This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. -- Mark
Like Tears in the Rain, by Gareth Branwyn
[Video Link] In 1982, my wife and I had just moved from a rural commune in Virginia to Washington, DC. We moved to the city so that she could pursue her music career (among other reasons). We were still country mice, easily awoken in the morning by street traffic, bothered by the air quality, and longing for the open skies of the country -- where, at night, you could see the stardust of the Milky Way clear as day.
Every year my wife would go to Nantucket to perform at a restaurant called The Brotherhood of Thieves -- a place that wouldn't look at all out of place in Treasure Island. It was dark, brick-walled, candle and lantern-lit, with big oak-slab tables and wooden ass-numbing chairs. In 1982, she was performing a duo act with well-known New England folkie Linda Worster, with whom she frequently played on the island.
Seeing them perform every night was a joy, but some nights I'd want to drift onto the streets of Nantucket, get swept up into the tide of pink and Nantucket-red golf clothes and flouncy summer dresses, and see where the night might wash me up.
On this night, a somewhat cold and cloudy one, I ended up under the marquee of Nantucket's Dreamland Theater, a giant, creaking, wooden ship of a building that smelled of mold, popcorn grease, and sunscreen.
Blade Runner, it read. I knew nothing about the film, but it was sci-fi and had Harrison Ford in it, so I figured it'd at least be the perfect way to kill a couple of hours before the ladies' last set. Little did I know that I was stepping into a portal and would emerge a different person, on a different life trajectory than the person who was stumbling down the shabby carpet in the dark, looking for a seat.
Read the rest
“It's not true unless it makes you laugh, but you don't understand it until it makes you weep.” -- Illuminatus!
I first discovered Robert Anton Wilson when I was 18 years old. I'd just moved to a commune in the tobacco fields of central Virginia and was working for the magazine that the community published. Wilson and Bob Shea's Illuminatus! trilogy had just been published and I sent off for a review copy on the magazine's letterhead. I was shocked when Dell actually sent me the books. I had no idea what Illuminatus! was; I thought I was getting some free trash sci-fi to kill time down on the farm.
The first few chapters in and I knew I wasn't reading sci-fi, not any kind I recognized, anyway. Reading the first book, The Eye in the Pyramid, then the second, The Golden Apple, and then the third, Leviathan, was like going on an extended acid trip, complete with that phasing delirium of humor and the absurd, flashes of diamond clarity and numerous a-ha moments, awkward sexual arousal, plenty of cartoonery, fear, paranoia, and maybe a little out-and-out terror. (It's no coincidence these books are divided up into ten “Trips.”) There is so much to Illuminatus!, an almost fractal density, that you have to unhinge your mind (like a serpent would its jaw) to fit it all in. I read the trilogy, and then read it again. (When my late-wife and I hooked up, we read them out loud to each other, and after Bob died, I read them for a fourth time.)
There are few works of art or pieces of media that have altered my nervous system to the extent that Illuminatus! has. In 1976, I was this awkward, alienated Wiccan teen, a restless seeker. But I was also a science and space nerd. I could never reconcile these two and constantly switched between them, rejecting one for the other, at least for a time. But here was a world where these points of view were not mutually exclusive, a playfully plastic world where open curiosity, creativity, absurdity, and skepticism leavened all explorations, whether religious/mystical/artistic or scientific. It was Robert Anton Wilson who turned me onto the concept of “hilaritas” (what he described as being “profoundly good natured”). These books (and all of RAW's oeuvre) are steeped in that spirit.
Illuminatus!, and all of the Robert Anton Wilson books that I read after that (which is all of them), have formed an amazingly steady through-line in my life. I've gone through many intense changes since that 18 year old kid scammed free reading material, and my belief systems (or “BS” as RAW called them) have oscillated wildly, but most of my takeaways from Wilson have remained. His basic approach of being “open to anything, skeptical of everything” is how I've tried to live my life. This allowed me to finally embrace both parts of myself, the part that wanted to be open to magick and spirit and the part of me that needs extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims.
In recent past, I'd somewhat fallen out of touch with RAW's unique brand of “guerrilla ontology” until a few years before he died. Some friends were on their honeymoon, traveling through the deserts of Utah. They found the 5-volume set of audio interviews that Bob had done called Robert Anton Wilson Explains Everything: Or Old Bob Exposes His Ignorance, in the bargain bin of a truck stop. They aren't particularly into this sort of thing, but more based on my interest, they bought the set. They listened to it on their honeymoon and enjoyed it so much, they bought me a copy. I now listen to it regularly and can't recommend it highly enough.
Well that, as they say, is that. It's time for me to clear out my desk, return the keys to the executive washroom, and bounce. It's been a profound pleasure hanging out here for the last two and half weeks. It was so much fun to write about things other than technology for a change. But that seems to be my calling -- to write about tech that sucks less and people doin' it for themselves -- so back into the datamines I march. Speaking of which, I just finished guest editing the Lost Knowledge (aka Steampunk) theme for MAKE Volume 17. Content includes an amazing Whimshurst Influence Machine project by Jake von Slatt, how to build a tea cup Sterling engine, and how to create your own Wunderkammer (Cabinet of Wonders). I also have a piece on William Blake and his invented method of relief-etching. The issue hits newsstands March 10th. A million thanks to Mark, David, Xeni, Cory, and Joel for this outstanding opportunity. I owe you all indecent favors. Here are all of my posting, shamelessly reiterated, for those who may have missed some (and so I have one place to link to):
- The Musical Illusionist, Now Appearing at the Hotel St. George
- Random Acts of Poetic Bookmarking
- Moving Paintings From Inside
- "Mysteries" Magical Tour
- Shuffle Deep the Gathering Gloom
- Fractally-delicious Papercraft
- Last Gasp on My Doorstep
- Show Us Your Saints
- Music from the Hearts of 'Space
- Tripping Through Video Vaults
- Maker's Notebook Hacks
- J & B, Still on the Rox
- Seek Ye the Hilaritas!
- Attention "Paper-based Romantics"
- Linda Hesh's "Bench Project"
- My Wallet Just Got Raptured
- Seanie Blue's Night Light
- DIY 33 1/3 Books
- Oblique Tweets
- Playing my Widower Card
- Surfrider's "Catch of the Day"
- Down the Rabbit Hole with the World's Smallest Postal Service
- Mr E's Beautiful Blues
- Nightly Meditations on 33 1/3
- Gareth in no-man's land
Like McSweeny's, Hotel St. George is a painfully hip lit website and print publisher that satisfyingly delivers on its pretensions. Their website is stunning, one of the more impressively-designed sites I've seen. And their print publishing efforts are truly unique, infused with wonder and playful, brainy ideas for presenting and telling stories. I'm currently reading writer and filmmaker Alex Rose's The Musical Illusionist and Other Tales ($14.95). It's one of the most imaginative and unconventional collections I've read in years. It's really fired up my imagination. Here's the back cover copy which, while typically breathless, accurately describes the whimsy and weirdness contained within.
Disappearing manuscripts. Profane numbers. Extinct bacteria. Cities without shadows. A language spoken entirely in rhythms. A man deaf solely to the waltzes of Chopin. These are among the many anomalies to be found in the Library of Tangents, a vast underground archive whose beguiling exhibitions are detailed by Alex Rose in his exquisite debut collection, The Musical Illusionist. A masterful fusion of science-historic precision and magical-realistic caprice, this Pandora's Box of curious tales stands in the tradition of Borges, Calvino and Pavic, blending the playfulness and mythic wonder of folk tales with the complexity and richness of modern thought. Together, these interlaced parables chart an inebriating realm of possibility, the secret passageways that lie between words and meanings, neurons and thoughts, space and time, fact and fiction, sound and music–and in doing so, activate that rare, dreaming rapture one felt as a child, entranced.The book is as beautiful as it is eccentric, with real scientific illustrations, religious art, maps, and cryptographic manuscripts helping to sell the bait and switch of the "truth" where each story begins with the farcical world where each story ends up. The latest offering from Hotel St. George is Correspondences ($50, incl. shipping), by Ben Greenman, a limited-edition series of letterpressed stories on thick accordion-fold paper tucked inside of pockets, inside of a slip case. Three two-sided accordions hold six stories. A seventh story is contained on the packaging and there's also an included post card that you can return with your idea for finishing the seventh story. Worthy submissions are being posted on the HSG website. This is a beautiful piece of book art that will especially appeal to collectors of new letterpress work.
I love sites like Bookcrossing (where books are left out in public and their journeys, from reader to reader, are tracked vis the web) and Where is George? (when stamped dollar bills are tracked in a similar way), so I was tickled to have someone send me info about NamelessleTTer, a collaborative art bookmarking project, where bookmarks are made and stashed inside of library books, books in stores, etc.
The goal is to provoke curiosity (to encourage people to visit libraries and bookstores in hopes of discovering one of these bookmarks), to bring a new and exciting aspect to book reading in a world that is becoming increasingly digital, and to interact with other people.The bookmarks usually offer some commentary or comic relief on the title in which they're placed. Here are a few bookmarks from the site and the books in which they're found: Left in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Left in Where Is God When It Hurts?
Left in: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
In 1993, I was honored to be asked by my friend, artist and musician John Bergin, to write the precis for his graphic novel From Inside. It was an exciting time. Kevin Eastman, fat with cash from the meteoric success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, created the Tundra imprint and published such ground-breaking work as Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz's Big Numbers, Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell, Stephen R. Bissette's Taboo, and Dave McKean's Cages. Bergin and his friend James O'Barr brought over The Crow, Kerosene, and the Bone Saw collection. And then there was From Inside. In the introduction, I wrote:
John Bergin's work exists in a world of perpetual darkness and droning ambiance. His artistry lies not so much in his ability to maintain this consistent dark vision (which he does with a vengeance), but in his ability to build a rich and complex world inside such a singular dimension. He has the ability to dance right on the edge of suffocating nihilism, while providing just enough oxygen to sustain life.The beauty of his art uplifts you, while its devastating message crushes you to dust.From Inside has always been a film, even when it was a comic book. When I first got the galleys and began thumbing through it, I saw storyboards, I saw frames and camera angles, I saw sweeps and transitions. The experience on the page was extremely cinematic. So it makes sense that John would want to go the other way and make a film that feels like reading a comic book in motion. And no, we're not talking about a comic book being adapted to the big screen as a full-blown animation. John worked with the original art from the book and did the ol' Ken Burns Effect on the panels, adding some animation elements, and 3D models and set pieces. The result feels like a mash-up between a static comic book, a pop-up book, and full-blown 3D animation. Its "bookness" is more intact than other comics made into films. The main characters of From Inside are Cee, a young pregnant woman, and a seemingly endless steam train. John has always had a "thing" for trains and that adoration comes through in the immense detail of the 3D models and animation, the texture maps, the sounds, and smoke effects. It's a giant beast of a machine (literally in some scenes). It's mind-boggling to consider that John did nearly all of this work himself (the credits for the over-one-hour film are ridiculously short) on a Apple G5 Dual 2.7 running Maya, Photoshop, and AfterEffects. Some shots took weeks to render. One took over a month. John ended up spending 2-1/2 years of his life on this effort. The story of From Inside opens with the pregnant Cee on the train as it traverses a post-apocalyptic landscape. As we fall into the sonorous rhythms of the train, we hear the gentle voice of Cee:
I have tried and tried to remember how this wasteland came to be. I don't remember where I got on this train and I don't know where it's going. What difference does it make? When the end of the world has come, it's too late to wonder why.From there, the train slows and stops at one whistle stop of horror and devastation after another. Cee's experiences on and around the train bleed into the dreams and nightmares she's having in the little womb-like compartment she's been given by the engineers. Through her narration, we learn of life on this helltrain and are made privy to her most intimate fears, her grieving over the loss of her husband, and her total apprehension over bringing a child into this world. And it's that last bit that From Inside is really about. It's a nightmare meditation on fears of being pregnant, questioning the sanity of bringing a child into an insane world, and the generalized, frequently irrational, fears young pregnant couples have over the devastating impact a newborn will bring down upon their lives. However it will work out in the end, it will surely be catastrophic to your pre-child life. And the certainty of that can be terrifying. If you're looking for happy endings here, look out. (John jokingly calls it "the most depressing film ever made.") Like the novel, John rations use of the oxygen throughout. When the film ended, it was all I could do to keep my head out of my oven. But in the end, I was more satisfied than bummed -- I'd had the unique opportunity to climb inside of a book, a world, that has intrigued me since the day I was introduced to it. You can watch a preview of From Inside on the movie's website and read the blog John has kept throughout the project. The film is currently traveling the animation and film festival circuit, and not surprisingly, scooping up a number of awards. See the News section of his site for the screenings schedule.
Manly Palmer Hall has been called the America Madame Blavatsky, which probably isn't far from the truth. Like the controversial Russian-born founder of Theosophy, Hall seemed dedicated to quantity over quality in his writing (authoring more than 50 books on esoterica and self-help), and like Helena, the troubling smell of snake oil swirled in his rotund wake. Manly P Hall is one of the people principally responsible for the birth of the New Age religious movement in the United States, first in LA, starting in the '20s, and then beyond, through his writings and endless lecturing. While some of his lesser works, like Questions Answered on the Problems of Life by Manly P Hall, Philosopher, may have proven less than influential, his occult encyclopedia The Secret Teachings of All Ages was a bedrock influence on New Age thought then, and to some extent, remains so today (Secret Teachings still sells well, as is now in its 16th edition). LA Times staff writer Louis Sahagun's biography, Master of the Mysteries: The Life of Manly Palmer Hall (Process Media) is an engrossing look inside, not only the life of this self-taught philosopher and spiritual teacher, but the growth of the often bizarre alternative religious movements that were busting out all over Southern California in the first half of the 20th century. This is Hollywood Babylon in Egyptian ankhs and yoga pants. Actors, artists, musicians, politicians, and scientists of the time flocked to hear Hall lecture on the mysteries of East, self-help psychology, and secret societies. Allegedly blessed with photographic memory, Hall was capable of absorbing huge amounts of information and then reformatting it into his own books, frequently under suspicions of plagiarism and playing fast and loose with facts and legitimate sources (another dubious distinction he shared with Blavatsky). Through Sahagun's engaging text and lots of photos and bits of ephemera (lecture ticket stubs, news clippings, plans for Mayan temples in downtown Hollywood, hand-written death threats), we're taken on an amazing LSDisney trip through the most surreal spiritual theme park imaginable. We get lots of juicy gossip along the way about the Hollywood of the times, a creative-community as hungry as it will ever be for deeper levels of meaning, rejuvenation, and fulfillment. As if to cap off this bizarre tale with a scene cut straight from gas-lit celluloid, Hall died under gruesome and mystery circumstances. Foul play was suspected when he was found dead on top of an unslept-in bed with traces of dirt around his face and thousands of black ants streaming from his nose, mouth, and ears. The LA Coroner's Office subsequently botched the autopsy, the investigation was poorly handled, and the case was never solved. Even when I was a teen seeker and into a lot of fluffy New Age beliefs and practices, I got a bad odor from a lot of Manly P. Hall's work and tended to steer clear of it. (Color me an unimaginative skeptic, but I found the whole Mayan temple in downtown Hollywood to be a tad on the flamboyant side.) So, I went into this book without a lot of respect for its subject. I can't say that opinion was significantly changed, but I do think I understand "Dr" Hall a lot better now. This was obviously an extraordinarily smart man who fervently believed in what he was talking about. You gotta give the guy props for passion. He remains the most prolific writer of mysticism and the occult and he continued lecturing until his likely-murder at 89. What I found most interesting in this story was the parallels between Hall and another Southern California occult resident of the time, Jack Parsons (covered in another recommended Feral House book Sex and Rockets -- Process is an imprint of Feral House). Parsons was also self-educated, began his occult career at an early age, had matinee-idol good looks and an impressive ability to learn things quickly, hobnobbed with bohemian Hollywood, saw himself as birthing a new religion, and died under mysterious circumstances (though Parsons' death was likely an accident). They also each had their own court "confidence men," Hall, the mysterious colonic-loving "Dr. Fritz" (suspected in Hall's death), and Parsons, the reality-barnstorming L. Ron Hubbard. Ultimately, the most fascinating character in Master of the Mysteries is the City of Angels herself. Through the tale of one of her more extraordinary residents, we can almost feel a new city emerging, one with an identity like no other. And with her naive sense of wonder and an openness to new ideas, new beliefs, and novel experiences comes a lot of seriously weird shit. Previously: L.A.’s occult roots: Master of the Mysteries
For all of my writing about role-playing and tabletop wargaming (I used to host a sci-fi tabletop modeling site), I've actually not spent that much time heavy-duty gaming, at least not since I was a teen/20-something. Most of my gaming time in adulthood, and definitely my most enjoyable time, has been playing various light-duty card games. Since a lot of my friends are not as deeply geeky as I am, it's often hard to get them to sit still long enough to learn rules for an RPG or tabletop game, and by the time they've created a character or an army, the little lightweights are tired (many of them have these bizarre constructs I don't understand called "day jobs") and they need to head home. Card games usually have easier rules, quicker play times, and tend to be more social/less serious (proverbial beer and pretzel games). I've never played a game of Steve Jackson's Chez Geek without everyone involved, regardless of how into such games they are, not coming away having had a ball. I can't recommend that game, and its spin-offs (Chez Goth, Chez Guevara -- for all your leftie-commie friends, etc), highly enough. And for the anarcho-libertarians in the chez, there's always Illuminati. It's more "medium-duty" than Chez Geek, but still suitable for general play. I've been playing that game since it was one of the infamous "pocket box" games (go Car Wars!). My most recent attempt at feeding my friends a gateway drug to deeper gaming nerdom is Keith Baker's Gloom, from Atlas Games. I tend to be attracted to games with gimmicks and this has a great one. The cards are printed on clear plastic. As you play your hand, and cover the cards you've laid down with further draws, the cards change values/capabilities, depending on which attributes show through the card stacks. The other thing that attracted me to the game is the objective. As you play, you try to increase the happiness of the other players' characters, while increase the miserable things that happen to yours (you choose from four families of dysfunctional freaks in the core game). You want to end up with the gloomiest family in the end. Gloom good, happy bad. (Does Morrissey know about this?) The artwork on the cards is really lovely, evocative of Gorey, Addams, and Lemony Snicket. The game is designed for 2-4 players and the rules are fairly simple, so even older kids can play. Unfortunately, since I bought it over Christmas, I haven't been able to cajole anybody into playing it with me yet. Pocket-Protector Barbie sez: "Being a geek is HARD."
I had the pleasure of meeting Jen Stark, and seeing her work, at the wonderful Civilian Art Projects in DC last year. Her paper-based sculptures are mind-bogglingly meticulous (lots of precise snips and X-Acto slices of construction paper), and lyrical as all get-out; bursts of unwinding cellulose sunshine. Above is an Art Street profile of Jen. Previous post on Boing Boing
There are a lot of things that can suck about being a freelance writer: long, solitary hours, throwing pitches at magazines like so much spaghetti against a wall (with nothing sticking), low pay, no benefits, having to discipline yourself to stay in the saddle, while sunshine, or a nap, or The Daily Show strum their sexy siren songs. One thing that does not suck is getting lots of free shit: books, CDs, movies, t-shirts, free trips to exotic locales (if you're the type that succumbs to the latter, somewhat questionable, job perk). When I knew I was going to be doing this-here Boing Boing Guest Blogging gig, I wrote off for some books I might want to review. I saw in my latest issue of Hi-Fructose that there was a new Chris Mars book, called Tolerance. And there was that new Attaboy postcards collection. Oh, and there was also that last Ron English book. I sent an email off to the Last Gasp PR guy and asked if I could see review copies of these. He wrote back and said sure and he'd send some other titles I might be interested in as well. A week or so later, a box showed up on my front porch which was so heavy, I could barely muscle it into the house. I can't tell you how excited I was as I recklessly knived into it. It was crammed tight with thick, nutritious tree meat. Besides the books I'd asked for, there was a collection of legendary montage artist Winston Smith's work, called All Riot on the Western Front, the horror-comedy manga of Tokyo Zombie, a book from the godfather of low-brow Robert Williams, called Through Prehensile Eyes, an oversized book of unsettling kiddie-pink perversion from Gary Baseman, called Dying of Thirst (taken from his "I Melt in Your Presence" show), Limited Edition: The Art and Design of GAMA-GO (the only place you'll find all of GAMA-GO's limited-release designs), a lovely, hefty tome of Basil Wolverton's lifework, called The Original Art of Basil Wolverton, the list goes on. This motherload of fringe-art awesomeness arrived just days before Christmas. It was like my very own Christmas Story, except my winning prize sucked a lot less than a mannequin leg lamp. I ended up getting some nice gifts for the holidays, but I couldn't help coming back to that box, both literally and figuratively, as the real Yuletide score. So, a million thanks to Last Gasp. I cherish these amazing books that you sent, but I may have to boil and eat some of them if times get any tougher. Interestingly enough, with all of these books to ogle and sniff, it was the two I asked for in the first place, Chris Mars' Tolerance and Ron English's Abject Expressionism, that got the biggest rise out of me, and my art-student son, Blake. Chris' work is undeniably strident in its political message, but the rawness of the anger, the clarity of the shouting, is so crystalline-sharp, and its all rendered with such technical virtuosity. This guy is definitely the George Grosz of the 21st century. I love the way all of his figures look almost like they've been flayed alive to reveal their naked truth beneath. Like Grosz, he manages to render macabre beauty in the most staggering depictions of ugliness and terror. My son and I reverently paged through Ron English's book, laughing, gasping, and generally marveling at the perverse genius behind it all. It reminded me of being high and watching TV with the sound off, the rank idiocy of "the Spew" so clearly revealed. English Cuisinarts cultural icons, commercial trash, and sacred cows (literal cows, even) into such an intoxicating slurry, I literally felt like my consciousness had been altered by the time we were through. Ron English shreds icons and brand identities like a guitar hero. He's the Jimi Hendrix of culture jamming.
I was raised Catholic (thanks, I'm better now). I also spent my teen years studying meditation, yoga, and eastern religions. So maybe through this upbringing, I tend to think in terms of teachers, gurus, saints, heroes, muses, angels, and daemons -- no longer in a theological sense, but I still find use for these concepts, at least in a poetic, symbolic sense. When I was kid, I loved all of the trappings of the saints: the icons, the medallions, the miracle stories, the statues, relics, the veneration. I'm a pagan at heart, and when you think about it, this is nothing more than high paganism, ceremonial magick. I loved the idea that there are different saints that help, guide, and protect you under different circumstances. And I loved that they represent different virtues and qualities you could meditate on and try to emulate, as you lit candles and prayed to icons. Recently, I've come to the realization that I still engage in something of this practice. I have various "teachers" in my life -- writers, philosophers, artists, and scientists -- whose work holds a powerful influence over me. They've become hugely symbolic in my life and have come to represent different aspects of myself that I wish to improve and magnify. I keep them close to me, mainly in collections of books in my library that I browse and "meditate" on whenever I am in need of a little inspiration. Below is my list of "saints." Do you have such a pantheon? These are more than your heroes. These are the people that you think have taught you the most, that you near-venerate in your love and respect for them, and whom you feel have helped form the bedrock of your beliefs and worldview. My "Saints" (and what they represent to me) William Blake - I venerate this guy above all others. He's the closest thing I have to a guru. His entire mission in life was to use his art and ideas to wake us all up from the somnambulism he believed the State, organized religion, even our own sensoria, were cursed to induce in us. I use him as my constant reminder to stay awake and creative, keep my imagination expansive, and to "fight the power." Gregory Bateson - A father of cybernetics. Bateson was something of a saint to the Whole Earth folks and Whole Earth was a huge influence on me. Bateson was the one who introduced me to Blake. Bateson reminds me to look at relationships over objects and for patterns that connect. And to tie all of my ideas and beliefs with slipknots. Robert Anton Wilson - In the CD interview series with Bob Wilson, Robert Anton Wilson Explains Everything, the interviewer states that RAW had spent a career collecting, trading in, and writing about conspiracy theories, the paranormal, and the like, but he doesn't appear to buy into much of it. So why does he spend so much time exploring such things? "It keeps my mind supple" is Wilson's reply. That elevates him to sainthood in my pantheon. Wilson also embodied the virtue of hilaritas to me. And he remind me to embrace the absurd. Wilson was also "open to anything, but skeptical of everything." Bucky Fuller - Fuller's mission in life was to see how much a single "human intelligence unit" could create, learn, and experience -- what one person could do to make the world a better place -- in a lifetime. Amazingly, he embarked on that mission, on the other side of an aborted suicide attempt, in his mid-30s. Everything we know about Buckminster Fuller happened after that. I also venerate Bucky's optimism, faith in human ingenuity, and in the transformative powers of science and technology. Aleister Crowley - I hate "The Beast" as much as I love him. He represents my faith in the powers of thelema (will) and agape (love) and the notion of syncretism. And I try to live by his motto "The method of science, the aim of religion." Say what you want against him (and there's plenty to say), but his influence on modern, at least bohemian, culture and on alternative religions has been huge. He was such a significant influence on me in my youth it would be disingenuous to not include him. And every list of apostles needs a Judas. (Sadly, there are no women on my list. I racked my brain. I could come up with women I greatly admire, lots of artists and musicians, but no one who's risen to the level I'm thinking about here.) So, who are YOUR saints? What lessons, virtues, ideas, or qualities do they represent for you?
I love making serendipitous musical discoveries via MySpace. It's amazing how many unique, talented, unsigned bands there are on the site. Okay, they are somewhat overwhelmed by the Tbits of less-than-unique-and-talented bands, but that makes the accidental discoveries all the happier. Musical taste is clearly and utterly subjective, so YMMV, but here are a few of my recent MySpace finds.
Lunabee & Swan I love how bands categorize themselves on MySpace. Belgium/UK duo Lunabee and Joanna Swan describes their music as "Melodramatic Popular Song/Trip Hop/Electronica" and that's pretty accurate. The two artists, Lunabee the musician, Swan the singer, actually met on MySpace. Swan bumped into Lunabee's page (again with the serendipity) and sent her a message saying she wanted to collaborate. A week later, an album's worth of music showed up in Swan's inbox and Lunabee & Swan were born. Their song "Smoke Rings" blew my wig off the first time I heard it... and the 20th time (I gotta get stronger toupee tape!). It's like Annie Lennox on the lower register, Shirley Bassey in the middle, and Prince wailing away up on top. I have to sit up and listen to any band that lists Poulenc, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tod Browning's Freaks as influences!
ZAZA My pal, Pete Kennedy, of the most-excellent psychedelic folk duo The Kennedys, turned me on to these 21st century shoegazers, another duo, this one from Brooklyn. Pete says they've only done a handful of gigs, but they're already generating a buzz, on both coasts. Echoey, ethereal singing over smeared-out gothy soundscapes. The male singer sounds a little like Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips (never a bad thing in my book). One reviewer described their sound as "like drowning with a smile on your face." Yeah. It's like that.
HTRK My favorite "MySpace band" of the moment is HTRK, pronounced "Hate Rock." This trio of young ones from Melbourne, Australia makes a primitive, minimalist form of noise rock (vocalist Jonnine Standish's percussion instrument is a single maraca and a floor tom). They also do some poppier fare, like "Fascinator," the first song to prick my ear. When I started listening to their MySpace jukebox a few weeks ago, Fascinator had 80,000 listens. It's now shot up to over a quarter million. At least some of those are not me. HTRK just released a three-song MP3 bundle "Ha-Panties," which includes the tracks "Ha," "Panties," and "Fascinator." It's tasty, GBP2.97, and deliciously DRM-free.
I think I have one of the coolest jobs in the world. I get to work for Maker Media, helping to create magazines, books, web media, and events that I truly care about, that excite and inspire me. I just got back from the MAKE offices in Sebastopol, CA, where I was helping to put Volume 17 to bed. It's the "Lost Knowledge" issue, pressurized with plenty of steampunky goodness. It'll hit newsstands on March 10th. Last year, I got to lead the team that created The Maker's Notebook. Every engineer, artist, designer, crafter, or other creative type I know has ideas on what would make the ideal blank notebook. We took a lot of this input and tried to incorporate it into our design. One of the things we wanted to do with The Maker's Notebook was design in hackability. We wanted the book to beg to be customized, extended, repurposed. The cover was designed to look like a cross between a blueprint and an empty storyboard. We created special stickers with which to customize it. We're thrilled by all of the useful, creative, and crazy things users have done with their books. We gave some notebooks to teacher Steve Davee's 4th grade math class to see what they'd do with them. Above is student Aiden's LED cover mod video. Steve has done some crazy-cool hacks of his own, including a binary indexing system, which you can see here. Below are a few other mod projects. More can be found on the Maker's Notebook webpage. This is an impostor! Kent Barnes Maker-ized his pocket Moleskine by covering it with a paper bookcover he made of the Maker's Notebook. I did one of those jowly cartoon triple-takes when I saw this image on Flickr. Matt Mechtley's, of Flashbang Studios, notebook, modded at the workshop at last year's Maker Faire Bay Area. Val Hutchins made a cloth tool caddy that attaches to the cover of her notebook. MAKE Online Editor Marc de Vinck made a snap enclosure for his book.
Back in the early '90s, at print bOING bOING, we all took a shine to a Bloomington, IN cable-access TV show called "J & B on the Rox," or just "Rox" (in Wired, Mark called Rox "the best TV show in America"). It was pre-Vlog, proto-YouTube, Wayne's World meets Michael Moore's TV Nation (on prodigious amounts of herb and alcohol). These guys were good. They made it look effortless. And they never took themselves, or their show, too seriously. Now, through the reconnective magic of Facebook, I've found my Bartender J again! Turns out, he and B are back to putting out periodic episodes and releasing some cutting-floor specials, like the video seen below. The most recent episode, Fifteen Months of Katrina, is a moving look at B and (wife and Rox regular) Xy returning to their home after the hurricane and trying to make sense in the aftermath. J & B also have a new podcast, called J & B's Nightcap.