Friday, March 27, 2015

Band Review: Cult Fiction

Cult Fiction is a Norwegian Alternative Indie Rock band, formed in Oslo about three years ago.

Most of the Scandinavian bands I have reviewed have been metal, so I was not surprised by the existence of darker threads in the music. Coming through as alt instead, the songs can sound gloomy at times, especially the first few times listening. There is still real emotion coursing through the songs, and sometimes passion.

One of the most interesting tracks is a cover of Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine". With less effects than the original, it also has more heart.

"Ink" is one of my favorite tracks, and has some interesting guitar work. "Unspoken" and "Scoundrel" should also be checked out.

While the band did not list many Seattle influences other than Hendrix, I think fans of Soundgarden and other Chris Cornell projects will enjoy Cult Fiction.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Band Review: Drop the Anchor

Drop the Anchor is a pop punk band from Indianapolis that has been together for three and a half years. They have one EP, In A Way It's Everything, as well as three separate singles.

The energy and guitars are generally good, but sometimes the sound is a little muddy, with the different parts not standing out. That is a personal preference, but their better defined songs are more engaging. Based on that, I would call the best tracks "Consummation Proclamation", "Actions", and parts of "Casino Destroyale", but for a completely different sound "The December I Won't Remember" makes an impression.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

1493 and all that

The other book I wanted to have read first was 1493 by Charles C. Mann.

I thought it might provide some context for the next round of reading focusing on Native American history, but it ended up being much more global. 1491 was about the Americas before Columbus, but 1493 was about how that contact affected the rest of the world.

The impact was huge. From the effects of new crops on dietary patterns, farming practices, and population growth to the way the supply of silver at Potosi affected Chinese currency markets, the book is full of fascinating stories of different groups and their impact on each other. It was not specific to Native American history, but it went along well with something else.

Early in February actor Orlando Jones suggested a hash tag focusing on historic people of color that could be represented in film and television. The hash tag he originally proposed, #HistoricPOCForFilmAndTV, was a little long for Twitter, but he wisely asked Mikki Kendall for advice, who suggested #HistoricPOCMedia, and that was the thread that happened:

(FYI, I have gone there and found things missing, so refreshing can be in order.)

Jones himself is working on a feature film about cult deprogramming pioneer Ted Patrick. He also suggested Bass Reeves, an idea that I had once wanted, and then got discouraged on. Still, it could work.

There were many interesting ideas, and one nice thing about updating the tag to focus on Media, is that you can look beyond film and television. Many of my ideas have centered on comic books, but there may also be things that work for web content.

My initial ideas focused on black women, because that is where my head has been lately. Of course I will want to see media focused on Ida B. Wells, but it also occurred to me that Becoming Rosa Parks could be an excellent mini-series. Every activist has a history that leads to their activism, and probably many of those stories could be good. With Parks specifically, I think with her early investigations of sexual assaults and the other work she did that it could be both good drama and educational.

One thing I have noticed in passing is how many people who traveled abroad seemed to have run into James Baldwin, so perhaps "James Baldwin in Paris" could be interesting. Paris wasn't just a gathering place for fascinating people when Hemingway was there.

I thought it had come from the thread and I can't find it now, but Cora Strayer could make a great character. She was a private detective in Chicago around 1900. Her ads appealing to women show some savvy marketing, but also, she was a private detective, in Chicago, in 1900! She also seemed to enjoy the company of younger men, which some people could find interesting.

The suggestion I posted that got the most positive feedback was Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, early computer programmer. At least online, people get excited about programmers. This could be the place for a web series.

There's another point here, where if you look into the history of computing, women were very much a part of it. The perception of that changed, but the truth hasn't. Screenwriting was largely done by women in early Hollywood. Cowboys were very likely to be of color, both in North and South America, though that doesn't come across in early Westerns. There is a tendency for the doers to be remembered as white men, but that's not accurate.

That leads us back to 1493. One reason slaves from Africa were valued is that they were often-skilled with horses and metalworking, because those were things that they did back in Africa. Some of them were great at leading rebellions because they could use their military skills from back home. This included women like Aqualtune. (There is lots of story potential in Palmares.)  Interesting stories, and interesting people, and it does not conform to the stereotypes that so many people still hold.

Also, the silver trade led to Japanese samurai working as guards, first in the Philippines and then in Mexico. That's pretty interesting.

There is a sad tendency to erase all of that richness. No, there wouldn't be black people there, or women wouldn't do that. Even in the time period, there was a whose series of Mexican "casta" paintings showing the different racial combinations that ignored the Asian population.

Some people will call a request for representation "political correctness", but the greater representation is more correct. People from all over the world have been bumping into each other - trading with each other, living as neighbors, making babies together - for a really long time.

I could go on and on about this, and this is already kind of long, but add that as another reason for representation. Not just because it is important for all kinds of people to be able to see themselves, not just because seeing different kinds of people builds empathy, but because the world has been interesting and diverse for a long time, and the idea that it hasn't is a lie that serves oppression.

On that note, I wish to conclude with a referral to the Tumblr page, People of Color in European Art History.

Look at the eras on the side, and how far they go back. It's worth checking out.

Related posts:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pre-NAHM reading

When I was writing up the 2013 Native American Heritage Month reading, I mentioned that there were three books I wanted to read before, because I felt like they might relate. I have read them all now. They did not relate the way I thought they might, but that doesn't make it a loss.

Two of the books were Ken Kesey novels: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Sometimes A Great Notion.

I have mixed feelings about Kesey. There are strong ties between him and the University of Oregon. I have seen him speak there, and I felt very warmly to him. I never met him, but I have met people who knew him and loved him, and they are people I love, so I guess there is a transitive property there. I also disagree with him about things.

I know you're thinking it's the drugs, but it's not only that. That part doesn't come up in the books that I have read so far.

One thing that frustrates me is a sort of naivete about sex. I remember thinking about this earlier looking in one of the volumes of Spit In The Ocean, but it came up in both books. Prostitution and statutory rape are treated as relatively innocent, when they can be very damaging. That bothers me.

The language use bothers me. There is some racist language in Cuckoo's Nest, but there is also an understanding that if the orderlies are brutal, there are reasons for it. However, in Notion, the white characters are constantly calling each other the N-word and "coon". It is insulting, but playful, the way that a lot of contemporary men use "fag" and "gay".

They will tell you that they don't mean it that way, but I think we have enough celebrities who have lashed out at paparazzi using that as an insult to indicate that at least on one level those words are used as insults. Does that mean that the users really do have contempt for those who actually are homosexual? Are they comfortable with that? If not, that's probably a good reason to quit using those words as casual insults.

Jonah Hill's apology for when he did it was pretty good - more focus on apologizing than on proving that he wasn't a bad person (which is actually more effective) - and I want to reiterate something he said in it"

"Words have weight and meaning..."

They do.

I don't doubt that the language that Kesey replicates was common for the time. If you want to convey that time and place accurately, that might be a reason to use it, but I also understand there was a problem with it. It was built on lies that were harmful, and it perpetuated that. That really bothers me.

So I am reading those things, and bothered by them, and yet I don't believe that Kesey was particularly racist. I also know that while there was this idea of "free love", a lot of the people who were around then ended up having pretty conventional families with long-lasting marriages and children and a structure that probably looked a lot like the families of those who hated the dirty hippies.

It leaves me always wanting to read more. That's not necessarily because I like the writing so much. Both stories moved me, and the writing in Cuckoo's Nest worked pretty well for me. Yes, things are weird at times, since you are viewing it through the eyes of a mental patient, but I thought it worked.

Notion was hard to get into. The present tense is used, and there are jumps between viewpoints and times. There was about a thirty-page adjustment period that was really hard, and then I got into it, but I would never choose that for pleasure reading. I like more clarity.

And I guess that's why I want to read more. My relationship to Kesey is reader-author, but I think of him as a person, and so I want to know, did he believe that? Did he really think that? Did he see various nuances? Maybe the next book will tell me.

There is one thing that I really appreciate about him though. Many novelists think that literature needs to end with the often miserable death of the character. I can see why they do. Everyone dies, and so a traditional happy ending might feel like you are ignoring mortality, and the fact that the happiest ending is only temporary.

As much as I get that, there can be really good times before that. There are arcs in your life where something is achieved and resolved and you are still alive at the end. Then more things happen, but still, there are positive conclusions. So while ignoring mortality is dishonest in one way, morbidity isn't honest either.

Therefore I appreciate that the protagonists are left with a chance. You don't know what will happen to Chief Bromden as he leaves the hospital. You don't know if the river run will be successful, but in that case knowing would kind of ruin it, either way. There have been deaths, grueling ones, but there is still life too.

I did appreciate that.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Comic Reading List, Part 1

This is not a list of comics I want to read, though that is also a thing.

As I started seeing more story ideas as comics, and wanted to be able to draw them, I also started building up a list of books that I believed would be helpful. I started reading them, and then I realized it was too soon to get to many of them. This was disappointing, but every phase has its own charms, and I can adjust to that.

I did start worrying that at some point when I do read the others, and it is time to put it all together and evaluate it, that these first few read would be lost. If I write about them now then I have done some of the analysis, and I will have a record of it, so hey, as a little diversion from the heavy stuff, here are some books I read on a topic that I am not done studying!

How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema

I'm not sure how much adherence to the Marvel style is still expected of current Marvel artists, but I think the book provides a good perspective on comic art in general and an understanding of the historic look. It combines basic drawing principles like lines of sight and proportions, but also the face shapes and the poses that were specific to Marvel. It's a pretty easy read, and kind of fun too. If you are not interested in drawing but a fan of classic comics I think you will still find it entertaining.

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe:

Once upon a time I would say that anyone who wanted to work in comics should read the How to Draw book. If you wish to work in comics anywhere, there's a lot to be said for reading The Untold Story too.

There is a lot of interesting information, though the telling is unfortunately dry. However, if you are interested in the industry it is worth reading it anyway to be aware of some of the types of people you will encounter, the frustrations that are likely, and it would be wise to take note of the many early deaths that seem to be a result of the horrible stress and pressures. I'm not saying not to work in comics - just enter informed so you can have some guards and escape valves in place.

Figure Drawing For All It's Worth by Andrew Loomis

Professional artists love his books, and I have a few more of his on my list. This particular one is just what the title says. It is focusing on drawing the human figure and focusing on it specifically for commercial purposes, like advertising and magazine illustrations. That industry has probably changed too, but the basic ideas on proportions and making poses dynamic is certainly still relevant. He does use very idealized figures, but if you take that information and still attend life drawing sessions on a regular basis where you are seeing other types of bodies, it should work out.

FYI, everyone is mostly naked, including on the cover. It's not salacious, but yeah, lots of nudity. My sister picked up the copy I had on hold, and she was embarrassed.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards

This was my absolute favorite. You learn so much about the brain, and how it perceives. So yes, there is drawing information but it is not only that. I have not ruled out buying the book, or taking one of the live sessions if an opportunity comes up. One thing you will see is that drawing is a good thing to do, and using the right side of the brain to do it is a good thing, regardless of your livelihood. That was fascinating. I read the 4th edition which has updates as science learns more about brain function, so while I am sure the older versions have a lot of the information, look for the newer version.

There were nine books total, so I am not quite halfway through, and I'm not sure when I will get back to them, but there's always something interesting going on, and I guess it can't all happen at once.

For anyone interested, the unread drawing books are listed below:

The Art of Comic Book Inking by Gary Martin
Draw 50 Famous Cartoons by Lee Ames
Creative Illustrations by Andrew Loomis
Successful Drawing by Andrew Loomis
Words for Pictures by Brian Michael Bendis

Friday, March 20, 2015

Band Review: The Band of Strangers

In honor of a new "Grimm" tonight (after leaving things at an interesting point, like they usually to do), I thought this would be a good time to review The Band of Strangers. They were recommended by Bree Turner, who plays Rosalee on the show and singer Ryan Saliman's sister-in-law in real life.

The Band of Strangers is an Alt Country Rock/American band. Working out of Los Angeles, they were first started in New York. That seems appropriate for a band with such far-flung roots. Simply going over their bio page, Saliman (who also plays guitar and writes songs) has ties to Colorado before New York, Lianne Ward (instruments and vocals) is from Massachusetts, guitarist Johnny Abella has roots in the Philippines and Pennsylvania, drummer Chris Lovejoy was raised in Texas between being born in and returning to New York, and bassist Matt DelVecchio is said to have taken his music around the world and back, which definitely includes Japan, England, Portugal, and school in Miami.

(I do not know if there is any relation between Matt DelVecchio and Dan DelVecchio of Face The King. Maybe.)

Most of the band members are listed as playing multiple instruments, and you will occasionally notice different sounds coming through. With the range of expertise and experience among the members, they have a fair amount of options open for how to fill in the sounds.

Currently there is a 6-track EP available, with songs that dip into country, blues, and folk. The most Americana-esque song may be "Bait N' Pole" which references "The Crawdad Song", an American classic, but updates it with rock guitar and possibly some innuendo. Songs like "Help" and "When the Light Gets In" kind of give me a Gospel feeling, though it is not a Gospel sound (which is I guess why I'm calling it folk).

My overall favorite track was "The Black Bird Song", which stirred my emotions musically and has a video with some pretty cool animation, so check that out.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Band Review: Words & Noises

Time for another Manchester band! Today it is Pop/Rock duo Words & Noises.

The first thing that I noticed on listening is that I had already heard "Forget Me Not", having checked it out when the band released a link to the video. It had been a while, but I instantly recognized the catchy tune.

While "Forget Me Not" is probably their most pop sound, it is not the sound that I most associate with them after listening to the catalog multiple times. There is more of a tendency toward the intellectual and cerebral, like "The Lost Art of Conversation", and even the mournful, like "Love Is A Loaded Gun."

Those ended up leaving strong impressions, while tracks like "Beating Heart" and "Londinium" sped up and left completely different feelings, and "Deceive" brought in some groove. For all of that, the voice came through very clearly. This is a band that thinks about different things and is interested in different things, but still has a strong sense of self.

There are not currently any upcoming shows listed, but there will be a new single released on April 26th, available to press, radio, and Soundcloud.