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August 8th, 2012

10:30 am - Important cheese vote
Whose cheese animal is better?

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July 23rd, 2012

09:56 am - The cheese conference is coming
I figured this was of little interest to my LJ folks, but I just posted my "Humble guide to getting the most out of the cheese conference" over on my non-lj blog.

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July 2nd, 2012

05:18 pm - Flamingo 50 -- "Go Betsy Go!" (2002)
I had a productive day today. I approved the edits on a short piece for “Canteen Magazine.” I drafted blurbs for two new cheese books coming out this year. I handled a difficult wedding special order even though it was my day off. I have some time to kill before Stagey gets home so I thought I’d write an LJ post.

Rather than write another half-informed internet opinion about health care reform or discuss how cute my dog is, I figured I would write another entry in my ongoing “Gordon Reviews his 7”s series.” The small vinyl I picked out for today:

Flamingo 50 -- “Go Betsy Go!” (2002)

I saw this band in London in 2003 at some queer punk show I saw advertised in Time Out or something. I loved them. There was a novelty to be seeing a show where I knew no one but my ex-wife, yet everyone looked like people I should know. But mostly it was a great show because they totally rocked!

I bought their CD (a split with Lack of Reason) and still listen to it today. Melodic female vocals with lots of stop-and-start punk rock. Flamingo 50 is a totally underrated band from this era.

Here is my favorite song of theirs. It’s not on this 7”, but I don’t own (and didn’t even know about) this J Church split so what the heck?

I was super excited to listen to this record because I love the band’s other songs. I couldn’t remember this 7” at all and that was really the whole point of this exercise anyway, right?

Unfortunately, this record is really bad. The songs may be good – one catches glimpses of excitement in “Dump Yr Dumper” and “Told Ya So” -- but the mix is so fuzzy and vocals so murky that I can’t really recommend this one. I am sure that as a teen I listened and still love some records mixed worse than this but at age 46 it just makes me feel like I need a hearing aid. I put on a Nation of Ulysses record right after this just to check my needle. That still sounded like awesome.

Rating: Buy this awesome CD instead!

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May 29th, 2012

01:52 pm - "Black by Design"
The exact day I became a fan of (Two-Tone) ska was April 19, 1980. That was the night the Specials played on Saturday Night Live.* I was enthralled. I went out and found the record the very next day.

When I found it, I actually thought it was a little dull in comparison with the live songs I heard the night before. I learned to love it, but I really do think, unlike a lot of genres, that the live recordings of this short period of time capture it in a way that the vinyl never did. The Specials “Ghost Town”** may be the only song better in the studio, but that’s because it’s a brutal, bitter announcement that not only was the two-tone era dead -- such a short life! -- but so was everything progressive people had worked for, including hope.

I just read Pauline Black’s autobiography “Black by Design” so I’ve been thinking about that era a lot this week. Pauline Black was the singer for The Selecter, probably the most famous woman in that era of music. The book itself is an adoption memoir sandwiched around a musician memoir. Black, adopted at birth, was raised in a white working class English community with very few non-white influences available to her. The provocative title of the book shows her battle with being black, but not being raised black. The surname she grew up with was actually Vickers, but she took on the last name Black as a way of 1. Truly identifying as black and 2. Having a performer name so she wouldn’t get fired from her day job in case the whole band thing didn’t work out.

Here’s the first incarnation of The Selecter so we can all have a clear starting point:

The weird thing about The Selecter -- the blackest band in Two Tone -- was that they were started by the white guy. He had written an instrumental with one of the folks who was in the Specials and The Specials, not having enough money to record a second song for their first single, put that song on the other side of the record. It became a top ten hit and the guy who wrote it figured he better form a band to capitalize on its success. He basically found a Coventry reggae band, added Pauline Black, and The Selecter was born.

Unlike most musician memoirs, “Black by Design” doesn’t have many bad things to say about anyone, including the members who left the band angry when they kind of disintegrated after the first album. About as snide as Black gets is when she – proud of her band – talks about how they were they only band on the label that was truly all working class. At first it was maddening that Black would only hint at the real personalities of the more famous people around her, but I started to respect it after awhile. It may have been unsatisfying, but she must have resisted a lot of pressure from her publisher to not trash her bandmates and more famous Two-Tone artists. A typically understated sentence, (discussing the reunion version of The Selecter) “Neol Davies and I found that some wounds are too difficult to heal and went our separate ways in 1993.” Yes, that is the only sentence about the guy who wrote all the band’s hit songs, and who formed the band originally, deciding to leave.

What is fascinating, and again also maddening, is that it’s a memoir of a small-scale star who never really got rich. She talked about the day – a decade or so after their one big album was released – when she finally had enough money to open a savings account. Her husband of 30 years or so is pretty absent from the narrative except it’s clear that he worked 40 hours a week his whole life at some job. The memoir of a star who isn’t rich: that’s a book I want to read! This could have been that book, but it’s only hinted at, not really explored.

Other things have a way of just being dropped in… Black became an actor after leaving The Selecter and it turns out she’s friends with Vanessa Redgrave because they are in the same Marxist party. Hi! I’d like to know more about that please. In fact that mention was only there at all because she was talking about her working class brothers’ homophobia and inability to interact with her black, queer, or arty friends.

Still, like I said, the book is an adoption memoir sandwich. I am – for obvious reasons – much more fascinated by adoption stories than I used to be and this has a lot of the usual adoptee narrative, with some extra transracial abductee intensity: adoptive mother who didn’t want her to hang out with black people, adoptive mother who views Black’s (also adopted, but white) brother’s search for his birth parents as a betrayal, the search for grounding, community, and place. She almost never mentions her adoptive family and unknown birth family during her fame years (was she not in contact? doing too many drugs? too busy? We don’t know.) but after her adoptive mother’s death (her adoptive dad dies before that, though it is only mentioned after the fact and in passing) she searches for her birth family. It’s the last 60 pages of the book, but it’s – to me – the most gripping –even tearjearking – part.

Still, after thinking about it for a week, I don’t know whether to recommend this book to folks or not. I found the whole thing fascinating, but I was already a big fan of her music and intrigued by her story which I had no idea of before the press for this book came out.

Anyways, here’s a great live version of “Three Minute Hero” to end this post with:

*embedding is unfortunately disabled. But go check it out and try and remember yourself at age 12. Why wouldn’t you love this?

**further studiesCollapse )
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May 3rd, 2012

06:09 am - Gordon watches TV
Living in San Francisco means you don’t need to get cable if you are not TV obsessed. With just an antenna you can get all the major networks, PBS, and a few indie stations. Occasionally at my parents’ house, on vacation, or at a motel I will watch something and my mind will get blown. This is really on TV?

I’m looking at you, Dance Moms.

But we got ROKU for x-mas and I have been checking out those reality shows* that seem so intriguing when I’ve seen them advertised on my TV holidays. OMG. Most of them are so bad that they trigger my depression. I realize these things are subjective. I’m not judging anyone who likes these shows. I’m just saying I’m glad I didn’t waste money on cable all these years.**

Here’s what I have been watching. Anything I should check out that I haven’t found yet?

Old episodes of Top Chef
These are great. The only Top Chef I had ever watched was the one season that is on DVD and a few episodes of Season 3 that I watched while stranded on the tarmac on a two hour flight delay on the way to Seattle to sign a contract with my agent. I had no idea there was no Padma in season 1. They have made some really smart moves over the years… getting rid of the caterers and home chefs, making better challenges with better food etc. We watched the current season as well and I just wanted to say, again, that all of you who had sympathy for Beverly and hated on Sara were just wrong, wrong, wrong. The thing about this show, which differs from the horrible “Hell’s Kitchen”, is that the contestants are talented and the judges, for the most part, seem legit.

Storage Wars
It took me a bit to get over the horrible premise of the show. People bidding on the possessions of others left behind in storage lockers is not something that would be allowed in a just society. But, on the other hand, I find it fascinating to see how things get to thrift stores. Except for maybe Brandi and Laura, no one is really likable on this show, but I have to admit that the buried treasure aspect of the storage lockers carries this for me. I really do want to know what’s in there and what it’s “worth”. I got kind of addicted to this show.

Pawn Stars
This show, on the other hand, is just awful. It combines the unlikeable aspects of Storage Wars with a scripted arrogance that made it unwatchable. The only episode that I saw, the main dude bought a cannon for $30,000. At least on Storage Wars you get the feeling – with a couple thousand being about the biggest bid– that the folks making the money on the lockers are not too far above – and sometimes clearly below – the people they are making money off of. If you have $30,000 for a cannon, my sympathy is gone. Plus they mock people who come in with things of no value. Whatever dudes.

Work of Art
This show is actually pretty awesome even though Stagey and I only half way through season one. Reality show of artists? It makes no sense! Here’s one day – MAKE ART! An acquaintance was on Season One and didn’t do very well – and some of the “artists” are terrible – but hey, Top Chef had some real terrible cooks in season one as well. nihilistic_kid wrote about these episodes when they came on and I really wished he tagged his entries.

Project Runway All-Stars
Just not the same without Heidi, Tim, and Nina.

RuPaul’s Drag Race
I know lots of you love this, but I was bored. It owes a lot to America’s Next Top Model for sure, and maybe I just watched too many episodes of that show, but it has all the fake drama and arbitrary rules that I began to hate about ANTM. I’d probably need to watch more episodes to have a coherent analysis – or come to like it.

American Pickers
After about five minutes I wanted to punch these assholes in the face. Two dudes self-importantly drive around the country looking for poor people to exploit. They strategically bother people until they give in, lowballing them despite the fact that some appear senile or unaware of where their next meal will come from. After the Rev, these folks definitely have a date with the firing squad for crimes against the People. Plus they have a goth-y gal back at home base who seems to be trying to be that goth girl on that military cop show or that quirky computer girl on that serial killer show.*** The only thing of value in this show is that it could inspire hatred of the entire capitalist system based on the ruthless actions of two Randian douchebags in a van.

*I consider Project Runway and Top Chef to be the crowning achievements of this genre, btw.
**Being able to watch Giants games would certainly be a mitigating factor, however.
***The difference between punks and Goths in a nutshell? Punks hate representations of themselves on TV and view all such fictional representations as sell outs. The Goths think it’s cool to have one of their own working for 1. The military and 2. The cops. That may be a lot of things, but cool will never be one of them.

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March 26th, 2012

10:55 am - We Need to Talk About Kevin
I loved “We Need to Talk About Kevin” as a novel. Lionel Shriver did the near-impossible with this book. She situated being the parent of a teen murderer as part of the continuum of motherhood, rather than a freakish aberration. Without sugarcoating the mother’s character, mistakes, or motivations, Shriver manages to get at a lot of the ways that mothers (not fathers) are blamed for things their children do. Without minimizing the horror of the killings in this story, it is a very delicate and constructed balance of compassion and realism for everyone involved.

The movie, not so much.

It wasn’t bad, mind you, just not as ambitious or interesting. While it certainly makes you feel the mother’s pain, for whatever reason it is unable to make Kevin and his killings a horrible part of a bigger picture. The result is a much shallower and more easily forgettable work.

The movie version certainly leaves an impression. The first half hour reminded me more of the incredible but hard to endure “Killer of Sheep” than anything else. Immersed in the life of the mother during a few interspersed time periods with very little dialogue, it’s agonizing to watch; but not in a bad way. In the way that makes you feel like you are experiencing a small portion of what a woman in that position must be feeling. So far, so good.

Making a work of art where a mother of a mass murderer is even a semi-sympathetic character is a hard job. How can that character ever feel any happiness? Any laugh or smile is an insult to the families of the dead. It’s hard to tell what seeing the movie would be like if I hadn’t read the book, but one pivotal scene really limited the movie’s possibilities.

In the book, the mother, Eva, often sits in the prison waiting room -- always alone, never talking to the other women who are almost all, if not exclusively, women of color. She uses her son’s name as a way of not having to interact because bringing him up usually shuts up anyone trying to talk to her. But one day another woman does not allow her to shut down the conversation. She tells Eva that Eva is a good mother because, even after everything her son has done, she still comes to jail regularly, trying to do what she can. It’s a brief conversation – one not examined thoroughly by the mother narrator -- but it brings up so many issues that – to me – it was the most weight-bearing few pages of the book.

What is motherhood? How much ability does a mother really have in shaping a child? What is the responsibility of a parent for the horrible things a child can do? How is the experience of black mothers different from white mothers in a society that imprisons black youth at a much higher rate than white youth? Are the incarcerated deserving of attention and support, even if unremorseful?

Additionally, it shows that while having a murderer in the family will certainly get you thrown out of the respectable upper-middle class, there are other communities in this world, other people who you may never have interacted with before who may actually have things to offer, in fact may have a richer, more complex view of life than you previously thought possible.

In the movie, the whole scene is reduced to a sobbing black woman sitting next to Eva. After some delay, Eva reaches out and holds her hand. Neither woman says a word. End scene.

The biggest failing of the movie is that it just left me with nothing to discuss. It was a two hour wallow in the misery of the mother of a teen school murderer. After I read the book smallstages and I talked about it on-and-off for days. It’s a pretentious cliché to advise people to read the book rather than see a movie based on one (Hello “Hunger Games,”)* but in this case it’s really the truth. The book was the best novel I have read in years. The movie is forgettable.

*The “Hunger Games” movie is better than the book (which I have never read) for one undeniable reason: outing racists.
Current Music: Buddy Holly - "Everyday"
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February 7th, 2012

12:45 pm - The Government “33 1/3 E.P.” (1979)
Canadian new wave! I will admit I forgot all about this record. I had to clean the needle three times there was so much dust on it. And there are only 4 songs!

I was going to just dismiss this as generic, overly enunciated new wave. But after the second listen it really started growing on me. It is New Wave with capital NW. Everything takes Eff-ort! and clever E-NUN-c-ation!

OMG there’s a vid for “Flat Tire”!

Smash that radio! Shoot out that tire! Burn that gas station!

Heck, this 7” is even kinda catchy. You could have danced to it with stripes and a skinny tie back in the day. “I’m a SPONGE! I SOAK up every-THING!” C’mon it was 1979. Things were out-of-sorts back then and the future looked bleak. Slightly detached, almost ironic dance music was what folks needed to feel better.

Rating: An ear fungus that grows a little with every listen

(It's been awhile so I will remind you all, dear readers, that this is part of a series. You can click the tag below to read them all)

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January 3rd, 2012

11:04 am - Your monthly Schnitzel
In the various online communities devoted to schnauzers, you rarely see one 1. dirty, 2. at the beach or 3. having fun. Here's your white schnauzer splosh porn that others won't post.

1. Dirty

2. At the beach
Pacific Ocean Schnauzer

3. Having fun (Schnauzers are faster than you think!)
fast schnitz

4. All three together!
mud-eating schnauser

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December 12th, 2011

10:49 am - The Weekly Schnitzel
Dancing a jig at the beach
Fort funston
Current Music: Wanna Be Texans

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December 7th, 2011

06:04 am - Faith No More – “We Care a Lot”/ “Spirit” (1987)
I was living in upstate NY when this song got re-released. Suddenly this song that annoyed me when it came out a couple of years earlier was playing all the time on the local college rock station. “Why?” I asked, “Why did I have to live through this song twice?”

If you haven’t heard it, here it is:

I love/hate this song. I actually find the video kind of endearing. They were all older than me then, but they just look like kids having fun now. This song sticks in my head for weeks when I hear it, probably as the result of exposure at an early age.

I hate that whole “funk metal” era of bands though. I hate Primus. I hate Mr. Bungle. I’m ok with Victim’s Family I guess… but was that really the best that Northern California could do? Sadly, it seems that – post-Dead Kennedys and pre-Gilman St -- it was. When the option was seeing a Verbal Abuse/Fang bill again, well, I would have gone to the Verbal Abuse show, but I could see why others wouldn’t. But if I want some “funk” mixed in with my rock, I’ll go listen to a Big Boys record any day.

Supposedly this was some kind of statement/parody of “Live Aid” but it’s pretty incomprehensible at this day and time in 2011. Wanna hear the best “Live Aid”/”We are the World” parody?

You’re welcome. (The Steve Perry part is my favorite visual. But long-time readers probably assumed that.)

“We Care a Lot” did give of the theme for on of my favorite shows, “Dirty Jobs” so for that we should be grateful I guess.

The B Side is unlistenable. I don’t even know where this came from. It has no sleeve so I think it was in a free pile somewhere.

Rating: Don’t make me listen to this again. Even Amoeba won’t take it.

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