Category Archives: Art
1. People that are scared lose time worrying.
2. The best artists don’t know what they’ll do next.
3. The fearless see death as an eventuality that has already happened.
I want to avoid commenting on the music I write as much as possible. Like talking about sex, it takes away the power of the unspoken gesture. However, in posting this link to a video of a song I wrote, I feel I must say something.
“Times We Had” is a simple song – a meditation on the nostalgic emotion that accompanies the moment in a relationship where you look back at all the silly inconsequential landmarks. When I wrote the song, I had no intention of pairing it with film. Yet, I wanted to share my music in different ways and over time, the idea of creating a music video seemed viable. I am not a film maker. I can barely manage to take photos that are in focus even when using auto focus.
Somehow I came across the idea of editing public domain footage to create a music video and within these limits I decided I was capable of creating something interesting. I spent a long time looking through various websites to find any footage worth using. There are many public domain B-movies, but I didn’t have the patience to sift through an hour and a half of footage to find a useable four minutes. I eventually stumbled upon a film of an alleged Soviet reanimation experiment. The original film is about ten minutes long. It depicts the workings of some strange laboratory where scientists experiment on dogs with the intent to bring the dead back to life. The footage can be disturbing until you realize that it is utterly fake, at least I hope it is.
I initially thought the film was bizarre. I still do. But that is precisely why I decided to use it for a music video. The video was strange enough to capture my attention, but the theme of the film also overlaps with the message of my song. The scientists attempting to bring the dead back to life, like lovers looking back upon their relationship, are motivated by some sense of nostalgia – an unwillingness to let go.
I only hope that the eye poking, severed heads and what not don’t detract from the music.
“Times We Had” – Stephen Joseph
In March 1975 a musician named Jim Sullivan left Los Angeles and headed toward Nashville with the hope of developing a successful music career. He never made it past Santa Rosa, NM.
Sullivan’s VW Bug was found 26 miles away from a motel he had checked into.
Some think he wandered into the desert and got lost. Some think he developed a relationship that went sour with a local family allegedly tied to the mafia. And others think aliens abducted him.
What is known is that Jim Sullivan was never seen again.
The alien abduction theory is must likely connected to Sullivan’s 1969 debut album titled U.F.O. It featured cryptic lyrics about the highway, the desert and aliens.
Throughout the late ‘60s and early ‘70s Jim Sullivan performed nightly at a Malibu, CA bar. His gift for musical storytelling earned him a cult like status on the West Coast.
Sullivan was on the cusp of fame – hanging out with movie stars and performing on the Jose Feliciano show. He even had a cameo appearance in the epic hippie film, Easy Rider.
Sullivan’s career certainly seemed to be steadily gaining traction. Phil Spector’s legendary sessioneers, The Wrecking Crew, even loaned their talent to creating the U.F.O. album.
But U.F.O. was largely different than the performance Sullivan gave on stage. Rather than a one-man-and-a-guitar sound, the album was a full realization of instrumentation and imagination. It was a folk-rock record with a head full of astral dust.
Sullivan’s voice is deep and full on the recording. His phrasings unravel like incantations. The album is brimming with unhappy pop songs scraped from the smog filled lethargy of Los Angeles.
Yet, the album failed to gain critical attention.
Sullivan released another unsuccessful album in 1972. And by 1975, with his marriage falling apart, Sullivan left for Nashville hoping to etch out a new life as a sessioneer on Country and Western albums.
At this point in Sullivan’s story the few facts that remain are comingled with assumptions and wild exaggerations.
What has been documented is that the police pulled Sullivan over about 15 hours after he set off from LA. He was taken to a police station, passed sobriety tests, and instructed to stay the night at a local La Mesa motel to get some rest. He complied.
Sometime afterwards, the Genetti family, suspected to have mafia ties, spotted his car on their ranch and confronted him about his business there. The following day his abandoned car was found 26 miles down the road.
Sullivan’s guitar, wallet, clothes and several copies of his second album were found in his car and at his hotel room. There was no note and no Jim. He had disappeared.
The missing person search that followed uncovered no sign of Sullivan’s body.
Fortunately, his music has survived – thanks to Light In The Attic Records.
Sullivan’s album, U.F.O., was once nearly impossible to find – a record so rare that you could scour the Internet or independent record stores without finding a trace of it.
The Seattle based record label, Light In The Attic Records, however, made it their mission to uncover this long forgotten treasure. After hundreds of phone calls, e-mails, letters, faxes, private detectives, telepathy, palm readings and meetings with Jim’s wife, Light In The Attic Records has produced an excellent digital mastering of the original recording.
U.F.O. is a psychedelic-folk masterpiece. Beyond the mystery, Jim Sullivan’s music remains, available now to a broader, new audience – echoing like a cosmic, tattered testimonial in the transcendental aural landscape.
In the American dilemma today beauty has become cheapened, afflicted and exhausted. Advertisements sell impossible ambitions. Television and films promote flawlessness. And gorgeous skinny models impart an absurd standard.
In the American chasm of cultural dissonance plastic surgery, eating disorders, liposuctions, tanning salons and weight loss pills have filled the gap between self-identity and the need to be accepted. The ideal image of beauty in American culture is harming our national psyche as well as our physical bodies. Yet this detrimental image of beauty persists.
In other parts of the world the appearance of beauty takes on a much different form. Although in several cultures there is an element of pain involved in acquiring a beautiful image, it is less a matter of a choice and more an obligation to custom.
The women of the Mursi tribe in Africa pierce their bottom lip at a young age and stretch it in order to place a plate inside the opening. The bigger the lip plate, the more desirable they are to men.
The women of the Kayan tribe who live near Thailand believe that long necks are beautiful. They wrap copper rings around their neck in order to stretch it throughout their lifetime. The copper rings end up pushing their shoulders down, deforming their collarbone and compressing their rib cage, ultimately creating the illusion of a long neck.
Women of the Amazon tribes pierce their bodies and use plants and animal blood to paint their faces with tribal patterns.
The Maori people of New Zealand tattoo their bodies and faces as a sacred ritual. They believe that women are more attractive when their lips and chins are tattooed. These facial tattoos also reveal a woman’s lineage, special skills and marital status.
Whether it is the Mursi lip plates, ancient Chinese foot binding or modern stiletto heels, it appears people across cultures are willing to endure pain for beauty. The need to feel appreciation and belonging is universal. As a result, people comply with the cultural standards of beauty defined by their community.
Science, however, explains that physical beauty is a product of symmetry – the spacing and alignment of facial features and body parts. An infant will gaze at a picture of a symmetrical face longer than an oddly formed face because the symmetrical face is more pleasing.
In the appearance obsessed Western cultures, plastic surgery is able to modify physical features in order to appear more pleasing. This can have both positive and negative effects. In the case of a minor deformity or car accident, plastic surgery can greatly improve a person’s self-confidence and ability to be socially outgoing. However, the idea that plastic surgery can solve someone’s problems can become a detrimental psychological affliction.
Western media has inflamed a paradoxical beauty mania. Women strive to imitate the rail thin bodies that radiate from television screens, yet America is headed toward an obesity epidemic. There is a daunting gap between the cultural ideal of beauty and the reality of the American physique. This has contributed to an increase in depression, eating disorders and low self-esteem.
Beauty can be a monster – a neurotic, mutation of cultural impulses. Beauty can also be an idiosyncratic algorithm – a peculiar variable of personal preferences.
At its best, beauty is a celebration. From a Brazilian Txikao warrior painted in leopard like spots to Madonna in a pointy bra, it is humanity shedding its everyday skin for a chance to revel in the attire of a more powerful, radiant, sexy being.
At its worst, beauty victimizes. It causes trauma to and discrimination against those who look different than the socially acceptable norm.
When we move away from bodily beauty and toward the philosophical pursuit of aesthetics, beauty becomes even more difficult to define.
What is beautiful is good, Plato once wrote. James Joyce argued that true beauty causes aesthetic arrest. That is, true beauty neither pulls nor pushes. Rather, it causes a stillness of appreciation – an experience of simply beholding an object.
In his poem Ode on a Grecian Urn, Keats wrote, “beauty is truth, truth beauty.”
But perhaps Voltaire made the most sense when he argued that because of its relativist nature, beauty is not just difficult, but impossible to define.
A toad sees beauty in a flat nose and a nice hop. A donkey prefers a donkey and a pig prefers a pig. Whether beauty has a common core or not, the argument will persist between objective and subjective thought.
But above all beauty should be seen as a reinvention to be taken lightly – a mystical transformation of temporary pleasure. Beautification should be an enjoyable experience, not an impossible apex.
I have an eclectic taste in music and tend not to hold much regard for award shows. But when Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” won a Grammy for album of the year, I decided perhaps this is worth reflection.
Not just because I’m a fan, but because I find the implications of such a beautifully melancholic album, combined with the fact that the general Grammy audience had never heard of the band, intriguing.
After the awards show, the Twittersphere blew up with comments from upset viewers, many claiming they didn’t know who Arcade Fire was and expressing anger at the band’s success.
Considering the highly commercial competition for the coveted award from artists like Eminem, Lady Antebellum, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, it is understandable that a band from the fabled “indie-rock” genre could go unnoticed.
This would make sense, except that Arcade Fire is one of the biggest indie bands in the world. They have headlined giant festivals like Coachella and Bonaroo and have sold out multiple performances at Madison Square Garden.
The word “indie” deserves some consideration. It is largely associated with the financial means by which an artist supports itself. By this definition Arcade Fire is indeed indie.
Yet, if indie is defined by the financial entity that controls artistic property, then big names like Robert Plant, Taylor Swift, Drake and Eminem could be considered indie as well. They have all, in one way or another, been responsible for controlling how their music is sold.
The term “indie” now becomes complicated. Nobody would seriously argue that Eminem is indie, even though he is signed to his own Shady Records label. He is too mainstream to bear such an esteemed categorization of alternative appeal.
Another way to use the term indie could be in reference to the style of music, such as music that is creatively different than mainstream hit-makers. But this becomes problematic too, much like the favorite 90s catch-all term “alternative.”
Whatever slot Arcade Fire is filed into, their talent and artistic ability shines through. Members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences chose “The Suburbs” as album of the year because of its exemplary artistic statement.
The album is a collection of contemplations about fleeting youth, familial responsibility and personal disappointments. It is a recording that deals with truth and accepting the personal flaws that are most difficult to acknowledge.
“The Suburbs” is full of orchestral textures, rock sensibilities and chamber pop quirks. It is deeply creative, theatrically flowing and cohesive with interludes and multi-part songs. Although the songs tend to be loose and busy, they are not overtly complex.
There is tension built around the paradoxical desperation of wasting time as an adult by focusing too much attention on the wasted potential of youth. Feelings of disillusionment and disappointment are iterated repeatedly throughout the album. It is bleak, but it is bleak with purpose. The album recognizes the soul-crushing tragedy of growing old and mundane.
On previous albums, Arcade Fire celebrated youthful revolt, leaving home and pointing fingers at the establishment. But this album is more about the complexities of entering adulthood – not wanting to participate in the modern, hyperactive, disconnected world, yet having to deal with the everyday reality of it.
“The Suburbs” is an artistic statement representative of the transitioning digital world we live in, highly reflective of this past decade. It raises big questions worth wrestling with.
Arcade Fire’s music industry peers chose “The Suburbs” as album of the year probably for many different reasons, but musical creativity, thought-provoking expression and outstanding talent must have been among them.