My favorite song that I know nothing about

Wètètié Maré by Muluqèn Mèllèssè (click to play MP3).


I know this track from one of the Ethiopiques compilations and have never been able to find out a single thing about the artist or track. Silent. Dr. Rhythm? Stumped. The only person on the entire yawning internet who has anything to say about it is one Ted Leo who suddenly mentions it in a Pitchfork Media guest-column as perhaps his favorite song ever amidst such incongruous recommendations as PIL, the Slits, and Curtis Mayfield, and feels the need to preface his recommendation with “I feel a a little pretentious saying this, but…” You and me both, Ted Leo.

I feel a little pretentious saying this, but there are about 20 songs I’ve heard in my life where I can remember experiencing a reaction of complete excitement literally within the first 3-4 seconds. For point of reference, ‘White Riot’ was one of the first songs I can remember giving me this feeling, and Bobby Fuller’s ‘Let Her Dance’ was one of the most recent. This is definitely the only one on the list that I know nothing about. It clearly owes a lot to the Memphis soul sound in terms of inspiration, but remains a mystery to me otherwise. So I call upon you, O Great Internet Readership, in hopes that you’ll be able to shed some light.

Thanking you in advance,


Jack of All Trades

GOLDI’m not sure what gloss I can add to this amazing sign, which I found on Beacon Street in Boston.  Partly it seems like a Bubble artifact, when everybody’s plumbers were getting into real estate speculation.  But does he really have a law degree?  And if so, is this a new sign that he’s put together since the crash, so he can peddle his more practical plumbing abilities?  The mind reels.

Franco the Obscure

On the heels of yesterday’s long windbaggy post on The Zizkov Television Tower, it seems like a good time for a refreshingly short design post with lots of nice images and mercifully little text.

Today’s subject is Franco Grignani:


An Italian designer working in Milano, Grignani started experimenting in the early 1950s with radical black-and-white abstract compositions that paved the way for Op Art:


(Interestingly, this is a logo for a wool company (edit: reader MM reminds me that it wasn’t for a wool ‘company’– rather, it was the universal symbol to indicate clothing made from wool in Italy, like the cotton mark nowadays.))





He also did some more conventional advertising pieces that show a easy surety with color, style, fashion:




Historically, Grignani is an unaccountably murky figure. The internet has almost nothing to say about him. And it’s come a long way in recent years– at least one can find images of his work online these days. I remember researching Grignani as a student back in 2002 and I literally had to go the public library to find a single sample of his work.

Presumably, part of Grignani’s obscurity stems from his association with the second wave of Futurism and its off-putting associations with Fascism. Another reason might be the fact that, as far as I can tell, he seemed to be his own island, so to speak, producing works that had no close parallels and seemed to inspire no immediate legion of imitators. It’s a puzzling little cul-de-sac of graphic design history.

The Žižkov Television Tower

Inspired by JohnnyO’s sleuthing into Sutro Tower’s missing antenna, I figured I would interrupt normal programming around here (which, let’s face it, has started to resemble an inane cabaret lately, what with children wearing bacon suits and animals giving each other piggy-backs) to do a post on communist Prague’s answer to the Sutro Tower – the Ivan Drago to its Rocky Balboa, if you will – the Žižkov Television Tower:


One thing the Žižkov Television Tower (pronounced ‘zhISH-kof tel-uh-VIZ-yon TAUU-err’, hereon referred to as ZTT) has that the Sutro Tower doesn’t have is an observation deck, which allows it membership status into something adorable called The World Federation of Great Towers. In fact, if you go up to the observation deck of the ZTT, you’ll see a number of framed photos on the walls of other kindred members of the WFGT, which is pretty cute.

Another thing that differentiates the ZTT is its confounding placement smack in the middle of an old residential neighborhood (it’s hard to compare Prague and SF neighborhoods exactly, but it would be like if Sutro Tower sprung out of the ground at the corner of Folsom and 18th). This gives it a very different sense of proximity than the Sutro Tower, which is essentially marooned on a remote hilltop overlooking a Twin Peaks neighborhood that no one has ever had a single interesting thing to say about.

This jarring proximity provoked a lot of the initial resistance to the tower when construction began in 1985. Note that you can’t really say that there was ‘outcry’ of protest back then since nobody was allowed to publicly protest much of anything under communism, so it was really more of a pent-up in-cry, but there was a lot of it nonetheless. Mainly, the tower was seen an imposition of communist triumphalism on a modest, more old-fashioned neighborhood, a clumsy gesture of imperial egotism and arrogance. As if to remove any last possible hint of delicacy, moreover, the tower was built right over a very old Jewish cemetery, which now looks meekly pushed to one side (note: there’s a widespread belief that the tower planners actually moved the cemetery themselves, but a considerable dissenting voice claims that it had already been moved earlier).

Nowadays, the tower is fairly popular, as the jarring contrast between old and kitschy-new is seen as quirky and likable. I guess I can see both sides of this argument. Meaning, I really like the tower, but I can also picture myself being horrified if I’d lived in the neighborhood at the start of construction, both by the aesthetic and cultural implications of it. Which all goes to show that if you’re running a city, maybe you’re better off just doing stuff and counting on the public to acclimate to it, rather than trying to run things according to the maddening processes of consensus-building and ballot initiatives that exist in San Francisco and result in a city repeatedly voting to demolish, rebuild and repeal the same freeway in successive votes. On the other hand, Czech’s communist government was overthrown before they could see the completion of this tower, so maybe it is better to stick with the milquetoast, coalition-building approach after all.

A lot of the protest around the ZTT also had to do with health concerns, so much so that construction was actually halted for a year after the Velvet Revolution so that tests could be performed to reassure the surrounding community that the broadcast signals emanating from the tower had no adverse effects. As far as I know, there was no reason to suspect any kind of health impact from the broadcast signals other than the one quite sufficient reason that it was being built by the local communist government, who had such a poor record on environmental issues that it often seemed as though they were trying to create unhealthy living conditions on purpose. So, on the one hand, I think you can’t really blame the citizens of 1980s Czechoslovakia for instinctually doubting the safety-mindedness of their leaders in any undertaking. With that said, it often seems like communities will come up with somewhat farfetched public safety concerns when they’re faced with something they don’t like but don’t know how else to verbalize their dislike for. In the 1973 news clipping that JohnnyO liked to about the Sutro Tower, for example, there’s some guy who’s trying to claim that the tower is a threat to fall over and land on a nearby school.

Then, there are the Babies:



There’s not much to say about the Babies that hasn’t already been said. Installed by sculptor David Černy in 2000, they started out as a temporary exhibit but became a permanent part of the structure by public demand. I used to think that they were perhaps a commentary on the health concerns that originally centered around the tower, but then found out that Černy had already been creating these babies (his ‘technology babies’) for a while before he got this commission, so they in fact had nothing to do with the tower per se. Pretty much every tourist who has ever been in Žižkov has taken a photo exactly like the one above, by the way.

From the observation deck, you get a fun 360 degree view from a height of some 600 feet, at which point the city basically dissolves into a sea of orange tiled roofs with the occasional castle spire or church tower poking through in the distance. You can also clearly appreciate the way that the blocks of flats are built around entire blocks with fairly large courtyards inside:


(Note: these two photos are not taken from the tower – lame, I know, but the thick reflective glass around the observatory makes it hard to take decent pictures, so these give a better idea of what you see. These were taken on an elevated bridge about 2 miles away).

Technically, the most impressive feature of the building is the elevators, which travel 4 meters a second, and look like this:


On the other hand, the lamest aspect of the tower is the restaurant, which is decked out in iron curtain-style colors and decor, features diffident iron curtain-era service, and is probably largely responsible for the widespread misconception among visitors that the tower was built in the 70s rather than late 80s/early 90s. Nevertheless, I chose this as the place to propose to my then-girlfriend, party because I wanted us to be able to have a personal happy association with this ubiquitous spot that you can see from hundreds of kilometers away. Of course, if she had said no, then it would have become a ubiquitous reminder of heartbreaking rejection, which would have been awkward… but, fortunately, that’s not what happened. The only awkward part was trying to come up with an explanation for why I wanted to take her up to this touristy place where we would never normally go for dinner. To do so, I claimed that a phony astrological phenomenon – ‘the refraction of Saturn’-  was happening and that we should go eat in the restaurant so we would be able to see it. Worked like a charm. Heh heh.

Finally, the tower looks really cool at night:


Some thoughts about bacon

Here are bacon-related things I’d like to see more of:

1. Ads for bacon that depict a illustrated pig (optionally wearing a chef’s hat) happily cutting off a part of his thigh and either eating it himself or enticing you to. I have a friend in San Francisco who has an honest-to-god phobia of these ads and can barely even bring herself to discuss them.

2. Sides of bacon that you can order for your side of bacon, growing progressively smaller like russian dolls.

3. Bacon suits, as worn by fine upstanding young men like these:

handsome lads

4. Round-the-clock bacon. In the U.S., it’s primarily a breakfast/brunch offering. In Czech, it comes at dinner time, frequently wrapped around other things (like plums… mmmm). Vive la difference, I say. It should be available during all meals in a wide variety of different artful culinary contexts.

5. Diners and brunch places equipped with bacon dispensers. These could look and function something like a toilet paper dispenser, but with a large spool of bacon inside perforated at regular intervals so you could simply tear off as many pieces as you like.

My friend Brice refers to bacon as ‘man chocolate’, the implication being that it’s a sort of comfort food for him (and other men, I guess). I like the idea of him curled up in front of a Nora Ephron movie, eating bacon and having a good cry.

Dog/frog (blog)

n660301918_1698920_365866Back in high school, we had this weird friend who used to insist that ‘dog’ and ‘frog’ don’t rhyme, and would look at us with stunned amazement when we maintained that they did. ‘Dog…. frog….’  he would repeat patiently, sure that we would eventually be able to hear their non-rhymingness.

It turns out to be weirdly difficult to prove that something does or doesn’t rhyme. Maddeningly, the dictionary seemed to support his side of the argument: the phonetic spelling of dog was given as ”dȯg’ whereas frog was ‘ˈfräg’. How can you make a creditable argument that two words rhyme when one has a freaking umlaut and the other doesn’t? (I note with some satisfaction that the current Merriam Webster dictionary clearly shows them as rhyming with matching phonetic spellings.)

Of course, blogs didn’t exist back then. I wonder if he would have claimed that ‘blog’ rhymes with ‘dog’, or with ‘frog’, or with neither of the above.

Photo: shot somewhere in San Francisco, stolen from my friend’s mobile uploads on Facebook. No frog available. Thanks, James!

Animated GIF party

Via Mission Mission, I was delighted to come across GIF Party, where animated gifs abide in thriving plentitude. Burrito Justice has a nice one too of the La Tacqueria sign at Mission and 25th lighting up, bit-by-bit.

Animated GIFs were a static, frame-by-frame animation technique that ruled the internet before Flash came along and ruined everything by introducing more sophisticated multimedia. I miss animated GIFs: they had that whole technological-limitations-make-it-easier-to-be-creative thing going for them. Plus, they remind me pleasantly of black-and-white TV now in retrospect.

I got really into making animated GIFs after seeing an experimental film at Artists Television Access that had these sequences where two frames of video would be looped and repeat over and over for minutes at a time. The effect was the same as when you repeat a syllable or two over and over again until it looses its meaning and becomes this weirdly suggestive drone. So, I started taking and looping photos of friends, like this one:


See this one in its full twitchy context here at the original Mock Duck project, where there’s some crude, oddball interactivity thrown in to boot.

I liked to over-compress my animated GIFs on purpose so they started to take on a weird broken-up dotted texture, like the halftone pattern visible when you peer at a newspaper from up close. In this sense, they differ from the ones on GIF Party, which tend to go in for more of a high-tech uncompressed look.

Steve Miller vs. Miles Davis

JohnnyO at Burrito Justice was kind enough include Mock Duck in a write-up about blogs he enjoysFinally…….. a shred of recognition! I nearly wept tears of joy onto my keyboard before I remembered that the salt would corrode what’s left of my decaying laptop.

He also turned me onto 40 Going on 28, which is a great blog in the time-honored tradition of Some Engaging Guy Ranting About Stuff. Ribald, highly ribald. I was particularly drawn to this lyric deconstruction of Steve Miller’s Take the Money and Run. So, I thought I’d also chime in on the subject of Steve Miller  and his unique brand of wistful, easy-rockin’, middle-of-the-road hamminess.

image001One of my favorite reads is Miles Davis autobiography. For one thing, it opens with the word ‘Motherfucker:’ and also ends with that same word. OK, I made that up, but it’s practically the case. The guy who co-wrote it, Quincy Troupe, commented that [paraphrase]: “Miles had a colorful use of swear words– at times, he would use them to add emphasis, and other times merely as punctuation.”

One great part is Miles’ account of the phase in his career when he would open up for rock bands at giant festivals. Interestingly, he has great things to say about the Grateful Dead, whom he respects both as musicians and personalities. However, he goes on to say [paraphrase]: ‘But another time, we had to open up for this no-playing motherfucker named Steve Miller.’ Hilarity abounds as he goes on to describe Steve’s prima donna behavior on tour and his general total disdain for Steve’s music. You can just picture SM doing his general jivvy pseudo-blues thing to a rapt audience and Miles looking on in complete disgust from somewhere in the crowd (decked out, no less, in his malevolent-space-alien look that he sported through the early 70s).


taylor_keith_birdnest_artworkimageI’m a sitting duck for things like Ian Frazier’s mammoth account of his road trip across Siberia in the current New Yorker (subscription required to read article, but there’s also a free podcast about his trip). For one thing, I’m morbidly obsessed with the gulag – Russia’s infamous penal colony system – and once spent a year reading gulag-related literature to the exclusion of almost everything else. Second, I can never get enough of hearing how big Siberia is, always couched in different exciting terms: 8 time zones! One-twelfth the land mass on earth! etc.

Then, perhaps most of all, there’s the sheer haplessness of the place and the stories of persistence of the human spirit in this environment that are equal parts pathetic and touching. Consider, for example, this toss-off line in Frazier’s piece:

Phillip Johann von Strahlenberg, a Swede captured by Peter the Great’s army at the Battle of Poltava, in 1709, and sent with other Swedish prisoners to Siberia, wrote that the region had six species of deer, including the great stag, the roe deer, the musk deer, the fallow deer, and the reindeer. He also mentioned a special kind of bird whose nests were so soft that they were used for socks.

[emphasis added]

Just when you think you’re all gulag-ed out, along comes the heart-breaking image of an exiled Swede dutifully cataloging the wildlife while trudging around in his bird nest socks. I’m sufficiently inspired to have already gotten a beat on my Phillip Johann van Strahlenberg Halloween costume for this year.