Friday, December 10, 2010


The first band that ever really mattered to me was the Beatles. Like a lot of people, The Leopard became enamored, even obsessed with them at a very young age. But when I first began listening to them, I only saw them as a unit, not individual personalities.

As I got older, I began to be able to differentiate which songs were Paul’s, Johns, or George’s. Around 15 and 16, I tended to like Paul’s melodic simplicity. I was a fan of his band Wings. Other than the hits, I pretty much ignored John Lennon’s career. To me, his sound was too harsh and off-putting. I didn’t understand his anger or political leanings.  

Somehow a little later I came across the album “John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band” and my view of Lennon not only changed, but my conception of how I looked at all art. I began to see how Lennon viewed his work –not as an entertainment, but an expression. The songs weren’t necessarily as pretty sounding or slickly produced as The Beatles records, but were more honest, personal, raw, and fearless. – he was putting himself out there.  And I admired him.

I loved the songs, too- Working Class Hero especially struck me:

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school,
They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool,
Till you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules,

Listening to these songs, I felt like I could relate. I loved “Isolation” and “Mother” for the same reasons.

This week marked the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s death. Let’s remember him as he was—an influential artist of the highest order.

Click on title to hear "Isolation".

Friday, October 15, 2010

Starbucks How I love ye

The Leopard has always had a love/hate relationship with Starbucks. At first, I hated the place for its obvious pretensions: The goofy “French” cup sizes, the snarky “hip” graphics, the total blanketing of all New York neighborhoods (in Manhattan, it seems there’s two per block).
But lately, the place is becoming more and more useful. They’re offering wi fi for free. So one can walk into any Starbucks and get online no purchase necessary. And I enjoy the subtle social atmosphere. Everyone comes into Starbucks now - from the homeless to the well-to-do. We're all lined up in front of laptops or staring blankly into iphones. The hipsters, the hip-hoppers, the yuppies, the buppies, the skateboard kids, and the Wall Street crowd - we're all rubbing elbows and sharing dirty bathrooms.

You see the culture. Yesterday, there were a group of people sitting near me who were discussing what sounded like their marijuana drug operation. A week or so ago, I saw a young man viewing what looked like to me bestiality porn on his laptop for hours. I've seen people argue, fight, gossip, cry and make out so openly that I felt compelled to give them directions to the nearest hotel.
There's something stimulating in the place. I find myself working here more and more. I’m writing this blog entry now in one. It’s better than the warm, cozy, safe isolation of my apartment. It feels like I’m part of the real world, for better or worse.   

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What I'm listening to now

As is my wont, The Leopard listens to an enormous amount of music. I find beauty in almost all things, so my taste, I like to think, is fairly eclectic. The only differences I see in music is good or bad. And that, of course, is up to the listener. 

Here's a Leopard's list of what I'm digging now on my headphones. Irregardless of whether the songs are old or new.

1. Ane Brun, "Headphone Silence".  This tune, with its driving electronic beat, is an appropriate start to this list because of its lyrical imagery. It describes the feeling of entering a headphone world where you separate yourself from the reality around you and adapt yourself to your own musical soundtrack.

2. Herbie Hancock, "Sleeping Giant"  From the transitional album Crossings, Herbie continues his bold explorations with jazz and electronics with beautiful, fluid results. Next up was his great Headhunters, an amazing funky album that was one the biggest selling jazz lps of all time.


3. Sam Cooke, "Wonderful World".  A perfect pop song, clever and memorable with beautiful, gospel tinged singing.

4. Talking Heads, 'Sax and Violins".  A track from the Naked was recorded near the end of The Head's brilliant reign and reflects their later sound: epic and laden with majestic keyboards and organs. Boasts clever David Byrne-isms like "We are criminals/that never broke no laws" and "Love will keep us together/and love will drive us insane".

5. Hank Williams, 'I Saw The Light".  A simple beautiful interpretation of a gospel standard by a country great.

6. D'Angelo, 'Chicken Grease".  An ultra funky excursion from the neo-soulster. With apparent writing and arranging help from Prince Rogers Nelson.

7.  Bei Bei & Shawn Lee, 'Hot Thursday".  The fine traditonal Gu Zhen (Chinese zither) player Be Bei and super creative producer/mult-instrumentalist Shawn Lee in a superb collaboration.

8.  John Adams, 'Landing In The Spirit of '76".  The brilliant minimalist composer, often referred to in the same breath as Philip Glass, Steve Reich and John Cage from his 1987 opera "Nixon in China".

9.  Hugh Maskela, 'Fela".  South African Jazz great Maskela homage to the incomparable Fela Kuti.

10. Jose James and Jeff Neve, 'Body and Soul".  Straight ahead vocal jazz from prominent newcomer James. 

For All We Know 11. Beck, 'Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime".  Beck's take on a 70's kitschy classic brings a mysterious dark beauty.

12. Fishbone, 'Where'd You Get Those Pants".  Out of control funk and ska from this high energy long running band, who deserve much, much more recognition.

13. Modern Jazz Quartet, 'Da Capo".  From the album Third Stream Music, with reed man  Jimmy Giuffre. conducted by avant-garde composer/pioneer Gunther Schuller.  Advanced, rewarding music.

14. The Robert Cray Band, 'All The Way".  In 1999, Cray stepped away from his usual Blues leanings and created what was essentially an R&B record, Take Your Shoes Off, with lovely results.

Click title to hear Hank Williams' "I saw The Light". 

Monday, September 13, 2010


One thing the Leopard enjoys doing from time to time is writing poetry. (If you want to skip this entry, feel free. Usually when I hear someone mention poetry, I bolt too).
That’s why mine are always so short.
So, for better or worse…

Raining In Brooklyn

Black pools greasy dark rainbow
Floods the cracked pavement
I bite the curb
And close my eyes

Mortal Coil

I do not know what a mortal coil is
I just live in it
In the eye
where we sometimes just play cards 

Ape Sex II

I have to scoot
Across the floor
to you

Let’s work too hard

And run ourselves ragged

Before we wash up

And blow it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

To The Moon Alice! To The Moon!

This just came to The Leopard's attention: July 20th was the 40th anniversary of man's first landing on the moon. When you think about it, that's pretty f'in incredible. The Leopard remembers when I was just a cub in second grade. A TV was wheeled into my second grade class, and we all watched the live broadcast in awe. 

Back then, the technology that was available at the time - rooms full of old school reel-to -reel computers that all combined didn't have the memory or calculating power of one used cheap Dell PC today. The idea that we managed to send folks to the moon and back is almost beyond imagination. Astronauts were even able to bring back souvenirs (remember moon rocks?). And that's why I think more of our tax dollars should go to the NASA space program. Not so we can bop around the heavens picking up dust samples. But because literally hundreds of products, inventions and patents had to be developed in order for us to make that achievement. 

From self-flushing toilets to Tang, these commissions had to be developed by countless contracts, which in the end provides technology, jobs and income back into our society.

So, thank you brave men and women of Apollo. You hooked us up more than you ever could imagine.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Greatest Living Director

Austrian Director Michael Haneke
When discussing the latest films with colleagues and friends, the question often comes: what current filmmaker seems to be producing consistently the best films? Obviously, this is a matter of taste, as there are many genres of film that one can be attached to, and if a filmmaker stays within his or her specialty, it can be seen as a limitation. Stanley Kubrick and Billy Wilder are two examples of filmmakers who worked in many different genres but were able to maintain their individual styles. On the other hand, Hitchcock mostly created thrillers, and John Ford mostly headed Westerns. Does that make them any less great?

So this is a completely biased opinion. If I were asked right now, at this moment, whom I think is making the most original, intellectual, consistently innovative films, whose films I also enjoy for their challenging subject matter and thought-provoking themes, I‘d have to say the Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke. A triple threat auteur who writes, produces and directs almost all his films, Haneke has a distinctive, recognizable style, no matter what story he chooses to tell. Whether it be in the political thriller vein, such as “Code Unknown” or in a after-holocaust future, as with “The Time Of The Wolf”, or 1920’s Germany, the setting for “The White Ribbon”, his political agenda is  consistent, and his statements are his own. This is what true art is supposed to do: be an expression of an individual but also invite  discussion.

Here’s a Leopard’s list of recommended Haneke films:

Benny’s Video (1997)
Haneke’s first theatrical feature after a long career in television, Benny’s Video concerns a privileged young man named Benny who is obessesed with video and death. His obsession leads to tragedy and its aftermath.

Caché (2005)
His first film in French and featuring international star Juliette Binoche, Caché chronicles a troubled couple who receive a mysterious package which contains troubling images that may or may not unlock secrets of the past.

Funny Games (1997) & Funny Games U.S. (2007)
Virtually the same film, only one in German and the other in English with American stars (Naomi Wolf, Michael Pitt), Funny Games is a mysterious meditation on violence and media and their depiction in movies. A well to do family travels to their vacation home only to be victimized by two grotesquely polite young men.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Terrible Golden Frog

The Leopard often wonders what I could I have become other than an artist. Without much thought, I think I would have been a zoologist.
I had lots of animals in my home as a child. Fish, birds, dogs, cats, lizards. For a while my pals and I were on a tropical fish kick when I was around 13-14, spending all our paper route money on rare specimens.

The only thing I enjoyed drawing as much as superheros were animals. I have a lifelong love of amphibians and lizards, especially. Their design is so beautiful, colors so vivid, they're a delight to render.

One of the most fascinating creatures I remember reading about is the Phyllobates terribilis, the Golden Poison Frog. It's from the Amazon forest and is considered one of the most poisonous animals in the world. This frog secretes this extremely toxic venom from its glands. To even touch it can cause death. Native tribes dip darts in their poison to paralyze enemies and prey.

The interesting thing for me is the contradiction that not only are these frogs breathtakingly beautiful, but the scientists find that the poison is also the basis for a powerful painkiller--A medical breakthrough.
Paul Simon once wrote a lyric where he mentions Phyllobates terribilis. "SenÒrita with a Necklace of Tears":

There is a frog in South America
Whose venom is a cure
For all the suffering that mankind
Must endure
More powerful than morphine
And soothing as the rain
A frog in South America
Has the antidote for pain

(Click title to hear song in its entirety)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mad At Madoff

The Leopard doesn’t like to stand in judgment of others.  Since there always seems to mitigating circumstances for most people’s actions, I don’t like, for that reason, to assume I know what may have led to what might seem to most of us as heinous acts.

Having said that, I became fascinated recently with the case of Bernie Madoff, the Wall Street entrepreneur who in 2009 went to jail for masterminding a Ponzi scheme that relieved thousand of clients of over reportedly billions of dollars.

I've read many newspaper and magazine articles and one book, Madoff With The Money, which chronicles the infamous rise and fall of this horrendous hooligan, who committed the worst swindle in the history of this country in a massive Ponzi scheme that went on literally for decades. He and his wife Ruth drove around in Bentleys, owned villas, million dollar-plus apartments all over the world and a private jet - all from misappropriated funds from stock accounts owned by celebrities such as Elie Wiesel and Steven Spielberg, hundreds of charitable organizations, and the life savings of some of his own family members. Despite being Jewish, Madoff is as close to a financial Hitler as there ever was.

Unfortunately, this guy can't literally be put to death for his greedy, selfish crimes. But justice was done. He's in jail, serving a life sentence. Where once ate at the finest restaurants and wore and $7000 , he's lucky now in his orange jumpsuit to get extra mustard on his baloney sandwich in the Supermax cafeteria. For a guy like him, that's worse than death.  

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Fabulous Keiko Lee

It’s always exciting when the Leopard gets to hear some great new talent. Recently, I was downloading some Stevie Wonder music when I came across an out-of-print album of jazz interpretations of Wonder's music by several artists. Most of the versions of Stevie’s most popular tunes by the well known jazz musicians like Ramsey Lewis and Ahmad Jamal are very fine,  but the standout for me was a rendition of Stevie’s relatively obscure tune “Too Shy Too Say”  from his album Fulfillingness’ First Finale that really stood out for me. The singers’ warm, husky croon cut right to my heart, and made a song I’ve know for most of my life suddenly sound new and fresh again. Stevie’s lyrics suddenly became more profound to me than ever before. I immediately Googled the source of this mysterious and beautiful voice.

It was Japanese born pop/jazz singer Keiko Lee, the who emits a sound that brings to mind great jazz singers such as Shirley Horn, Billie Holiday and  Nina Simone. I immediately downloaded everything I could find.

 Ms. Lee turns out to be an exceptionally prolific artist, with many recordings to her credit covering many genres of music, R&B, pop & rock.  Although I enjoy her unique voice in almost anything she does, in jazz setting with a small group I think she’s at her best.

(Click on title to listen to Keiko's version of "'Round Midnight")

Monday, June 14, 2010

Charlotte Gainsbourg

The Leopard has been following the career of the tall, lanky French actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg for a while now, since her co-starring role in the film Science of Sleep an interesting, inventive film directed by the outrageously gifted Michel Gondry. It’s a movie I didn’t think entirely worked, but I did enjoy Gainsbourg’s understated performance.

Many people know that her mother and father as the British actress Jane Birkin and the well known pop musician Serge Gainsbourg,  and that there was some controversy surrounding the infamous “Lemon Incest” video many years ago which featured father and daughter cuddling in bed.  Surviving this, later Charlotte proved to be a fine young actor in such films as Paroles Et Musique (“Love Songs”) and L’Effrontée, for which she won a César in 1985 for Most Promising Young Actress.

Her most recent role has been in the gutsy Lars Von Trier film Antichrist. Despite being one of the more disturbing films in recent memory, it contains her finest, bravest performance to date.

Musically, Gainsbourg has taste to burn, if not necessarily the broadest of musical abilities. In her albums, she tends to choose the very best collaborators to write and produce her music while she sings/talks in a feathery whisper. On her album 5:55 she successfully teamed up with the excellent electronic group Air, and later, IRM, which was her artistic response to recent brain surgery. This new record brought her together with the eclectic  musician Beck and has been well received by critics.  It’s the type of disc you share with friends to show your musical sophistication.

(Click on title for music sample)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bats About Bats

When the Leopard was just a little cub in the scouts, I remember going camping in the Summer. We'd usually go upstate to Bear Mountain, NY.  We'd stay on campgrounds in these rustic little log cabins with bunks lined up inside like an army barracks. We were all so excited to be there that after we'd get off those yellow charter buses after a long, hot, sticky ride we'd run down the hill racing to see who'd get to the cabins first. 
With my skinny long legs, I was always there first, and as I pushed open the rotting wooden screen door, I was greeted full in the face with a leathery bombardment of furry squealing creatures. I fell back on some broken boards lying on the porch, skinning my knee and crying uncontrollably.

I  was hooked.

I read everything there was about bats in the Boy Scout Handbook that trip, in between grilling wieners and singing "Talk Of The Season" around the campfire.  Back home, I bought books about bats, drew pictures of them all over my schoolbooks (I'm sure that Batman being my favorite superhero had something to do with my obsession)and to this day, I still find myself sketching the little critters.
Recently, there have been disturbing reports about bats in this part of the country slowly dying off from a mysterious fungus in the form of a white ring around their noses, which causes them to wake from hibernation too early. this causes afflicted bats to burn through their winter stores of fat before the spring, and they in turn to appear be starving. No one seems to know precisely what the issue is, but it could be part of a bigger problem.

Bats are our pals. They are virtually harmless to humans (despite all that"Twilight" bullshit) and actually eat billions of mosquitoes every year. If they disappear, be sure you're never going to make it through a summer NOT covered with bites. Maybe the lack of predators will introduce a new strain of super mosquitoes, resistant to sprays and rubs.

Besides, they're just about the coolest things flying.