At a time of cultural retrenchment, global unrest and a general erosion of human dignity and rights, the notion of speaking up—and speaking out—is more critical now than ever. But as much as causes and issues, it’s about the injustices where we work, play, go to school—and on a more personal, even just telling the people we love that we care. It’s a multi-facet, full-spectrum mandate if you look at it closely. I think we should, then apply it with dignity and respect for each other’s humanity.
Jaime Foxx is an Oscar obvious for his portrayal of the “Genius of Soul,” the gravel-against-the-sky voiced Ray Charles. Capturing the aspects of the blind, addicted, conflicted piano player and heart of America song stylist without flinching or exaggeration—the opportunity to sanitize or chew scenery was obvious—Foxx offered a true portrait of the tugging forces, fears and decisions that shaped the life of an original musical icon. Taylor Hackford took 15 years to get the first frame shot. His loving portrait brings dignity to the struggle. And his willingness to find shots that are visual rapture - illustrating Charles’ blindness by blurring various colored bottles hanging from a bare tree in the sunlight alone is jaw-dropping—marks Hackford as one of the great ones who can move from something that matters that also hits a commercial benchmark. Bravo! Bonus: Ray: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. All the songs that you need to hear.
Pieces of Van Morrison, scraps of sun-drenched bohemia, the funky earthiness of the Band, bits of earliest Elton John, wisps of fragile angst and want and desire. It’s a smart bit of genre-blurring music that is built around songs sung with a voice that may not stun with its force, but will drop your guard, your reserve, even your clothes with repeated listens. Revelatory in its willing to be open, Trouble excavates the human heart with dignity even as it opens the veins; gypsy rhythms giving way to lonely piano fills that may be swept away in bright acoustic guitar part or waves of a wheezy accordion. The way LaMontagne’s voice catches and starts, the almost jazz phrasing, makes him a confessor as much as a singer. And there’s never a deep-steeped angst at work here, but more a need to connect with his own core—and the object of his desire in many of these songs—that we’re peeping tom witnesses to.
It’s that time of year. And what a smart way to say “dark and gloomy”.
From the high priest of high heels, something a little bit Carnaby, a little bit secretarial, a little bit pastel Crayola counterpoint, a whole lot blowed-up erotic. The stiletto heel is a literal and figurative weapon in the battle of life, liberty and the pursuit of libido—and they issue invitations without uttering a word or compromising one’s ladylike dignity. The best of all worlds.
In the cold and drizzle, with St. Patricks Cathedral as a white light back drop, Tony Bennet weightlessly offers up the love of the season with that style which is soignée in all the right ways. A new song by Marilyn Bergman, it proves classic can happen contemporaneously; and all we have to do is smile and hold the warmth like a snowflake in our hand.
Another seasonal transition. The gold and chocolate, crimson, rust, lemon yellow souvenirs of lush summer scatters on the ground. The paths that’ve been trod are now decorated with the spent leaves that have been shade and air and a visual reminder of how abundant the world is that we just take as a given. If you can find somewhere to walk and kick the leaves—or just feel their cushioning presence beneath your feet, do it. There’s a quiet solace to the sensation that makes Thoreau a hero in whole new ways.
The food is beyond exquisite—clean layered flavors where the quality of the ingredients makes up for mannered fussy cooking. With marinated olives and an artisnal cheese plate, great wines, pureed squash soup, mushroom bread stuffing, moist turkey and a quartet of tantric-torque-inducing deserts, it’s culinary cloud nine in a charming rustique house/patio setting. But factor in the always erudite Michael Rhodes, his spot-on, quicker-than-a-whip wife Lindsey, her in-love-with-life 24-year-old son Wes, and the conversation was even more sparkling than the red wine which flowed—and flowed—over into coffee and desert wine at their victorian’n'beyond home. If we’re counting our blessings, friends as jubilant and sophisticated as these are a good place to start—and the food only heightens the headiness of the experience.
Upon moving to L.A., Kristine McKenna with the copper hair and hooded black coat walking across alleys embodied the wordly hipness of a girl who fished all pools of cool—be it intellectual, punk rock or cinematic. I’d peek around corners to sneak looks at the LA Times cultural critic and listen breathless to snippets of details about her personal life, this gamine whose writing and insights opened worlds to me and offered context, humanity and grace to an eclectic mix of the ni plu ultra. Talk To Her, a collection of essays with Q&As, makes the inscrutable harbingers of cultural currency accessible in terms that lift us up and pull back the veil of infamy to let in enough light to make up our own minds. From punk icons Iggy Pop, Joey Ramone, Elvis Costello, Chrissie Hynde to poets or rockers cum poets Allen Ginsburg, Exene Cervenka, Richard Hell, Joni Mitchell, from philosopher Jacques Derrida (who defined deconstructionism), film auteur Robert Altman, legendary actress Eva Marie Saint, pioneer galleryist Walter Hopps and pulp movie maker Russ Mayer, what arises are conversations of soul searching, discovery, sex, art, politics, religion and enough provocative exchange to fuel the greatest cigarettes’n'coffee Paris café‘s’ late night activities for decades. Open a book, open your world; it’s that simple. www.fantagraphics.com or 1-800-657-1100
The greatest whimsy can come out of real life, human need, decency and a will to see fairy dust amongst us. The true life story of how Peter Pan came to be, with the saddest sweetest ending and a wonderful performance by Johnny Depp, that is both controlled and gentle. The notion of what is expected being gently drowned by a creeping sense of what is right - and the end being an accelerated humanity that offers much to the case for doing what the heart (not necessary the animal instinct) craves.
Antique and vintage crosses and religious medals are restrung with fresh water pearls in black, deep gray, rose, neutral and white. They are slightly goth, beautifully fragile and as Victorian as they are girly. Traffic in Los Angeles sells them—and they’re (for now) reasonably affordable indulgences.
Shabby with enough mystique to feel the vibrations of those who’ve been there before. And what a list: Thomas Wolfe, Robert Mapplethorpe with his pre-Horses muse Patti Smith, Dylan Thomas died there, Mark Twain, William Burroughs, Nico, Marianne Faithful, Diego Rivera, O. Henry, Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix—and of course, the place Sid Vicious murdered his peroxide goddess Nancy Spungen. The linoleum is tired, the desk still puts messages in dark wood cubby holes and the mismatched lobby serves as a testament to cool that proves it’s the epitome of not trying. As the t-shirt says, “a rest stop for rare individuals.” Considering the ledger, we should all be all that on our best day.
The ultimate stomach curative, the people who’ve brought us the curiously strong mints have found a way to intensify ginger’s sweet deep heat that is in keeping with their candy paradigm. Melting in your mouth, the tropical spice opens up into several directions, then seems to explode in your mouth. Settling for the stomache, freshening for the mind and opening for the sinuses - it’s as much a curative as a treat, which is the way we’d probably all make the world if we could hook it up.
Don’t believe the hype. Or rather get behind the OD’ed, blowed-up, efffed-up skagged-out scuffling that’s had the rock press agog. What sets the Libertines apart is their willingness to walk the same planks as the Stones at their rawest, the Kinks at their rockingest, the Pistols at their most focused, the Doors at their jamminest, the Replacements at their most melodic (hail, hail Westerberg) and any number of shimmy-shimmy-shake Britrockers who were all snot and drool and bloody knuckles. Meditations on the wages of addiction, fame’s toxicity, elusive love’s hold and rock’s power to enthrall, Libertines is every bit as good as the drama around the band—and songs like “Can’t Stand Me Now,” “Road To Ruin,” “Narcissist” and “What Became Of The Likely Lads” whipstitch the claw trap reality of rock star reality with acid accuracy. Buy in * sell out * right now!
Look, what happened wasn’t cool. But our athletes are supposed to be heroes, larger than life figures who are considered to inspire us with their ability to negotiate the world with strength, class and decency. If we want to aspire to something more than tres bling thug life, accountability for the well-paid and exceptional is a good place to start.
Acceptance is the key to getting where one wants to be. The moments won’t change. If we accept things, we can move beyond them—in large part because we’re cornering from what is rather than railing against it. A better use of energy, a happier way to be. The philosophy of the sages permeates the ages recounted by a guy who has the spirit of songs and music deep inside and the insight to recognize major truths come from unlikely, fairly lowly sources.
When you’re feeling run down, stressed out, funky, cruddy, whatever, you pull this out of your purse, spray a little bit of this collection of floral essences under your tongue—and the tenseness loosens. It’s not necessarily a cure-all, but an amazing on the spot triage to make the moment livable. With cranky relatives, germy strangers, bad manners and the rest of the impending holiday deluge of horrors, this little pump spray bottle offers the kind of refuge that’ll keep you from putting somebody’s head in a bowling ball bag before its all over.
Antichrist. Cultural pariah. Antisocial sociopathetic knee jerk attention seeker. Eminem most definitely has a sledgehammer aimed at society’s woobie spots, but his wordplay and sense of justice temper what could be little more than shock factor. As a sociological commentator, there’s much here to consider, and reading Rolling Stone’s fine question and answer examination of the man behind Slim Shady, it brings into sharp focus the truth of the streets: these realities can give way to greater responsibility, accountability, reckoning. If everyone who lines up to buy his records would consider what he lays out in this interview—an interview that offers up a hard life overcome, an estranged spouse who can’t get it together and the desire to give the young around him a better life—turning the decay of our younger generation around would be a given. Now let’s hope Johnny can read. Bonus: Encore—Eminem. Politics. Satire. Big beats. Real rhymes. Absolutely.
From England. Their soles are rounded to create better posture— and ultimately more fun walking. Billed as shoes that battle cellulite, they also battle the blahs because they give the world a pop! of laughter as you’re making your way through the day. For anyone who likes to walk, it gives you less impact, more roll; and even if it does nothing for the little bumps and lumps, the euphoria it interjects is priceless. www.blissworld.com
A tangle of flowers, especially roses, and the greens used in famed Paris flower boutique Odorante are the scent that wafts up from Fresh’s latest candle confection. The clean mint undertow tempers the sweetness of the roses—and it lifts you up on curlicues of fragrance, drifts you away, opens the sky and then brings you back to a clean well lighted place that is awash in blossoms. With a slightly deco font on a label promising “Memoires de fleurs,” it is elegant in an understated way and as succulent as you can have without watching your bouquet perish.
Four summers ago, a guy who was 5’ 6” and follicaly-challenged sat at Blossom Music Center—outside Cleveland, Ohio—and talked about a dream anyone else would’ve deemed insanity. But with a lot of hard work, passion, fire, fight, tears, bruised hearts, knees and feelings and an unrelenting commitment to realizing the dream, the unlikeliest country singer of them all brought home not only the Country Music Association’s top Entertainer of the Year prize and the prestigious Album of the Year, but was the only person to beat Usher at the American Music Awards for the fan-voted Text-In Artist of the Year. Maybe the sweetest tears I’ve cried this year.
The essence of fall’s deepest flavors. Figs oven roasted to bring out the nuance of their earthy sweetness. Port wine, thicker and sweeter and more complicated than its dinner peers. Together the port makes the fig snap and the fig gives the port a bit of delectable bite. Nashville’s Sunset Grille does an addictive one; but I’ve had the flavor in 3 other cities, so look for it. Stereogum.com A blog that merges pop culture at its zenith with fast-action gossip, cutting edge bands, social commentary and a lot of links to life beyond the middle of the road. It’s quick, it’s fun, it’ll turn you onto a world that’ll keep you current—and make you laugh. If the Britney obsession is irksome, put your hand on your chest and invoke the theatre of grand fame burlesque—because that’s just what it is: a cultural corpse bloating on its own entrails.
You see the hands touch, the electricity fly, the smile explode— and you realize: Chemistry and sparks aren’t just for Petri dishes and science labs any more. In a cynical world, to see the flash! and pop! right before your eyes is about as thrilling as it gets. It’s not something you can go hunting, but it’s absolutely something you can’t miss. And every now and then, there’s a moment when it’s like fireworks on July 4. When it’s that undeniable, all you can do is smile and be glad you’re alive. Even if they’re not your own attraction pyrotechnics, it proves all things are possible, and it’s only a matter of time.
Once upon a time, it’s where everything merged and came together. Commerce, community, communion—all with storefronts and sweeping trees and everybody taking care of their business. A bit archaic to some— whether they’re cuted up as a yuppie fantasy of blissful suburban small town safety reality or never quite burnished enough to bring in the “isn’t it quaint” crowd—there’s a sense of hub in these places, especially the old school variety, that reminds us how basic meaningful connection can be.
As the heat comes on and the skin dries out, this is like moisture packing parched flesh while you return to the womb of a hot-to-warm bath for 20-30 minutes. Not icky oily, just blissful melting of tension and knots—and it comes in a swirl of aloe vera, jojoba nut oil, calendula flowers and rose bud essence. It’s Calgon to the third power.
Cardigans and tunics, cut-out pieces with the glass woven in. We’re talking luxe casual chic. So simple and easy to wear. It elevates jeans to chic; bohemenianizes grand clothes in a way that maintains their status, but adds that Moroccan/Amalfi coast glint; cheers up the straightforward without going full-on Chuckles the Clown. And since it’s Catherine Maladrino, you can bank on it to be sexy without being obvious.
You know every crack in the sidewalk or tree that reaches for the sky. And then you go the other direction on the daily stroll, and you’re shocked by all the new angles, shifting perspectives and moments that are anything but how you saw them. It keeps you from getting comfortable—or taking things for granted. It’s a spark plug for being mindful, a refresher course on something so reassuring, a way of re-opening a channel to a place that’s always been a refuge or inspiration. Try it and see.
Imagine incense and Bulgarian roses reduced to their essential selves. Something to dab a few drops of onto your moist fingertips and gently tap into your stressed and miserable face. It’s soothing, de-stressing and ultimately nourishing enough to calm the upset, plump up the dehydrated and ease the tightness of travel, heating elements and too little sleep. Good for sensitive and fragile skin, heaven for everybody else.
To see him is to draw your breath and hold it. The glistening sexual satyr in “Motorcycle Diaries,” the object of desire that Almodovar’s “Bad Education” revolves around, this flared nostril, raw boned actor is the Latin equivalent of Sam Shepard. Perfection of a rough-hewn mold, he brings intellect to a boil with a look. Skin molten lushness, eyes that penetrate with a sense of knowing things most never dream, hair falling carelessly across that forehead—this is a thinking woman’s sex symbol without guilt.
The woman who brought us the brutally spot-on pop cultural skewerage A Massive Swelling: Celenrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque Crippling Disease returns with a novel that is every bit as topsy turvy swervy as Geek Love, A Prayer for Owen Meany or A Confederacy of Dunces. Razor sharp writing, where Wilson throws details like knives at the magician’s assistant on the spinning wheel, the author attacks a misfit teen’s lust for fame-as-deliverance, the high trash mother who can’t get it together and sundry characters who tumble through her world as jagged glass that tears the scenery away to reveal a new plot twists. To get into plotpoints is to mundane the hilarity of beyond the pale. Read for yourself—and thank me when you stop howling.
No greater luxury. No bigger indulgence. Nothing quite as heady as crawling into some good sheets with the temperature set just-so (I opt for three degrees below crisp), a down comforter on top, a few feather pillows to sink into and a barge of unconsciousness to ship out on. You go, you think not, you dream and perhaps don’t remember. But you wake up refreshed, sparkling, more alive and vital than any amount of plastic surgery or Red Bull can make you—and you realize there is nothing better,especially during this crazy holiday season.
The most incredible pink effervescence. A flavor that’s part red Pixie Stick, part Jell-o meets champagne. Enriched with vitamin C, calcium and potassium, it’s a cheap play to make soda seem healthy. But it looks like so much fun, tastes absolutely toxic in the best way and is actually pretty thirst-quenching. So maybe it’s not Pelegrino with lime, but as a throwdown that’s as Warholian in its right now as it is birthday party basic, it’s worth noting.
Subtitled “Street Photography and the Book, 1936-1966,” this black & white collection of images of everyday life puts the spotlight on common people in a way that makes them heroic. Drawing on the coffee table work of landmark photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bill Brandt, Helen Levitt along with excerpts from Walker Evans’ Many Are Called and Robert Franks’ The Americans, originally commissioned by Vogue and ultimately sporting an intro by no less than Jack Kerouac, these images seer moments, souls, spaces into eternity—and give us a gripping sense of life’s severity even in the most unnoticed moments. Take it serious, no matter what.
U2 returns to the valley of U2, making a U2 record of classic vintage. Broad sweeping rock & roll, blues-grounded in places and hushed and meditative in others. But the intensity, the ferocity, the focus they bring their songs make Bono, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr and the Edge unilateral rockers in a fever-pitched world. And with a collection of songs revolving around the difficulty of love growing, maintaining, sustaining, reaching for the depths amongst the inevitable doubts—there’s an elevation that descends which makes the personal universal, the intimate propulsive and everything that’s difficult about intimacy worth clamoring for. An altar call for the human heart, a paean to the struggle to connect, “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” alone is worth exhaling into. Because when we realize what matters is our ability to merge with others, the very violence of railing against the captivity of love seems both a Pavlovian thrill and a Herculean duty. With “Miracle Drug” balancing want with hope, “Crumbs From Your Table” offering satisfaction with the scraps and the grinding blues of “Love and Peace Or Else” advancing a universal politic that’s worth fighting for, U2 continues to bring sweeping beauty to the global need, which is rarely what they sell us on t.v.
On the top of the Empire State Building, the only visibility was down. But if you reached your hand out beyond the railing, you could feel it: a real live cloud. Soft, kind of moist, cool, strangely feather comforter-like. Maybe it’s the perspective of “wow! you never ever really got to put your hands on something as intangible as a cloud” that kept me from being disappointed by not getting to enjoy the panoramic views of Manhattan, but there was something truly wonderful about touching a cloud, actually having a visceral moment with about the most ephemeral thing imaginable.