult symbolism based on the Thelemic magick of Aleister Crowley, the films contain homoerotic content, social critique, transgressive themes (the double entendre in the title waterworks I will leave you to discover for yourself), and a continuous subversion of pop culture and kitsch. Whatever your interpretation might be, the images are always striking and beautiful. Puce Moment, a tribute to the women of the silent screen era, is a particular favorite. Kenneth Anger was also ahead of his time with his proto-punk name. These days he comes off a really amusing and eccentric old queen usually sporting a homemade Cosbyish sweater with Anger on the front or a Rangers' Jersey modified by removing the R and the S.
2) The stage patter on Kiss Alive II is worth it's weight in gold no matter what you think of Kiss's music. Oh I'm giggling even as I write this hearing Paul Stanley's voice (I think its Paul) in my head "I know, I know everybody's hot!!! I know everybody's got rock n' roll pneumonia, so let's call out Dr. Love!!!! " You have to hear the completely over the top inflections to fully appreciate the genius at work here, deliberate or otherwise. Also of note are the hilarious liner notes to the first Kiss Alive.
3) Underground Comics: especially the works of Jim Woodring, Daniel Clowes, Seth, Julie Doucet, and Chester Brown. There was a time in the early and mid 90's when going to the comic shop was to me as Christmas morning to children. Daniel Clowes, who was always sharp and hilarious, has continued throughout the 90's to develop both his narrative ability and draftsmanship with amazing results. Seth's It's a good life if you don't weaken gets my vote for one of the most beautifully realized and reflective graphic novels of all time. Julie Doucet continues to produce work that is funny, dream like and terrifying all at the same time. Jim Woodring is unfortunately not as prevalent as in the early and middle 90's but his wordless Frank strip when it does appear is always a treat. I haven't really been able to follow or get into Chester Brown's more recent work, Underwater for example, but plan on giving it more attention once it's all anthologized. Check the Drawn and Quarterly imprint for the cr²me de al cr²me. Fantagaphics runs a close second Also I've got to mention Alan Moore's From Hell illustrated by Eddie Campbell a truly mind bending and exhaustive work of art.
4) No one writes them like they used to. Here are three songs that are among the best ever written, Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini's 'Moon River', a nigh perfect wedding of melody and lyric that captures something beautiful and aching at the heart of all desire for transcendence. 'Summertime' by the Gershwins. Mainly it's the melody that gets me. My favorite version is Mahalia Jackson's on Bless this House, but there are so many good ones, honorable mention to renderings by Booker T and the MG's, Sam Cooke and John Coltrane. And then there's 'My Funny Valentine' by Rodgers and Hart the lyrics to this are so cutting yet the sentiment somehow manages to stay affectionate and tender "your looks are laughable, unphotographable, but you're my favorite work of art ... Is your figure less than Greek? Is your mouth a little weak? When you open it to speak, are you smart?" Damn.
5) Jim Jarmusch, so funny, so hip, so subtle, he has all the right influences and blends them together to create something uniquely his own. He makes it look easy but the level of character development achieved with such sparse dialogue and background info is nothing short of amazing. He's never produced anything that wasn't at least good and more often than not he hits his mark dead on. I'm hoping the coffee and cigarettes shorts he's been shooting over the years will get released on DVD soon. For now we have Criterion's recently released two disc set for Down By Law. If you can find it, his first film Permanent Vacation is well worth a viewing, flawed and a little pretentious but still engaging, it has a great mood and tone. Oh and he's a big Ol Dirty Bastard fan! When he came to the University of Texas to screen his favorite short films amongst the Buster Keaton and William Burrough's and Anthony Balch's Towers Open Fire was the ODB's 'I got your money' video which reportedly confused a lot of people. Free ODB.
6) Denton Welch- a painter turned writer after a bicycle accident rendered him partially paralyzed. Welch wrote three thinly veiled autobiographical novels and a handful of short stories. The three novels, Maiden Voyage, In Youth is Pleasure and A Voice Through a Cloud are currently in print thanks to Damien and Naomi's wonderful Exact Change imprint. His descriptive ability and insight into the perceptions of a child is rare and unique, rendering the mundane magical. I can't do justice to his prose but you'll want to read lines out loud to yourself to savour the sound. Start with In Youth is Pleasure.
7) Jack Kerouac- his unfortunate status as cultural icon has, much like his friend Bill Burrough, robbed him of consideration as a serious and innovative writer. Hell, maybe its better this way, as academia has a tendency of turning even the most beautiful things into something dried up and lifeless. Get some of the c.d.'s of Jack reading his work to fully appreciate his use of language and the rhythm of his prose. If there is a writer who reads their work better, I have yet to hear them. Jack sometimes misses his mark becoming cluttered, overly sentimental, mawkish or just plain silly but in the end it endears him all the more because he was reaching and wasn't afraid to fail and so when he hits his mark (which is often) it makes the impact all the more sweet and powerful. As time marches on his supposed descent into a right wing reactionary will I think be reevaluated as the product of a true individual with a well honed bullshit detector seeing through the weak minded artifice and affectations of the peace and love generation.
8) Jack Parson aka John Whiteside Parson - Another American Hero. A Rocket Scientist responsible for the developments in rocket fuel which eventually allowed our Space Program to travel to the moon (one of the craters there is named after him). He started the research and development company that became Jet Propulsion Laboratories and concurrently was writing and delving into Occult Studies through the West Coast branch of the O.T.O. with Aleister Crowley serving as father figure and mentor. After being conned out of his money and wife by a pre-dianetics L. Ron Hubbard he eventually died under mysterious circumstances in an explosion in his garage. All kinds of interesting connections with scientists, occultists, sci-fi writers and assorted West Coast weirdoes of the day. His book Freedom is a Two Edged Sword is inspiring and forward thinking, with his essays on civil liberty, freedom and magick seem more relevant than ever in our current cultural climate. There's also a recent biography, Sex and Rockets, poorly written but containing a wealth of information and pictures unavailable elsewhere.
9) Buddy Holly- A Texan that anticipated everything that would happen in pop music in the 1960's and beyond. Nothing I could write could capture his appeal better than Jonathan Cott's Rolling Stone piece, which unfortunately I can't find on the web.
10) Comedy, when it really makes it, can be slack jaw awe inspiring, with almost nothing seeming outside it's reach; In terms of stand up I'm thinking of Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Bill Hicks. There is a beautiful sadness underlying the best comedy. As for sketch comedy David Cross and Bob Odenkirk's Mr. Show took absurdity to hitherto unknown heights and the world's a better place for it.
© 2002 Willian Crain