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In The Walls.

It’s hard to see, and not least because it’s in the bathroom behind the shower curtain, and behind the shower head, but there’s an oddity in the plaster—I think it’s plaster, anyway; I’m not really sure what the white part of the bathroom walls is made of since it’s not tile and I don’t think it’s drywall which, in a shower, would quickly be wetwall, but that’s another story—that looks to me like a leaping gazelle.

Can’t see it? Making it even harder to see is that it’s very small and it really only looks like part of a gazelle, the gazelle’s head specifically, so it takes an incredible amount of imagination to see anything at all in it. Here’s a badly done outline that might help you see it.

It’s something I look for in the shower in the mornings when I’m still trying to shake off sleep, or when I’m trying to cling to that weird dream I had because I think it might be an interesting idea for a story but usually when I manage to hang onto it long enough to write it down it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

And sometimes I contemplate that this is probably how art got started in the first place: someone looked at a natural or accidental formation and it looked to them like something else so they traced it with the juice of a plant or the ashen end of a burned stick. You might have heard of pareidolia, the phenomenon of seeing faces in inanimate objects or natural formations. It extends well beyond faces.

A Classic Never Goes Out Of Style.

Source: Pinterest

Oh lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz,

My friends all drives Porches, I must make amends.

Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,

So lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

-Janis Joplin, 1970

 

Oh lord, won’t you help me invest in the Pound,

Brexit has killed it, but it’ll come around.

Investment in currency’s a strategy that’s sound,

So lord, won’t you buy me about ten million Pounds.

-2016

 

Oh lord, won’t you buy me a new hybrid car,

Gas prices spiked, I had to sell my Jaguar,

It’s good for the environment to drive like a film star,

So lord, won’t you buy me a new hybrid car?

-2003

 

Oh lord, won’t you buy me an Apple computer,

I’ll use it for finances, and the kids need a tutor,

We like the Macintosh ‘cause it’s so much cuter,

So lord, won’t you buy me an Apple computer?

-1984

 

Oh lord, won’t you buy me a walk-in humidor,

I’ve made millions in dot-coms, I know I’ll make some more,

Someday, I’m sure lord, we’ll even up the score,

But for now, lord, won’t you buy me a walk-in humidor?

-1999

 

Oh lord, won’t you help me out with my mortgage,

I’ve had to put most of my stuff into storage,

I’m cutting out coupons and learning to forage,

So lord won’t you help me out with my mortgage?

-2007

 

Oh lord, won’t you help me invest in real estate,

Flipping homes I fix up has turned out really great,

They say it’s a bubble but there’s no limit on the rate,

So lord, won’t you help me invest in real estate?

-2005

 

Oh lord, won’t you help me solve the damn Rubik’s cube.

My friend does it in minutes, I look like a rube,

If I can’t get all solids I might blow a tube,

So lord, won’t you help me solve the damn Rubik’s cube?

-1981

 

Oh lord, can’t you find me a Tickle Me Elmo,

Christmas is coming and what rhymes with Elmo?

My kid wants one so bad I drove to Anselmo,

So lord, can’t you find me a Tickle me Elmo?

-1996

 

Oh lord, won’t you buy me some single-malt scotch?

I’ve had a bad day, one I’ve totally botched.

That sweet tartan whiskey could take me up a notch,

So lord, won’t you buy me some single-malt scotch?

-ANY TIME

Riding Into The Future.

Some time in the 1990’s the Nashville Public Library put in an electronic catalog and I joked that it was great that they were finally moving into the 1980’s. I think I also threw in some references to Desk Set because there’s nothing like mocking technological advances with a film from before I was born, but that’s another story. Anyway the other day I had a similar experience when I found the bus I was riding had WiFi and I said something like, “Hey, the Nashville MTA is getting so 2012, and has anyone noticed our driver looks a lot like Spencer Tracy? I just hope he doesn’t drink like him.”

It was a lot better than having to rely on the WiFi signals around the bus. Sometimes it’s possible to get a signal from a fast food restaurant at a red light but mostly signals are touch and go.

And here’s a glimpse of my inbox. DON’T JUDGE ME!

It almost made up for the fact that the Nashville MTA’s bus tracking app seems to be permanently offline now. Well, it’s online. It just doesn’t track buses anymore. They even tell you that on the WiFi page.

And the next day I learned that not all buses have WiFi. Just the new purple buses with the slippery plastic seats. I learned it because I was picked up by one of the old standard buses that doesn’t have WiFi. On the bright side the driver looked a lot like Katharine Hepburn.

 

The Long View.

A funny thing about most street art is that you can usually only see it from the street it’s on. Even if it’s high up on a building there are often other buildings around blocking the view so it’s only as you turn a corner that you see it and then it disappears just as quickly.

This mural painted on a tall tower is an exception. As you drive along I-40 headed East toward downtown Nashville you can see it in the distance. From a long way away it’s not even clear what it is but it’s obviously something. It’s only as you get close, and part of the beauty of it is you can get really close—it overlooks the parking lot of White Bison Coffee, a local shop, which is fitting because it puts two things that are distinctly Nashville together in one place.

The mural is the work of internationally known New Zealand artist Guido Van Helten, and, looking at it, you might wonder who the guy is. He’s Lee Estes, a long-time resident of the area, a Nashville neighborhood known as The Nations. Why it’s known as that is somewhat controversial with no clear answer. Mr. Estes remembers much of the history of the area and the city. Growing up his family didn’t have indoor plumbing and raised chickens for eggs and meat. Actually that last part hasn’t changed—or rather it changed with zoning laws that ended the keeping of livestock within county limits. Then it changed back in 2014 when the city council voted to allow homeowners to have chickens on their property, but only chickens. Roosters are verboten, although at least one person has violated that rule—there is at least one part of the city where I’ve heard crowing, but that’s another story.

There’s more detail about the mural at isupportstreetart, and also more pictures. An important detail I missed when taking pictures of this mural is that on the other side of the building there are two young boys next to Mr. Estes, perfectly combining the old and the new.

Winter School.

The winter break should have been longer. I envied kids in the southern hemisphere because they got Christmas or whatever December holidays they celebrated if they had any, right in the middle of summer. Having to go to school in the summer didn’t seem so bad to me because I figured in Australia or Brazil the weather was pretty much summer all the time, sort of like living in Florida, so it’s not as though they were missing out on anything. In the northern hemisphere summer school is a punishment, a purgatory for kids who flunked something vital like math or shop class so badly but whose parents didn’t want them to be held back. In the southern hemisphere summer school is just school. Granted the winter break seemed like it stretched on forever because it spanned not just two whole months but two whole years, and compared to Thanksgiving and Easter holidays that were just a couple of days at most the winter break that stretched out for two whole weeks seemed at the start almost like an eternity until it was over and then it seemed like hardly any time at all, not even long enough to get bored with whatever we’d gotten for Christmas. And I realize that part of it was going back to school in the middle of winter. At least in the fall we’d go back to school just as the weather was changing, or at least as it was supposed to change; since this was Tennessee summer lasted through the middle of October, but that’s another story. The winter break just pulled us out of school toward the end of dull, gray, cold December where we at least had Christmas to look forward to and sent us back to school at the beginning of dull, gray, cold January with nothing to look forward to but dull, gray, cold February and slightly less dull, gray, cold March and perhaps there were months beyond that were brighter and warmer but our bodies and brains were wrapped up in so much cotton we couldn’t imagine that far. And all through grade school we were going back to the same classes, the same schedule, we’d been on before. It wasn’t like the fall and starting over when everything was new and there was a chance to start over. Coming back from winter break meant coming back to the same crappy chewed up pencils, getting back the exams we’d all failed because no one could concentrate on anything school-related in late December, and the baloney sandwich I’d forgotten in my locker. At least in college going back after the winter break meant the start of a new semester, new classes, but then it was hard to make that shift in the cold. I should have picked a college in Australia.
Here’s a winter back to school poem.

Insecurity is like acne: at its worst when we need it least,
But it still pops up unexpectedly throughout our life.
We can be impeccably decked, our hair coiffed and our pants creased,
And still be filled with interior strife.
And even the most grizzled and avuncular
Will occasionally be stricken by lesions carbuncular.
Why can we never be happy with ourselves as we are?
And why must we pop that pustule when we know it’ll leave a scar?
They’re afflictions we associate with adolescence
And yet they drag on all through senescence.
Insecurity and acne hound us as life’s trails we wend,
Like a poem whose writer can’t figure out how to end.

The Biggest And The Brightest.

Source: SkyView App. I made this on my way to work.

It’s been rainy and overcast for several days now, but over the weekend the clouds finally broke up, the sun came out, and in the mornings Venus has been bright in the southeast. This morning I noticed something almost as bright underneath it: Jupiter. Jupiter is the fourth brightest object in the night sky, after the Sun, Moon, and Venus, which always makes me wonder, why did ancient astronomers call it Jupiter? How did they know it was the biggest planet in the solar system? Venus is brighter, and closer, which makes it appear closer. Jupiter is so large some astronomers think it’s really a failed star–which kind of makes sense since it’s really a big ball of mostly hydrogen and helium, with no solid surface, which seriously undermines the plot of Clifford D. Simak’s Desertion, although it does make sense that the climax of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010 revolves around Jupiter becoming a second sun in our solar system even though in his novel 2001, unlike the movie, the ill-fated Discovery One heads to Saturn, but that’s another story.
Jupiter spins around the Sun taking almost twelve years at a time to make a full orbit. Ancient Chinese astronomers associated it with prosperity, and Babylonians associated it with their god Marduk who gradually rose to become top of the pantheon.
And it’s got that big swirling red spot, a hurricane so large Earth could fit into it three times, that was definitely first seen in 1831, but may have first been spotted in 1664 and there have been signs it might be clearing up but somehow it just keeps going. Then there are Jupiter’s moons–at least seventy-nine. The four largest, Europa, Ganymede, Io, and Callisto, were first seen by Galileo, who started the tradition of naming them after Jupiter’s lovers, and luckily for astronomers the Roman god, and his Greek counterpart, got around a lot, and more than five hundred years later we’re still learning new things about them. Europa’s ice may hide life, and just last month astronomers got pictures of a volcano erupting on Io, which is the most active moon in the solar system.
Anyway, after a lot of digging I could only figure that it was just dumb luck that the biggest planet in the solar system just happens to be named Jupiter. And in an interesting astronomical coincidence about twelve hours later, hanging in the same part of the sky, was Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.

Source: SkyView app. I made this one in the backyard in the dark so you can’t see anything except stars, or maybe pixels.

The Driving Force.

There’s a story about a country farmer who’s never seen or heard of a car and when one drives past his farm he runs and gets his shotgun and fires at it several times. The driver jumps out and runs off into the woods. The car, still running, rumbles off down the road. The farmer’s wife comes out and says, “Well, did you kill it?” The farmer says, “No, but I made it let go of that poor feller it had a hold of.” Maybe it’s just a story, or maybe it’s based on a real event. I had a distant relative named Uncle Rupert who was known for shooting at almost anything that came onto his property–squirrels, deer, encyclopedia salesmen, endangered birds–although he never, as far as I know, shot at a car. He did, during World War II, try to drive to Europe only to turn back when he realized it was full of foreigners, but that’s another story.
I thought about that story the other day when I heard about people in Phoenix, Arizona, violently attacking self-driving cars, including at least one person who fired a gun at one, not realizing there was a passenger in there and that a self-driving car may not be as quick as the older models to let go of whomever it’s got a hold of.
Anyway it got me thinking about the major cultural shifts that self-driving cars will bring, and I do think they’re coming. The recent developments of self-driving vehicles may not be the nail in the coffin of the traditional automobile but I think the undertaker’s making measurements. And as a modern mode of transportation the automobile has had a profound cultural impact in its time and the self-driving car doesn’t represent that big a change. It’s merely the next stage of a gradual evolution. Over the 20th century the automobile changed from a novelty to a necessity, from a short-range way of getting around to a device that can carry a person hundreds of miles. The cell phone has made it possible to reach a person even if they’re driving, and GPS devices make it almost impossible, or at least really difficult to get lost, unless you’re out of signal range, and it’s increasingly hard to find a place where there isn’t a signal. The days of unfolding a giant map and trying to figure out if you should have made that left turn at Albuquerque are gone. It’s hard to predict what changes self-driving cars will bring but, among other things, the driver’s license will no longer be a rite of passage. Kids will no longer need their parents to shuttle them around, not when the car that carries them to soccer practice can drive itself. I’d like to think the drive to and from work would be a nice chance to grab a quick nap but for most people it’ll probably be work time, which gives a whole new meaning to telecommuting.
It was that last thought that made me realize I was contemplating all this on the bus and that, aside from removing the driver and being a little more convenient, or a lot more convenient, driverless cars won’t be that much different from public transportation, which has me already looking to the horizon to wonder what the next big advance will be.
I hope it’s that we can drive to Europe.

Deadpans.

Source: USA Today

The recent passing of two performers has really taken me back to my past, two performers in very different genres but whose similar deadpan styles were a great education in comedy. Which is funny because one of them wasn’t even a comedian, but Mean Gene Okerlund was the funniest person in wrestling, and given how over-the-top and ridiculous wrestling is that’s saying something.
I’ve never really been a fan of wrestling–watching guys throw each other around just isn’t entertaining to me even when they have crazy characters and wear brightly colored leotards–but a couple of my friends were. One of them also had an illegal cable descrambler, which made his house the place to watch a lot of movies even though he felt compelled to throw a towel over the cable box every time a police car went by but that’s another story, and a large group of us gathered there one afternoon to watch Wrestlemania III. For my friends it was all about the grudge match between Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant. For me the best part was Mean Gene Okerlund’s interviews with the wrestlers. Even though Okerland wrestled some his main career was announcer, ringmaster, and interviewer. The “Mean” was ironic, of course; Okerlund was known as one of the nicest people in wrestling, and his quiet gentility made him the perfect contrast to the wrestlers. While wrestlers screamed and raged and threatened to destroy their opponent in an upcoming match Okerlund would stand there holding the microphone, saying nothing. He’d glance at the camera, the faintest twinkle in his eye hinting at “Can you believe this guy?” But, like the wrestlers, he never let the mask drop. His only judgment at the end of an interview was to quietly say, “Wow.”

Source: MeTV

And then there was the purposely funny but just as understated comedy of Bob Einstein. I was never a fan of Evel Knieval but some of my friends were–it seems to be a pattern–so I loved the stunts of Super Dave Osborne, whom I first saw on David Letterman. Although the running joke of Super Dave Osborne’s daredevil stunts always going horribly wrong was predictable Einstein’s deadpan delivery always killed me, and while I was in college his animated series Super Dave: Daredevil for Hire was always a welcome study break. Most of the time when I hear about the passing of a famous person I learn something surprising about them. Yet I wasn’t surprised to learn that Einstein was the older brother of Albert Brooks and that he worked on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour with Steve Martin. Just like them, and just like Mean Gene Okerlund, Bob Einstein would fully commit to a ridiculous premise and make it funny by playing it completely straight.
Hail and farewell.

High, Low.

When Marcel Duchamp signed a urinal and stuck it in a museum he was making a point about what’s art and what isn’t, but what point was he making? Was he saying that a mass-produced object in the right setting becomes a work of art, or was he saying that people should look at mass-produced objects as art no matter where they are? After all somebody had to design a urinal, and something can be useful as well as aesthetically pleasing. Or at least aesthetically interesting.

What I’m getting at is that the definition of art is pretty loose, even arbitrary. Actually Calvin & Hobbes put it best:

Source: Pinterest

Decorating a dumpster turns it from, well, just a dumpster, into art. Or at least turns it into a background for art, a place for art. Put a picture on it, any picture, and a dumpster becomes a museum too.

And I can’t think of a way to segue fluidly into this but years ago I was in Edinburgh and a homeless man came up and asked me for some change. “I’m not gonna lie to ye,” he said, “I just really want a pint.” I couldn’t resist that honesty so I gave him a pound. He hugged me and thanked me. He told me his name was Hamish and we started talking. He asked where I was from. When I said Nashville he yelled “Elvis! My favorite singer!” I didn’t have the heart to say that while Elvis did a lot of recording in Nashville his home base was Memphis, but the more Hamish talked the more I realized there was plenty he could tell me about Elvis. Hamish was the first person to tell me Elvis was a Monty Python fan which I believed but which also completely changed my perspective of Elvis because it’s not something that often comes up when people talk about The King. It turns out the Pythons themselves didn’t know Elvis was a fan–Eric Idle only learned what a fan Elvis was a few years ago–which still surprises me. Elvis wasn’t shy about contacting people—consider his meeting with Nixon in the White House—so the only thing I still wonder about is why he never called up any of the Pythons to tell them he was a fan.

 

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