Recent airport sightings

Some silly things spotted in various airports during my recent trip:

World’s tiniest baggage carousel (Vieques, Puerto Rico). Yes, I know I already posted this in the Clichés In Action post… but: I wish I could rent this thing out for children’s birthday parties. I like how the modest tiny wall partition in the middle allows the carousel to maintain a veneer of ‘technological magic’ while some guy secretly stands behind it and loads bags on.

Ghoulishly lifelike Carl Yastrzemski display (Boston, MA). I swear, after Chicago, Boston has to be the most goonily sports-obsessed city in the entire lower 48. You already have to drive through Ted Freakin’ Williams Tunnel just to get to the airport… and now a life-sized Yaz? My friend pointed out that when he flies to Boston, he can always spot his gate from a great distance just by the proliferation of sports hats visible in the waiting area.

Reassuring ‘Focus Safety’ sign (Vieques, Puerto Rico). There’s a lot to like here:

  1. The likelihood that the copy originally read ‘Focus On Safety’, before someone incrementally decided to turn the ‘On’ part into eyeballs.
  2. The fact that the Cape Air signature hawk has been placed inside the eyeball. This is kinda cool, but also creates the weirdly dissonant implication that  Cape Air is the cause of the danger that the poster is urging you to be vigilant against.
  3. Come to think of it, is the poster exhorting you the customer to exercise vigilance? Or is it reassuring you that the airline itself is always focusing on safety?
  4. Given that the entire Cape Air operation consists of about 4 people and 2 tiny airplanes- each of which is the size of a large van- they’d probably be better off not drawing your attention to the safety issue at all. Take it from someone with first hand experience: the less you think about your safety while flying Cape Air, the happier your experience is likely to be.

Drawing a Blank

Today’s featured mixed-ethnicity jazzercise couple:


Disco producer Bob Blank and his wife, one-time James Brown foil Lola Blank.

I’m not sure what to make of Bob Blank. On the one hand, he worked with the great Arthur Russell. Generally, this would be enough in my mind to immunize him against criticism for anything (yes, even for posing in the above photo). On the other hand, he also had the nerve to say semi-mean things about Arthur Russell in the Arthur Russell bio-pic Wild Combination (where I got the image from). Judas! Purple Jazzercise Judas!

Moreover, he produced ‘I Got My Mind Made Up‘, the first minute of which is one of the great defining minutes of disco ever recorded. On the other hand, the rest of ‘Mind Made Up’ is pretty lame. So, yeah: mixed verdict.

William Eggleston and Big Star revisited


Now that Rhino Records has released the glorious Big Star box set Keep An Eye On The Sky, it seems like a good time to revisit the topic of William Eggleston and Big Star that I blogged on a few months ago…

The first time I wandered into a retrospective of Eggleston photos, I thought, ‘Jesus, this guy’s photos remind me so much of Big Star’s music, I can’t get over it’… and this was a few minutes before I ran into the Red Ceiling image that Big Star used for the cover of their seminal Radio City album. The point being, I can’t think of another example of pop music sounding so much like a visual artist, or of photographs looking so much like a band’s songs…. and judging from the Radio City cover, the band agreed. Well, one thing I learned from the Pitchfork review of the box set is that the kinship between the two ran deeper than I’d known: the reviewer mentions that Eggleston is actually playing piano on one of the tracks off the third album, ‘Nature Boy’ (not a great or important Big Star song, to be sure… but still).

Reading about Eggleston’s piano cameo reinvigorated my curiosity about the connection between these two, and I spent a few minutes looking through Eggleston photos on Flickr and trying to match them to Big Star songs in terms of mood and subject matter. Obviously a pretty dorky and subjective exercise, but fun nevertheless. This one, for example, make me think right away of the song ‘Thirteen“:


A few other things about Keep An Eye On The Sky:

1. It sounds great to me, and all my audiophile friends who are really into remasters and whatnot give it the stamp of approval. The acoustic songs, in particular, seems to benefit from the remastering treatment, as songs like “Thirteen” no longer have this muffled quality that previously allowed the considerable sentimentality of the song to outshine the prettiness of it. Now, it just sounds so damn good that who cares if he’s crooning wondering “would you be an outlaw for my love?” Also, the alternate versions of songs are honestly often really different and revelatory and good, all of which is pretty unusual.

2. There’s the interesting matter of the third album, Sister Lovers, having a different song order than we’re used to from the previous official version. The little vaudevillian, clowny opening to ‘Jesus Christ’ starts the album, but this time it’s stretched out into a whole song of it’s own. Then, ‘Friends’ and the great ‘Femme Fatale’ cover follow before the rocker ‘Kizza Me’ which is the opening track on the old version. Now, I’ve always been a more of a Sister Lovers guy than a #1 Record or Radio City fan– it’s really one of my favorite albums and has a whole dimension of smacked-out introspection that I think the other two records lack somewhat (to me, the other two have always sounded like studio transcriptions of a live set, faithful and brilliant recreations but somehow soulless compared to Sister Lovers), so this reshuffling of the song order is all pretty interesting to me. I couldn’t find any explanation for this in reviews, but I like to think that the order on the box set is the ‘real’ song order that the band intended. ‘Kizza Me’ is a good song, but it has elements of the obligatory knee-jerk rocker, the kind of song that a record label wants to have the album start with, and seems like filler before ‘Friends’, ‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘Femme Fatale’- the real marrow or the album- come marching in. Then again, both the record label and the band mates were reportedly in total tatters (suffering from bankruptcy and heavy drug abuse, respectively) by the time the album was finished, so who really knows who intended what or when.

3. The Pitchfork reviewer makes a few disgusted remarks about past attempts to anthologize the band which have resulted in some pretty badly-assembled best hits albums. Nothing, however, could beat the decision made back in the early CD days to combine the band’s first two albums into one album but leave off ‘On the Street’ in order to fit them into one CD. ‘On the Street’ was only so catchy and rocking that That Freaking 70s Show even used it for their opening theme.

Amateurism, Elmer Bischoff and Jacques Henri Lartigue

During my just-finished vacation to Poland (described in last post), I had an interesting conversation with a musician/composer guy about a manuscript he’s just finished writing for a novel. His main take was that it had been really fun to write because it provided him with a break from the tasks that he considers his real career, principally composing music and trying to organize stoned, discombobulated jazz musicians. And, because writing is strictly a sideline thing for him, he allowed himself to take his time with it, dropping the manuscript for an entire year and then picking it up again later when the urge struck. Above all, the persistence of fun came across really clearly in the way he talked about his experience with writing.

This reminded me a lot of all things bloggy, naturally– as I’ve written about before, part of the whole point of starting a blog was to find a venue that’s conducive to light, breezy, dilettante-ish writing rather than labored, serious ‘I am trying to be a writer’-type writing. It occurred to me that another, simpler way of putting this is that there’s something inherently amateurish about this format, for better and for worse. This got me thinking about the quality of amateurish-ness, which I would define as when you’re doing something where you don’t exactly know what it is you’re doing and the results perhaps benefit from the circumstance of not knowing.


Many years ago, I went to a show of works by the painter Elmer Bischoff in Oakland. Bischoff made his name doing fantastic figurative oil paintings but then got bogged down and hit a ditch that he described as a ‘state of immobilization.’ The solution came when he dropped oil paint and suddenly began working with acrylics, producing playful, abstract paintings of an entirely different nature. In fairness, I would have to say that his acrylics are never really as good as his oils, but the significant thing is that you can palpably detect the sense of  fun re-entering the picture in these later acrylic works. I’ve always remembered his account of this switch in the exhibition catalog that I read at the time: it felt, he said, like “leaving a church and entering a gymnasium. The lights were turned up and there was a very different spirit and feel about the whole thing.”


Above: Bischoff oil painting on left, acrylic on right


The photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue is an example of an artist whose work exudes amateurism, in part because he created his most famous works when he was a kid between the ages of 6 and 18. Lartigue’s early photos have an evident sense of childishness in all the best meanings of the word. Topically, they show a kid’s world, often taken from a kid’s low vantage point: Lartigue taking a bath, his cousin sliding down a bannister, car races, sports. Aesthetically, they show a world full of energy, motion, speed, fun– the things that kids are drawn to.


Self portrait, age 8


His cousin, Bichonnade


1912 Grande Prix


Self portrait, age 15

Bizarrely, although Lartigue took photos his entire life, he supported himself mainly as a painter until his childhood work was rediscovered and rocketed him to international fame late in his life.

The director Wes Anderson is reportedly a big Lartigue fan. There’s a shot of Max Fischer in Rushmore that’s modeled exactly after one of Lartigue’s teenage self-portraits as an homage.