Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Philosophically Speaking

Philosophers deal in the world of abstractions, conundrums and polysylabics.  Case in point, explain this quote: "...the idea that epistemic facts can be analyzed without remainder - even in principle - into non-epistemic facts ... is, I believe, a radical mistake - a mistake of a piece with the so-called 'naturalistic fallacy' in ethics." Written by Wilfrid Sellars in a paper presented as part of the University of London Special Lectures on Philosophy for 1955-56. Herein lies the challenge. If a philosopher figures out the grand Rubic’s cube of life, language is inadequate to explain it… or at least explain it in terms that an average beer swilling, crotch scratching, Hallmark card giving mortal can understand. We tend to skitter along the surface of life, allowing our brains to body surf on the waves of popular culture. Enter Dr. Aaron Allen Schiller, visiting assistant prof in philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Professor Schiller teaches a brilliantly conceived upper-division “Philosophy and Popular Culture” course which underscores that nothing is beyond philosophical reflection. Family Guy, Lady Gaga, vampires, Harley-Davidson, baseball, food, Harry Potter, graffiti, digital games, social networking, Batman, Bob Marley, cartoons and more are artfully crafted into final papers that weave pop culture and philosophical constructs into interesting reading. The final student papers are posted on a blog created by Doc Schiller. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 12.18-19.10

With the year fast coming to a close, the jazz club becomes a choice location for a number of home-for-the-holidays gatherings and celebrations, including a jazz singer’s long-time-a-comin’ college graduation party. The crowd was hummin’ with Christmas spirit. Even my old nemesis, the Truman-Capote-look-alike from the 11/27-28/10 night showed up hoping for entry. A couple of weeks after that eventful night, he had shown up sober and I let him in. That night he had become incessantly intimidating to the club owner with his ceaseless prattle and was shown the door. Tonight, he was again filled with more THC than TLC. One might ask, if the doorman, being filled with the spirit of the holidays, would let bygones be bygones and warmly welcome the loathsome one? Would I? Hell no. I was explaining the benefits of him going elsewhere when things escalated a bit.  He was wagging his finger in my face making a pointless point, when the drummer who was standing nearby during a band break jumped in and said, “You DO NOT shake your finger in the face of The Doorman.” How true I thought, as the “discussion” shifted to the two of them and my remembering that the drummer has a short fuse. Before I knew it, the drummer was grabbing his shirt collar and escorting him out. When the door shut behind the two of them I immediately went outside and grabbed the drummer saying, “DON’T – your hands are worth more holding sticks than broken from rearranging this sorry ass’ face.” It worked and we re-entered the club in time for the second set where we were all treated to an especially vigorous drum solo in the first song. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa!!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 12.17-18.10

The movie that played out before me was wonderful. The actors and actresses played their parts and all with the mellow sounds of the jazz trio’s soundtrack. As the doorman, I have an enviable front row seat. The jazz club represents the very best of the American ideal as far as diversity. Case in point: a table of four—two young white men with their girlfriends (or wives?), one Hispanic, the other Asian that were served drinks mixed by a gay man and served by a black man. There were seated next to a table with a black man and a white woman who in turn, were next to a table of four women, three blacks and one white. It was all so wonderfully natural and uncontentious.  It was—at the risk of melodrama—a mini-fulfillment of MLK’s dream. While controlling a smile of delight at this scene on my stoic doorman face, a fairy-tale princess entered the club. She had long, wavy ginger-color hair and gray eyes that were both alluringly soft and boundary-line clear (it was almost as though her eyes said, “Yeah, I know I’m from a children’s fairy tale, but don’t ef with me, ‘cause I’m friends with the bean-stalk giant…understand?”). I fell in love with her as she left a trail of stardust and butterflies in her wake. The night ended with a deal I made with a young man who promises to come the next night with his girlfriend. I am to make a show of welcoming him as a VIP regular. Tomorrow I become an actor, as I collude with him to create a scene that will either impress or entertain his girlfriend.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wheeled Snow Shovel

Incredibly clever… the Sno Wovel is a back-saving device for scooping, lifting, and throwing snow.  It has a unicycle-looking large wheel that moves the shovel forward and functions as a fulcrum for lifting.  Everything in the design is said to be proportioned to maximize the lever action and to capture the greatest amount of snow in one pass.  It appears to be a brilliant idea that the U.S. manufacturer claims will handle all kinds of snow. Hooray for innovation!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 12.4-5.10

It was a night with little to note. Most people came, paid the cover, and enjoyed. Four guys with attitude filled the doorway. I asked for the cover and the main prick asked why? I said, with my own ‘tude: “Live music—musicians don’t work for free, do YOU?” They left. The band sounded great. They nailed the Horace Silver hard bop tune “Filthy McNasty.” One definite sparkler that light up the generally uneventful night was the return of a couple who I had coaxed in several weeks earlier. That first night they hesitated until I said, “Come in, the cover is on me.” Tonight, they returned, paid, and settled in like regulars. I told the bartender to treat them like the VIPs they are. It felt good to see them again enjoying the music and the club. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 12.3-4.10

Chill in the air with moon-luminous snow clouds that were threatening to, as Les McCann and Eddie Harris would say, “hang up our God-damn” city with the forecasted six-inches of snow.  The club, pleasantly full with pleasant people, was treated to the band’s version of “Compared to What.” The singer growled out…

Love the lie and lie the love

Hangin' on, with a push and shove

Possession is the motivation

That is hangin' up the God-damn nation

Looks like we always end up in a rut
Tryin' to make it real - compared to what?

….while the trumpet and two saxes wove their magic through the crowd. It was early but the adrenalin was pumping as the key player spazzed his way through the song like a man possessed. It was electric. Throughout the night it was nice to collect covers from folks that didn’t debate or deny the imperative. There were three women throughout the night who I noticed—a brown haired woman, a blonde, and an Asian. What made each remarkable were smiles that illuminated. They were normal—like you or me—but when each smiled there was an aura of allure that each sent out like a tuning fork’s sound vibration. At first, I couldn’t figure out why they were so attractive until it hit me that their beautiful smiles were infectious – much like the band’s version of the Les McCann and Eddie Harris song.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Stoked About Dracula

Just finishing Dracula, the 1897 novel by Irish author Bram Stoker. The copy I’m reading is a free book on my Kindle and my reading it was inspired by a Biography channel profile of Stoker I watched around Halloween. At the time he wrote it, Stoker was a business manager for the Lyceum Theater where he was enamored with actor Henry Irving, who was contemporaneously famous and popular, and whom Stoker envisioned as playing Dracula in a theater version of the book. As it turned out, Irving didn’t think much of the story and apparently felt it wouldn’t be worthwhile to stage. The book was researched and written over an approximate seven years, while Stoker was busy staging Lyceum productions and catering to the needs of Irving, his idol. The book is written in an epistolary form—as a series of letters, diary entries, and a couple of ships' logs. The language is thick with planning deliberations for eliminating Dracula, Victorian proprietary concerns (shall I, or shall I not), and concerns about “protecting the delicate nature of Mina”—a main character in the plot who turns out to be smarter and tougher than they think. The book is a bit of a trudge to read, but is worthwhile. It is a classic.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 11.27-28.10

At least three of our customers were stoned. They reeked of grass…reefer…Mary Jane. According to a 1943 article in TIME magazine it makes sense: “The association of marijuana with hot jazz is no accident… (the) drug seems to heighten the hearing—so that, for instance, strange chord formations seem easier to analyze under marijuana.” One reefer-mad customer was a tall, skinny Truman Capote look-alike with circle glasses, gray hair in a tight pony tail under a beige page-boy cap, wearing a multi-color, multi-pattern Mexican shirt with a flower-enshrined Madonna on the back. His Capote-esque whiny voice made him irritating. He geometrically compounded it with his stoner in-your-face excessive talkativeness. The Doorman Code calls for restraint and professionalism, even though fists were forming at the ends of my French-cuff arms. The innate was denied. I turned my attention to the accomplished guest jazz guitarist who laid down smooth rhythms accented by the trumpet and sax. My night ended with a Black Russian, expertly and generously made by the owner, while I made a note to reread In Cold Blood.    

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 11.26-27.10

Day after t-giving…black Friday. At the jazz club, crowd expectations were modest. It ended up being an Ike&Tina-Turner-Proud-Mary night. It started out nice and easy, and ended…nice and rough. Early on we had several couples (one pair of smoochers who stayed all night), a group of five, and a couple of lone wolves. Collectively, they filled up the stools around the bar. The tables in front of the band were empty. I said to the owner, “It’d be nice if we had another dozen.” I stepped outside into the freezing air and looked skyward for a falling star to wish on and settled on the blinking amber street light down the block and wished, while thinking “what the hell, it might work.” It did. With 40 minutes left before closing, a dozen 20-somethings walked in—all friendly and predestined. They ordered domestic beers and vodka kamikazes, bought the band drinks, and hooted, yelped, and danced as the band perked up. The regular saxman who had the night off, and had happened into the club, was called on stage for his signature song, Grover Washington’s Mr. Magic. Supported by a heavy bass, a groove-laden wailing beat was laid down. And the magic of the amber-light wish was fulfilled through the last several songs. The night became a strange collision of destiny with coincidence. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Picture Perfect

Yeah, it doesn’t hurt that all of her models are insanely cute, but North Carolina photographer Marie Killen offers more than shots of beautiful young women. Her portraits display creative staging, dramatic lighting, technical proficiency, and a playfulness that is endearing. To demonstrate her competence, it would be nice to see portraits of the battle-scared, life-weary women and men seen in grocery stores at 11 at night or the over-worked, anxious commuter stalled in the river of traffic. One suspects, that even with “normals,” Killen could capture their beauty. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 11.20-21.10

Part of the doorman’s trade is to be aware of the full moon. Having a full-moon calendar may be as essential as breath mints, a cell phone programmed to 9-1-1, and a taser X3 electronic control device. Full-moon lunacy might explain the antics last night, including the belligerent customer who wore the Davy Crockett coonskin hat with dangling raccoon tail. Tonight was tame by comparison. Any lunatics in the crowd were no doubt soothed by the jazz siren, who sang a mix of jazz classics. Not that I noticed, but it was pointed out to me that she looked quite captivating in her black leather mini-skirt. Over the course of the night, there were two groups of four and another couple that hesitated at the door. I invited them all in with the deal: “pay on the way out if you enjoy the music and your experience in the club.” All stayed, enjoyed, and only one four-some departed without paying—and to be honest, they could have forgotten. It was nice to see again the gentleman who writes in his journal while sitting at the bar. As the singer belted out the Billie Holiday song God Bless the Child, and her blonde hair fell in her face as she cooed “God bless the child that's got his own… That's got his own,” I watched him writing madly in his notebook and realized that we are clearly brothers of the pen. At any given time or place, that could easily be me sitting at a jazz club bar writing in my own notebook.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 11.19-20.10

The quartet’s music was angular with soft corners. The bass rained plump notes on us. They were avant garde with a melodic undercurrent—much like the crowd. A bear-shaped man with dreds down to his ass had a hard look when he entered the club. After a couple of hours of soothing jazz, he left with the same street face. As doorman at the jazz club, I keep people in the entranceway until the cover is in hand. I heard a hard knocking at the door, opened it, no one. A guy rushed around the corner, “Why do you keep it locked?!” I let him in, checked the door—unlocked, and then found him well past my control point gesturing like a stranded islander waving down a propeller plane and yelling “It’s 1975!” I mistakenly asked for the cover and his ranting escalated. The bartender snarled at him to get out. I cornered the time-warped dude and corralled him toward the door as he yelled, “Read it in verse 411—it’s 2010 and the end is upon us—you will repent!!” I was wondering if the bible has a directory-assistance verse while he made a couple more threatening lunges to the open room before parting the door like the Red Sea to escape our prosecution. The bartender locked the door until he was safely blocks away and said “He’s O.K. when he’s on his meds.” Clearly, he needs a refill. All returned to mellowness, once the agitated prophet was gone. It was coming to closing. The sax and keys were well into a cat and mouse—harmonize, then stray apart—thing when a young noodle-drunk guy made his way in. I was supporting the wobbler when he said, “What did you ask?” I didn’t ask you anything, what did you think I said? It was fast becoming what computability theory refers to as the halting problem so I broke from the who’s-on-first exchange and went to the heart. “I can’t let you in, but you can’t be out there wandering alone—you’re an easy mark.” He confessed he was out with two friends who got lucky with the ladies and left him stranded. A cab was called for Mr. Unlucky and tried to keep him alert until the taxi arrived. I learned he’s half black, half Winnebago…alone in the world. He said he didn’t know what to do. “That’s easy,” I said, “you’re taking this taxi home.” As I loaded him in the taxi, he was slobbering, “You were nice to me…I love you, man!” When the cab pulled out, I quietly said, “I love you too…I love you too, man.” 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 11.13-14.10

Swiss cheese crowd—steady flow of jazz lovers, but plenty of empty tables and bar stools. Blame it on the autumn chill, the armored police vehicle parked in front of the dance club down the block, or, as the bandleader hypothesized, the welterweight championship fight. So, while Manny Pacquiao was pounding Antonio Margarito’s face to a pulp, the band was pounding out Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, and other favorites. There were date-night couples ordering flavored martinis, a couple of lone-wolf guys, and a shadowy couple that I swear were gypsies… Romani… tinkerers.  It was subtle, but they had sorcerers’ eyes. Just like wild baboons, I know enough to not maintain eye contact. The cover charge transaction was handled professionally, but my eyes were submissively averted. I don’t need charms, cures, or conjurations, thank you very much. A narrow miss, but I don’t think they knew that I know. Time will tell if my luck has been jinxed. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 11.12-13.10

It happens. The jazz club doorman has an uneventful night. No close encounter of the 3rd kind. No visitor from afar. I could stop at the period of the last sentence, but things happen all the time. Nuances of life. Sure, there were a couple of guys—players—who hemmed and hawed at the door flashing their wads of cash while yammering into their cells. It was early and we needed bodies, so I waved them in. “Welcome gentlemen—hope you’ll have enough time to enjoy a beverage before being pulled elsewhere.” They stayed for the first set and slipped me fives on the way out, as though they were big tippers. I’m learning the game. There was the young perfect cutie with her boyfriend. I stared at her perfect features, perfect skin, perfect hair. Then stared at her photo ID—perfect features, perfect skin, perfect hair. I was getting caught in a loop—the perfect her and her perfect ID photo. “Everything is perfectly fine,” I stammered. The night was clicking down when a young guy appeared with urgency in his face. I pointed him to the Men’s Room. When he finished and was exiting, I stopped him… “You gotta stay—it’s a Grover Washington tune and the tenor wails.” He did and the tenor did wail and I felt no guilt about forcing culture on this disenfranchised youth. Somewhere, somehow the magic will click deep inside him and he’ll go, “aha.”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 11.6-7.10

Ethnic culture saturated the night. As the band was setting up, I was warned to expect a large group. “I didn’t know the Hell’s Angels liked jazz.” “No, silly,” I was told, “don’t worry.” A half hour later, a dozen gentle-spirit Asians were seated at reserved tables. The jazz singer was belting out Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” when the man dressed in full West African garb told me the educational system needs to be fixed. He’s a pedagogical researcher with 20 years spent on a new learning model that could straighten up the school system. We were discussing the pros and cons of the Whole Learning Model when the bartender gave me the look that I should get back to tending the door. We were on the cusp of figuring it all out too. The club continued to fill up with the whole rainbow  of humanity. As I was folding up the sidewalk for the night, I met a young couple. The woman was born in France and, as of last week, she became an official U.S. citizen. She had correctly answered the 100 questions required to pass go and collect her citizen papers. With her husband fondly rolling his eyes, she said “Do you know who wrote the United States Constitution?” I smiled, “Easy—a bunch of angry rebels, like me. A couple of them have their mug shots on the currency you probably have in your purse.”

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 11.5-6.10

The night was for the dark haired—deep walnut, ash brown, espresso black. The few blondes, rather than being striking as exceptions, looked out of place. One dark-auburn woman, named Gabriela, was a wet-faced beauty who had earlier learned that a 42-year-old neighbor had died in his sleep. As doorman, I try to assume a you-lookin’-at-me toughness. Gabby saw me for the empathic mark I am—friend to the downtrodden, depressed, and dispossessed. In a 30-second therapy session, I learned more than I need. Her cost: five bucks cover charge. The jazz quartet was well into an exceedingly complex blues-in-F-sharp improvisation—the keyboard guy played like Devi, the Hindu goddess with four arms—when the Gabster returned from a frigid-cold smoke break all tearful. Sounding like Carl Rogers, I said, “It’s gotta be rough…” She blubbered, “I just talked to my son for the first time in five months—these are happy tears!” Remember—I tell myself—you’re just the doorman.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Instinct for Illustration

I worked with Michael Waraksa many, many years ago. He created an illustration for a marketing piece that I had written for a client of mine. I don’t remember the piece or the client, but I do remember Michael… and thinking “this guy’s insanely creative and will go places—where, I have no clue, but he’s going there.” And go he has. His freelance illustration has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Nickelodeon Magazine, Time Magazine, The Progressive, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Golf Digest, Psychology Today, AARP, Washington City Paper, Information Week, Las Vegas Life, Reason, Management Review, Kyoto Journal, Astronomy, Cincinnati Magazine, Milwaukee Magazine, Business 2.0, Boating Magazine, The Washingtonian, The Milken Institute Review, Grist, Governing Magazine, Treasury & Risk, American Society for Quality magazine… to name a few. Over the years, Michael has won a trunk load of awards for his exquisite work. No surprise. What is a surprise—and I might be wrong—is that Michael appears to be living in the same East Side Milwaukee flat where I mailed his payment check some 20 years ago. In the maelstrom of life, there may just be stability.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 10.30-31.10

Escorted by the horned devil himself, a female Frankenstein giggled and declared: “This isn’t it,” before pivoting and not setting one cloven toe or box foot into the club. A feather boa draped tipsy fairy wearing vintage white go-go boots and a black-habit priest, who tried to dodge the cover, did enter. Halloween weekend. Best experience of the night was a young couple that wavered at the door and left. They were hovering outside where I caught them and with embarrassment they said, “Music sounds great…” I motioned them to the door and said, “Sounds better inside… the cover’s on me.” Best comp admission in the club’s 10-year history. They walked into Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, a Cannonball Adderly song and were mesmerized by the driving beat and the soaring alto sax. Relaxing onto stools next to Fr. Cheapskate at the bar, they had found a place for that hallowed night where they truly belonged. Nice to see honest smiles of enjoyment. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 10.29-30.10

Halloween weekend, so ghouls, ghosts, and goblins are out. The jazz club is a safe haven. Jazz-folk don’t dress up, although I’m in my doorman get-up—wearing a dark suit and patterned tie haunted by my corporate past with remnants of demons, demands, and dick-head bosses lurking in pockets and creases. Through the night we had three very tall guys—taller than Frankenstein (no neck-bolts, though)—with lineman girth come in. They weren’t together, which made them frightening. To counter the fear, I imagined them linking pinky fingers and dancing over the earth-green floral carpet and through the candle-lit tables in front of the one-step-up-stage where the trio sustained us with Monk, Brubeck, and Dizzy. Speaking of dizzy, our waitress looked deadly tonight—all leggy and smoky eyed. Someone teased her, asking what costume she’s wearing and she said she’s not in Halloween form, yet. “No,” I said, “tell ‘em you’re dressed to kill.” She liked that. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cool Idea

It requires passion and raw energy to start up a music recording label. Enter Jacob Schoberg who created and runs Keep It Together, an independent / DIY record label based in Elkhorn, WI. The music is produced in retro formats – vinyl or cassette – as well as digital downloads for those without a turntable or deck (fortunate for me, both of our 2004 autos are equipped with radio/CD/cassette). The releases all appear to be low quantity runs, which add value and uniqueness. Clearly, the label is a labor of love since the releases are $3 or $4 for cassettes and $5 or $7 for vinyl. Suggestion: Instead of buying a Hallmark (annual sales in 2007: $4.4 billion) card for your friend’s or relative’s next birthday, buy an equivalently-priced album from Keep It Together (annual sales considerably less than Hallmark). It would support an independent / DIY record label and the bands it records – plus, you’ll be giving a very cool gift. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 10.23-24.10

As jazz club doorman I am the gatekeeper, controlling who enters. Basically five bucks will get you in. But I’m learning. Our bartender knows how to read people. He’s part therapist, part PI, part psychic. Drunks are generally not appreciated. He is more accurate than a police breathalyzer at reading a customer’s BAL (blood alcohol level). I’ve let people in who just don’t belong in our crowd of music-loving, mature, but generally quirky patrons. I love the idiosyncratic, thus I let in the occasional happy drunk, weirdo, outcast, and life-is-a-stage performer. So, when the 50-something guy, with the greasy cap covering his greasy thin gray hair and a couple of soft bags carabiner clipped to his belt loop, came to the door I let him in. I suppose the wild look in his eyes coupled with his repeat-cycle tirade about being honorably discharged from the Navy Seals, and that he had to dig into one of his bags for a waterproof, aluminum stash can from which he retrieved five moist, crumpled singles should have triggered a red flag or two. As the night wore on, this guy was wearing thin. His special op mission at the club was to find others to speak to. He had bounced from two groups of customers to a couple of guys who had recently arrived and were sitting at the bar facing out to the band. Emboldened by the trumpet players flutter tonguing on a Miles tune, I transformed into Bouncer Man and waved him to me. With my arm firmly around his shoulder, I said “Listen man you really need to sit down and enjoy the music OR I gotta ask you to leave.” He complained that one of the musicians was playing off key and demanded his cover back. Like a bad parent I said: “I’ll give you five bucks, but then you have to leave.” It worked. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 10.22-23.10

It may be the full moon or the jazz siren’s sweet voice that caused the crowd to grow more beautiful as the night progressed. An early indicator was the woman with the gold bangle earings framing her angelic brown-tone face stepping out for a smoke. “Ahh, the troublemaker’s leaving,” I said with a smile. “You know it, sweetie.” The quartet, fronted by the big voice singer, was into a yearning Indigo Girls tune when I first noticed the plain-as-a-rainy-night couple at the bar transform into fashion-model attractive. Then the two old guys transfixed by a torch song began to look more square-shouldered benevolent. And it seemed to spread throughout the crowd, which uniformly evolved into friendly, beautiful people. Even the figures in the framed Romare Beardens on the moody-green walls began to appear approachable in their intense jazz-playing stances. Mellowness permeated. The door cracked open wide enough to show two faces—a drunken jack-o-lantern guy with his golden retriever, named Mike. “Music sounds great, can I come in?” I couldn’t look at Mike’s soulful brown eyes and doggie smile when I told gap-tooth that no dogs are allowed, Truth is—Mike is who could have fit seamlessly into the pleasant flow. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Satre and the Nobel Prize

So, John Bennett writes me to say: It was on this day in 1964 that Jean-Paul Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, which he turned down. A week earlier, Sartre had written a letter to the Nobel Committee asking to be removed from the list of nominees, and politely explaining that he would not accept the prize if it was offered to him. But no one managed to read his letter in time, and the Swedish Academy officially announced their choice, much to the embarrassment of everyone.
Sartre wrote a public letter explaining his decision, pointing out that if anyone had noticed, he had turned down every official honor offered to him during the course of his career. And he said: "This attitude is based on my conception of the writer's enterprise. A writer who adopts political, social, or literary positions must act only with the means that are his own—that is, the written word. All the honors he may receive expose his readers to a pressure I do not consider desirable. If I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre it is not the same thing as if I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prizewinner. The writer who accepts an honor of this kind involves as well as himself the association or institution, which has honored him. My sympathies for the Venezuelan revolutionists commit only myself, while if Jean-Paul Sartre the Nobel laureate champions the Venezuelan resistance, he also commits the entire Nobel Prize as an institution. The writer must therefore refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honorable circumstances, as in the present case."

Cufflink Craze

Cufflinks are passé, but cool. Most guys find them to be an unnecessary and irritating bit of fashion festooning. That’s why I couldn’t resist turning to etsy.com – the source for hand-made, uniquely crafted items, to purchase a couple of pair for my new French-cuff shirts. Sue Doctor from Haute Keys created a set for me from vintage typewriter keys, while Wm. Dean fashioned my other new pair from old Mercury dimes. Very cool… 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 10.16-17.10

The club fills near capacity… starting right after I bungee the LIVE JAZZ BLUES sandwich boards to the light pole. It is less a living organism pulsing with inflow and outgo all night and more like a collecting tank steadily filling dangerously close to the spill. At one point, I tell a couple at the door…”squeeze in.” They are poster people for a jazz club. Solidly in their 40’s with style and clothes that hold creases. Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Poncho Sanchez songs—as well as the band’s originals—are exactly what they need to hear. The crowd is remarkable only for its size. Poppy red becomes the accent for the evening. First, it’s the black woman who boldly has a swath of it in her glossy relaxed hair. Then Missy, the flower-seller with her poppy-color bangs, making her rounds through the neighborhood bars with her wicker basket of long-stems hoisted high above. And then in the wee morn, at the tail-end of the final set, a young woman with hair on fire and her boyfriend with the black newsboy cap sneak in, cozily sipping sea breezes through the last note. Smugly she knows she’s a 17 percenter. In the US, the sale of red hair dye has gone up 17% since 2000. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Doorman’s Diary: 10.15-16.10

He tells me he turns 28 next Tuesday. We’re at closing time and I’m outside “folding up the sidewalk.” The sandwich board reads: LIVE JAZZ BLUES and the smoking table and chairs must be toted inside. He wants to talk. I want to listen. The trio inside is cooking on Horace Silver’s “Song for my Father,” a request I made earlier, being fulfilled. I should be sitting at the bar with a snifter of cognac, my latest, off-the-clock, free-drink obsession. The young guy tells me he’s a bouncer at a northside club.  “Sounds raw, do you like it?” He tells me he hates it and nods his head in the direction of three sweet-as-chocolate young ladies with skirts short enough to make grown men blind. They’re cackling drunk and stepping in spike heels like the sidewalk is a tightrope. “I’ve got two daughters, 7 and 8… never would I let them dress like that.” We hear his massive round friend, who reeked of whisky when I collected their five-buck covers earlier. The big guy’s inside the sparsely-filled jazz spot yelling, “Play it man…bend that bass!!” The club will be locked-up-dark in a half hour and the band appears to have finally found its groove, thanks to the exuberance of the well-lit giant, whose serious young friend shakes his head while watching little darlings spill out into the cool air of the neon bar across the street.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Some Walls

Two random email alerts I receive are from two art galleries – one in Beijing (see my May 7, 2010 post, Deceivingly Simple), the other in Oakland, Calif. I’m not complaining, actually I’m happy to learn about their new exhibits.  Some Walls, the Oakland gallery, is a bold, brilliant, and insanely creative concept. The gallery is a couple of walls inside the private home of artist and writer Chris Ashley. A visit requires scheduling an appointment. Annually, Ashley curates six solo exhibitions in his home, which are accompanied by an essay, and documented at somewalls.com. Featured in the exhibits are small collections of recent work by established artists, sometimes made specifically for these walls. The project aims to be international in focus. Some Walls does not encourage unsolicited submissions of artist work—the project’s program and process is well-defined, and Ashley warns that inquiries may not be answered. For more information contact Chris Ashley at info@somewalls.com or visit the site to be added to the newsletter list for Some Walls: A curatorial and writing art project.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Blue Night at Caroline’s

The collage of humanity in its entirety made its way to the jam.  Now 76, he learned the blues at age 8, but his mamma told him ‘stay away from that devil’s music, it won’t do you no good.’ When he sings Hoochie Coochie Man, he means it. Then there’s the old trombone man, the only brass playing tonight. Looking like he fell off the circus wagon, he sips his beer frothily and slides notes mournfully into the gaps left open for him. He knows when to harmonize with Jimmy’s enigmatic blues harp, which holds the corners together when the heartbeat of the bass wanders down her own dark alley. With cat’s pivot, he blows the guitar man into his solo. Guitar Man’s licks echo down to the crossroads where devil’s music deals are made. A young gypsy woman with enough age lines on her round face from rough living jumps the stage to wail ‘but you know he is, everybody knows he is, oh you know he’s my hoochie coochie man.’ And the women she’s with shout “you know he is, girl…you know he is!’ It’s building…and building to the epiphany…  Big O slaps his keyboard with his giant hands and nods to the guitar player for one last push from his strat. He works it, bending blue notes around the room and clear through the ceiling as the sweaty crowd converges with devil-be-gone yelps and hollers.   

Friday, October 8, 2010

Peace Symbol

The anti-nuclear emblem or peace sign has become one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. In 1958, graphic designer Gerald Holtom, who was a member of Britain’s “Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND),” devised the emblem as a way of quickly telegraphing opposition to nuclear weapon development. After exploring a number of design options, Holtom settled on using the naval flag code of semaphore. He used the code letters for N and D—nuclear disarmament. In 1958, the anti-nuclear emblem had its first use in a protest demonstration against the Aldermaston facility, a British research center for the development of nuclear weapons located in Berkshire. The symbol migrated to the U.S. where it was used in civil rights marches and in anti-Vietnam-war protests (which some American soldiers referred to it as the “footprint of the great American chicken”). Deliberately never copyrighted, the symbol is still recognized in Great Britain as the logo for nuclear disarmament, but is known worldwide for peace and non-violence. No one has to pay or to seek permission before they use it. As a symbol of freedom, it is free for all. Peace-symbols are used everywhere, but I like the little one-inch, union-printed black buttons with a white symbol—the original color scheme—available HERE

Monday, August 16, 2010

Irish Dance & Culture

This may seem a bit of a trick question of the when-is-the-4th-of-July ilk, but it must be asked: Irish dance is strongest in which two areas of the world? Answer: (1) Ireland and (2) America’s Midwest, specifically Chicago and Milwaukee. The strongest Irish dance competitors and best performers are from these two parts of the world.  And the strongest Irish dance schools are located there as well. A young Irish dance school—only four years old—is located in the northern suburbs of Milwaukee. Rince Nia Academy of Irish Dance & Culture offers students, ages four through adult, the opportunity to learn Irish dance for competition and performance. “Rince Nia,” pronounced rinka nia, is Irish for dance champion.  Rince Nia will perform at Milwaukee Irish Fest, the world’s largest celebration of Irish music and culture, with more than 100 entertainment acts at the four-day, 16-stage event, running August 19-22, 2010. The Academy is owned by Sean & Jillian Beglan, both former performers in Riverdance. Sean, who was the lead in Riverdance, was recently interviewed on Lake Effect, produced by the local NPR affiliate, WUWM. The interesting interview provides a mini-bio of Sean, describing his career from his roots in County Caven Ireland to becoming the owner, primary instructor and artistic director of Rince Nia Academy of Irish Dance & Culture, as well as describing the school’s family-oriented, student-centered teaching approach.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Art from the Gray World

Good artists grow, evolve, and adapt to their changing world. Mark David Gray is a terrific Milwaukee painter who incorporates architectural precision, sensual abstraction, and a sophisticated and unique approach to portraiture in his large pieces of work. Gray’s painting collection from 10 or more years ago is not the same as a few years, which is not the same collection he’s building today. Yet, you can mount his work from the past through today on a giant, bigger-than-life wall and it will be apparent that they are all from Mark David Gray. The artistic essence… the creative take of the world rings true. That’s what makes Mark David Gray notable. Gray writes: Themes dealing with individuality, community, propaganda, consumerism and spirituality prevail in my work. The painting, Economy+Nothing, I question the real motivations of our economy by combining the recognizable images of the Wall Street bull, a symbol of power, money and greed, against the background of flying war machines and the ubiquitous, patriotic stars and stripes. With this combination of popular imagery, I utilized bold, saturated color to unsettle the viewer while subverting the images “media-tized” context.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Raymond Chandler

On the list of Must-Read-Before-You-Die books has got to be The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler. Published in 1939, Chandler helped define the hard-boiled private detective and developed dark, but beautiful, scenes throughout the book. A master of extreme similes that fit like a soft-leather glove on a lady’s well-formed hand, Chandler writes like no others, although others write like Chandler. His main character in The Big Sleep is Philip Marlowe, the wisecracking, hard drinking, tough private eye who is also quiet and philosophical, enjoying chess and classical music. Morally upright, Marlowe is not tempted by the femme fatale charms of his client’s two beautiful daughters—even when one of them is naked and beckoning him. Nope, Marlowe would rather eat glass (probably washed down with a shot of rye whiskey) than succumb. The book is easy to read, but Chandler’s crafted language needs to be savored. Cheap copies of the book should be readily available. Even if—as Joe Brody, a bad guy in The Big Sleep says—you’ve “been shaking two nickels together for a month, trying to get them to mate,” there’s always the library. Read the book before you enter your big sleep.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Visual Dictionary

This site is just plain fun. The Visual Dictionary is a collection of words – which are photographs of signs, graffiti, advertising, tattoos, packaging, menus, writing in the sky, you name it… Created by Matthew Knight, a UK-based freelance technical creative director, the site collects contributions from anyone, anywhere in the world who can snap a photo of a word or phrase found in the real world. It helps if the shooter frames the photo creatively where possible, although that’s not a requirement. It’s a wonderful collection and an innovative idea that can tickle the imagination for the practical to the obscure uses. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

American Made

Every kitchen junk drawer should have a few tools--the basics: hammer, small- and large-size slotted and phillips screwdrivers, and a pliers. Of course, it's a given that the one tool you need from this basic set will not be in the junk drawer when you need it. But the modest goal is there. In my household, the pliers is missing. Has been for some time. I've decided to replace it and I've just spent $10.43 to purchase a high-carbon C1080 steel pair of slip-joint pliers that are made in the United States. Rather than go to the local hardware store and fish through the discount bin for a pair of cheap, Chinese-made pliers that would cost probably a third of what I spent I made the conscious decision to buy American--even if it costs more. Why? I'm thinking that it may help the Meadville, Penn. Channellock Tools Company stay in business. It probably is too little and too late, but everything I buy now is American made. Unfortunately, the reality is that huge segments of consumer products are no longer made in the U.S. Everything with a plug and cord is manufactured, assembled, and packaged offshore. There is no such thing as an American-made toaster, clock-radio, or coffee-bean grinder. But, my campaign will continue.

Friday, June 11, 2010

An interesting video from the California singer/songwriter Jeannette Kantzalis, who records under the name "A Brokeheart Pro." Her most recent CD, The Kitten Next Door, is available from CDbaby. Her promo says:  Rockabilly, Psychobilly, Alt/Country with a punk/DIY twist. Jeannette's amazing vocals will suck you in and what she says will keep you there wanting more. Pure talent, a true artist, the real deal here. For fans of the Horrorpops, Creepshow, Mazzy Star.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Shaman: Voyages of the Soul - Trance, Ecstasy and Healing from Siberia to the Amazon

There are three reasons to like this book:

[1]  It deals with the mystical and magical. As Western culture adults there is far too little (if any) to believe in that isn’t dry, processed, empirically proven, and documented to death. The shaman, aliens, voo doo, and crop circles represent the mercurial possibilities that deserve space in our thinking.

[2]  The author, Piers Vitebsky, appears to have exhaustively researched the topic and presents all angles including worldview, traditions, becoming a shaman, their clients, and understanding how their practices fit into a culture. Vitebsky covers practitioners from all continents and corners of the planet.

[3]   The independent publisher, Duncan Baird Publishers in London, did a great job with the book production, making it enjoyable to hold, page through, and read.  They claim to be “…committed to innovation, design, editorial excellence and imagination, creating unique books for today's readership.” And with The Shaman, they fulfilled the promise. The book is richly illustrated with photos and graphics, and there are tons of sidebars filled with anecdotes, explanations, historical incidents, and definitions. The page paperstock is heavy, which is great for the illustrations and provides the tactile sensation of an art book.  

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Image Maker

Stumbling along the digital highway I came across an interesting photographer, Ian Curcio. He is an editorial and commercial photographer with artistic flare. There is clear evidence in his work of an obsession to capture beauty in the unnoticed and interesting shots of the noticed. He certainly has mastered the technical aspects of photography—composition, lighting, exposure, flash, lenses, and more. He knows his way around f-stops and such. But what makes him special is his creativity. Incredible creativity borne out of necessity…a compulsion…to shoot photos that communicate, tell stories, or stimulate the imaginations of the viewer.
• Look at his “12 Portraits of 12 Strangers on the Streets of San Francisco,” where his self-assignment was to go out and shoot strangers in the streets with a camera and one light attachment—all in six hours. The shots are remarkably wonderful.
• Look at his collection of iPhone photos. Curcio exploits the capabilities of the iPhone’s camera and captures textural details, everyday scenes, and people, with an artist’s eye for color, blur, and light.
• Look at his professional portfolio of portrait, editorial, structures, and food. Food! (According to the pro-shooters I’ve known, shooting prepared food is probably the most challenging assignment a photographer can receive.).
• Look at the tearsheets from his work published in print publications. Compelling stuff.
• Look at his black and white work to see Curcio’s sophisticated understanding of the power of light and shadow. Gorgeously arty.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Deceivingly Simple

Simple, graphical art is appealing. It inspires the “I-can-do-that” in us. Unfortunately, the scale, balance, and execution never looks right from the hands of rank amateurs. A wonderful artist and printmaker is the Chinese artist Tan Ping. Born in Chengde, China in 1960, a retrospective of his deceivingly simple work will be opening May 15th at the Red Gate Gallery in Beijing.

From the press release announcing the exhibit:

“Graduated from the printmaking department at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Tan Ping rediscovered abstraction and its essence when he was awarded a scholarship to study in Berlin, Germany. During the years spent abroad, not only was he exposed to European artistic traditions but he also reconnected with his Chinese roots as he strives to interpret and innovate the art of printmaking with an Asian connection. Just as a true artist never ceases to evolve and redefine his artistic perspective, the exhibition will showcase the various phases of his graphic expression over the last twenty years. From the early calligraphic etchings on special hand-made paper to chromatic etchings using his innovative technique of over-layering copperplates to the more recent cellular works, ‘Tan Ping at 50’ is an artistic journey infused with a unique sensibility founded on the marriage between the Western tradition of printmaking and Chinese philosophies and principles.”

Tan Ping is vice president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing. The Red Gate Gallery is located at Levels 1 & 4, Dongbianmen Watchtower,
 Chongwenmen, Beijing.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Eastern Inspiration

There was a time when gas stations were simple. You drove in, got gas (pumped for you), paid, and drove off. No cigs, big gulps, lottery tickets, or “tasty” sandwiches. In the early part of the last century, the buildings were generally no larger than a single-car garage, with two pumps outside—Regular and Ethyl. Enter Wadhams Oil and Grease Co., Milwaukee, Wis. In 1917, the company hired local architect Alexander C. Eschweiler to design the prototype for their chain of stations. Eschweiler developed an eye-catching Japonist red-roof pagoda design for filling stations that numbered around 100 locations in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Upper Michigan in their heyday. Each filling station had a different roofline and floor plan. The pagoda-style roofs were made of stamped-metal tiles. Atop the gabled red roofs many stations had cupolas - often multi-tiered - with lanterns hanging from the corners. The walls were black with yellow trim around abundant glass. Most had large plate glass windows on the front, and multi-pane windows covering the sides. The signature pagoda look became one of the earlier examples of architecture forging a brand identity. Today, sadly, only a few remain. One of them, located at South 76th Street and W. National Ave in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis, was operated by Frank Seneca from 1954-1978 and donated it to the City when he retired. It was restored in 2000 into a window-peeper, mini-museum (photo on left). Another former pagoda station is located at N. 4th St. and W. North Ave. in Milwaukee and houses Grant’s Soul Food Restaurant (photo on right).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Kring Books

Incredibly cool and creative graphic storybooks are available from the Oakland graphic designer and author, Bryan Kring. The hand-crafted books mostly measure 4-1/4-inch square and either feature a silk-screened cover or are letter-press printed. I own Peephole and Bug. Both 56-page stories have delightfully dark humor and terrific illustrations. The books are super limited press runs and generally cost $10. What’s wonderful about books like these is they’re fun to own and they make great gifts for the I-don’t-know-what-to-get-them types.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Dire Responsibility of Skeleton Keys

Pitch the key fob (even the word “fob” sounds dorky), car dealer doo-dad, or Italian-leather key wallet. Dumpster-donate the maintenance-man, 18-inch-long key chain secured to your belt loop. All you need is a simple skeleton key on a simple key ring, along with your half-dozen essential keys. A skeleton key adds a sense of mystery, a touch of luck, and a grounded link to the past. You need it because it’s cool and because most people don’t have one. Now, when someone asks about it, you have the unbreakable, sacred obligation to respond correctly. Being flip and saying something like “Oh, it’s just a stupid old key I found at a yard sale” is not correct. In fact, it’s dead wrong—even if you did find it at a yard sale or on eBay or at a thrift shop. You must honor the skeleton key. Its first and primary use was to open something that had restricted access—a door, a cabinet, a chest. With that appreciation, you are better off creating a sense of secrecy, importance, and mystery befitting the key. It is far better to respond to the “what’s with that key” question with a bit more drama. You may want to act nervous with a couple of furtive glances to see who else may have heard the question. Stumble out your response (if you’re a stutterer, you’re lucky) which should be something like: “Oh…um…. you’re asking about THE key? It… it’s really NOTHING.” Note: It’s important to pronounce THE and NOTHING with enough emphasis to imply a universe of possibility. When the follow up questions come, and they will, you need to act little more nervous but regain composure quickly and say “It’s just a key I have, no big deal.” Then, abruptly excuse yourself to leave, use the washroom, or return an important phone call.

It’s also important for you to know the correct anatomy of a skeleton key (or passkey), because this adds depth to your mysterious ownership of the key. Skeleton keys consist of a bow (the part you turn), a handle, and a combination (the part inserted in the lock). Use the correct terms, always.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Americans

Somethings just go together. Peanutbutter and jelly. Knotty pine paneling in a fishing-lake bar. Bouffants on R&B singers. And Jack Kerouac’s introduction to 83 stark b/w photos (“lugubrious” Jack might say) shot by Robert Frank in 1955 / 1956 as he traveled the lower 48, bankrolled by a Guggenheim Foundation grant. The book: The Americans is a terrific arty, documentary commentary on mid-20th-century America.

I would have said the book is worth having for the Kerouac introduction alone—because it is so good….so….so Kerouac—until I reverently turned the pages, which is what one should do when viewing a collection of photos, drawings, or art and was delighted to remain in the desperate, yearnful, plain-is-the-new-god mood that Kerouac had expertly created in his introduction. Frank’s photos capture the everyday in all of its beauty. Many of the photos look like rejects from the envelope of prints eagerly picked up from the 1950’s or 1960’s photo lab where you have spinster Aunt Millie asking why did you waste film on this—they’re not even looking at the camera, or it’s a bunch of people at a funeral, or it’s a road at night.

Publishers Weekly nailed it: “Frank's images, taken all across the country, leave the viewer with a solemn impression of American life. From funerals to drug store cafeterias to parks, Frank recorded every shade of everyday life he encountered: the lower and upper classes, the living and dead, the hopeful and destitute, all the while experimenting with angle, focus and grain to increase impact.”

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Dramatic photos shot by various observers of last week's eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano have been collected. To see the online "gallery" click HERE.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Poetic Film Shorts

Cool stuff occurs all the time right under our noses. Unbeknownst to me, a series of 34 very cool animated films showcasing contemporary poems were created by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee students. The unnamed, unrecognized students (tut-tut to the sponsors) worked with docUWM, a documentary media center at the university, and the university’s creative writing program, in association with the Poetry Foundation, located in Chicago. The mission was to focus a new generation of filmmakers on poetry as subject matter. The student-produced films were supervised by Liam Callanan, a creative writing professor and Brad Lichtenstein, a film instructor, both at the UW-Milwaukee. These wonderful short flicks are available on the PBS website and are a part of a grander Poetry Everywhere project that includes prominent poets reading their work with learned introductions from Garrison Keillor.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

House of the Future: Lustron All-Steel Prefabs

One of many brilliant options available to the post WW-II homebuyer was the all-steel Lustron ranch home. It was entrepreneur Carl Strandlund's brainchild, as an answer to the severe post-war housing shortage. The signature appearance of the Lustron Company home is the two-foot square prefabricated porcelain-enameled steel panels that sided the exterior. Strandlund’s idea was to quickly, efficiently, and economically mass produce homes, like automobiles. The exterior color options were pink, tan, yellow, aqua, blue, green and gray. Interiors were beige or gray. Lustrons were said to cost $6,000 - $10,000 (not including building lot) and were manufactured in the Columbus, Ohio factory in about 400 man-hours. Assembly at the site was advertised to take less than 300 man-hours. The prefabricated, ready-to-assemble houses were shipped in 3,000 pieces. The design uses all interior space efficiently and wisely. Built-ins accounted for 20 percent of the total interior space. The master bedroom had a built-in vanity, with large drawers and additional storage space overhead. Bedrooms had sliding pocket doors to eliminate space needed for door swing. The dining room had a built-in buffet and pass through to the kitchen. Period advertisements proclaimed that the homes were safe from fire, decay, rust, termites, vermin, and rats. Rosemary Thornton
 has a terrific series of five articles about the trusty Lustron homes on The Old House Web. About 2,800 of these porcelain-steel houses were produced between 1949 and 1950—with most found sprinkled throughout the Midwest.