The Devil and Daniel Johnston

Ok, this has to be one of the weirdest movies I have ever seen. Only for people who are seriously interested in understanding pop culture and derangement and mental illness at the same time. It is very hard to watch, yet compels you until the end. Watch it if you really like off-kilter movies and documentaries. If you get far enough to see it, I highly suggest the viewing the extras for more context. Much better and more moving and educational than any of those intelligence erasing reality shows that everyone seems to smoke like crack. Here is an excerpt from the official site:

“As an artist suffering from manic depression with delusions of grandeur, Daniel Johnston’s wild fluctuations, numerous downward spirals, and periodic respites are exposed in this deeply moving documentary.

As a reclusive teenager growing up in New Cumberland, VA, Johnston began showing signs of unusual artistic ability at an early age. He religiously recorded his thoughts and stories onto cassette tapes, directed intuitive Super- 8 films starring himself in multiple roles ala Peter Sellers, and created expressive comic book-style drawings and animation in the basement of his family’s home. However, in the eyes of his fundamentalist Christian family, Daniel simply wasn’t contributing to society in a useful or productive way. After running off on a moped and joining a carnival, he landed in Austin, Texas, broke and alone. It was there he began to hone his musical career, recording folk songs on a series of homemade, lo-fi cassettes, which Daniel handed out free to fans, friends and journalists in the early 80s. With the help of a timely break and the thriving Austin music scene, Daniel managed to secure a brief spotlight on MTV making him a minor celebrity. But just as he was beginning to make a name for himself, his inner demons began to surface and Daniel’s ongoing struggle with manic depression became more and more evident in his songs and drawings.”

Moby Dick and Save the Whales!

Having been a long time fan of Melville via the novellas Bartleby the Scrivener (online here) and Billy Budd (online here), I finally read Moby Dick and now I know why the book is so famous. I am not even going to try and write a review, there are many on the web, but it deservedly fits in the pantheon of great books. Aside from the character development, plot, blending of humor and seriousness, mastery of the use of language, and so forth(!), a side effect of reading the book is an understanding of the whaling industry in America in the late 1800’s from the viewpoint of a sailor.Which brings me to my next point…

There used to be a way of deriding a certain sensibility using the phrase “Save the Whales” to get everyone to laugh at the perceived quixotic nature of the pursuit. (The topic of soundbite derision will have to be another post, one my major peeves) But I came across an article in the New York Times about the current plight of the right whale off the coast of the southern US as it relates to shipping in the area. A sample from the article:

Ships are one of the two leading causes of unnatural death among right whales, and scientists have warned that the unnatural death of even one breeding female has the potential to tip the species toward extinction. From 2002 to 2006, there were 17 confirmed deaths by ship strike, at least six involving adult females.In an effort to stop the fatalities, the National Marine Fisheries Service has tried to impose speed limits on ships within 30 miles of port. But the White House has delayed approval of the rule, which is opposed by some shipping companies. The White House Office of Management and Budget is supposed to review federal agencies’ rule proposals within 90 days, with an optional 30-day extension. In the case of the right whale ship strike rule, it has been more than a year.

Click here to read the full article. The Save the Whales Again! site also has some things that are worth reading should you decide to be informed. Whale hunters are behaving in a truly inhuman and inhumane way towards these incredible creatures. And only for greed…

What the Heck?

I read Michael Pollan’s book, the ‘Omnivores Dilemma‘ last year and well, it pretty much freaked me out. This is a really great book to read as it explains a lot about the origins of the trouble with our food supply and the politics and the people involved in it. It also accurately states the problem, in my opinion. So get it…but here is a link to an article he wrote in December that I think is astonishing. Read this article now, it takes 10-15 minutes, and if you like almonds as much as I do, ponder it…NY Times article by Michael Pollan 

The Grammys

The curmudgeon in me says once again…’people are stupid’

I watched the Grammys last night. The music of today is in a very sad state when a 67 year old pianist playing a 84 year old composition is so far and away the best thing of the entire show….

That was Herbie Hancock playing George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue (dualing pianos with Lang Lang, who I had never heard of…). The composition and the performance were in stark contrast to:

  • “I want to check you over for ticks”…could have been done by Weird Al
  • All the howling that passes for soul and emotion
  • The simple craftsmanship of hip hop. 

I do confess to liking the Foo Fighters though…and Kid Rock was a little surprising. Amy Winehouse, lots of hype. She’s kind of interesting, but a major talent? Compared to? You decide…