Seth Cohen PR recently sent me an e-mail entitled "Hip-Hop in Iraq" that I clicked on with interest. Generally I'm all in favor of Americans learning more about the cultural scenes in countries we've bombed the shit out of. Actually, I'm in favor of us learning about them before we bomb the shit out of them, but to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go to hell with the foreign policy you have, not the one you wish you had.
I don't doubt that there's probably some really intense underground hip-hop acts in Iraq, even if they have to deal with martial law and no electricity (just like the metal band I blogged about a few months ago). But the e-mail wasn't about that stuff at all. It was a plug for American Voices: "The U.S.-based non-profit organization American Voices literally transported a faculty of U.S. and European music, dance and theater instructors into Erbil to create a nine-day educational opportunity for nearly 300 aspiring, young Iraqi artists. This was the first such initiative of its kind in the history of Iraq."
Nice, but am I missing something? Is there some way in which this is not blindingly naive head-patting at best and imperialist propagandizing at worst? "See, Americans aren't so bad! We'll hold a concert in the Green Zone with a small invited audience (per this interview with founder John Ferguson), play some Duke Ellington for you, and you'll see we really do care! And look: hip-hop dance workshops!" Way to brown-wash the White Man's Burden, guys. Workshops for Iraqi youth, great. But I tried to find a way in which the "cultural diplomacy" didn't seem ridiculously one-sided, and I just wasn't finding it.
By the way, a quick google of "Iraqi hip-hop" brought me links related to Euphrates, an Iraqi group currently based in Montreal, Timz, an Iraqi-American rapper, and an Iraqi's blog that mentions hip-hop on the soundtrack of the 'Voices of Iraq' documentary. Not a lot of info on the Web. That's a real shame: I worry a lot more about homegrown artists who might want to get out of a war zone than well-fed ones wanting to get in.
Photo by Heather Phillips
Here at the Reader, the sad death of Ingmar Bergman hasn't gone unnoticed:
RC I loved her in Casablanca.
MM You're thinking of Ingmar Johansson, Scarlett's mom.
TF No, that's Tracy Ullman.
TP No no, Scarlett's mom was that chick from Blue Velvet I thought.
PG Laura Dern?—o pleez!
MM [TP] is thinking, of course of Isabella Rossellini, whose mother, Ingmar Johansson, was known in Sweden cinema circles as the "little Jane Russell," hence the girl's name.
TP Um, no, I was thinking of Laura Dern.
MM I'm sorry. Laura Dern, of course, whose father, Bruce Dern, had an affair with Ingmar Bergman Johansson when Hitchcock was simultaneously shooting Notorious and Family Plot.
PG No wonder Diane Ladd always looks so exasperated--or was it Liv Tyler? ... I mean Tracy Ullman?
RC Dennis Hopper and David Johansen conceived Scarlett in the men's room of CBGB's in 1984.
TP Yeah it took nearly 10 years to clean up the mess Patti Smith and Liv Ullmann made in there conceiving Steven Tyler's daughter.
ET Yes, but that was with Debbie Harry, too. Who played Desiree Armfeldt in Smiles of a Summer Night—yes, I headed it back toward Ingmar.
RC What a loving tribute we've paid to Ingrid Bergman today. I'm sure she appreciates it.
MM I think we're starting to get the hang of this creative loafing.
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And now, hard on the heels, comes equally sad news of Michelangelo Antonioni's death ... not the kind of perfecta you're ever ready to confront, and I'm sure not up for it today. Requiescat, you guys ...
Bradford Cox from Deerhunter got mugged over the weekend. The dude used to bother me pretty harshly, but I've revised my opinion after reading his blog—which is basically a long, sustained "fuck you" of moderate-to-severe intensity toward anyone who wants to mess with his personal program—and after reading his two-way interview with Dennis Cooper in the most recent issue of ANP Quarterly, aka the best magazine since Don Diva.
So I understand that Bradford getting mugged is a suckness of substantial size. But I think the real tragedy here is that no blog that I've seen covering it has gone for the gold with what I would consider to be the only headline this story could have: "The Deerhunter Becomes the Deerhunted." I've been watching my RSS feed all day, waiting to see those words roll in, but nothing.
But despite not using my main choice for the Deerhunter piece, Drowned in Sound sort of wins the Internet today for running the headline, "Gwen Stefani's Tits Annoy Malaysia." There is some real truth buried somewhere in those five words.
When death comes, the press takes its threesomes any way it can find them. The Tuesday Tribune carried a front-page box titled “Farewells,” with directions to the obits inside the paper for Ingmar Bergman, Bill Walsh, and Tom Snyder--who were certainly closer in death than in life. The Sun-Times’s Richard Roeper began his column the same day, “It was a dark trifecta for those who believe celebrities die in threes.” (Roeper went on to say he doesn’t.)
But there was a fly in the ointment. Michelangelo Antonioni died too late for the print editions but not for the radio stations Chicago woke up to. Antonioni was a movie director whose stature can be compared to Bergman’s. Did this make four?
Or two? With all due respect to TV interviewer Tom Snyder, he was never considered a genius of his trade the way Walsh was. And with all due respect to Bill Walsh, the fame of football coaches ends pretty abruptly at the water's edge.
The Tribune’s tributes to Bergman and Antonioni were written by Michael Wilmington, “special to the Tribune.” That’s Trib-speak for “doesn’t work here” and it raised more questions than it answered. Hasn’t Wilmington been a Tribune movie critic for the past 14 years? Geoff Brown, associate managing editor for features, told me Wilmington resigned a few weeks ago. I asked why. “You’ll never get me to discuss why anybody comes or goes,” Brown said. “Maybe comes.”
There are, as usual, a number of classic films screening in and around Chicago this week, but my pick for the most profound cinematic treasure in theaters right now is the Looney Tunes Film Festival at the Music Box. Everything I needed to know about the shattering of modernist narratives (e.g. Disney), gallows humor as a bulwark against mortality, and remix culture I learned from the Looney Tunes geniuses--not just Chuck Jones, but Carl Stalling and Michael Maltese as well. It's sort of a child's garden of late-20th-century art, as I once argued (warning: postadolescent overwriting).
Belgian vibraphonist Els Vandeweyer began her musical career on the classical path, focusing on contemporary pieces while studying at a performing arts school in Antwerp, but when she noticed how many pieces simulated the feel of improvised music she yearned to play the real thing. She decided to study jazz at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, where she's still enrolled, but for the last two years she’s had the best sort of musical lessons, playing in real life situations. She's spent time in Oslo, working sporadically with some of the scene’s most important figures—including Kjetil Moster, Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten, Havard Wiik, and Paal Nilssen-Love—and in Lisbon, hanging out in the record shop Trem Azul, which is owned by the same fellow who runs the increasingly important Clean Feed label.
While in Lisbon, Vandeweyer and Brazilian saxophonist Alipio C. Neto cofounded Imi Kollektief, an international quintet featuring French trumpeter Jean-Marc Charmier and the Portuguese rhythm section of bassist João Hasselbring and drummer Rui Gonçalves. The band’s sole recording, Snug as a Gun (Clean Feed, 2006), offers the only extended evidence of Vandeweyer’s work; while the songs are spiky and angular, her harmonically rich, jagged lines recall the golden era of Blue Note Records, when Bobby Hutcherson was a fixture on loads of classic albums. Sadly, Vandeweyer's playing is too low in the mix, but when she solos or her darkly shimmering chords fight their way through, her talent is plain. The raw energy of the quintet and the predilection of Neto to ramp his solos into explosive free jazz terrain fits in nicely with some of the free jazz made here in Chicago, so Vandeweyer ought to feel right at home when she plays three gigs with locals this week.
Tomorrow, August 1, she’ll be joined by a terrific band (guitarist Jeff Parker, reedist Dave Rempis, bassist Josh Abrams, and drummer Mike Reed) on a program of her tunes at the Hideout; she says her music has changed greatly since she cut the Imi Kollektief record. Then on Thursday at Elastic and Sunday at the Hungry Brain she’ll improvise with two different line-ups of Chicagoans.
Today's playlist:Turf Talk, Brings the Hood (Sick Wid’ It)
Both times I've been in the Boot, I've been guided by Faith Heller Willinger's Eating In Italy: A Traveler's Guide to the Hidden Gastronomic Pleasures of Northern Italy. Both times I've come back significantly heavier. The book is a neat, portable guide to excellent food shops, enotecas, markets, cozy trattorias, and fancy ristorantes in a wide range of regions in the upper half of the country.
When I visited Sicily I wished for a resource as smart, wide ranging, and spot-on. Now Willinger, a 30-plus year expatriate resident of Florence, has delivered it--partly. Her new Adventures of an Italian Food Lover is a hardback cookbook with chummy profiles of many restaurateurs, home cooks, shopkeepers, and gastronomes she's become pals with over the years, and a recipe from each. The book is being touted as a guide, but due to its size, heft, and somewhat haphazard organization, it's not really practical for that. The nice thing is that along with sections on northern and central Italy, and Tuscany, a small majority of it is devoted to southern Italy and the islands. That means there are some really interesting and seldom seen dishes, like meatless "bread meatballs" from Puglia, pasta with fish ragu from the Amalfi Coast, mussels with yogurt sauce from Sardinia, and smoked mozzarella cutlets from Campania.
Jeanne Gang, whose innovative residential skyscraper, Aqua, was the subject of a cover story in the Reader, has a clever new building called Windermere West planned for Hyde Park (h/t Gapers Block). Many of the south-facing windows are tilted 71 degrees, so that when the sun is low in the winter more light gets in but the rooms are shaded when the sun is high in the summer. More light in winter and less in summer means simple energy savings. It's a bit radical for such an architecturally homogenous area--"I would go to that building only to get directions away from it," said one friend and long-time resident--but it appeals to the geek in me. Or, more accurately, to me, being a geek.
Speaking of Gang, you might enjoy this Q&A with her on Aqua.
Paul Street, formerly of the Chicago Urban League and now blogging from Iowa City, summarizes the Democratic front runners' position on reviving nuclear power, and questions Obama's image construction as opposed to his reality:
"Edwards has the right answer: nukes cost too much and are unsafe. Hillary waffles but agrees with Edwards that nukes are too dangerous at present. It's left to Obama to actually advocate 'explor[ing] nuclear power as part of the energy mix' (as if it hasn't already been deeply explored for decades and found to be [a] too expensive and [b] too unsafe)."
Whence Obama's position?
"For a big part of the answer, please follow this link to Barack Obama's 'Top Contributors' on the 'Open Secrets' web site of the Center for Responsive Politics - the venerable campaign finance watchdog group in Washington DC. There you will see that Obama's third largest campaign contributor (after Goldman Sachs and Lehman Bros.) so far is Exelon Corporation ($191,000 through the second quarter of 2007). Exelon is the parent company of Chicago's notorious Commonwealth Edison utility and is owner and operator of what it calls the "nation’s largest fleet of nuclear energy plants."
Obama's already shown a depressing willingness to truckle to the worst of the Democratic Party -- its unwanted and unnecessary intervention in the suburban primary race to replace Henry Hyde, and its coronation of an incompetent County Board chairman on the hereditary principle. Is this more of the same, or just a reasonable difference of opinion?