The late Hugo Chavez’ legacy is better eulogized by historians and journalists than by myself; the creation of a coherent narrative for a man who spearheaded one of the great social democratic projects in history, while simultaneously instituting problematic civil rights policies, is far too ambitious for my pedestrian socialist observations.
What I do feel comfortable talking about, however, is the “Otro Beta” (roughly “a new thing”) campaign of last year, which promoted the then 58-year-old Chavez as a young “tough guy” from the barrio. The campaign intended to court the working class youth vote by using the language and experiences of the barrio to talk up Chavez. This produced some particularly strange political art depicting the president popping a wheelie on a motorcycle, rapping in hip-hop fashions, and slam-dunking a basketball.
To me it seems no more absurd or desperate than Bill Clinton playing the sax on The Arsenio Hall Show—but then again, Bill Clinton actually did play saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show. Maybe George W. Bush “working his ranch” is a more comparable fabricated political identity?
Tell Your Cat You’re Pregnant: Baby and Toy Sounds for Preparing Your Cat for a Baby by Dr Lewis Kirkham is, well, I’ll let the blurb do the explaining:
Pregnant and worried about your cat coping? Here are 13 tracks of baby & toy sounds to prepare a cat for the arrival of a human baby. Designed by a behavior veterinarian, it is the most comprehensive range sounds available to best prepare your cat.
You can listen to Dr Lewis Kirkham’s soundtrack with titles like “Delightful Squeals” and “Grunts & Yawns” here.
That’s a Mad magazine they’re holding up, if you can’t tell. It doesn’t surprise me that Leonard Nimoy reads Mad, but the “Shakespearean” actor William Shatner taking a break with a little “low culture” humor mag? I am unnerved!
That’s right, Giorgio is BACK! Back for a one-off dj set, that is, at Fracois Kevorkian’s very highly rated Deep Space party at New York’s Cielo nightclub on the 20th of May this year.
That’s the good news. The bad news is it has already sold out. Not so much of a surprise, really, considering how legendary Giorgio is, and the fact that the club only has a 350 person capacity. Here’s what the Resident Advisor event page tells us:
A historic night of space disco comes as a gift from the heavens thanks to Red Bull Music Academy.
In his first dj appearance ever in New York, disco inventor and cultural icon Giorgio Moroder plays a set of classics. We’ve seen his set list already, and the music he’s selected represents some of the best of his legendary career.
There’s been a bit of anticipation as to what a Giorgio Moroder DJ set might sound like, but my guess is it will consist entirely of his own music, tweaked a bit via a program like Ableton or Serrato. Why? Well, that’s what he did when asked to soundtrack the Fall/Winter show for Louis Vuitton last year. Interestingly, in a short interview on the LV site, Giorgio says he doesn’t gig more often because no-one is asking him. What?! COME ON PROMOTERS! Hussle a few grand together and get Giorgio Moroder into a club or venue near you NOW!
And please Red Bull Music Academy, do a live webscast of this event!
Below, Louis Vuitton Fall/Winter 2012/2013 menswear show, music by Giorgio Moroder:
Alas, it is not known who was the artist, or in what the year this portrait was drawn—though likely to be one of the many students who drew Mr. Crisp during his time as an artist’s model between 1942 and the early 1970s, which he described in his autobiography as:
‘It was like being a civil servant, except that you were naked.’
In January of 1999, I started to put together the pilot episode of what would become a two series run of a show called Disinfo Nation if you lived in the UK, and Disinformation in the rest of the world. The very first day of shooting was so outrageous that it was really never topped during the subsequent two years of production, 24 zany months that saw me going to fetish clubs, listening to the sounds of plants communicating and “investigating” behind the scenes of various ludicrous conspiracy theories.
A film and video producer I knew by the name of Chica Bruce—known around New York for her work on Yo! MTV Raps—had become an aficionado of the “Montauk Project” conspiracy theory book series and when she heard about the TV pilot order I’d gotten from Britain’s Channel 4 network, she strongly encouraged me to do a segment on her new obsession. I thought this was a good idea, having read five of the Montauk Project volumes myself, books I considered to be mind rot at its absolute finest.
Chica had become acquainted with the key players in the conspiracy, as well as several “Montauk experiencers,” as she put it, young men who had “feelings” that they too were a part of the nefarious goings on at a disused Air Force base on Long Island. How this generally occurred, she explained to me, is that they would read the Montauk Project books and their own repressed memories of working on the project would resurface. There were more than ten “Montauk Boys” and fewer than twenty. Chica, a very attractive woman, was apparently the sole female traveling in such a circle, for reasons that would soon become pretty obvious. She scheduled interviews with two of the main Montauk players—and possibly a third—during a weekend shoot on Long Island. I also planned to interview Chica herself and have her show me around the site of the former Montauk Point Air Force base. I found her innocent willingness to buy into the obvious tall tales these clowns told added an entirely new layer to the story I wanted to tell. Chica could put herself through metaphysical logic loops that would have left someone with a less hardy appetite for weirdness feeling dizzy. Having a photogenic character like her to play off Jabba The Hutt-like Preston Nichols and Stewart Swerdlow—a campy goateed married man who told me on camera that he was sent back in time to assassinate Jesus Christ—was pretty perfect.
I always endeavored to present the conspiracy theory material with a completely straight face. I was heavily influenced by American Movie and the films of Christopher Guest. I wanted to make “real” mockumentaries. The goal was to produce something that lived up to a conceit of a title like Disinformation (meaning a mixture of truth and lies used as an information smokescreen) and the show’s cheerfully snarky tagline: “If you’re not wondering if we made this stuff up, we’re not doing our job right.”
The idea was to make the audience ask themselves if it was real or if it was scripted—several times—during the course of each show. For that to work, it had to seem like I believed it, too, no matter how preposterous or insane what the subjects were saying was. I also had to convince the interviewees that I bought into their reality, too.
I hit upon my interviewing style on the first day and it really worked for me: I’d ask extremely detailed questions, designed to elicit extremely detailed answers and then I’d have plenty to work with in the edit room. But there was an additional, less obvious psychological benefit to this approach. Here’s an example of what I mean by that: In the case of my interview with Preston B. Nichols, I went through every single page of his totally crazy books and instead of asking broad questions like “So tell me about your involvement with the Montauk Project...” I’d ask something more along the lines of “How were you recruited for your first job on the base or did you apply for the job? Was it a friend or a family member who told you about the job? I guess I’m a little unclear about how you found yourself there in the first place” and then he would be obliged to clarify it for me.
I’d follow that up with “Did you have to pass any sort of top secret security clearance before you started work there?”
You see what I was doing, demonstrating a better than usual familiarity with the backstory—I’d clearly done my research, which showed respect—but not getting it quite right so he’d be obliged to correct me on a small detail. I was a TV guy slickster in an expensive suit on his turf, so it was imperative that I disarm whatever nervousness my persona presented him with and get him on my side from the start or I wasn’t going to be able to get the sort of footage I needed. This little trick—and the fact that I can keep a straight face with the best of them—worked wonders for me.
Nichols’ home was a tiny old house that looked extremely incongruous among the million dollar McMansions that surrounded it. As we drove closer and saw the weed-covered yard and modified school bus in the driveway, it became obvious to us that we were indeed in the right place. Nichols lived there with his father, a morbidly obese old fellow who watched football perched on a La-Z-Boy® recliner. He reacted to the crew and myself like Gollum would after being exposed to light for the first time in years. He was so fat that it was hard for me to tell if he had any bones. He didn’t even bother moving as we tried to set up around him and he passed gas frequently, without any shame.
Their home was one of the filthiest places I’ve ever seen and a huge stack—and I do mean huge, there were at least 500 cans—of Spam (yes, the processed meat product) sat piled in one corner. Semi-eaten cans, with spoons dried and stuck to them, were seen all over the place, as if it was all the pair ate. There was junk everywhere. The bathroom was a rusty, pissed-covered scandal. The toilet seat had been cracked completely in half and then put back together with several rolls of tape. Preston wore a sweatshirt that had food spilled all over it. It was not pretty and it smelled real bad, too.
Although he was obviously quite suspicious of me—and not without good reason, of course—I got exactly what I needed from the interview (Except for one thing: Preston’s dead mother had constructed a memorial shrine to the actor Yul Brynner, an entire wall of framed photographs and magazine articles next to the massive pile of Spam. Afterwards, in the van, I asked the cameraman if he’d gotten some good shots of it, but alas he had not, thinking it had nothing to do with the story. No Spam pile, either).
Next up was Stewart Swerdlow, a curious fellow who told me in great detail, not only of his involvement with the project, but of his time spent in federal prison for a crime he told me that he’d been brainwashed to commit. I also met his new wife who explained that she’d been introduced to him while he was in prison by a psychic who told her that Stewart was her soul mate, so she divorced her husband for him. Stewart himself was uh, manually “deprogrammed” by Preston Nichols, as he quite self-consciously alludes to during the interview.
Lastly there was Chica Bruce herself, valiantly trying to convince me that I had not seen what I had just seen with my own two eyes—that Preston was a fat fibber/closet case using conspiracy theory for ulterior motives and Stewart being an extremely unconventional New Age con man (he was purveying “color therapy” at the time and offered to “do my colors” for a discount. I passed). I did an interview with her and then she took me on a tour of the decommissioned base (now a state park).
As we walked around the park—it was fucking freezing—she kept asking me things like “Don’t you feel that? C’mom man, you don’t feel ANY like inter-dimensional weirdness going on here? NOTHING?”
Chica was earnestly looking for the Montauk Project conspiracy. There was a conspiracy all right, just not the one that she was looking for…
With this background, have a look at “The Montauk Project”:
Artist Sig Waller has given Dangerous Minds an exclusive preview of her latest work—3 drawings that form part of her Parlour Games series. The drawings are adapted from 18th century engravings (used to illustrate books by the Marquis de Sade), which are drawn in ink directly onto vintage napkins and antimacassars.
FEBRUARY 2013, LOS ANGELES: It’s 5pm on a lazy Sunday afternoon and I’m riding my bike home through Silver Lake Junction when I hear someone singing his heart out and playing piano. I think to myself, “This sounds eerily like Daniel Johnston from the early Stress cassettes.” The music fades as I pedal onward. “Hmm… is this as great as I think it is?” I spin my bike around and follow the music to see where it’s coming from. Lo and behold, I turn to my left and parked on the street in front of the 99¢ Only Store is a dilapidated 1980’s Ford Econoline van, the side door open revealing a very dapper, charismatic guy inside singing “49 Bye Byes” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on a beaten-up upright piano. The piano fits so perfectly within the van, it’s as if it were an accessory purchased from the dealer, its side cleverly painted with school-green chalkboard paint bearing the words “Tips Appreciated” punctuated by the upturned mouth of a smiley-face.
I immediately start rolling Super 8mm on my iPhone 5. “Do you know any Daniel Johnston songs?” I ask. “No. I love the guy and I’ve actually been called ‘the Daniel Johnston of Piano’… in the van, but I do know a lot of indie rock. I played in a pretty famous indie rock band. You ever hear of Silver Jews?” I reply, “Yes. David Berman.” He then launches into an amazing heartfelt rendition of “We Are Real” from their landmark LP American Water and proudly tells me “I’m on this record.”
I quickly learn that his name is Chris Stroffolino and he is not only a Silver Jew, but also a Ph.D. holding Shakespearean scholar and published author of no less than eight books of poetry. For reasons that are still fuzzy to me, he is disabled from a bicycle accident, walks with a cane, has recently fled San Francisco (and a relationship with a woman) and landed homeless on the streets of Los Angeles, living in this crazy van with a rescued piano that he’s ingeniously bolted to the chassis. As I listen to his patter and the music pouring out of the van it becomes clear that he is blessed and cursed with the same affliction as the subject of my documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston.
Flash forward to a week of spontaneous piano-driven street karaoke outside his van door: “Mony Mony” by Tommy James, “Red Rubber Ball” by The Cyrcle, “Baby It’s You” by Burt Bacharach via The Shirelles, “Lisa Says” by The Velvet Underground - the Live 1969 long version with all the cool parts, Richard Hell’s “Time,” “Stand” and “Everybody’s A Star” by Sly and The Family Stone, The Animals, Metal Circus era Hüsker Dü, obscure Lou Reed-style David Bowie on “Queen Bitch,” and Roxy Music. And my beloved early Kinks — killer Kinks covers! – all performed in the Vons Supermarket parking lot on Sunset (a fave spot of his for tips it seems). The proto-punk gem “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” “Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy” and “Dead End Street,” the lyrics all delivered with a poignancy that Ray Davies could never have imagined. Truly heart-breaking and optimistic at the same time.
Another chilly night, Chris lights off an 80’s nostalgia bomb with a set of early Replacements tunes (he’s wearing a Let It Be T-shirt under his jacket and scarf) from their first Twin/Tone LP Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash. “Hangin’ Downtown” is re-imagined as a rollicking honky-tonk ditty and the Paul Westerberg down-and-out classic “Here Comes a Regular” literally brings tears to my eyes. I had a friend with me and we agreed that singing along to these songs with Chris, while standing outside his magic van under the halogen lights, is about as much spontaneous fun as you can have in Los Angeles. I’ve always loved experiencing music outside of the traditional club venue and Chris’s street karaoke takes the performance intimacy quotient to a whole new level.
I soon discover that Chris’s talent goes beyond covers. Over the course of five evenings, I take Chris and his Piano Van up to the parking lot behind the old carousel in Griffith Park. It’s there, under the stars, in the cold, among the trees and the occasional car of teenagers looking for privacy, that I record (in the spirit of Alan Lomax’s field recordings) thirteen of his original compositions of unrequited love - songs I’ve come to adore and sing along with as much as the covers that he and I grew up listening to. “Break Up Make Up,” “Make It Rain, and “I’m Not Going Astray” sound like they’ve always been a part of my life and I credit that to our shared love of what Chris has chalked upon his van door – “Indie, Punk, Motown, Brill Building, and Velvets.”
The album will be titled The Piano Van Sessions and a few tracks are currently available on Bandcamp as well as a selection of single-take Super 8mm videos I directed which are posted on YouTube. I hope this will cause Chris’s @Piano_Van daily tweets (of his roving Pied Piper-like location) to ignite a street karaoke phenomenon.
In addition, my friend and former manager of Daniel Johnston, Jeff Tartakov, will manage Chris (the first artist he’s agreed to work with since Daniel Johnston) with the goal of getting him a proper publishing deal, a record label, and hopefully enough success so that he no longer has to live in his van.