Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Let's just all take our shirts off and dance.

I'm a notorious Euro-pop fan.  I like the fat, orchestral-y arrangements.  I like the endlessly-danceable, disco driven beats.  And I love the friendly, hooky vocals.  Then again, I'm a guy who regularly makes the critical case for Aqua.  (Yes, that Aqua.)

So it should come as no surprise that I'm in love with Kylie Minogue's* latest single, All the Lovers.  This lush, summer-love delight is classic Kylie.  And although it's about love in the present, you just can't help but think about "all the lovers that have gone before;" you know, those past summer nights when it seemed impossible not to fall for that certain someone.  Those are some fun memories.

While the song is good, the music video is even better. Kylie set the bar for steamy, sexy sensual videos a while back with Slow.  But All the Lovers just upped the ante.  It's been a while since I've really wanted to surround myself with a bunch of hot, sweaty bodies and dance all night long.  But this video makes me want to return to long summer nights out at the clubs. 

You can watch the video here.

You may say this a cheap song that works only on a pointless pop level.  So just for fun (and to demonstrate my belief that a good song is surprisingly versatile), I'm including a bonus video of the Scissor Sisters performing Kylie's latest single as an angst-filled country song.  That's right, I just said Kylie, Scissor Sisters, and country song in the same sentence.  Enjoy. (Embedding videos in my blog has proven problematic so if it isn't working try viewing the video here.)

*I realize that Kylie is technically from Australia. But clearly her music fits squarely in the Euro-Pop category.  And calling it Aussie-Pop would just be silly.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Book seventeen: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.

I've given up recommending books to other people.  It seems most people find the books I like either offensive or boring.  And I'm particularly hesitant to recommend books to my family.  So it was a big risk when I recently sent my parents an audio book with the thought that they might like it, even though there was (cover your ears) a sex scene.

I did it because Major Pettigrew's Last Stand seemed like a book both my mom and dad would like, so I sent them the audio book.  Surprisingly, they loved it.  In fact, my dad has now listened to the book three times.  And, as I was leaving from my last visit to see my parents, my dad pulled me aside, discretely gave me a hundred dollar bill, and asked me to send him other audio books I thought he might like.  That's a lot of pressure since most of the books I read would likely offend my parents.

But I accepted the challenge and immediately went looking for books that I thought my dad would like.  I've considered reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery by Alad Bradley for quite some time.  And it seemed like a possible book for my dad so I decided to read it.

This book isn't as good as Major Pettigrew's Last Stand but it's still a lot of fun.  Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce is a delightful heroine.  She's smart, witty, and precocious.  She reminds me a lot of my nieces.  Normally, I don't like books written in first person.  But somehow, Flavia is charming telling her own story.

As with most mysteries, I have a hard time with the "reveal" sections of the story; where the detective fills us in on the things we couldn't have possibly known.  But Bradley keeps these moments to a minimum.  Instead, he spends most of his time developing interesting and strange, small-town characters who are delightful, particularly if you come from a small town.

I'm sending this audio book to my dad in the hopes that he'll love the chemistry, the science, and the smarter-than-average girl who might just remind him of his granddaughters.  And I may read Bradley's second novel in the series to see if it might be another recommend for my dad.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Take it off, baby. Take it all off.

I recently went to the Utah Arts Festival with my good friend Justin.  But the most interesting, artistic element of the whole evening wasn't at the festival, it was at Justin's house afterward.

That's because Justin rents out a couple of rooms in his house.  And one of his renters is . . . wait for it . . . a stripper.  This is a woman who makes her living taking her clothes off for men.  I'm a little jealous.  I wanna stripper roommate. It's like something out of a David Sedaris book.  Let's face it, living with a stripper has got to make for some great stories.

And it gets even better.  Because Rebecca (I think that's the stripper's name) has installed a stripper pole in her bedroom.  Now, some landlords might not be happy to learn that a renter was a stripper who'd installed a stripper pole in her bedroom.  But Justin seems thrilled by the situation.  I actually think he relishes showing off the stripper pole to house guests. I saw it as the ultimate photo op.  

Here's Rebecca, the professional, showing us how it's done.

Felix takes his turn on the stripper pole.  He could use some tips from the professional.

And this photo shoot wouldn't be complete without a picture of Justin workin' the pole.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Art Lobster: Make your own still life edition.

It's a dream come true. Now you can create your own Dutch still-life masterpiece (complete with lobster) thanks to American conceptual artist, John Baldessari.  How can this be possible, you ask?  Because Baldessari has created an online, interactive version of a work he originally created in 2001 for a show at LACMA.  The online version of the work titled In Still Life 2001-2010 digitally deconstructs Abraham van Breyeren's 1667 painting Banquet Still Life and invites viewers to reassemble the parts to create new works of art.

Baldessari argues that, "When someone completes their own still life In Still Life 2001-2010 it becomes their own artwork. It's not mine. It's theirs."  With that in mind, I give you my first original work of lobster art, Still Life with Levitating Lobster (2010, digital image). It feels good to carry on the traditions of other great artists like van Breyeren and Baldessari.

You too can follow in the traditions of the masters. Create your own still life here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

An art/golf mashup.

I've been a little hot and cold on Adam Price and his 337 Project.  I thought the original 337 Project was mostly bad.  The follow up exhibit at the Salt Lake Art Center was good.  And I was lukewarm on last year's street art competition.  I was definitely skeptical when he was made director of the Salt Lake Art Center.  I just didn't think he had the appropriate experience.

But the recent show at the Salt Lake Art Center (which was conceived as a 337 Project project), went a long way to convince me that Adam Price may be a good choice for the director of the Salt Lake Art Center.

The exhibit is titled Contemporary Masters: Artist-Designed Miniature Golf.  And it's just what the title says it is: 18 holes of putt putt golf created by local and regional artists.  This is one fun show.  It's the perfect exhibit for summer and I hope it brings a lot of new people to the art center.  I went to the opening reception which meant it was too busy to play the course what with Miss Utah, Peter Caroon, and other dignitaries getting first crack at the course.  But I'll be back on a quiet weekend to play through the course.

I can't decide which holes I like best:  the absolute-guaranteed-you'll-make-it holes; or the absolutely impossible holes.  Artists definitely bring a unique view to miniature golf. Let's stop talking about the project and look at few of my favorite holes/sculptures.

I'll start with Hole #1 (Take it Easy: Artificial turf, plywood, plastic, corner brace), which is one of those easy holes.  But it's also a perfect abstraction of a beautifully manicured green.  It was created by Kisslan Chan.

Close by is Hole #18 (Siphon & Reservoir: Steel and metal fabrication, wood, vinyl) by Craig Cleveland.  This is more on the difficult side.  Once you make it into the initial hole, a hand-powered plunger shoots the ball up into a series of funnels that hopefully delivers the ball into (or at least close to) the final hole.

Hole #16 is a golfer's nightmare created by Jennifer Joseph. The Golfstar (Constellation Virgo) (Wood, golf tees, mixed media) is a sparkly night sky with golf tees blocking absolutely every path to the hole.  I'm not sure how you make this shot.

Popular local artist Trent Call along with Tessa Lindsey and Clint Call give us Hole #8, Barnaby Banker's Big Bender (Wood, acrylic, enamel, felt, found objects, electric motor).  This is classic Trent Call with an attitude that would feel perfectly at home in a cartoon from the 1920s.

Hole #6 is from artist Loggins Merrill and feels something like a golfed-out, Vaudeville stage.  Industry (Birch plywood, metal, cement, cork, plastic) features a bicycle that helps power a crazy fairway. 

Nathan Florence's Hole # 5 may not be the most exciting hole but the details are sure cool with a carved mannequin holding a frilly skull.  It's called Three Graces (Salvaged material from neighborhood cleanup piles including wood and polystyrene insulated sheathing, 3Form Varia Ecoresin panels, old fiberglass mannequins, hardware, adhesive, paint, cloth, textiles).

And finally, my favorite hole: The impossibly difficult, beautifully abstract Hole #9 called Pissing in the Wind (Powder coated aluminum).   Created by Josh Bell, I can't imagine anyone actually making this hole.  I issue a challenge to all my golfing friends.

Once again I have to comment on how beautifully the Salt Lake Art Center displays art (and golf). I hope Adam Price doesn't change that. And as always, entrance to the Salt Lake Art Center is free.   So this is a great way to spend a couple of hours enjoying art and putt putt golf.  Contemporary Masters is up through September 16.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Book sixteen: Hot Stuff by Alice Echols.

I hit my musical stride in the 70s, right smack dab in the middle of disco.  I'll admit it: I loved disco then and I've loved it ever since.  And even though there wasn't a discotheque any where near Worland, Wyoming, I shook my groove thing and danced the last dance every chance I got.  It was pretty dang sad when I finally got to college, hoping to spend endless nights dancing to disco only to discover that disco had died.

So it was fun to relive the glory days of disco in Alice Echols' book, Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture.  I'll start by saying that with the academic attitude and endless references, this book reads more like a doctoral thesis than a breezy book about pop culture of the 70s. But maybe that's what makes it interesting.  Echols eschews the idea that the 70s was a vapid decade that ditched the lofty, hippie-inspired ideals of the 60s in favor of meaningless sex, drugs, and something less than rock and roll. 

Instead, she suggests that disco was created by and helped liberate many overlooked social groups, in particular blacks, gays, and women.  And she makes a convincing case.  While the music of the 60s was largely by and about straight, white men, disco was invented and took off in underground clubs where blacks and gays (and the women who love them) were discovering new found freedoms. However the association with those same groups (particularly the gays) may be partially to blame for the amazing speed at which disco fell out of favor. Hot Stuff offers interesting tales of DJs who used its gay roots to inspire anger (and it was violent anger) against disco. The book dredges up some stellar anti-gay quotes from DJs in the late 70s and 80s.  Those same quotes today would easily destroy careers. 

Echols also tracks the influence of disco on music from the 70s forward.  She starts the booking talking about being a DJ in college.  It's obvious that she gets dance music, so she's well suited to write about the subject and to identify links between artists and styles.  Since reading the book, I hear disco influences everywhere.  And the references in today's music are frequently more than just a borrowed beat or phrase (although there's plenty of that going on too).  Even artists like Lady Gaga seem to make more than just passing references to disco hits like Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.

You can't read this book without coming away with a sense of how much disco did to help make homosexuality more socially acceptable.  Stories about the Village People and other gay artists and promoters like Sylvester demonstrate how strangely acceptable being gay was during the late 70s.  Sure there was a big backlash (remember Anita Bryant) but I don't think you get to the current acceptance of gays without disco.

Some of Hot Stuff's best moments are when Echols talks about how hugely popular disco became.  The chapter on Saturday Night Fever is loaded with fun anticdotes.  For example, the movie was so popular in Brazil that it spawned new words like the verb travoltar (to Travolta).

If you still hate disco, you might want to skip this book.  But if you're still working at stayin' alive, Hot Stuff is worth the read.

Hometown history.

I like to joke that if you're in my hometown of Worland, Wyoming, you were on your way to Worland, Wyoming.  That's because it's kind of on the road to nowhere.  

I've also recently been critical of Worland.  When I was young, Worland was an interesting place with a thriving main street, cultural opportunities, and all kinds of goings ons.  But in the last decade or two, it seems like Worland has fallen into a slump, with a main street that's almost dead and an attitude among locals that seems to suggest the town has thrown in the towel.  I recently went back to Worland for an event that makes me think there's still hope that the sleepy town may rebound in some interesting ways.

The event was the opening of the new Washakie Museum and Cultural Center. My parents and I attended both the gala event on Friday evening and the open house on Saturday (with the addition of my niece Ivy).  And it was more impressive than I expected.

The facility offers great spaces for events as well as excellent exhibit spaces and is a nice addition to Worland.  The gala was planned and executed well with surprising, upscale catering.  I will say they'll need to work out better sound options for future events.

The permanent exhibition spaces are also executed well thanks to a team of professionals pulled together not only from the Big Horn Basin, but also from Colorado and the East Coast.  There are two specific areas of focus for the permanent exhibits.

The first is focused on The Ancient Basin.  Worland, like much of Wyoming, is home to a lot of fossilized dinosaur remains.  And the new museum uses that treasure to create an interesting natural history space with lots of scary dinosaurs.

The second permanent gallery is focused on The Last West and does an excellent job of recounting local history.  Sometimes in towns as small as Worland, local history can be forgotten.  So it was nice to see exhibits that told stories from the area.  There were many interesting displays from a recreation of the early banking industry to tales of local ranching.  One exhibit made excellent use of HD monitors to create windows that looked out onto the local landscape, complete with old-timey residents.

I also liked some of the more mundane artifacts included in the exhibit like this strange rocket-like object used to scare coyotes away.

This exhibit made me laugh because I'm not sure it qualifies in the category of The Last West.  On the trip to Worland I drove by a number of sheep wagons just like this one that are still in active use.

And the sheep still roam free just like in the background photo above.  There were plenty of sheep to slow the trip back to Salt Lake City.

The museum includes a gallery for temporary exhibits.  And here's where I'm likely to get a little more critical, probably because I spend too much time in art museums.  The opening exhibit titled History Exists Before Your Eyes is an interesting idea.  But the actual show is a disappointment.  The exhibit consisted of photos by local photographers and was supposed to provide a snapshot of Washakie County and the surrounding area as it exists now.  This is a show in desperate need of a curator.  There are far too many photographs on view and many of them are amateurish.  Several actually include the digital time stamps on the prints.  I'm not sure how the photos were selected but it felt like anyone could submit a photo and that every photo submitted is included in the show.  It's too bad because the idea (History Exists Before Your Eyes) is intriguing.  By far, the best photos in the show are David Huber's aerial photographs of the area including one of the museum under construction.  A better way to show that history truly exists before your eyes may have been to turn the entire gallery over to a photographer like Huber and his local, aerial photography.

Future temporary exhibits offer more hope for the museum with a traveling exhibit from the Charles M. Schultz Museum (Peanuts at Bat) and an exhibit entitled America through the CBS Eye.

I can't end this post without a note about the power of philanthropy.  The costs of the new museum as well as an endowment to cover a majority of operating expenses are a gift from the late Newell B. Sargent, a long-time Worland resident. It was money well spent.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book fifteen: The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson (A.K.A Art Lobster: Literary edition).

I stumbled across this book while browsing  And with a blog titled Art Lobster, and as an avid reader, how could I not buy The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean by Trevor Corson.  I like books like this.  Whether it's bridge, butterflies, or invented languages, I like non-fiction books that focus intently on a single, unexpected subject.

This book about lobsters didn't disappoint.  Holy cow, lobsters are weird.  And Corson delights in tracking down scientists who are trying to figure out their strange lives.  Let's start with the molting, which requires the lobster to shed the entire hard shells.  And the hard shells run down their throats and through their digestive systems.  Ouch! And Gross!  The poor lobsters are momentarily little more than vulnerable, gelatinous blobs while they wait for their new larger shells to harden.

Then there's the mating, which can only happen immediately after the female has shed her shell. And since the males are normally very aggressive, the female lobsters have to deploy a flotilla of chemicals to stay attractive and keep her partners from eating them.

The book also includes a lot of interesting information about how science is working with the lobster industry to ensure a sustainable harvest.  This story made a "tree hugger" like me question my usual, immediate assumption that the environmentalists are always right.

The book isn't perfect.  It's got lots of redundancy. In fact, sometimes I was pretty sure I was re-reading the book.  And it feels more limited that other single-subject books I've read. The books focuses almost exclusively on lobsters off the coast of Maine and on science and the lobster industry.   With so many species of lobsters around the world, with a culinary industry that seems entranced by lobsters, and with (HELLO) so many lobsters in the world of fine art, I think this book would have been better if it had expanded it's scope.  

Nonetheless, The Secret Life of Lobsters makes for a fun read and a great blog post.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Book fourteen: The Moonlit Earth by Christopher Rice.

Even though the weather seems to be refusing to admit it, summer is on its way.  And thanks to my book club choosing this book (even though I didn't), I'm now all excited by the approach of one of my favorite literary seasons, summer reading.

The Moonlit Earth by Christopher Rice has everything you want in a summer read: A plot that takes you to faraway lands; action that moves at breakneck speed; a dead-beat dad who long ago left a slightly crazy mother; a do-gooder daughter who's terrified and fearless all at that same time; ruthless killers; and villains who always keep you guessing.  There are a few good cliches too, like the gay flight attendant.  But there are also surprises. Like the young and gay Middle-Eastern rich kid who just doesn't get it.

Sure this book may not win any literary awards.  But who cares when the writing is crisp, the action fast, and the story loaded with twists and turns.  I've got a few more serious books still waiting on my Kindle.  But once I get through those, bring on the summer reads.