09 August 2009

Fireflies and Southern Dreams

When I lived in Virginia, the one thing that seemed the most magical to me that first summer back there was the nightly appearance of the lightning bugs (or fireflies as we called them) buzzing about, glowing their glow stick bottoms amongst the branches of our giant elm. We'd go out in the backyard, especially around sunset, have a drink and sit in our Adirondack chairs on our deck and watch those little buggers start aglowin' and our Cocker Spaniel Mr. Beeb running around chasing any squirrel or rabbit or cat that happened into our enormous plot of yard. Being from California, it was like a real life Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland (in the beginning, when you're in New Orleans with all of the fireflies) but without the yo-ho! soundtrack. (Click here to see what I'm prattling on about, an example of the lightning bugs, not the ride.) Btw, click on the above photo and see if you can find the G.E. lightbulbs, the company I worked for during grad school.

Something about that magical feeling came over me as I watched Chrissy Sandman's YouTube video performing her original "Appalachia" for no one in particular. Her setting appears to be her backyard at sunset, and her voice is strong and beautiful. I think you'll like it; check her out. She's very similar to Regina Spektor, which is how I stumbled upon Chrissy's YouTube page. The birds are singing, and only a smidgen of sunset is visible through the trees behind her. It's a wonderful recording en plein air.

That's the way it is when you feel as if you have to share something with the world, even if you're not signed to a label or have a publisher or have studios knocking on your door for your latest track, opus, or script. You want to tell the world or no one in particular that you have something to say that matters; something significant. That what you have birthed is something that might indeed touch others ... if only. Chrissy's music is indeed touching, and it takes me back to a time in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I have grand memories from my time in the South.

I met the best of people during law school and miss them terribly. I wish I could see them all now, even the professors who tortured me mercilessly, but whom I still invited over to our home for bbq's and coffee and late-night chats with our law school buds. I may not be in regular touch with all of those wonderful friends, but their impact upon me will never fade.

04 August 2009

Socialism and the Politics of Street Artists

Some on the left are "greatly offended" that President Obama (well his visage, at any rate) has undergone a satirical skewering at the hands of a purported Los Angeles street artist (heretofore unnamed). UPDATE: LA Times's "Top of the Ticket" blog names Firas Alkhateeb (a fellow Chicagoan of BHO) as the artist behind the "Socialist" posters. Read the story here!

Freeway on-ramps and London street scenes since the '80's have been rife with political statements, almost all from left-leaning artists aimed exclusively at conservatives. Can you see them now in your mind's eye? Reagan, Thatcher, Oliver North, Cap Weinberger, Kissinger, Bush(es), all with withered scowl and some cheeky verbiage accompanying the blistering imagery. The well-worn bromide "Bush Lied and People Died" is a joke compared to how well artists like Robbie Conal, et.al., took the conservatives to task for their supposed crimes against humanity. One wasn't surprised to see Bush or Reagan routinely compared to Hitler or Pol-Pot. Funny, during this same time, these same artists were making millions of dollars off t-shirt sales glorifying Che Guevara or Mao or Fidel. These the same radicals or despots responsible for millions of deaths, assassinations, torture, and human right's violations in the name of the "people," yet it was Reagan (or Bush or Thatcher or later Tony Blair) who would become the devil incarnate. I wonder if any of these artists ever saw the "Contra Diction" in their positions. Doubtful.

It has often bothered me not a little that conservatives lacked the chutzpah to launch a good

street fight in this regard, but there's only one reason to give for this deafening artistic street silence: Conservatives are actually working, holding down some job. Even the "creative" types are too busy writing screenplays, producing musicals on Broadway or the West End, or making another episode of '24' to be bothered to venture onto the 101 fwy and slather up a slice of concrete wall with highly toxic glue to post a message of defiance into the ether for all north-bound traffic to read.

However, there is one bloke who has seen fit to answer this antebellum call (now that we're almost out of Iraq) of defying the deity that is our President; he has created a fairly inane piece of political mockery against the emperor's "new"
statist clothing. The typical leftist leadership knee-jerk their protestations, calling this street art "dangerous," "unsettling" and "troubling." They ask, "How dare he mock?!" Oh, he dare, and he deign. And, oh, btw, welcome to my little world of having a political figure you admire pilloried, taunted, and vilified vis-a-vis an oversize bit of "post-it" art.

I recently posted on FatScribe a piece about Shepard Fairey who created the "Obey the Giant" series of street art. Fairey was so good at conveying a visual message to a mass audience that he landed the coveted Obama campaign as a gig. He received the undying thanks from the DNC

(understatement) for his contribution to BHO's successful presidential run. I am greatly envious and would love to contribute to a presidential campaign in any form before my wonky days are through.

I jokingly said at the time that it wouldn't be long before we had "Obey the Obama" posters around town, but I guess the "socialism" poster will do for now. Admittedly, the sinister grin of the Joker is a bit over the top, but juxtaposed with the tidal wave of leftist guerrilla street art that's been flowing downhill since the early 80's, I think it tame in comparison.

My favorite street artist, though, pound for British pound, is Banksy, from the UK (Bristol). He is the most clever of the bunch. Where the 80's street artists were mostly mean-spirited, Banksy can be fairly characterized as a cheeky bloke who attempts to remain anonymous despite all of his rather public efforts. Regardless of your political home team, you have to admire this cat. I mean he just overwhelms you with cleverness and daring. He has the brazen gall to actually take his "art" and then hang it guerrilla style in some of the most revered

galleries in the art world, from New York to London (again, this is without permission). The "Withus Oragainstus" cockroach/fly thingy (right) was posted in a museum and lasted two days before staff realized it wasn't from the permanent collection. There are some great examples of this; I suggest a google search for other Banksy images to be as entertained as I have been over the years.

Of course he does the street art as well (see below, the cleaning maid sweeping all of our collective street trash under the rug -- sort of like Nancy Pelosi and her midnight legislative pork-laden sessions), but it's the supposed museum pieces that kill me. He did a recent piece (also below) with field workers, and one of them takes herself a smoke break and decides to watch you watching her. Fairly powerful stuff, if you think about it. But, that means you'd have to go to a

museum. We should all be treating ourselves to a museum this summer, even if just for a quick lunch break, or just as an affectation trying to impress someone. Some sort of culture will rub off on us if we at least show up. Someone said once that half of the battle to being successful is just showing up. So too with an examined life, half of the battle to being even slightly cultured is to show up at your local museum (btw, one of my all time faves is the Chrysler in Norfolk, Va.) and roll around in an exhibit of a dead language or two like your Cocker Spaniel rubbing his back on day-old dead squirrel in the backyard; sniff out a collection of Tiffany glass; or, sit a spell in front of Seurat's pointillism classic at the Art Institute of Chicago with your head notched sideways.

So, now that I have one extra picture to get through, and not enough copy, I'll just share one thing with you real quick. Political satire has been around a looooooong time. The folks who hated Lincoln (and there were tons), used to caricature him as a baboon. Literally. The folks who walk around the White House today all in a tiff about this "socialism" poster which is about to go viral, are making much ado about nothing. But, that's usual SOP for the left. Highly sensitive about their own and insensitive about the other guy's gold standard. Just some food for thought.

Oh, one quick coda: just in case, I've included this clip (below) that runs through a bunch of Banksy's work. Enjoy.