Sunday, July 30, 2017

Chester Himes

I didn’t start my young adult reading required classic writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, or Harper lee rather my entry into the literary world (at least in the case of novels) was Chester Himes. I first began reading his novels while still in Jr. High School. My young mind was stimulated with tales of hookers, pimps, drug dealers and violent, corrupt cops in the set mythical kingdom of 1950’s Harlem. There was something salaciously mysterious about this dark, scandalous world. I remember sometimes looking over my shoulder while reading a particularly explicit sex scene, or an explicit burst of gory violence while in class.  
Chimses’ flawed heroes, like
Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones, stoked my curiosity and stimulated my need for excessive violence and unscrupulous practices.
In adult years, I took in his later work, (mostly written after the disillusioned writer emigrated to Europe) finding an even more savage Himes, such as the brutal Plan B, where the author murders many his most famous characters in one fell swoop in an orgy of violence that makes American Psycho read like The Little Prince. The apocalyptic story, tells the story of an all out race war that begins in Harlem and later consumes the entire planet. And Yesterday Will Make You Cry, a frank, powerful account written as a novel about the author’s experiences in prison. One of the best ever written in my opinion, an even stronger gut punch than John Cheever’s prison novel, Falconer.

Himes will probably never go down as one of the greats in literary history on the level of a Cheever, but his colorful stories and tough tales will forever be an inspiration to me.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Jacques Yves Cousteau - King Of The Sea

When the Leopard was but a cub, one of my childhood heroes was explorer, conservationist, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author and researcher Jacques Yves Cousteau. I came to know from his TV show in the late 60’s early 70’s The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. I never missed an episode. 

I remember buying, with my own money from my paper route, a plastic model kit of his famous vessel, The Calypso (Immortalized by the John Denver song of the same name) (!).  I worked so hard on this thing, and felt so proud. It had a tiny helicopter and a teeny yellow sub (partially designed Cousteau himself) included. I also went the library and took out his first book, packed with pictures,
The Silent World: A Story of Undersea Discovery and Adventure. Don’t think I ever returned it. Here's hoping the New York Public Library never track me down.

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Touch Of Sin

Wu Jiang as Dahai
The Leopard was mesmerized by the film A "Touch of Sin" a 2013 Chinese drama directed by Jia Zhangke about violence and relationships in working class culture. It revolves around four threads set in vastly different geographical and social milieus across modern-day China, ranging from the bustling southern metropolis of Guangzhou and Dongguan to the more rural townships in Jia's home province of Shanxi. It has so many stunning, beautiful, strange and macabre images: A bloodied woman, knife in hand, strolling down the center of a highway; beautiful young girls marching like patriots in uniform to the amusement of male clients; A man casually stands in the darkness, pet monkey on his soldier;  mountains, vistas and twisting roadways.
You get a small sense of the sad and tragic lifestyles of working class community in China within these four unforgettable vignettes.  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

O Peixe

Click image to enlarge
At the New Museum Of Comtemporary Art in the Lower East Side in New York, there's an extraordinary video exhibit by the Brazilian artist Jonathas de Andrade, called “O Peixe,” or, in English, “The Fish". It is mesmerizing. 
Here's description by the New Yorker writer Vinson Cunningham :
"A fisherman, dark-skinned and shirtless, sits in a boat on a quiet river and, before long, catches a fish. The fish gasps for air and the fisherman holds it to his chest until it dies. This sequence—performed by a series of fishermen, of various ages and using various styles of capture—is the spine of the work, interrupted by passages of quiet natural beauty; one shot is a steady, stately pan through scores of trees and empty air behind." 
There's something existentially beautiful and strangely compelling about seeing these men calming the fish as if a child (or a lover) as they twitch by carefully stroking it until finally calmly and slowly it succumbs to death.
(click image here to see excerpt)

Monday, April 3, 2017

Steely Dan

Click image to enlarge
Despite all the diversity in 70’s pop radio, Steely Dan always stood out. In the hands of founders Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, there was something about the seamless mixture of jazz, rock and R&B. First, there was Fagen’s wildly distinctive voice, which always seemed on the edge of disappearing off key. And of course, there was the flawless musicianship and state of the art production. This is music created by intellectual college geeks, but what really drew a in a listener as the melodicism and the underlying soulfulness. The duo wrote of mysterious tales of misfits: gamblers, junkies, burnouts, and losers. It’s far-reaching, dramatic music.

With tunes like “Peg”, ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, ‘Aja”, and so many other undisputed classics, and the band's sound was totally beyond category. It’s just Steely Dan.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Calling all teachers

My oldest Leopard cub has recently started attending a good art college on the west coast. He’s handling a full class schedule while working a part time job and leading his band while playing guitar for another, and so far is maintaining pretty good grades. But because he drives 40 minutes to and from school, gas kills a lot of his pay, he’s always low on funds.
Students in his school maintain a small studio they share with other students that are inspected by the professors time to time. An instructor came in to look at his work and was impressed, but noticed he had done painting on cardboard in lieu of proper traditional materials. He asked him if he meant to use the cheap cardboard specifically.
My boy told him, ‘No,” but it was all he could afford at the moment. The instructor said he would have him sent a check for 100 bucks towards supplies. – It’s something the faculty is allowed to do occasionally if so moved. When my son told me this, I reacted a little like my own father might: “Just make sure you use that to paint, and not splurge at Taco Bell”.
It’s so important that educators display a personal interest in their students, and that the institutions allow that.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Al Jarreau

The Leopard's fondest memory of Al Jarreau is his album Look To The Rainbow, a double LP live concert from 1977.
A pal of mine and I used to listen to it constantly in the early 80’s. It got so we had played it so many times we knew every sound, every note, ever whoop and cry.
When I think of him I think of one of my favorite lines in his song, ”Could You Believe” - “Could you believe in a dream / when I tell you that it's true?” I miss Al and will listen to his music the rest of my life.