Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bob's Not Supposed To Care, But He Does

Here is a cover of a Gordon Lightfoot tune, from Toronto in 1998. 

Lightfoot is a highly respected singer songwriter from Toronto who had his heyday in the mid-70s and who, like Bob, still plays out today. He is an old friend of Bob's and hung out for the Toronto nights of the Rolling Thunder Revue in '75. Bob even gave him the coveted penultimate performance slots both nights. Who knows how good of friends they are? (It's Bob after all. Who knows anything?) 

Is there a secret history here? Lightfoot recorded this song a few months after Rolling Thunder. Maybe Bob was the first person Gordo ever played the song for. Maybe Bob helped him fix a lyric here or there. Maybe Gordo wrote the song for Bob, but disguised it as a romantic love song.

The set lists tell us that Bob played "I'm Not Supposed to Care" live only three times in his vast touring career: all on this same '98 tour. First in Vancouver, then Anaheim, and lastly, again in Canada, this time in Toronto. 

Like so many others, Lightfoot is a candle to Dylan's bonfire. There's no comparison--Lightfoot's not even Christopher Marlowe. Bob pays tribute to his old friend by playing the man's own tune his own hometown. Those three performances were it for Bob and "I'm Not Supposed to Care". He put it away, probably for good. I'd bet ol' Gordo felt honored.

I love it when Bob has a great time like he does in this performance. His band is digging it too--because Bob is digging it. Tony's face lights up just as Bob rips into a signature three-note guitar solos. They feed off each other creatively in the best sense. 

And for dessert, here is evidence that the man has turned into my grandfather once and for all.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

More Louie Please

The culture of mass media rarely allows an artist to explore ideas and thrive on his own terms. Louie is a testament to the power of nurturing a singular artist's vision. In general, television and the Internet broadcast content diluted by too many committee-made decisions.

Slow Train Coming, But Coming Nonetheless

Here is a live version of "Slow Train Coming" from the late 80s, somewhere in northern Europe--Rotterdam, I think. Bob is resplendent in this performance, and his aura is enhanced by the super shitty camera work done by some jack in the audience. He's singing one of his great gospel tunes and he actually looks quite appropriately like Jesus Christ, complete with halo and all. When the camera zooms out, we learn that the backing band is Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Now, as a nights and weekends Dylanologist, I of course knew those guys toured together around that time, but I obviously didn't have the date locked in because the reveal really surprised me.
He starts the song slowly and soulfully, and does a few verses like this--so many verses in fact that you start to think that's how the whole song will play out. But then he kicks it into gear after about the third verse. That's a vintage move. Part of the man's artistry is that he is so unexpected and so raw, almost all the time. He pushes too hard, too far, too fast, too soon. He's not packed but fuck it, I'm ready to go, and he goes there anyway, without his toothbrush or the book he wanted to bring along. He tries and fails constantly, and at the last minute he trades in his ticket and books a flight somewhere else at the last minute.  As evidence, note how he is essentially constructing the phrasing for the backup singers on the spot, just before the false ending, when he mouths the lyrics for them.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

How To Read A Biography

Start with chapter 2. When you reach the end of the book, circle back around and then read the first chapter. By then you might be more interested in the person's childhood, and if you aren't interested, you've read the book without having to be bogged down with all that David Copperfield crap.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Combat Rising Ocean Levels

Combat rising ocean levels caused by climate change by engineering and constructing trenches connecting them through an global industrial canal system spread throughout every continent. This will offset water levels around the globe.

Problem solved.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Short Film Idea

Somebody, please, take this idea and make a comedic short film:

It’s 10:17 a.m. over and over and over and over. Our hero looks at the clock and it’s 10:17 (and fifty-one seconds). He asks someone what time it is and it’s 10:17. Later it’s still 10:17. As his panic increases, the time stays the same. 10:17. 

What breaks the spell?


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chatwin Soaring

From Songlines, 1987:

"I had a presentiment that the 'travelling' phase of my life might be passing. I felt, before the malaise of settlement crept over me, that I should reopen those notebooks. I should set down on paper a résumé of the ideas, quotations and encounters which had amused and obsessed me; and which I hoped would shed light on what is, for me, the question of questions: the nature of human restlessness.

Pascal, in one of his gloomier pensées, gave it as his opinion that all our miseries stemmed from a single cause: our inability to remain quietly in a room.

Why, he asked, must a man with sufficient to live on feel drawn to divert himself on long sea voyages? To dwell in another town? To go off in search of a peppercorn? Or go off to war and break skulls?

Later, on further reflection, having discovered the cause of our misfortunes, he wished to understand the reason for them, he found one very good reason: namely, the natural unhappiness of our weak mortal condition; so unhappy that when we gave to it all our attention, nothing could console us.

One thing alone could alleviate our despair, and that was distraction (divertissement): yet this was the worst of our misfortunes, for in distraction we were prevented from thinking about ourselves and were gradually brought to ruin.

Could it be, I wondered, that our need for distraction, our mania for the new, was, in essence, an instinctive migratory urge akin to that of birds in autumn?

All the Great Teachers have preached that Man, originally, was a 'wanderer in the scorching and barren wilderness of this world' – the words are those of Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor – and that to rediscover his humanity, he must slough off attachments and take to the road.

My two most recent notebooks were crammed with jottings taken in South Africa, where I had examined, at first hand, certain evidence on the origin of our species. What I learned there – together with what I now knew about the Songlines – seemed to confirm the conjecture I had toyed with for so long: that Natural Selection has designed us – from the structure of our brain-cells to the structure of our big toe – for a career of seasonal journeys on foot through a blistering land of thorn-scrub or desert.

If this were so; if the desert were 'home'; if our instincts were forged in the desert; to survive the rigours of the desert – then it is easier to understand why greener pastures pall on us; why possessions exhaust us, and why Pascal's imaginary man found his comfortable lodgings a prison."

-Bruce Chatwin

Friday, November 25, 2011

Postcard From Sydney

Hilary and I landed in Sydney on a rainy Friday morning and within a few hours I was choosing between kangaroo or crocodile for lunch. We had missed Thanksgiving all together, and in midair no less, so I went with the kangaroo. You gotta take it slow in Australia.

I'd never been to this country and I am grateful to my sister for the opportunity to spend a few weeks in a place so far away yet eerily similar to home. Australia is a bizarro America; it's like a warm Canada. I sense macro-familiarity but get lost in the details. They drive on the left in cars the color of toothbrushes. Much of the food seems the invention of Dr. Seuss. Ditto the flora & fauna. Women's dress styles are 1980s flashy and book cover designs are glossy and on the nose, like fakes from the movies. Cafes sell coffee at every street corner, but they pronounce it "cuffee". Australians do things to vowels many Americans would find difficult to abide.

Our hotel overlooks Darling Harbor, near an area called The Rocks for the reason that it sits atop a rocky cliff, like so much of Sydney. It was in The Rocks that I enjoyed my kangaroo burger. In the tiny bookstore I was pleased to browse a book of Australian poetry (who knew?) and discover the existence of one Banjo Paterson, the man with the most envious name in history. Paterson was a 19th century poet and the composer of "Waltzing Matilda", the Australian national anthem and the greatest drinking song of all time. (The second greatest drinking song was co-written by friend Skeely. It contains the line "but when I get so pissed, I don't toss about me fists".)

We walked to Surrey Hills for dinner our first night, along the way passing through a neighborhood I would describe as the Sydney Castro, featuring your full line of rainbow and strap-on whathaveyous. It was here I began to notice how so many Australian men are shaped like Bluto from the Popeye comic strip. Men in Sydney are a tough lot, and I have seen more men with black eyes here than I've seen anywhere in years.

Which brings us to Manly Beach. Yes, that's the name of the place. My photos from our day there are proof that this joke never gets old. There is a Manly Yacht Club, a Manly Children's Hospital, and a Manly Lifesaving Club which is a members only association of lifeguards. The beaches around Sydney are perfect. In addition to Manly, we also biked over to Bondi Beach. When I mentioned how pleasant it was that nobody was blasting reggaeton or Foghat through cheap speakers, Hilary thankfully pointed out the dearth of men in Speedos. Best of all, there was nobody was attempting the swim-&-smoke, one of my least favorite human activities to witness.

The ferry ride back from Manly across Sydney Harbor at sunset was worth the twenty-three hour flight. Nothing can prepare you for the Sydney Opera House. You just have to come and see it for yourself.

I'll leave you with this: there are bats in Sydney's otherwise beautiful Hyde Park the size of German Shepherd puppies. How it is that the entire city has not relocated I have no idea. The most discomforting moment I have had here was watching the bats fly en masse from the cathedral towers at dusk and circle above the trees in Hyde Park, clicking and swooping the way giant bats apparently do. Where I come from a bat fits easily inside your hand, the way it should be, not that you would ever touch one. These Aussie bats are snatch-your-baby-from-the-pram Nightbirds from Hell and I want no part of it.

Tomorrow morning we have a morning flight to Uluru, the giant red rock in the middle of this vast, dry continent.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Letter from Barrow, Alaska

People keep asking me how cold it is, so here's the deal: temperatures fluctuate. I just looked and supposedly right now it is eight degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a low of around fifteen below expected later tonight. Those numbers don't take windchill into account, and it's always windy here since the nearest hill or tree is more than three hundred miles to the south and it's a straight shot up and over the Arctic Ocean to the North Pole.

One local said the other day, and with a straight face, "we're lucky we have the Arctic Ocean right here. It keeps us warm." I know what he means, but come on. While temperatures here are slightly higher on average than in the vast interior of Alaska, as far as I can tell, "warm" is not part of the equation.

If you dress properly for extreme cold weather, temperatures below negative thirty degrees Fahrenheit are actually quite tolerable, though one area you've got to be extra careful about is your face. Don't leave any of that tender facial skin exposed. Your face will tell you pretty quickly that it's unhappy--I believe the word for this is "pain".

Just before I left New York for Barrow, my father wrote me with this bit of, um, advice:
Kit, Just read a brief review of Ian McEwan's latest book, Solar, a satirical novel focusing on global warming. He apparently went where you're going and an anecdote drifted in from the review about the Arctic danger of having your penis freeze to your fly zipper! By the way, the remedy was to pour brandy over it. (Sorry waste of good brandy, but...there you are.) Hope things go well with you, Luv, D.
The most time I have spent outdoors in a given stretch is about one hour, and that was only once. When we start shooting, about three weeks from now, I will be outside for ten or twelve hours at a time. I am not dreading it, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about it an awful lot.

I mail ordered a polyurethane hood and some goggles on my second day here. They should arrive by the end of next week.

Today I walked about a quarter mile out onto the frozen Arctic Ocean and when I got back to town the local producer warned me that I should never do that without a gun. "Because of the polar bears," she said. All I could think of to say was "but I don't have a gun," followed by my sheepish pledge, "I promise not to be eaten by a polar bear."

A rudimentary Internet search will give you a more accurate picture of the people, culture, and climate here than I am able to after only four days, but here are some factoids and chewy bits you might enjoy:

  • The North Slope Borough of Alaska, of which Barrow is the borough seat, is the largest county-level municipality in the United States, and maybe even the world, covering an area roughly the size of Utah.
  • Each building in Barrow has a unique number for an address, so you don't even have to include the name of the street in your mailed correspondence. Brilliant!
  • Barrow has more than four thousand residents, and most of them tend to stay indoors. I've been here almost a week now, staying in one of the four small hotels on the "center" of town. During my walks at various times of day I've seen about fifteen other human beings.
  • Try and wrap your head around this: the North Slope of Alaska is both a desert and a wetlands. Here's how: the amount of overall precipitation is low enough to classify the region as a desert, while the permafrost (ground that never thaws) prevents drainage after what little snow there is finally melts, so as to make it a wetlands.
  • Barrow is a "damp" town, but not a "dry" town. In a damp town, an individual Alaska resident may procure a license to purchase alcoholic beverages from an out of town vendor. The sale of alcoholic beverages in Barrow is prohibited. In many neighboring "dry" communities, it is illegal to import or possess alcohol. Both native and non-native locals are quite frank about why this control is needed. As one guy put it to me rather bluntly, "Alcohol makes Indians crazy."
The movie I am working on is called On the Ice. The short film version, "Sikumi", won the Jury Prize for Short Filmmaking at Sundance in 2008. The writer-director, Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, has developed his short into a feature film, which tells a similar story about morality and freedom and choice, but includes more characters, and basically incorporates the entire town. About half the movie will be shot "on the ice" and the other half in the town of Barrow.

Here is a link to the short film.

The highlights so far were an after midnight road trip up to Point Barrow to look at the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), and spending much of an evening watching a group of a dozen local women sew the hides of several seals together to make the outer hull of a boat. When they finished sewing around ten-thirty at night, the men came by and stretched the newly sewn hides over the twelve-foot wooden frame of the whale boat. As soon as the Arctic ice melts, several whalers will hunt from this tiny vessel.


two months later...)

We wrapped last Friday after the most exhausting month of shooting I've ever experienced. About half the movie was shot out on the frozen Arctic Ocean. On those "ice days" we traveled to set each day on snowmobiles which in turn towed sleds with equipment and our rather banged up looking crew. The commute alone took hours sometimes: packing, loading, traveling over land, unloading, unpacking, setting up. Repeat at end of day. Snowmobiles break down a lot, and wooden sleds get all banged up after hours of travel over chunky ice formations. Our unit took a real beating on an hourly basis, but we shot everything we wanted to--or just about.

By the time we wrapped the movie, the sun was in the sky more than twenty-one hours a day. Over the final two weeks the darkest it ever got was what I would call broad daylight on a cloudy day.

Every minute during the prepping and shooting of a film is important. Hypersensitivity to time is a fundamental part of filmmaking. The locals in Barrow actually have a word for our southern ways; without a hint of irony, they call it "on-time culture".

Climate change is occurring, and not just according to this recent New York Times design piece. The locals here talk about the new calendar of seasons, and claim to have been talking about it for some time. It's affecting our shoot. The ice "looks like June", not March. Saint Patrick's Day is the new Memorial Day. The caribou run a month later in the fall now. A couple years ago a whole bunch of whalers floated away on some ice that broke off. The ice breaks off a lot closer to shore these days.

There's a website which details Aurora Borealis activity. Our chef couldn't get enough of these nights out observing and photographing--until the around-the-clock daylight made it impossible, he was out there just about every other night with his lenses and tripod taking amazing photographs.

Save for a fair amount of hydroponic marijuana production, there is no agriculture in Barrow, no matter what the season.

I have eaten the meat, blubber, and skin of whale, caribou stew, and elk--I think it was elk. Just about everything is expensive here, food most of all. A guy across the hall from me in the Top of the World Hotel ordered Chinese takeout for himself the other night and he was just as shocked as I was when the total for his dinner came to a fair seventy-seven bucks.

There are several restaurants in town, which run the gamut from inedible to way too expensive. There are two pizza places--both deliver, but only one has tables. And there's a Mexican joint, a local cafe, and even sushi. Three of us went for coffee the other day. Total cost of three delicious beverages: $17. (Full disclosure: we didn't have any cash on us, but the owner knew we were part of the film crew and agreed to let us come back and pay later.)

I saw whales in water, I saw whales out of the water. I saw whales butchered and ate their meat, blubber, and skin. Maktak has a fishy smell that is like a fishy smell on steroids.

All of the homes and businesses I have been in here are heated to the point of being way too hot. Since the windows and doors are not drafty, people tend to wear t-shirts and shorts inside their hot homes in which they burn gas, oil, or kerosene.

I was surprised to find out that people don't have woodstoves or fireplaces here until I looked around and reminded myself that there are no trees for hundreds of miles. There is one, literally, one, guy in town who goes to great expense to barge in firewood from Seattle once a year. He's known as "woodstove guy" and locals consider it a privilege to live in his neighborhood where you can smell the smoke.

The high school is the most expensive in the nation; eighty million dollars to ship materials & build it.

Lots of people have kids here, and in turn a lot of the kids have kids. One twenty-three year-old woman involved with our production is about to have her third child. I have met several teenage parents here.

On the plane from Anchorage to Fairbanks, I sat between a weapons manufacturer and a methamphetamine addict. Meth is a problem in Barrow, though like so much else in Barrow the side effects stay indoors most of the time. I remember witnessing the effects of alcoholism during two months I spent lower Alaska twenty years ago. The state newspapers refer to some of these folks as "chronic inebriates".

It pays to be a Native Alaskan. Indians in the lower forty-eight chose land over resources (we all know how that worked out), but the Alaskans chose to keep control over natural resources. As a result there is a Fortune 500 corporation from which every Eskimo receives a hefty annual stipend.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Postcard from Everywhere

Yesterday I visited Wales, a country I claim as one of my three ancestral homes, and the twelfth country I have seen in the past eleven months. In just a couple of days I return to the United States of America, where my first film assignment on home turf will be in Barrow, Alaska (a mere seven-hundred-fifty miles north of Anchorage).

Since we last spoke, let me assure you, I have been everywhere. I am in possession of such a backlog of thoughts, notes, photographs, videos, musings, and ramblings, that I can't begin to fit them all into one letter. If you actually want to hear about it, you'll have to wait for my book to be published.
I finally did procure a camera, and by legal means I'll have you know. My journeys across Morocco, and in Spain, France, and the UK have all been documented in pictures. The camera is one of the reasons I am currently unable to organize my thoughts in words. I seem to think in images for the time being. I am bringing the camera to Alaska, where it will no doubt freeze and stop working and I will go back to being a writer.

I'm pleased to report that my seven weeks at the Four Seasons Hotel in Cairo didn't make me entirely soft. In subsequent travels I have happily shared bunk rooms with strangers, some even more fragrant than me. The cost of the rooms I stayed at in Morocco averaged about sixteen bucks per night. At those prices, I learned not to expect towels, a telephone, breakfast, a TV, or toilet paper.

When I crossed the Straits of Gibraltar from North Africa into Spain by ferry boat, I fulfilled a nearly lifelong desire--the desire not to capsize and die while crossing the Straits of Gibraltar by ferry boat.

Apropos of not much, the director of photography on my Egypt gig, a gregarious Aussie (is there any other kind?), insists that there must exist a connection between a country's GDP and its practice of painting its tree trunks white. He might be on to something. I first noticed this practice in Venezuela, and then later throughout the Mideast. But in Morocco, the tree painters took it one step further, and had actually stripped most of the bark from the lowermost portion of the trees before painting the trunks white. There are long stretches of roadside woods made up of trees with no bark left on the lower part of the trunks, which were then painted white. I have yet to see anything like this in Europe or the UK.

Hey: if you have the means and the wherewithal, I urge you to get out there and see the world. See as much as you can before it all looks the same. The sameness is encroaching everywhere.

See you soon, I hope.



In Memory of Ann Purcell (1917-2010)