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

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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.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

When Will I See You Again

Click image to enlarge
What your very favorite song is often corresponds with what is happening in your life. Your taste changes with the times. Music you treasured when you were 10 often seems much less sophisticated by the time you're in your 30's. 

The only song that I have consistently loved since the first time I heard it is the Three Degrees' "When Will I See You Again"written and produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. 

It is simply the perfect pop song: ethereal, otherworldly, transcendent, both tragically sad and deliriously happy. I've always pictured the three lovely angels, Fayette Pinkney, Shirley Porter and Linda Turner on a heavenly cloud singing from above, gently whispering to a lover if he will return. Their intertwined voices function as one, sensuously pleading a wonderful moment they shared will be repeated. By the the end of the song, the answer is never given and they seem to exist in a mythical kingdom forever up on high, searching or their lover's return.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Race bait

Dateline 2005:
I was pulled over at a police checkpoint around 2am one night. I was on my way home to New Jersey to my family. It was set right before entering the Lincoln Tunnel. I was told to park behind other cars in front of a mobile unit while licenses were checked. I saw several cars in front of me leave as they pulled off back into the tunnel, but I was held in place. Finally an officer came to the passenger side window and told me to get out of the car.
“Is there a problem, officer?”
“Get out of the car NOW, sir.”
I got out and was handcuffed from behind. I kept asking, “What’s wrong?” “Why are you arresting me?” The cop said, “Shut up, sir.”
He brought me into the unit and I was put in a tiny cell with several other drivers. There was nowhere to sit so we all stood up.
After about an hour another officer came over to me and said, “You live in Brooklyn?” I said, “No – Morristown, New Jersey (where I lived at the time)." He murmured, “It’ll be better for you if you tell the truth.” I said I was.
He walked away. I stood in the cell for the next 3 hours while some others who had been arrested were released until there were only a handful of us. Finally, the cell door was opened. I was exhausted. I had been standing all night – and still cuffed. We were moved to a paddy wagon and driven to a precinct. Inside the back of the pitch-black wagon, we were chained together.
I was processed at the station – I have no record – and was thumb printed and photographed. We were then separated, to be placed in cells. Then the same cop from earlier asked me again – “Do you live in Brooklyn?” I said “No”.
“All right, then.”
I was taken down a long hallway past several cells, where I could hear men sleeping. I was brought all the way to the end of a row and put into a dark cell. I could see someone else was there. I had never been arrested or in jail before. I sat on the bottom bunk and never laid down. I had to go to the bathroom (there was a tiny toilet) but held it all night. The other figure in the room and I never spoke a word.
The next morning, I was hauled out and again put in another paddy wagon - this time chained at the ankles with several other men. We traveled through downtown Manhattan. So strange to see people going to work as if it were any other day. 
And I still didn’t know what I was there for.
I was brought into a courthouse and placed into a holding cell with about 30 other people. I was told by someone there that we were waiting to talk to a judge about our case. (the police never gave me this information though I asked several times).
After waiting all day, my name was finally called. I was brought before the judge. I was asked pointedly: “Are you Keith Brown, who resides at so & so Brooklyn?” I said, “No, your honor.”
“You fit the description of a Keith Brown who is accused of several bicycle thefts in Brooklyn.” 
They had a name and a description – African American, around my age and height, and an address –but that was all. No picture, no social security number. No known record.
It wasn’t enough to hold me any longer, but they scheduled a court date at a later time where I would have to defend myself and have my arrest wiped from the record. Which I did, with the help of an expensive lawyer.
No apologies from NYPD were forthcoming. I remember walking out on to the street after the ordeal disheveled, tired, and dispirited. 
But not really sure how to feel – except the angriest I’d ever been.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

King Krule

Everyone once in a while The Leopard stumbles on a new musical artist who offers special promise and excitement, the kind I remember when I heard when I first listened to, say, Lou Reed, Neil Young or  PJ Harvey. An artist who has an original insight or sound and has a special way of communicating complex emotions with ease and cool.

For me lately that has been the English singer/songwriter King Krule. improbably blessed with the face of an a "Happy Days" era Ron Howard  and the voice that has the cigarette-stained heft of a man who's seen and knows too much, this 22-year old's music has seeped into my brain in a way I haven't felt since I was a cub.

From Wikipedia:
"Archy Marshall (born 24 August 1994), more commonly known by his stage name King Krule, is an English singer - songwriter, producer and musician. After a hectic and troubled childhood, he began recording music in 2010 under the moniker "Zoo Kid". The following year he adopted the name "King Krule". He has released several EPs, and his debut full-length album, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, came out in 2013 to positive reviews. His music is difficult to classify, with elements of various genres like punk jazzhip hopdarkwave, and trip hop."

Song: "Neptune Estate"