Monday, July 28, 2014

Audioblogging: The Lightning Tape, 1985


My activities as a musician were sporadic and spasmodic. I wrote earlier about my first band which was basically a teen dada prank. After that, in 1984, I started making more "serious" music with a guy I'll call Joe Humble (he came up with this pseudonym), a fabulously talented guitarist who had previously been in Clean Dog, probably my favorite ever local Tucson art/punk band. Throughout the Summer of 1984, we played several two-man shows, achieving a bit of notoriety for our noisy, unconventional music. We used backing tapes. We were arty. We played at a bar in a shopping mall!

In 1985, I took a semester off college and returned to Tucson, and Joe and I picked up where we left off. This time, however, we found a great friend, Diane Griffin**,  a friendly and adept punk rock bass player, who was interested in working with us because she wanted to make some more interesting music. The name we chose, PS Bingo, is meaningless, and we instantly hated it. We ended up making flyers for shows using different band names (sometimes more than one for a single show) with (formerly PS Bingo) written underneath.

Practice space was a bit of a problem. We tried a couple of times in my brother's old bedroom, but the ambiance was wrong. One night, the three of us met at Joe's parent's house to work on some ideas. This was in the middle of an incredible thunderstorm with tons of lightning striking close to the house.

The music we came up with that evening wasn't all that great: a lot of "noodling" and meandering that didn't progress in any meaningful direction. What we didn't know, however, was the impact all the lightning was having on the 4-track recording we made of the session! In fact, "mother nature" considerably transformed this lackluster jam session: randomly switching on and off different inputs, muffing some tracks while exaggerating others, switching unexpectedly from one layer of noise to the next. Nature's remix really pulled this one off, and that is the first track on this "album". It's 15 minutes of audio catastrophe! If you like tape hiss, you will LOVE IT.

We needed a proper practice space where we could get loud. Joe asked the drummer from his old band, Dave Perry, if we could use his warehouse space, and were thrilled when he agreed. We were even more thrilled when Dave, bored with playing in lite Jazz and top 40 cover bands (dude had chops), offered his services as a drummer. Rhythm section completed!

We ended up playing quite a bit in Tucson, but I don't think we made much of an impact at all. Since Joe and I had basically picked up a rock band rhythm section, we sounded much more "rock" than we had as a twosome, but it was a weird, kinda Pere Ubu-type rock. No commercial potential, and we never tried to achieve any. The best parts of our live shows were when Joe and Diane, who was getting better and better each day, would both play bass for several pieces. We mostly played on Monday nights at a steakhouse. Sometimes we had a trombone player!

So the remaining tracks here are four versions of three songs from our earliest practice sessions with Dave Perry on drums. One of them is really bad. Can you tell which?

I don't know... I can't really judge this stuff objectively. It's awkward nerd music made by awkward nerd people in Arizona in the mid 1980s, OK?

Download the Zip archive (40mb), which includes 28 minutes of music and artwork, here.

**Diane Griffin, by the way, is the same Pony Pal™ Diane who frequently comments on this blog! Diane now lives in Boston, and you should follow her on Twitter here.

If anybody is interested in more, there is more.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Spotted: Another Prolific eBay Vendor Of Fake Cartoon Art

(Uhhh... yeah.)

Did Tony Greco move his Gallery on Baum to Minnesota? Ha ha, I don't think so, but the seller "timetreats" on eBay just may give Greco a run for his money for sending out into the world an extraordinary number of dodgy looking celebrity signatures and terrible drawings "by" famous animators.

The resemblance to the Gallery on Baum case is remarkable: modest fan drawings and autographs with no provenance. Each one is sold for cheap, but LOTS of them are sold. The drawings have an unmistakable "all drawn by the same person" look to them. The seller appears to have hard-to-believe numbers of drawings and autographs by certain people (like Grace Slick! So weird!).

And, of course, there's the quality. These are just absolutely laughable:

(I do not believe Friz Freleng drew this)

(Come on, now!)

These are even worse than Gallery on Baum's fakes, and that's saying something. And when I say "fakes" I mean "forgeries," blatantly manufactured with the intent to deceive. Is the seller the forger? Who knows? He/she certainly isn't a very good judge of quality, that's for sure.

I love the obvious defensiveness in the descriptions:

I sell no pre-printed items done by a Xerox machine, printing press, auto-pen, or some other robotic contraption; every item is absolutely self-evident that it was endorsed by human hands. The vast majority of the autographed material that I have listed for sale has been obtained through correspondence with the noted individual. However, some material is obtained through other sources, such as collections that I purchase. Items such as these usually carry no COAs. However, there are authentication resources available where you may acquire some acclaimed-wizards perspective on items. Fundamentally, I hold no degree doctorate in autograph authentication, so I wish to forgo the process myself. So, I have opted to sell these items under the "entertainment piece" criteria; just awesomely-cool-trinkets to adore. Hence the frugal price.

"I can't prove these are real. Can you prove they're fake?" Uh, yeah, by looking at them.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On Kawara's Final Conceptual Art Gag?

(Close but no banana, via Hyperallergic)

I've always loved the work of On Kawara, the conceptual artist who made time, dates, delay and, really, his own continuing existence the essential components of his artwork.

I've been working with Kawara images recently, so it came as a depressing surprise on July 10 when news of his death started popping up on Twitter. Saddened, I searched the web for more info, but found nothing. Had he really died? It seemed like too random a name to pull out of the hat for a Twitter death hoax.

Luckily, I knew just the person to contact for confirmation, an insider who would know for sure. This person confirmed to me that Kawara had, in fact, died "over a week ago," and that no announcement had been made because his family and representatives were waiting for an opportune time to announce his passing. I had to break it to this person that the news had leaked and was all over Twitter, so within an hour or two, Kawara's gallery released a confirmation, but said nothing about how, where, or when he had died. Now, I knew from my source that he had already been dead for over a week, but since this was insidery information gained through my work, I was not able to share this clarification*

And this became quickly very funny as people, assuming Kawara had died that day, immediately began posting tributes and obits. The Art Newspaper, for instance, wrote the following:

On Kawara, the Japanese-born conceptual artist best known for making date paintings for the past 48 years, died today, Thursday 10 July, at the age of 81. 

Elsewhere, people had the great idea of creating ersatz On Kawara date paintings displaying the (incorrect) date of his death, such as the one shown above, and this one from the Huffington Post:


Finally, last night, the New York Times published their "official" obituary for the artist, and wouldn't you know it? They did not release the exact date of his death, but did reveal that it had occurred over a week before July 10:

On Kawara, a Conceptual artist who devoted his career to recording the passage of time as factually and self-effacingly as art would allow, died in late June in New York City, where he had worked for 50 years. He was 81.

I can't help but think that Kawara's family intentionally withheld the specific death date.  Perhaps on his instructions? Who knows, but it seems right, doesn't it, that the artist whose work was so involved in precise time spans and dates, would throw such uncertainty into the mix when he ceased to exist? Well played, Mr. Kawara.

But for just a few days, when people thought they knew when he died, and I knew that I didn't, in fact, know, made me feel like I was fortunate to be experiencing his final artwork, a complex conceptual prank which very few people knew was happening.

And for that, I feel lucky.

So here's my more-accurate tribute to the great On Kawara. You will be missed:


*Obviously I can now that the NYT obit was released.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

If An Illustration Falls In The Forest And Nobody Is Around To See it...

(Click for bigger.)

I used to try to get freelance illustration work. Frankly, I wasn't really cut out for the freelance hustle. Also, I never again wanted to hear the phrase "We can't pay, but this will be really good exposure for you." I haven't done any commercial illustration work for over a decade, and I haven't sought out such work for over 15 years.

Imagine my surprise, then, last Winter when, out of the blue, I was contacted by an art director for what I feel comfortable calling the world's most famous newspaper. This art director had seen my work online, and wanted to know if I'd be interested in doing an illustration for what I'll call Capital Letter Magazine, their semi-regular, ULTRA-glossy Sunday fashion and style supplement.

The article was about Hollywood movie ingenues who had matured gracefully into sometimes surprisingly unglamorous television roles. Pretty specific! I immediately thought of Piper Laurie in Twin Peaks, but the article was mostly, apparently, about Jessica Lange and... uh... actually, I forget who else. I love Jessica Lange, so I said I'd do it.

The somewhat awkward thing is that the art director had something fairly specific in mind. He/She wanted something specifically like this image of Condoleezza Rice I made in 2006 by collaging together photographs I took off my TV screen:


(Click for bigger.)


So, OK, taking photos off the TV screen of American Horror Story was definitely going to be the backbone of the image, combined with progressively younger pictures of Ms. Lange. The trouble was this: that picture of Condi makes her look like a terrifying monster! And I was pretty sure that's not what they wanted me to do with Jessica Lange, so it was a struggle to make the point without the result being cruel or grotesque. I think I got just the right shot, one of the few sympathetic views of Lange's wonderfully terrible character from American Horror Story.

I went through several arrangements and compositions before arriving at the image at the top of this post (do click it for the larger version). I had to have the magazine obtain the old publicity shots through official channels, so I had to pick specific shots and stick with them. Eh, I don't know. I think that given the assignment and the parameters, it's kind of nice. It's OK. Not really my style! I had originally done that collage of Condi because I took the shots off the TV, and they turned out so badly that I just kind of threw them together to make the best of a bad job.

There was some back and forth via email, and I eventually turned the illustration in. The art director was nice throughout the whole process. After finishing, I asked when the article was going to run, and got... no answer.

Keep in mind that most freelance illustration doesn't pay until after publication. In this case, not all that much, either (shoe money).

I figured, whatever, probably it'll run in the next month or so. It didn't. So about three months after turning in the illustration, I emailed the art director to ask if/when the article might run, or if it had been axed. And I swear I was polite! Just a simple, straightforward, polite, two sentence query. No answer. Busy person? Once he/she is done with you, he/she is done with you? Who knows!

I rechecked the emails. Had I simply been pranked? Punked by a mean-spirited spurious  "art director" out for laughs? No, all the names and email addresses were real and logical.

Anyway, it's been almost eight months now, and it still hasn't run, so I figure, fuck it, the article obviously got killed, so here's the Jessica Lange photo illustration that I did, evidently, for no reason whatsoever. Enjoy.

This is why I stopped trying to freelance! How do people deal with this stuff all the time?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Field Trip Report: Pittsburgh, PA

(The view from my hotel window. Click most for bigger.)

So! A mini vacation! Sparklesibling Marilyn told me several weeks ago that she was going to attend a conference in Pittsburgh. Since that's close-ish (ha ha, not really), I decided to join her there. I've always really enjoyed one-on-one time with this sister, and those times seem to get fewer and farther between these days, so it was great fun to experience a totally alien city with her.

I was dumb: I assumed I could just grab an AMTRAK to Pittsburgh, but it turns out that is not a thing one can do in DC! So I took the Megabus, which is super cheap on the one hand, but... well, buslike on the other. It took me roughly the same amount of time to get there as my sister's flight from Tucson. The trip was worth it at least for the opportunity to photograph the milk truck I posted the other day.

We stayed at the Marriot which is right in the middle of downtown, in the "Golden Triangle" created by the meeting of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. It's a nifty Midwest-style downtown featuring a fun mixture of Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern architecture, with just a smattering of older and newer things collaged in. Supposedly this is where the "cultural district" is as well, but I was unconvinced.

(The Golden Triangle from the north shore of the Allegheny.
The Andy Warhol Bridge is on the left.)

Or, rather, perhaps I was distracted by all the gigantic anthropomorphic creatures wandering around everywhere we went? Before you ask, no, we weren't dabbling in LSD. It turned out that we had come just in time for the big annual "furrie" convention! It took place at the (beautiful) convention center just down the street, and many of the animal sex cartoon enthusiasts were staying at our hotel! It definitely added a surreal spin on our time there, just constantly being in the presence of LOTS of people in animal costumes and ludicrous tails sticking out of their jeans EVERYWHERE you went in the area, at night and in broad daylight:

(Foxes outnumbered other animal types 5:1)

OK, OK, yes, furries are ridiculous. Let's get that out of the way. Most of it I just don't get, and some of the parts I DO get seem gross/dumb. I could go on and on, and yes, Marilyn and I shared many an incredulous glance due to the furries' antics, but you know what? Pittsburgh made me realize that I would have to be, honestly, a dick to do that. Who am I to criticize the furries? I'm pretty much a oddball, too, so go ahead with your weird selves, furries. Indeed, Anthrocon, as the event is known, had some mean receptions in other cities before being so cordially welcomed by Pittsburgh that they made the city its yearly home. I think that says good things about Pittsburgh.

Otherwise, I was surprised by the city, because I expected it to be like an East Coast metropolis, and it just isn't. It doesn't resemble Philadelphia in the slightest. It reminded me more of Milwaukee than any other place I've been. Also unlike East Coast cities, this is NOT a good one to visit without a car, so that restricted our visit somewhat (I don't drive, and Marilyn didn't rent a car). You have to call a cab ON THE PHONE.

We went to the Andy Warhol Museum, which is worth the trip alone (you can see a selfie we took here). They had an excellent special exhibition on Warhol and Halston, which included a glamorous selection of outfits and accessories which hit all the right high (Warhol's stitched-together photographs) and low (Studio 54!) notes. I was thrilled to see the mink bunny mask worn by Candice Bergen to Truman Capote's Black and White Ball, because I was missing the fiurries (see a photo of the mask here).

The Warhol's permanent collection is spotty, heavy on unsold and leftover (and unfinished!) paintings, but they have an amazing amount of his early commercial illustration work, which was a thrill to a fan of the genre like me, and an eye-opener for Marilyn, who didn't know about Warhol's beautiful early drawings. His very late work gets a good spotlight here, too, as do his underrated late 70s/early 80s commissioned portraits, which are all gorgeous, shut up.

(Heinz Ketchup/Torosaurus mashup, Market Square. A great icon for the city.)

We also went to the Carnegie Museum of Art, which came as an impressive surprise. I was expecting a collection reflecting typical, fusty, robber baron tastes, and the founding collection is certainly that. What I didn't expect was an outstanding collection of modern and contemporary art. They have a particularly good group of early modern pieces, including the best Marsden Hartleys I've ever seen, some lovely Doves, a great early Mondrian tree abstraction, and many other gems. The contemporary collection is challenging and demonstrates an almost uncanny prescience in just what to acquire and when. I really enjoyed their disturbing Mike Kelley installation, and wanted to sacrifice a swan to their royal blue Craig McCracken plank.And they have David Hockney's portrait of Divine!

And if you're at the Carnegie, you have to go to the Museum of Natural History, home of the best dinosaur displays you will ever see anywhere. It was breathtaking: exceptionally good mounted skeletons and lifelike models all displayed in cunningly created period environments. My jaw never stopped dropping, and I appreciated that they managed so well to balance the appeal to children with smart features for adults. I saw the newly-published "chicken from Hell," which was amazing and creepy and not quite like any dinosaur you've ever seen.

Eating in downtown Pittsburgh was a bit of a challenge: lots of chain "restaurants" and many lunch hour places which weren't open due to the holiday weekend. We were very lucky to have the outstanding Meat and Potatoes recommended to us, and we ate there both Saturday evening and Sunday morning for brunch. They specialize in a kind of chiced-up, but not too twee, comfort food, like pot roast done so perfectly you can't believe it. For dinner, I had the delicious Hudson Valley Duck Breast with dandelion greens and sauerkraut pirogis:


(OMG, the duck is rare and "pastrami crusted")

That cocktail was some kind of gin concoction with muddled blackberries, and was the best gin drink I've ever had. The place is superb and HIGHLY recommended, and has such an adorable staff they could throw your entrees on the floor and you would remain enamored. For brunch I had a ridiculous version of Eggs Benedict which somehow had a chicken-fried steak in between the perfectly poached eggs and the English muffins, and was SO DELICIOUS.

So a good time was had by all! Some stray observations: with only a couple of exceptions, I did not see a single well-dressed person in Pittsburgh. If you don't care for the sportsball games, it is not the city for you. If there are groovy, hip little shops and fancy boutiques in Pittsburgh, they were skillfully hidden from me (in a far-away neighborhood, I'm guessing). On Saturday evening, I had to say to my sister, "I'm an adult, single, gay man, and I have to go do gay things tonight," so I went to a gay bar  and was kind of surprised at what they let people do in it! "The Strip" is a region of street vendors and caf├ęs and it was PACKED on Saturday and was OK, I guess, if you like filth and crowds and noise (Marilyn and I hated it).

Where should I go next? SOMEWHERE WITH BETTER TRANSPORTATION, PLEASE. Chicago?