Bezirksmusikfest Längenfeld

I haven’t been to many places as gloriously stereotype-affirming as the Austrian Alps, where we just spent a week’s vacation. Whether you’re standing on the side of a mountain and picking wild blueberries and reaching behind your head to feed them to your infant son on your back (did this), or being hailed by every single person you pass in the village with a diminutive ‘kruste!’, or watching a lederhosen-clad band pump out polka in a giant tent (more on this in a second), everything feels predictably ‘in character’ a fun, reaffirming way. I like this photo that I took above, as — not unlike Herbert Matter’s famous tourist poster for the Swiss Alps— it seems to capture the essence of the place on three distinct spatial depths, background (Alps), mid-ground (kitschily tricked-out house), and foreground (guy with green hat, feather).

One of the most fun things we did was crash a music festival at a neighboring village– when we heard ‘Bezirksmusikfest Längenfeld’, our ears perked up and we had to go. Pulling into the village of Längenfeld, the first thing I spotted was a car parked next to us with a couple of traditional costume elements (perhaps a backup supply?) tossed carelessly in the back:

For some reason, this amused me to no end. We’ve all heard of Soccer Moms… could this signal the presence of a new demographic, the Lederhosen Mom? Sorry for the crummy, glare-riddled photo, but I was worried that the owners of the car might notice me peering in and take offense, possibly leading to me being viciously feather-whipped by a gang of Lederhosers in the mean streets of Längenfeld.

Anyway, we followed the honking sounds of revelry to a giant circus tent that was filled all the things you might expect: beer, bodices, ruddy-faced people having a great time:

The main attraction was the smooth polka stylings of local village ensemble. Here they are in poster format…

… and in the flesh:

Various brave/drunk souls offered their talents as vocalists. At one point, this guy jumped on the table in front of us and began singing into a wireless mic, to my one year-old son’s great delectation:

Back when I was about 12 years old and used to watch pro wrestling on TV sometimes, there was a villainous bald East German character who (if I remember correctly) had ‘Baron’ and ‘Von’ in his name and would goose-step around the stage and put opponents in some sort of three-fingered claw grip. I can’t remember his name, but I swear he’s the spitting image of this guy.

A few minutes later, my wife caught this surreptitious exchange between obliging fellow and thirsty lass:

I think those kegs are only intended to be worn by rescue dogs, but never mind. As you can see, a good time was being had by all, and love was in the air:

I’m off to Berlin this weekend, so perhaps I can report on a more jaded, urban, sophisticated, cynical, hipsterish aspect of the German/Austrian character when I get back.

Off to the Alps

There are literally 20 emails in my inbox from my mother all from this past week… and you know what that means: a family get-together is brewing. Whether its train connections, presents for her grandson, or the weather, my mom has got a question about it. So, yeah: we’re picking her up in Innsbruck and heading towards the same general neck of the woods where we went last fall, although it should be far less cold and foggy and Led Zeppelin-y this time around.

See you in a week.

Legs round-up

Last night, I met with the publisher to show my second round of cover ideas for Bruno Jasienski’s The Legs of Izolda Morgan. After the debacle of the first rejected round of ideas, imagine my relief when the publisher basically said, “I like them all… I can’t decide.” He wound up handing them over to his wife, who— without any hints from me—independently picked the same one that I was leaning towards as her favorite. So, that settled it.

See if you can guess which one was the winner. None of these are presented as ‘finished’– the idea is to go as far as you need to to demonstrate concept and then move on to the next idea– so they’re in various states of haggardness in terms of missing details. The beige background color is meant to be a loose approximation of the rough, uncoated off-white paper we’re talking about printing it on.

Since it’s boring to just number or letter them, I’ll name them after various members of Fleetwood Mac

Stevie Nicks direction:

Peter Green direction:

Bob Welch direction:

Mick Fleetwood direction:

John McVie direction:

Christine McVie direction:

Lindsey Buckingham direction:

And, just for posterity’s sake, here’s the main rejected design from round 1:

While I’m generally OK with not using this direction, what really galls me about its rejection is the fact that the publisher kept getting stuck on its resemblance to this stupid poster for the Barbara Striesand movie Funny Girl:

Damn you, Barbara Streisand.

Anyway, I’m happy with the direction that we wound up picking, and relieved to finally be able to move past the sketch stage. What do you think?

Vintage jazz covers, part three

The first two posts covered the illustration-based covers; these next two posts show the ones designed around photos.

In this batch, I especially love the irradiated glow around Errol Gardner, and the Victorian-era swashes around his initials. I suppose the latter design idea probably stemmed from the fact that he happens to have a dashing Anglocentric name, and that they wouldn’t have thought to add this effect for, say, a Thelonious Monk record.

Also: it occurs to me that I’ve been an ignoramus in terms of presenting these as being all ’78’s’ in the last two posts– some of them are 45s or LPs and clearly say so right on the cover. So, nevermind about that part…

Jazz 78s, part two and unrelated ranting

• Looks like I spoke too soon about my back. After victoriously crowing about it feeling entirely better on Monday, I screwed it up again on Tuesday playing basketball. Not good times. Bad times.

• To follow up on an old post: my buddy Tol is blowing through Prague this week and reports having heard that Zoltan Rex is out of jail now. Might just be a false rumor, but three years in a Hungarian prison seems about right as appropriate punishment for faking your own death.

• By sheer coincidence, my father’s cousin and mother’s cousin were both visiting Prague last weekend, giving me a chance for some quality time with the ol’ cousins-once-removed.

This got me pondering my own weirdo family tree a bit: my father’s side of the family is Jewish, but my own distinct branch bears little evidence of this because my father’s mother was a social climber who found it inconvenient to be Jewish in the Manhattan of the 1940s and essentially smothered all consciousness of it in our family. What’s interesting is that members of the family who don’t descend from this dubious grandmother seem discernibly Jewish, whereas my father and I don’t (even though my father is no more or less Jewish racially than they are). It’s strange how the awareness of being something (or lack of awareness) can seemingly alter one’s very physiognomy. They should do one of those experiments where they take two identical twins and raise one with an awareness of being Jewish and the other without and see what happens (whoops, I just used ‘experiment’ and ‘Jewish’ in the same sentence– let’s just move on…)

• It’s become clear that the train ride from Budapest to Prague is Central Europe’s 9 hour version of the 14 Mission bus line in SF. If you take it at night from Prague to Budapest, they stuff you into old commie-era trains that have seats like slippery church pews, so you spend the entire night groggily sliding around as the old train SCREETCHES around curves, whinnying like a terrified horse in a lightning storm. In the daytime, meanwhile, the air conditioning inevitably breaks down, amidst other sundry horrors: when I last rode it, I personally witnessed an organized purse snatching; when one of the cousins-once-removed took it last week, the guy sitting next to her had an epileptic seizure in the middle of the air-conditionless heat. To my undying amazement, my cousin suddenly remembered her training from 5th grade home room and stuck a pencil in her hand into the guy’s mouth to keep him from biting his tongue.

• Imagine if there was a rare condition that caused your head hair to take on the wiry roughness of body hair and your body hair to take on the fluffy lustrousness of head hair. That would be disgusting.

OK, here’s another round of those vintage jazz 78s I was talking about. I love the Harold Owens Hawaii one in particular…

Paul the Octopus, and the like

Nice World Cup final. My only regret is that when Iniesta scored and the Spanish team began celebrating, the producers didn’t cut to a split-screen view of Paul the Octopus being deliriously mobbed by other octopii in recognition of his prefect record of prognostication. (Above: artist’s conception of what this might have looked like, using a still from the Japanese TV series Gimmie Gimmie Octopus.)

In other news: my wife and kid are out of town this week on another mom-and-little-tyke retreat, giving me a chance to recover from the vicious case of Dad Back ™ I contracted during the previous family-filled weekend that involved picking my kid up roughly 200 times. As of Friday evening, I was moving around like a mummy, to the point that my visiting older relatives were raptly warning me about oncoming disk problems and writing down URLs of recommended back pain therapy tip sites. Fast-forward to today, and – presto – it’s all better. (Although I’m still probably in for a world of disk problems).

For those of you without kids, I liken the situation to this: imagine that you’re going about your normal business at home, making coffee, doing Sudoku puzzles, whatever… and virtually every minute, a 30-pound bowling ball is rolling across the floor and its your job to make sure that the bowling ball doesn’t crash into anything. And so you’re constantly grabbing the bowling ball in awkward positions while also handling coffee filters and lucky Soduku pencils or whatever. Also, you have to imagine that the bowling ball is conveniently greased up and often tries to wriggle out of your grasp, and you start to get the picture.

I would tell you more, but I just back from the dentist where I received a mammoth shot of novocaine that’s starting to creep up into my brain and numb various frontal lobes. I feel like the writer in this great recent piece by Oliver Sacks who suffered a stroke and suddenly lost all ability to read but bizarrely retained the ability to write fluently. He just couldn’t read anything he wrote… weird.

Jazz 78s, part one

Back in 2003, I took an advanced typography class where we had to do a sort of self-generated thesis project. I wound up looking at typography associated with different genres of Jamaican music, which actually held together as a topic more coherently than I’d dared hope. One of my classmates, Lora Santiago, did something around the crates of old 78s that her dad had collected. I immediately her asked for the images, and still love to just put them on as a slideshow from time to time…

The Girl In The Abstract Bed and other finds

OK, I’ve never blogged the ongoing process of working on a project before and so I have no idea whether it’s interesting, illuminating, unseemly or just dead boring (or some heady concoction of all of the above). In any case, I promise this is the last image dump I’ll do on the Legs of Izolda Morgan project for awhile. If I post on the subject again, it will be to show new designs.

What can I say– I just love book covers, and one of my favorite parts of designing one is having an excuse to trawl around and dig up interesting covers that other people have done (plus a few posters and woodcuts that have slipped in here too).

Life's gay paegent

Favorite new Czech word: Zázrak. Means ‘miracle’. I can’t tell you how much enjoyment I’m getting out of this one. The next time something mildly surprising or fortunate happens, lift one hand, say ‘ZAAAAAZ-RAK!’ with great zest and make a face like Doug Henning (above). If you’re in a public place, just say it under your breath and only go half-Henning. I guarantee you’ll enjoy yourself in either case.

Favorite new air travel horror story: the Daily News article that TK posted about a flight where someone brought raw meat onboard and the passengers wound up being sprinkled by maggots falling out of the overhead luggage containers. Aside from the basic mind-altering, horrifying parameters of the story, a few other notable things here: as TK mentions, the fact that the Daily News story absurdly includes a generic stock photo of maggots not related to the ones on the flight just to get the point across; second, the detail that horrified passengers complained to the flight crew and were robotically asked to ‘please take your seats and remain calm’– I love this. My friend is flying from Mexico City to Prague next week and is terrified of flying– I can’t wait to run this scenario by him.

Favorite spring/summer holiday calendar: Czech Republic’s, naturally. First, let me introduce you to something called ‘Easter Monday’– it’s just like Easter Sunday, but you get a day off work. Second, there’s a weirdo configuration where we get May 1st and May 8th off for separate holidays– as these are exactly a week apart, you wind up sort of inadvertantly re-living the same holiday a second time through one week later.

But, best of all, thanks to Saints Cyril and Methodius, a FOUR day weekend around the 4th of July. This meant I had enough time for a proper weekend of oozing around Prague in blasting heat and watching World Cup in beer gardens, followed by a second separate weekend, as it were, at a friend’s cottage, enjoying family fun time and village idyl stuff.