Friday, October 30, 2009

Iceland Airwaves Flashback - 60s Style

   I braved the soggy weather Thursday night and had yet another Sixties flashback. Last week, I was in Iceland. This week Iceland came to me at the Walker Art Center's McGuire Auditorium in the form of the musical collective known as Múm. It was a very strange affair, even by Icelandic standards. Imagine the gentlest, trippy-est flower-power band in the summer of love. This is the experience that constitutes a Múm concert. Not really songs, but vague refrains, not exactly musical parts, but groups of sounds. And lots and lots of la-la-las. I was in la-la land! At one point Örvar, the lead singer, mentioned that " ...we're really playing a quiet concert tonight... it's OK to go to sleep..." If not for the excellent percussion work by Samuli Kosminen, I might have done just that.

   The second act, Sin Fang Bous, was fronted by 'Sindri', whose singing attained a Garðar Holm quality. I'd seen the opening act, Hildur Gunðadóttir play at the Airwaves in 2006 with Storsveit Nix Noltes and also with Johann Johannsson's project Evil Madness . They were better shows:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 6 

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bible Story

"When the truth is found to be lies,
and all of the joy within you dies..."

A Serious Man

A Film by the Coen Brothers

Seeing this movie last week-end must have stirred up the mid-sixties incidents I've been posting about lately.

Set in a Minneapolis suburb in 1967, this film is the Coens' take of the Story of Job, as seen through through the lens of their collective childhood memories. At the center of past Coen Brothers' films has often been a cosmic joke, but this film takes a direct look at the capricious nature of the universe. Although it is quite funny at times, it is dead serious. Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is an almost-tenured physics professor paralyzed into inaction by a series of events beyond his control; a rudderless vessel in a sea of destructive forces. His family, instead of being a source of pride and comfort, tear at him- an emotional fire-storm that this "man of science" is absolutely helpless to resist. Even his faith offers no solace, indeed it may be the main problem.

All of the Coen Brothers' films have great acting and this one is no exception. There are no "stars" but every role is cast and played to perfection. This movie is a break for the Coens for it is no longer an entertainment, but is really a spiritual story. Not a New Testament story of Faith and Redemption, but rather an Old Testament story of an irrational and wrathful God, and the powerlessness of man.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Pastels

Of the many local bands that formed in my neighborhood in the mid-sixties, the only one which could be considered a "rival" of the groups I was in was The Pastels. My bands were the usual male-teen proto-punk groups, playing Louie, Louie, Wipe Out, and later, The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones. We were geeky, erratic and raw boys. The Pastels were a quartet that sang and played folk music and were everything we were not:

Poised, disciplined, and talented girls.

We knew them well, we were involved in many of the same school activities and were competitive in our studies as well. We were more than a bit jealous of them, for they could play "gigs" we couldn't- social affairs, school programs, even parades! Their events were "civilized." We played in fraternity basements and for teen dances, where a fight could break out any minute, and illicit liquor replaced soft drinks and tea as the beverage of choice.

The final week of of our senior year, there was a "Senior Talent Day" (arranged by The Pastels of course) where several musical acts put on a show for the rest of the school. The Pastels were gracious enough (grace was another thing which we boys lacked) to invite my current band, The Hungry Freaks, to play in the show. The Pastels were on prior to us, and we were last on the bill. They had added a bassist and a snare player, and were excellent as usual. We added rap, feedback, sirens and dissonant organs to ours. For our finale we smashed guitars as some of the band members with Soviet flags overran the stage, "fighting" the other ones.

Thirty years later, we got that old band back together and played for our class reunion. We were much better behaved, and we could really play. We invited The Pastels to play, but they declined. In fact, not one of them attended.

Later I found out that years ago, in high school, there had been a rift in their group, something about boy, and they had never played again.

That was too bad. I loved that band.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cherry Vodka

"Oh com'on, gimme a taste..."

"No! Not gonna."

Schoolyard light shone down on the playground...

We'd taken recess there only a few years ago, and now we had booze.

Cherry vodka. Tastes like cough syrup, but so much better.

What the bums drink at the library... smells like the urinal cakes...

"Izzat a cop car?"

"Nah, jus a... a... CAR!"

Dizzy, the light spinning round and round...

"Oh... oh... oh... oh... oh...."

School tomorrow, I think I'm gonna be sick...

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, October 26, 2009

Frida la vida

Þjóleikhusið, before the curtain

Every time that I've returned to Reykjavík, I've made it a point to see a production at Iceland's National Theatre. This time it was Frida la vida, a new play written by Bryhildur Guðónsdóttir, who also acted in the title role of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. This was a very stylized production, with her paintings becoming a part of the set and figures from them, most notably Óxlotl, her dog (and also the Aztec dog of the underworld), and La Catrina, the Mexican goddess of death. Her life, from her disfiguring accident until her death, and her stormy relationship with Diego Rivera, is told in a grim, nightmarish fashion, almost frightening at times. Ólafur Darri Ólafsson becomes Rivera, his immense stature giving Diego an appropriate larger than life aspect. Frida's politics are also covered, Leon Trotsky even makes a memorable appearance.

That an Icelandic theatre would produce an original play about Frida shows what an influence her art and life has had worldwide. The Selma Hayek movie version was visually stronger, as would be expected from a Hollywood movie, but this production brought out the internal struggles of Frida in a more compelling way.

And, of course, if you ever have the chance to see Frida Kahlo's paintings in person, do it. They are the reason we find her more fascinating than ever, and reproductions don't do them justice.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Iceland Trip - 2009

Go Here to read all the Iceland airwaves 2009 posts on one convenient, time-aligned, page. (Too much content to fit in a regular Month!)

By Professor Batty

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mondays in Iceland - After Party

12 Tónar is a charming little record shop and independent record label in Reykjavík. Serving up hot espresso and even hotter tunes, it is as comfortable as your living room (and possibly smaller.) I went in last Monday morning to meet up with the blogger Wim and his friend Heiða who is active in the Icelandic music scene as the lead singer and guitarist of the group called Hellvar who I saw perform at the 2006 Airwaves. Our gracious host was Johannes, who arranged Wim's acquisition of a classic shirt from the Icelandic supergroup Unun, and is shown below in his shop- flanked by Heiða and Wim:

Later on, Wim had arranged for me to meet Villi Knudsen, the famed film maker, and producer of the The Volcano Show in Reykjavík. We were escorted into his study by his assistant, Ellen T'Joen, and offered refreshments and pastries. It was a special day, his late father, who would have been 110 today, was nevertheless very much present in the room for most of the furnishings were built and/or designed by him. A loose stack of photos was lying on the table, chronicling his father's many and varied pursuits:

A stroke had slowed Villi a little, but he was still sharp, his piercing stare missed nothing, and his humor is as wry as ever as he talked with Wim and me.

Photo: Ellen T'Joen

Of course, there were leather bound copies of the work of Halldór Laxness on one of the shelves- behind the chair where Halldór himself had once sat:

"I never read him." Villi said with a smile. We talked for nearly an hour, and when had I to leave to catch my flight Villi gave me a copy of one of his DVDs.

And then I went home.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Lost Horizon

"'Slacker,'" explained Conway, "is a slang word meaning a lazy fellow, a good-for-nothing. I wasn't, of course, using it seriously."
    Chang bowed his head in thanks for the information. He took a keen interest in languages, and liked to weigh a new word philosophically. "It is significant," he said after a pause, "that the English regard slackness as a vice. We, on the other hand, should vastly prefer it to tension. Is there not to much tension in the world at present, and might it not be better if more people were slackers?"
    "I'm inclined to agree with you," Conway answered with solemn amusement.
   The above quote from James Hilton's 1933 novel Lost Horizon is more than solemnly amusing to a modern reader, but it retains its meaning perfectly. The Shangri-la where Conway and his three traveling companions find themselves stranded is an idyllic place, with only the "moderate" pursuit of knowledge and understanding as the only occupational choice. The book (and the Frank Capra movie) has become a cultural touchstone, and one of the few positive utopia stories to stand the test of time. Its earnest protest against the modern world's conflicts may not be great philosophy, but it does define an ideal (although the lamas still enforce a caste system over the workers who live in the valley.) But, while ignoring some dubious class distinctions (colonialism is always present), the book remains a good yarn, with exotic action scenes (including an airplane hi-jacked during a revolution in Afghanistan!) and an open ended finish which mirrors the yearning for a paradise on earth that is present to some degree in each of us.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Friday, October 02, 2009

I've been Polyvored

Imagine my surprise when I found this picture of my bay window:

Getting Ready (Interior 2)

That's my house, and my drapes, but who is that woman sitting in the Weaver's reading chair? And where did those plants and that parrot come from? Doing a little more snooping brought me to this page. I never knew there was so much activity going on downstairs at night when I was asleep.

Soon I discovered that I had been Polyvored. "Polyvore is a free, easy-to-use web-based application for mixing and matching images from anywhere on the web. It is also a vibrant community of creative and stylish people."

Never in a million years would have I that suspected my house was so trend-setting.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1