Standards

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Aphrodite by Robert McGuire, Berkley Books

By now we have been thoroughly disabused of the notion, so heavily advocated by Clement Greenberg, that abstraction was, at last, a pure art “inflated by illegitimate content,” as he claimed in the November 1949 issue of the Partisan Review. Abstraction would therefore be able to cleanse the world of the intellect of any contamination by low-level kitsch. But most of us have since come to understand that kitsch inevitably contaminates every form of human creativity. There is so much heartless and mindless abstract kitsch found on the walls of mansions owned by the rulers of the universe that it is no longer possible to privilege abstraction over any other form of artistic expression. It is therefore meaningless to brand as kitsch only illustration – or comicbook art, or pulp magazine covers. Most of it is, but so is most of contemporary “high” art: the popular arts still have at least certain technical standards that can help us separate the kitsch from the corn.

– Bram Dijkstra

Featured cocktail

Campbells_BeefBroth

The Bullshot

1½ oz vodka
2½ oz Campbell’s beef broth (canned beef broth is traditional here)
Juice of 1 lemon wedge
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes Tabasco sauce

More on the rise and fall of the beef broth cocktail here. More on its rise, at home, tonight. You’re welcome.

Frank Frazetta, Esquire Profile

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Posted below, is the complete text of a June 1977 Esquire Magazine profile of Frank Frazetta. Consider it a small bit of public service for those of us so inclined — as far as I know it is unavailable anywhere on the internets. What a gonzo article, too, a perfect example of the macho free associative style of “the New Journalism” so in vogue back then. The opening roll call of pop cult, fantasy and sci-fi cuties is hysterically engaging — Thuvia, Dejah Thoris, Ayesha, Dale Arden, Vampirella, Barbarella, Taia, Morgan Le Fey, culminating in — flabbergastingly — Homer’s Helen of Troy. It then settles into a comprehensive profile of Frazetta’s life and work. Then there’s the classic oh-so-Esquire moment where they wake Tom Wolfe up from bed (!) to opine about, high art, snobby modernism, and the muscular vitality of commercial illustration. Perfectly entertaining, and to those of us entranced with Frazetta, indispensable. Enjoy. (On screen pages below, downloadable PDF here.)

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Daylight Savings Time

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Jean-honoré Fragonard,  The Goddess Aurora Triumphing Over Night, 1732 – 1806
Sold at Sotheby’s, February 2013 for $3,834,500 in case you were curious.

Recipie

SAVILLE POSTER-YELLOW

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All designs by the inimitable Peter Sevillle (Factory Records, New Order, OMD, Durutti Column, Ultravox, Duran Duran, King Crmison…) It a’int my manifesto exactly, but I’m stirred nonetheless by its brash glitz cut with a swoon for the assembly line.

Perfect Storm

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Simply wonderful illustration by the crushingly deft Tomer Hanuka. Perfectly evocative of the languid coziness of city snowstorms. Also happens to be an uncanny rendering of my old bedroom window overlooking Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It takes a lot to make me miss living in New York City. Well done.

#Euromaidan

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photographs via Atlantic Monthly

 

Ukrainian writer Yuri Andrukhovych on the situation in Ukraine

These days I receive from you lots of inquiries requesting to describe the current situation in Kyiv and overall in Ukraine, express my opinion on what is happening, and formulate my vision of at least the nearest future. Since I am simply physically unable to respond separately to each of your publications with an extended analytical essay, I have decided to prepare this brief statement which each of you can use in accordance with your needs. The most important things I must tell you are as follows.

During the less than four years of its rule, Mr. Yanukovych’s regime has brought the country and the society to the utter limit of tensions. Even worse, it has boxed itself into a no-exit situation where it must hold on to power forever—by any means necessary. Otherwise it would have to face criminal justice in its full severity. The scale of what has been stolen and usurped exceeds all imaginination of what human avarice is capable.

The only answer this regime has been proposing in the face of peaceful protests, now in their third month, is violence, violence that escalates and is “hybrid” in its nature: special forces’ attacks at the Maidan are combined with individual harassment and persecution of opposition activists and ordinary participants in protest actions (surveillance, beatings, torching of cars and houses, storming of residences, searches, arrests, rubber-stamp court proceedings). The keyword here is intimidation. And since it is ineffective, and people are protesting on an increasingly massive scale, the powers-that-be make these repressive actions even harsher.

The “legal base” for them was created on January 16, when the Members of Parliament fully dependent on the President, in a crude violation of all rules of procedure and voting, indeed of the Constitution itself, in the course of just a couple of minutes (!) with a simple show of hands (!) [Ukrainian Parliament uses an electronic vote] voted in a whole series of legal changes which effectively introduce dictatorial rule and a state of emergency in the country without formally declaring them. For instance, by writing and disseminating this, I am subject to several new criminal code articles for “defamation,” “inflaming tensions,” etc.

Briefly put, if these “laws” are recognized, one should conclude: in Ukraine, everything that is not expressly permitted by the powers-that-be is forbidden. And the only thing permitted by those in power is to yield to them.

Not agreeing to these “laws,” on January 19 the Ukrainian society rose up, yet again, to defend its future.

Today in television newsreels coming from Kyiv you can see protesters in various kinds of helmets and masks on their faces, sometimes with wooden sticks in their hands. Do not believe that these are “extremists,” “provocateurs,” or “right-wing radicals.” My friends and I also now go out protesting dressed this way. In this sense my wife, my daughter, our friends, and I are also “extremists.” We have no other option: we have to protect our life and health, as well as the life and health of those near and dear to us. Special forces units shoot at us, their snipers kill our friends. The number of protesters killed just on one block in the city’s government quarter is, according to different reports, either 5 or 7. Additionally, dozens of people in Kyiv are missing.

We cannot halt the protests, for this would mean that we agree to live in a country that has been turned into a lifelong prison. The younger generation of Ukrainians, which grew up and matured in the post-Soviet years, organically rejects all forms of dictatorship. If dictatorship wins, Europe must take into account the prospect of a North Korea at its eastern border and, according to various estimates, between 5 and 10 million refugees. I do not want to frighten you.

We now have a revolution of the young. Those in power wage their war first and foremost against them. When darkness falls on Kyiv, unidentified groups of “people in civilian clothes” roam the city, hunting for the young people, especially those who wear the symbols of the Maidan or the European Union. They kidnap them, take them out into forests, where they are stripped and tortured in fiercely cold weather. For some strange reason the victims of such actions are overwhelmingly young artists—actors, painters, poets. One feels that some strange “death squadrons” have been released in the country with an assignment to wipe out all that is best in it.

One more characteristic detail: in Kyiv hospitals the police force entrap the wounded protesters; they are kidnapped and (I repeat, we are talking about wounded persons) taken out for interrogation at undisclosed locations. It has become dangerous to turn to a hospital even for random passersby who were grazed by a shard of a police plastic grenade. The medics only gesture helplessly and release the patients to the so-called “law enforcement.”

To conclude: in Ukraine full-scale crimes against humanity are now being committed, and it is the present government that is responsible for them. If there are any extremists present in this situation, it is the country’s highest leadership that deserves to be labeled as such.

And now turning to your two questions which are traditionally the most difficult for me to answer: I don’t know what will happen next, just as I don’t know what you could now do for us. However, you can disseminate, to the extent your contacts and possibilities allow, this appeal. Also, empathize with us. Think about us. We shall overcome all the same, no matter how hard they rage. The Ukrainian people, without exaggeration, now defend the European values of a free and just society with their own blood. I very much hope that you will appreciate this.

BLUE JAY

Illustrations of animal and wildlife

Reader, look at the plate in which are represented three individuals of this beautiful species — rogues though they be, and thieves, as l would call them, were it fit for me to pass judgment on their actions, See how each is enjoying the fruits of his knavery, sucking the egg which he has pilfered from the nest of some innocent Dove or harmless Partridge! Who could imagine that a form so graceful, arrayed by nature in a garb so resplendent, should harbour so much mischief;—that selfishness, duplicity, and malice should form the moral accompaniments of so much physical perfection! Yet so it is, and how like beings of a much higher order, are these gay deceivers! Aye, l could write you a whole chapter on this subject, were not my task of a different nature.

John James Audubon

John James Audubon, Birds of America, Plate 102 – engraved by R. Havell

 

For Your Pleasure 2013

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This year was ruled by bands & musicians I hold very dear dropping career defining albums out of nowhere. Albums that were reconnections, reminders & remembrances of their fundamental radness — each, though, indelibly colored by an autumnal mood, recognition of age, time & wear.

I thought the best rekkid honors were done & done as early as February with Bad Religion’s exhilarating True North — songs firing like model rocket engines, a compressed crackling burn and then, a minute or so later, lay smoldering. A career capper, a middle age manifesto, and the last classic of mid-80′s SoCal melodic hardcore.

Months later I’m in Toronto at a record shop where I finally scored the long coveted debut EP by Men Without Hats. Can that snigger, bignuts — this bands gifts are substantial & buried, like Wall of Voodoo’s, under the debris of their sky-blotting single hit. You fucking bet you can dance if you want to…

Anyway — this leads me to wonder what they’ve been up to recently. The answer? A stunner of a record, Love in the Age of War, recorded in late 2012 (news about MWOH travels slowly) on their original analog gear. It was originally titled Folk of The 80’s Part IV, thus deliberately planting it in line with the band’s killer run of raw synth records before the more painterly & ambitious Pop Goes the World. Alternately thrilling & poignant, this ruled the headphones for months.

Then Bowie drops The Next Day, the last word on last words as far as Olympian rockers go. Superfan Rick Moody nailed it in a long exegesis for the Rumpus — it’s a particularly tuned masterpiece, functioning as a hall of mirrors & memory palace of Bowies guises, obsessions, and, above all, vocals. For the heaviness of its agenda, it’s a remarkably unlabored listen — a great batch of songs, carefully & secretly handcrafted then released with Bowie’s characteristic savvy. The record cover tells you every single thing you need to know about it, a conceptually brilliant shorthand to a tremendously rich & deep listen.

Weaving amongst these heavies was the year’s big discovery — the Aussie all-lady foursome Beaches. Their second album, She Beats, was a swirly, gauzy, fuzzy, fuzzy, swirly, gauzy pleasure. Melodic swells dove in and out of  the din like dolphins, underpinned by a steady motorik beat (Harmonia’s Michael Rother guests) The grin-goosing “Chase Those Blues Away” was the tune of the year.

Welcome electronic transmissions resumed from the Boards of Canada & Barbara Morgenstern – bleeps and bloops both heavy and light.

Psych alchemist Kelley Stoltz has long completed his apprenticeship — this years Double Exposure, a fusillade of handmade pop-psych bliss, is a killer follow-up to 2010’s equally ace To Dreamers. The spellbinding cover, featuring Stoltz’s mom back in the 70’s drawing a bow in what looks like hockey pads on a shag rug backed by a large op art painting & a hi-fi, was the year’s best.

Spelunking in the shops yielded treasures galore this year — Babe Buell’s Covers Girl EP where the fetching groupie (and Arwen Undómiel’s mom) is produced by Rick Derringer, backed by the Cars, and covers Love & Iggy; James Freud’s forgotten mod/synth mashup, bought on the strength of the cover alone; vinyl versions of high-school mix-tape staples interred for decades on cassettes like Flipper’s “Ha Ha Ha,” Vagina Dentata’s legendary Darby Crash penned “Golden Boys”, Frightwig’s careening “Wanque Off Song”, and Hawaiian Pups’ resolutely odd & yet irresistible “Baby Judy.”

Nick Cave played the year’s best show. A few songs into his set at the Keswick Theatre, Cave, exasperated by the staid & respectful audience, demanded a stage rush. As a result I finally got a sustained barrage of legendary close-up Cave — thin, ungainly, tall & lanky, mustachioed, posture lurching & off kilter, reminding me of no-one as much as a demonic Fawlty Tower’s era John Cleese… a gobsmackingly riveting performance.

A few ace re-issues appeared, each a welcome surprise. Dark Entries’ collection of the early recordings by Algebra Suicide is a public service, helping to secure the legacy of the formidably talented Detroit Ukrainian poet & singer Lydia Tomkiw. And then a delightfully random Clothilde collection! Clothilde was weird salvo in the barrage of 60’s French girl pop, or ye ye. The moodiness of Francoise Hardy, the bubbly delivery of France Gall, set to ramshackle fuzz & harpsichord  constructions reminiscent of Joe Meek. Light In The Attic kicked off the Public Image Limited reissue series with a lovingly reproduced 7” of their debut single, complete with foldout faux tabloid. I’ve loved this song for over 25 years – it hasn’t lost a drop of it’s power, originality, venom, or pop and it sounds, as it always has, utterly vital.

I listened to a lot of Reggae on Sunday afternoons. Weird — music just finds you when you are ready for it, I guess.

Then out of the blue ether, the Chills drop Somewhere Beautiful, a rough & crystalline live recording of a small New Years party they played a while back. Prolific, yet sporadically recorded back in the late 80’s and early 90′s, New Zealand’s the Chills were led by the preposterously gifted, big hearted, but troubled Martin Phillipps. Their first singles, and two LPs (especially Submarine Bells) were peerless muscular, shimmering beauties. After a brush with popularity that found them recording with R.E.M. and Van Dyke Parks, Phillipps’ crushing heroin habit subsumed the band. Living hardscrabble, he managed only one more proper LP, a demos release and a home recorded 4 song EP since then — all excellent. Then this miracle. The band has more heft & swing than before, and even with a few lovely embellishment the sound is more garage-y than gossamer. Phillipps’ voice, though, is a revelation. While still melodically supple, a rawness tears through the songs, the edge of his sharp New Zealand accent present as never before. Each song is recast, invested with new energy, and inflected by real pain & directness. It’s a fucking stunner, and hands down the years best record.

DOWNLOAD THE COMP HERE. ENJOY!

cover image: Boucher, François, Allegory of Music (detail) National Gallery, DC

 

thomas wilmer dewing

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Thomas Wilmer Dewing - The Recitation 1891

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The_Gossip

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I recently took a pal to the Isabella Garder Museum in Boston. It is simply one of the most beautiful, sublime environments to take in art — it’s an indelible reminder of how central decor & architecture are to the experience of a particular artwork. That experience is especially powerful and acute in the famous “Yellow” and “Blue” rooms, where furniture, small doodles, ephemera, exquisite wallpapers, surround and mingle with masterworks by Rossetti, Sargent, Whistler and Degas.

My collegue was particulary taken with a smallish, glittering portrait of a woman (above) by Thomas Wilmer Dewing. Further research hauled up a lovely cache of paintings — most stranger & more fetching than the one in the Gardner. Turns out Dewing was a tonal painter heavily influenced by James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s work, especially his famous Nocturnes (which I also dig. I wrote about them a few years back, here. There’s also one in the Yellow Room) There’s a gauzy texture to his paintings I absolutely adore & sets them well apart from the usual parade of society portraiture and pastoral vingettes. Enjoy.

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