Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Partridge Family.

The Partridge Family is the first pop culture I remember being my own and not my parents'. It cracks me up to remember how I was so titillated by the commercials for the Partridge Family show, before I had even seen the show, how I thought it was some strange new slightly dangerous thing. Pretty much all we listened to at home before my brother and I started buying records in the early 70s was Beethoven, Johnny Cash, the Mills Brothers, and Errol Garner.

Of course, when I was 10 I had no idea how totally surreal the show was. I just loved the songs. I still do. When I was starting to write songs and playing in bands in New York in the 80s, I always wanted to sound like the Partridge Family. I especially love the background harmonies.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Life in a Box.

The hard disc in my computer died a few weeks ago, so I had it replaced. I didn't lose any data, but I may as well have because the only way it could be recovered was without the file structure and file names, meaning that what I have now is a folder called Data Recovery with subfolders called Doc Files, JPGs, etc., each of which contain thousands of numbered files. All my stuff is there, but it's nearly impossible to find anything in a reasonable amount of time. Not such a big deal in the long run -- most of it was archival, not stuff I need to access regularly, and a lot of it I have on DVDs somewhere in boxes around here.

I did lose the "disc image" that allowed me to burn DVD copies of my film, Life in a Box, so J borrowed a copy on DVD from a friend, and I spent today making another disc image on my computer. Then I made a new DVD, and I had to check it to make sure it copied okay, which means that I had to watch the film carefully this afternoon. I've seen it many many times and still enjoy watching it -- except for the argument scene that comes right in the middle, which is excruciating.

Humility aside, I'm still kind of amazed that we couldn't get a distribution deal for the film. I think it's entertaining, funny, complex and affecting, and has a wide appeal. It occurred to me watching it this time after not seeing it for a while that it's no wonder I've been at a bit of a loss how to follow it, what to do next. Not just because the film seems in a way so perfectly realized, but also because it tells a story of a career which seems so perfectly realized, so contained and finished.

In fact, I think it's such fine work that if I never did anything else as an artist, I would be content that I had fulfilled my potential as an artist. That's what I think about the work. But as an artist I still have that same impulse to create, that same need I always had. So somehow I have to find out what to use it for. I thought for a long time that it would only be natural to make more films, to use what I learned, go from there, but I have floundered trying to make that happen. It's such a complicated medium, requiring time and people and resources that I still haven't figured out how to bring together again for a new project. Life in a Box fell together in a way, mainly because we had a producer spending the money to make it happen, to allow me to work with great people and take the time necessary to learn the skills and do the work.

When I was editing and finishing the film, and when we were traveling around to various festivals and getting such great responses from audiences, I thought the way it would happen is that the film would get on TV and in theaters which would generate interest in my work which would grease the wheels for me in putting together my next film. I really expected things to grow organically from there. Ironic that the big message of the film is that nothing turns out like you expect. I wonder if that's a lesson anybody really learns for long.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Good News! Another Reason to Cut Up Your Baby's Penis!

Is it just me, or do Americans seem obsessed with finding reasons for circumcising babies? I guess it's easier to find ways to prevent HIV infection among babies than among 18-25 year olds where infection rates are still increasing. The CDC is trying to decide whether to promote the mutilation of infants in order to -- maybe slightly, but they're not really sure -- decrease their chances of contracting an infection many years in the future. But
[Dr. Peter Kilmarx, chief of epidemiology for the division of HIV/AIDS prevention the C.D.C.] and other experts acknowledged that although the clinical trials of circumcision in Africa had dramatic results, the effects of circumcision in the United States were likely to be more muted because the disease is less prevalent here, because it spreads through different routes and because the health systems are so disparate as to be incomparable.
Did they consider the fact that when these babies reach the age of sexual maturity, they might be able to, and might want to, make up their own minds whether or not to cut off the ends of their penises?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Janis Ian.

In high school I had the album Between the Lines. I don't think I knew much about the record or Janis Ian before I chose it as one of the pile of free records you used to get for joining the Columbia record club in the 70s. I pretty much wore it out. It's such a cliche now that it makes me smile a little queasily, but I really would listen to At Seventeen and cry and think, "that's me, that's my life." Way before I knew I was homosexual. (This is also around the time of the beginning of my Judy Garland obsession.)

In our first year performing together in New York, Y'all played in the gay pride day rally in Union Square. We played 3 or 4 songs in front of thousands of people -- it was a huge thrill, one of the highlights of our career. Janis Ian was the headliner of that show. We met her backstage, and she said something funny about J's dress, I can't remember what it was now. I remember being thrilled and honored to be there performing on the same stage with her.

When J and I lived in Nashville in the late 90s, Janis lived there with her partner and had a thriving career as a country songwriter (belying Nashville's hyper-conservative image). They lived in an old house with some kind of neon sign, like a vintage beer sign or something, in the window. I'm pretty sure she still lives and works there.

The clip I think is from the Smothers Brothers show.

Inglourious Basterds.

I read the New York Times review of Inglourious Basterds yesterday. I don't read reviews of movies I'm planning to see, so I was safe with this one. I guess you'd call it a pan. My housemates saw it last night and loved it. They're Tarantino fans, and they compared it favorably with Pulp Fiction. I didn't have any desire to see it before and less so now since I don't like Pulp Fiction. The first time I saw Pulp Fiction, I thought it was fascinating, but I couldn't put my finger on what was interesting about it. The second time I saw it, I realized there was nothing really there. One thing Tarantino is great at is creating an illusion of substance. I guess it's all that talking.

I watched Kill Bill too. I didn't want to dismiss Tarantino too quickly; so many people seem to think he's a great artist. Kill Bill didn't even grab me the first time. It was just boring.

Here's what Conor Clarke (at The Daily Dish) said about Inglorious Basterds:
There is much debate about what genre Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds deserves. Is it comedy? Philosophy? Revenge fantasy? Silly exploitation? David Denby, for instance, takes the position that it's "lodged in an uneasy nowheresville" between these things. I'd take the position that it's too easy to over-intellectualize a Tarantino film, which is probably just an empty (but extremely well crafted) vessel studded with encyclopedic and occasionally annoying references to films the director likes. Good luck speculating about Tarantino's intentions. But I can report that the audience with which I saw it last night treated it as comedy, which is probably the right mindset with which to enter the theater, at least if you want to have an enjoyable experience.
I just don't trust him. I don't think he has anything to say, and if you're going to make a movie about Nazis, I think you should have something to say.

What Next.

It dawned on me last week when I was running around campus tying up loose ends, when the kids were all arriving excited to start the fall semester, that I was going to miss it. Strange that I never considered that, but I guess I was very focused on my excitement about finishing and graduating.

That's probably the biggest motivation behind considering grad school, just the fact that I like school, I like college campuses and young people, I like the atmosphere, I like scholars and students and books, reading and writing, thinking. I like fall.

I've been tossing around a few ideas regarding grad school. There's a great inter-disciplinary MFA program at Bard College in New York State. A couple very good friends have done it. My painting teacher from Parsons. who I consider to be one of the great teachers of my life, used to teach there. (Unfortunately, I think she's retired.) It's in a beautiful area a couple hours north of the city. The program comprises 3 summers (2-month sessions). The advantages are --

1) I'm pretty sure I would love the program. You work and study with a group of visual artists, writers, film/video people, maybe dance and music too (?).

2) An MFA would be a good credential if I want to apply for jobs teaching at the college level.

3) Every June and July I would get out of Texas where it's miserable and go to Upstate New York where it's gorgeous.

Another option is to pursue a Masters in education. The main advantage is that it would be a big help in finding a job teaching high school, which is what I've been thinking for some time now I would like to do. The disadvantage, and I think this is big, is that I'm pretty sure I would hate studying pedagogy. I fear it would be like having all the annoying classes and teachers and students without any of the wonderful smart stimulating ones to balance it out. The upside is that from what I gather master's programs in education only take a year.

Here's what I think I will plan on for now. When I get back from New York, I'll try to get work substitute teaching in the Austin schools. In the meantime, I'll apply for Region XIII, which is an alternative certification program in Austin. If I do this program, I'll be certified to teach by next fall and after substituting for a while I'll have a better sense of the schools here and I'll have a better idea of whether or not I'm good at teaching and enjoy it. Seems so far away.


I woke up at 5 and lay in bed for almost an hour before I decided I wasn't going to go back to sleep so I got up. I slept 6 hours, which is plenty. This waking up too early insomnia happened fairly frequently when I was in school. I associated it with nervousness about finishing papers or being ready for exams. Maybe now it's due to excitement about going to New York soon, the show. And projecting further into the future -- but not further enough for comfort -- I could be worried about things when I get back from New York next month. The old what-am-I-going-to-do-with-the-rest-of-my-life stress.

When it happens, I do enjoy being up before everyone else for a while, making coffee and reading blogs in the silence. Dawn out the window. It reminds me of living alone, which I always liked up to a point. That point being the point at which I would get lonely and a little too much in my head.