Monday, July 26, 2010

The Invisible Tree House

An architectural firm in northern Sweden has erected the invisible treehouse, part of a project called the Treehotel.

The cube, designed by Swedish architectural firm tham & videgard, is one part of the treehotel complex. According to project masterminds Kent and Britta Lindvall, there will eventually be six parts, all designed by different architects.

The project hoisted into place.

The architects say that the glass is coated with a material that only birds can see  (much like, I guess, those whistles only dogs can hear) that will prevent them from crashing into the mirrors.

The interior looks pretty cozy and VERY Swedish:

Plus, I guess you can climb the bands around the tree trunk and enjoy the view. It will feature an "incinerating toilet" (hmmm) and electric radiant floor heating. Considering it's situated only forty miles from the edge of the arctic circle, that floor might come in handy.

Would past L by L profilee Buckminster Fuller be pleased?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Frazetta Follow- up

This painting, by the late Frank Frazetta, sold recently for $1,500,000.00. As some wag said of Elvis after he died (and I'm paraphrasing here), "Smart business move!"

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Future Is Off By Just a Few Years

Longtime readers of L by L may recall my various posts (rants) about my disappointment with the future. (See and

I found this page from the surrealist illustrator Ernie Bushmiller via Pappy's Golden Age Comics blog spot, in a collection of Fritzi Ritz strips. For those of you who don't know, Fritzi is the nominal aunt of Nancy, the mysteriously appealing comic strip kid with the little wires growing from her hair.

Here's Fritzi:

Check out 1970's Plastic Outfit.

I'd have to say Ernie was off by about forty years- this looks very much like a Lady- Gaga- inspired creation. Of course, it's the lightning bolt that really adds the savoir-faire!

Friday, July 16, 2010

July 16, 2010

Roy Rogers' stuffed and mounted horse, Trigger, has been sold at an auction in New York City to a Nebraska cable TV network that ponied up $266,500 for the iconic TV and movie cowboy's faithful companion.

RFD-TV, of Omaha, Neb., bought Trigger at a Christie's auction Wednesday of items from the now-closed Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Branson, Mo. Steve Campione, RFD's CFO, said the network hopes to start its own Western museum. 

Rogers had Trigger preserved with taxidermy and mounted rearing on its hind legs in 1965. The presale estimate was $100,000 to $200,000. 

Yes, it's true! The famously mounted (not stuffed) body of Trigger, noted wonder horse of the '40's and '50's, has been sold.

The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Branson Mo has been hemorrhaging money the last few years, so their son has decided to close it and auction off the memorabilia, which includes not only Trigger, but Bullet, Roy's German Shepard. Get it? "Trigger"- "Bullet"?

Of course a baby boomer like myself could go on and on about auctioning off one's childhood, but what's the point, really? It's a dead horse and a dead dog. A dead horse worth more than I'll make in a lifetime, even if I were ... er... mounted (not stuffed).

But what of, say, Pat Buttram, Roy's loyal sidekick? You guessed it- also mounted and available at auction! That's right! Unsold at the moment, Pat Buttram, along with other great professional sidekicks Pat Brady and George "Gabby" Hayes, can be bought as a trio, listed under "sidekick tableau" in Christie's current catalog.

Not only that, but the Sons of the Pioneers have also been mounted (not stuffed) and are still on the block as of this writing.

<----Here they are as seen in their display case at Branson.

Why did the Rogers insist on having the pets and sidekicks mounted? According to Dale, "It was like getting a tattoo. Once we started, it was hard to stop." Did Dale have any tattoos? "Yes", she replied, "but only Roy gets to see them."

In case you're wondering, Roy and Dale are buried in a family plot in Apple Valley, California, a small community between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, where they spent their last years.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Harvey Pekar, October 8th, 1939- July 12th 2010

I didn't love Harvey Pekar and I certainly didn't hate him, but I definitely appreciated him. His autobiographical comic, American Splendor, written by Harvey and drawn by whomever he could cajole, including, in the early days, R. Crumb, was as refreshing as any other comic breakthrough. As refreshing as Harvey Kurtzman's Mad Magazine and as refreshing as Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, but very very different.

To me, its best feature was the pacing. Lots of silence in the early issues, which were filled with home-spun philosophers and arcane jazz references.

Harvey loved being an iconoclast, a gadfly. He hated authority and expressed that view every chance he got. His 1980's appearances on David Letterman's show were a famous example. Dave tried to market Harvey as a kind of contemporary version  of Brother Theodore, but after a few appearances Harvey refused to play along.

Letterman reportedly blew up off camera and banned Harvey from the show. Years later Dave himself voiced much of the same sentiments toward General Electric, and has, in fact, evolved into the same curmudgeonly type he despised in the '80's.

Much to Harvey and Dave's credit, they kind of buried the hatchet (as much as Harvey was capable of such a mundane act)  and Harvey came back one last time, I think, in the '90's.

Harvey was in an amazing movie where he was played more or less simultaneously by Paul Giamatti and by himself. The movie was titled, of course, American Splendor. It covers everything I've written here and also, movingly, his struggle with lymphoma.

It might stand as Harvey's greatest breakthrough: his chronicle in the comic American Splendor of his year successfully fighting his cancer. It's naked stuff, raw, incredible, edgy, and all in a comic book, or funny book, as my  mother calls them.

So here's a guy who gives Letterman what for on national television, survives both cancer and R. Crumb, overcomes depression to create something wonderful and achieves a peculiarly only- in- America success. The kind of guy you think will live a good long life, because he deserves it, right?

I certainly didn't think he'd be dead by the age of seventy of undetermined causes. Doesn't seem right at all.

Not the ending Harvey would have written.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Weighing In

Here are some things I'm very concerned about:

1. The oil leak. Obviously, this is a catastrophic situation that will decimate an already fragile ecosystem for years and years to come. And clearly no one has any real idea of how to motivate more than a handful of Americans into real preventative action.

Since we have such a huge schism between the political right and left, and given our tendency to politicize every single issue facing us, it may be that nothing ever gets done.

One thing for certain though: apologizing to BP isn't going to help.

Hopefully the relief drilling, slated for completion in August, will solve the problem of the leak.

2. When does a CEO fail their corporation and get fired? If the head of a company presides over it when the company has shirked its responsibility and perhaps brought on the end of the world, shouldn't he be fired?

Corporate culture and its ability to condone and even encourage what in humans would clearly be psychotic behavior (like the kid in Columbine, or Ted Bundy) remain a mystery to me.

3. The aforementioned political schism between the right and left. This country loves to seesaw it's way through history. It's either a very conservative country or it's a very liberal one. Of course there are times when we embrace a kind of central position, like, say, the Eisenhower years, but for the most part, one half of the country is going to think they're being disenfranchised at any given time.

These days however are the worst I've ever seen. The republicans have dug their heels in and refuse to support ANY of the democratic programs, something they're very good at, and the democrats, still in the defensive mode after the eight years of the Bush administration, appear unable to remove their collective kid gloves and fight back. It sometimes seems that the only one fighting is the president.

Given our romance with bone-headed celebrities, it's no wonder that the more charismatic the president, the more we're willing to swallow. And since we remain a country of racists (white and black), only a small minority of people will admit to finding the current president charismatic.

Remember: there is no such thing as reverse racism. There's just racism.

4. The rise of the Tea Party and Sarah Palin. I'm not sure, but I think this rise has been somewhat pumped up by the media, especially Rupert Murdoch's Fox News organization. Anytime a grass roots movement comes to the forefront in this country, I think it's important that we Americans pay attention to the movement's core message, whether it's from the left (civil rights, ending the war in Vietnam) or the right (less taxes, smaller government). However, I'm pretty sure that if I were to go to a Tea Party meeting I'd come away thinking, "What a bunch of ignorant sheep!"

I blame Sarah Palin. She's a very stupid, deliberately misinformed demagogue capable of making one ignorant statement after another. And since she does seem to have an agenda (get on TV at any cost) and charisma (a lot of older republican males think she's attractive physically), there are actually people who think she's not stupid and capable of responsible leadership, which, given her history of quitting office, is simply not correct.

4. Our tendency to confuse spokespeople with political commentators. Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, et alia are in the entertainment business, not the information and analysis business. Their opinions are generally meaningless, designed to get an emotional response rather than an intellectual response.

A good conservative analyst is someone like George Will: smart, articulate and clear on his allegiances, not someone like Sean Hannity who is a douchebag ignoramus in search of television rating points. Likewise, Rachel Maddow is a far more believable commentator for the left than Chris Matthews whose tendency towards the dramatic and constant interruptions of his guests is just showboating.

5. When did stupid people become so entitled? Personally, I think it's a holdover from the Bush years.

America, stop embracing stupid. We're not (all) in high school, and it's not a war between jocks and nerds anymore, if it ever was. It's unattractive and it's not going to get us anywhere.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth of July

It's difficult not to wax nostalgic for a happier, simpler time when one sees images like this.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Mississippi John Hurt (3 July 1893- 2 November 1966)

For many people of my generation, the so- called "sixties" began with Sgt. Peppers and the Summer of Love (now which one was that?) Maybe it began with the Vietnam War and the draft. Or was it Bob Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone tearing up top forty AM with its over five minutes of scathing lyrics?

For me, it was John Hurt and Candyman.

It seemed as if every guitar player I knew worth his or her salt spent hours learning Hurt's intricate finger- picking patterns, working their way up the technical ladder from Louise Collins to the sublime Candyman, the holy grail of folkie finger- picking expertise. 

The originator of the style, which in the context of the Mississippi hill country around Greenwood was apparently unique, was a man who may have been the most gentle, genuinely self- deferential entertainer in history. His sweetness began with his beatific face and came through in his guitar playing and singing, often belying a penchant for gently bawdy lyrics, always delivered as reverently as a hymn.

John Hurt began his recording career in 1927 with slightly more than a handful of tunes cut first in Memphis and then during a single trip to New York City. After that, he was never heard from outside of his native town of Avalon, Mississippi. The songs he recorded then were the songs he sang upon his rediscovery by folk music ethnocologists Tom Hoskins and Dick Spottswood in 1963, mostly because Hurt had sung the line, "Avalon, my home town, always on my mind," in one of the 1927 recordings.

He came up north, lived briefly in Washington, DC, and played for awhile at a coffee house on Columbia Road next to the Ontario Theater, now a shabby bodega.

Following that he began touring college campuses and doing concert shows as his star ascended, mostly thanks to Dick Waterman, who named his management company Avalon Productions after Hurt's home town. By 1965, Hurt was hugely in-demand for concerts across the US and commanding fees that seemed outrageous to a man who had labored his whole life as a farmer for almost nothing .
It was not uncommon to cross any campus in this country during the mid- sixties and hear student after student running the changes of Candyman, attempting to master Hurt's bass- playing thumbing as they tried the simultaneous leads that John would play with his little finger.

The time I figured out the octave slide to the high E in Candyman after staying up all night was the kind of moment where one thinks, hey, maybe I AM a musician after all.

Recordings came out on Vanguard, including a transcendent collection that stands today as his major body of available work, titled The Best of Mississippi John Hurt, not the original recordings but an entire live set of new performances that pretty much says it all. The great 1927 recordings (where we get to hear a fully formed Hurt do Candyman for the first time) were re-issued in the nineties by Columbia. With a very young Taj Mahal at Newport --->

He lacked the mystery of Robert Johnson and the intensity of Son House (also an Avalon Productions client) but had something all too rare for a Mississippi- based bluesman: he was just so damned sweet!

Let's watch and listen.

Live at Newport- badly edited, weak sound but here it is- Candyman. Whose slide is that?

Beautiful! One thing: I know Pete Seeger is a great guy and all, but he always comes off as condescending, and this video is no exception.

Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur covered this in the Jug Band with a sultry Maria Muldaur vocal.

Happy Birthday, John. Thanks for all that beautiful music. Thanks for all those days with Karl Harr, Jeff Moore and Ben Clopton trying to learn this stuff and making a lifetime of friends. Thanks for giving my cousin a major reason to become a fine musician and thanks for helping me impress my first and second girlfriends, Susan and Deborah, with my attempts at playing Candyman, which turned out to be, ultimately, just good enough.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Missing Cartier- Bresson

Last June 19th, my wife and I drove to New York to take in the Henri Cartier- Bresson show at the Museum of Modern Art. We met with our daughter Emilie and her friend Nat, had a great lunch at Witchcraft in Rockefeller Plaza and walked to the museum.

It was one of those beautiful low- humidity days in the city, and the walk, the trip, seeing our daughter- the whole experience was very good. Idyllic, in fact.

It is a huge, all- encompassing exhibit, entitled (rightfully) The Modern Century. One afternoon was not enough to really take it in completely, although, after four hours of steady viewing, I think I did my best.

The show is going to Chicago from 24 July until 3 October.

There are many photographs never seen before, as well as a plethora of magazine stories from Life and Paris Match among others which spotlight his reportage. (There's an interesting portrait from Vogue of the Penn brothers, Irving and Arthur, simmering with sibling rivalry.) He really took his job as working photojournalist seriously. There are even some color spreads. I had never seen Cartier- Bresson's color work, so this was a revelation to me.

More of a revelation though was what was NOT in the show. I may be wrong (there was just so much!) but I think there were several of Cartier- Bresson's true masterpieces missing. I have no idea why- I don't think over- exposure was the issue or even irrelevancy- certainly many of his most iconic images were present and accounted for, some, like the boy along the wall, or the bicyclist zooming through the twisty streets were printed several times.

I've thought about the missing images and here's what I've come up with:

Granted it's not that many photos compared to the literally hundreds in the show but I sure would have liked to have seen those photographs again.

Here's a sweet little statement from Henri himself:

"For me the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. In order to 'give a meaning' to the world, one has to feel involved in what one frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry. It is by economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression.

To take a photograph is to hold one’s breath when all faculties converge in a face of fleeing reality. It is at that moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.

To take a photograph means to recognize – simultaneously and within a fraction of a second– both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning.

It is putting one’s head, one’s eye, and one’s heart on the same axis."

Every once in a while, especially recently when one begins to doubt that photography will ever again be a true money- earning, artistically- fulfilling profession, as it once was, true inspiration comes along, usually like this, in the work and words of a real master, and the doors of perception open slightly wider than before, just wide enough to get a camera through the crack and make some kind of sense of a difficult, difficult world.