Blog Fight Song, pt. 5

“Kerouac taped together twelve-foot-long sheets of drawing paper, trimmed at the left margin so they would fit into his typewriter, and fed them into his machine as a continuous roll. Holmes visited his apartment while this version of On The Road was in progress and was amazed at the thundering sound of Jack’s typewriter racing non-stop. Joan had taken a job as a waitress, and when she got home she fed Jack pea soup and coffee; he took Benzedrine to stay awake. Joan was impressed by the fact that Jack sweated so profusely while writing On the Road that he went through several T-shirts a day. He hung the damp shirts all over the apartment so they could dry.”

From Ann Charters’ introduction to the 1991 Penguin edition of On The Road. Previous Blog Fight Song editions here.

Matthew Wilder Running Diary

Speaking of Congolese mambo… here’s Matthew Wilder!

A few comments on this:

00:01-00:17: Mystifying disparity between the number of people on stage doing things versus the overall quietness of sound. There seem to be 95 people dancing, playing various keytars and instruments and pumping out Matthew Wilder’s unique blend of white reggae… and yet I can only hear only a wafer-thin synth upbeat, some drums, vocals, and one or two other things.

00:18-00:22: great pink/purple discotard shirt combo from Matthew Wilder. Reminiscent of our old enigmatic friend Bob Blank.

00:22-00:33: Shocking slur regarding Chinese and laundry. WOW. Pretty culturally insensitive, Matthew Wilder. Even for 1982.

01:01: Wilder’s enunciation of cocky is just totally awesome. I can’t watch it without laughing.

01:33: Whoa, bitch just cut in from outta nowhere. I know I accused Matthew Wilder of cultural insensitivity above…. but is it bad that I automatically assumed that this was Phylicia Rashad until I did some research and discovered it’s actually Marilyn McCoo?

01:49-01:52 After cocky, the way McCoo walks off the stage here is the second funniest thing in this video. Again, I laugh every time.

02:20-02:50 I’m amazed that, at some point in this stretch, they don’t do the thing where they suddenly go up one half-step to breath temporary new life into the chorus. You know what I mean by this, right? Instead, Wilder just emerges from behind his synthesizer to do some dancing, including a weirdly fetal move at about 2:47 that involves shaking the mic back and forth with both hands.


My latest time-consuming shenanigan has been to organize a show of student work for an exhibition called Rock-A-Mambo. The work comes out of an assignment called ‘Culture & Cliché’ that I gave to eight successive semesters of bewildered students for my Ideas Generation class. Basically, students are tasked with designing a CD cover (although I’m not sure that some of the younger ones even know what a ‘compact disc’ is these days) for 17 tracks of weird/rare/cool Congolese mambo, from this nearly-forgotten period of music history in the late 50s/early 60s when musicians in central Africa were super into Cuban dance rhythms.

The point of this musical selection isn’t to be willfully obscure. OK, maybe it’s partly that. But it’s also about the fact that the music is so out-of-left-field that students have to do tons of research to unpack the backstory behind the music. And, because it’s a strange urbanized hybrid of African and Latin forms, the usual trusty clichés of ‘barefoot village kid beating on congo drum as giraffe lopes by’ don’t cut it here.

As to expected, there are always a few students each semester who are always stymied by the nature of the assignment. But many more have produced fantastically varied, well-informed, creative responses to the assignment. So, I’m having a show with an opening party on Thursday. Good times.

I originally learned about the genre from our friend Alastair— check out the music below. Above is a poster I made for the exhibition, with an unauthorized assist from Malick Sidibé.

One Nose Horn

One of those semi-incriminating cached searches that come up on your iPhone when you don’t have a good alibi ready:

Along similar lines, I wonder if the mysteries of Czech language point towards a secret unholy marriage between rhinoceroses and unicorns:

Rhinoceros = nosorožec, meaning ‘Nose horn’

Rhinoceros visual aid:

Unicorn: jednorožec, meaning ‘One horn’

Is the rhinoceros the husband? And what would a jednonosorožec look like?

ZMP-fueled Image Dump

My current attempt to redesign the visual identity for the ZMP (Jewish Museum of Prague) is the kind of project that involves a lot of trolling around the internet disguised as ‘research’. Here are some compelling images I’ve turned up along the way. Obviously, most of these have no discernible connection to Judaism or museums whatsoever… but, hey, that’s the digressive nature of the internet for you. You don’t like it, go to France and get on minitel.

Homemade Doorbell

Once Peak Oil hits and we’re all walking to the supermarket to sift around in the rubble and search for bits of scrap metal, I’m definitely tagging along after my stepfather. Like most Czech guys of his generation, he’s a capable mechanic, electrician, carpenter. Being a handyman was basically the Czech male national pasttime during the Communist decade; meanwhile, for my part, I’m not able to do anything other than communicate with varying degrees of sarcasm via text and image. Don’t think there’ll be much of a market for that after that in the post-industrial environment.

So, I definitely don’t mean to diminish his talents. But even the handyman extraordinare has his occasional misfire. Behold the doorbell that he installed into the flat where my wife grew up:

Hell’s Bell

Egads. This sounds like it should be the chime that warns you when the Dutch Concert players come a-calling.

Illustrated Victorian Fortune Cookies

A few weeks ago, former guest-blogger Grandjoe wrote me with the following evocative request:

I wonder if you could help me identify a print that I saw in Sarah’s classroom, on “Grandparents and Special Friends day.”  Though not knowing either the artist or the title of the picture, I don’t see how it could be tracked down.

At first glance, I didn’t pay much attention to it.  A somewhat kitschy idealization of childhood, late 19th century, probably English or American.  A brother and sister gamboling  in a meadow, being watched over by a guardian angel who is behind them.  (She’s ethereal without having wings.)  But  on second glance, a sinister subtext  suggests itself. The meadow is on the verge of a cliff .  A lovely flower grows at the edge if the cliff, the  blossom drooping over into space.  The direction of the boy’s gambol is  such that he might easily be attracted by this enticing flower.  Similarly, the girl might catch sight of a white butterfly that is fluttering towards the brink.  The viewer’s apprehension would be allayed by the presence of the angel, if she were not gazing off to the side, not directly at them, apparently lost in a a vision of celestial bliss.  It’s not at all clear that she would get to them in time.

For me, the picture documents the dread that must have constantly assailed parents at a time when medicine was helpless to save children from premature death.  No doubt parents are still anxious, but nowadays the threat is not so dreadful that it has to be hidden, as in this picture, behind kitschy denials of reality.

It turns out that this tableaux describes not one but probably hundreds of prints from the Victorian era. It seems that ‘child in close proximity to cliff while Guardian Angel observes from a short distance behind’ had a similar cultural currency in those days as Lamborghini or Che Guevara posters did in my childhood. Witness variations on a theme:

You get the idea. What’s interesting (sort of) is the sameness of pose and dramatic framing from image to image. If you imagine an urgency scale of 1 to 10 where 1 equals no problem, you’re just hanging out in a field… plus you’ve got a guardian angel behind you and 10 equals you’re toast. you’ve fallen over the edge and not even your guardian angel can save you, these images all seem to clock in at about 7 or 8. As evidence, note the general serenity of Angel’s expression but the similar outstretched reach in almost every instance.

But the best find from all of this turned out to be a fairly unrelated set of illustrated proverbs I found from the same period. It’s interesting to view mass media from a time before the all-consuming hobgoblin of irony entered the picture. Back then, you could simply place a moralistic statement under a drawing illustrating the same principle and call it a day. Nowadays, promising writers drive themselves up the wall trying to deal with the problem of what we really mean and what we don’t.

Here’s a sampling of these proverb woodcuts I came across, presented with a ranking from 1-10 regarding their relevance to modern life:

8.0. Relevant. My friend even used this phrase not too long ago when I asked him if I could crash on his sofa.

5.o. Gets points for the fact that this phrase maintains tenuous cultural currency. But nothing here seems to be trending towards a good end. I feel like I’m lacking some context.

3.5. Good point… but the unintentionally humorous illustration makes this feel like something out of the Gashlycrumb Tinies.

9.5. Timeless wisdom. Applies to both Prince William and Barack Obama.

1.5. Sounds persuasive, but what’s a shoal?

7.5. Same take-way as Bob Marley’s ‘Small Axe’. Thumbs up for continuity!

1.0. As a secularist, I say extremity sucks. At least I can spell it correctly.

3.0 Who’s preventing whom from what cure now?

6.0 I’m not sure I get the point, but that’s some damn good donnybrooking there.

(Top image: kickass William Blake illustration. Not Victorian… and nothing to do with anything else in the post… but when would I ever get a pretext to post this again?)