Monday, October 03, 2005

The Supermarket (Continued)

I've written at inordinate length about how much I heart the supermarket and its romance of perishable and non-perishable groceries.

Well it turns out that "studies" have been perfomed by "experts," which is very exciting.

I mean to offer an update on the current state of supermarket studies, though, because things have been taking an unfortunate turn of late, and since I last checked in.

Now, I will always be a Giant pelican at my core, because it was my first supermarket love. But I have to confess that I have strayed in recent weeks and months, only out of curiosity, mind you, but nevertheless with very mixed feelings. For I must own that I have indeed darkened the door of the evil empire of Sam's Club of late. I just wanted to know what it was like in there, as the actress said to the bishop, but like Cardinal Newman and Catholicism, I was seduced by that which I came to interrogate. I have to tell you, there's no way the little Giant can compete with this shit. They sell trampolines, for crying out loud. Enormous trampolines, suspended from the ceiling. I mean, that's just making a mockery of your common or garden supermarket experience. Granted, my local Giant is currently offering for sale a spectacularly huge snow globe that looks like a bouncy castle, inside of which it is ACTUALLY SNOWING for just shy of $200, but isn't that a sign of desperation in the face of the unseemly trampoline? It's like Giant is the mom and pop store to Sam's Club's supermarket, so everything has been supersized, since there really aren't any mom and pop stores anymore. It's like the arms race of groceries.

I'll say more about this when I'm somewhat composed, but for the time being, do yourself and favor and go check out the giant trampoline. Just be very careful you don't get carried away, though. As one of my friends said when I told him about my induction into Sam's Club, "Did you spend a hundred dollars? Nobody comes out of there without spending a hundred dollars." I told him to shut up and that, yes, I had indeed spent a hundred dollars, but that I wouldn't be needing chicken stock, canned tuna, diced tomatoes or breakfast bars for a very long time.

Found Poetry - An Occasional Series

Back when I was making spasmodic appearances on my friend Matt's blog, we would occasionally post found poetry, a category which I hope speaks for itself. I found my niche, or so I thought, in trawling CNN's website from time to time, and pasting together headlines from various parts of the site. It can reveal some rather lyrical twists and turns. So here it is again. Here's one I did for Tattered Coat on Bush's last State of the Union Address. It's kind of scary.

CNN Found Poem, Friday, September 30, 2005

Born without legs, still playing football
Robot racing gets under way
Oxygen helped mammals grow
Wild gorillas documented using tools

Space tourist prepares for flight
Get used to the new, softer Martha
Drawn and quartered
The end of driving in reverse as we know it

Friday, September 30, 2005

Concerning the Hiatus

Well, obviously it's been a long time since I graced this stage with my presence. This is partly explained by the catatonic feeling that pelicans of the wilderness sometimes experience when they're still trying to pick the pieces of their broken heart up off of the floor more than a year after the pelican of their heart abandoned them for another part of the wilderness.

But with the help of some powerful pelican medications and the power of pelican prayer, the Pelican is trying to pick himself up, dust himself off and figure out if he has anything of any consequence left to say besides, "This really really hurts a lot."

And since that wouldn't be in the least interesting for anyone to have to read, pelican or otherwise, I'm going to promise to try to be more constant in my attention to matters of the world, of the spirit, and of the muse, than I have been of late. Consider this a rededication to cultivating the wilderness, albeit with salty water.

Topics I have it in mind to address in due course include some of the following: why it might be that books about food have a tendency to make me cry; the taxonomy of the iPod and why it might or might not be a good thing, including the debate question of the moment: the shuffle function - bullshit or not? We might also discuss the symptoms of the impending apocalpyse that appear to be accumulating week by week, both elemental and political, and how we might imagine our way out of this fix that some people seem to have put us in. Further, why is it that dub music is so particularly satisfying and how might one go about making the perfect mixtape for an imaginary audience?

I hope that some of this might be interesting to some people at some point. I'll try my best to write my way out of this terrible mess.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Live Aid

Speaking of compassion (as this organ's inaugural post tried, however obliquely, to do), and while admitting that Live Aid is most certainly a good cause and that any criticism might be perceived as petty and churlish, the fact remains that the L8 shows Bob Geldof has planned for July 2nd have pretty puzzling lineups. While the locations are fairly cosmopolitan (London, Philadelpha, Berlin, Paris, Rome), the lineups are honestly fairly pedestrian, at the same time that they're frankly pretty bizarre. I've posted them below, for your edification and consideration. It honestly makes pretty weird reading, and you have to wonder what kind of demographic they're going for, or if these acts were just all that was available since the summer festival schedule has probably already been set for a while. For example, while you might understand the desire to replicate whatever glory accrued to the first Live Aid, you have to wonder about Sirs Paul and Elton at this point. And what about Midge Ure? Was he busy? And won't we after all get to see Phil Collins reprise his transatlantic shuttle wherein he appears almost to be playing in two places at once? I am crushed. But I guess if Concorde is out of commission then that bet is probably off. (There is also apparently quite a controversial debate, if you can imagine, in progress in Britain currently with regard to the potential appearance or non-appearance of Status Quo, whose dual status as both national treasures and salt of the earth is galvanizing a lot of support on their behalf. There are fond memories of their original appearance in 1985, which clearly provokes questions about how much of this enterprise is in fact driven by nostalgia.)

Perhaps one of the oddest rosters is that of Paris, where you can see the officially ancient Johnny Halliday alongside Yannick Noah, who as far as I know used to play tennis for a living. (Some friends of mine wonder if there shouldn't be a move to add washed up tennis players to every city. My friend David is rooting for a joint appearance by Boris Becker and Betty Stove. I'm kind of hoping that somebody will get Roscoe Tanner.) And these notables will be joined onstage by, of all people, Placebo, whom Allmusic have been known to describe as the "glam version of Nirvana." Oh dear.

The Berlin lineup isn't much less strange, boasting A-ha alongside Crosby, Stills and Nash and Die Toten Hosen. I know I'm sticking my neck out a little bit here, but I'm betting that this is going to be a pretty weird day no matter what city you choose to go to.

Salon has started an interesting conversation by asking a number of bloggers and music writers whom they would choose to appear at their own personal Live Aid.

I've been pondering my own potential Live Aid roster, and thus far I've managed to come up with the following, bearing in mind that some of these acts offer a nod in the direction of African music and politics, and that some of them may well not have see the light of day in a good while. It's a fantasy, in other words:

FANTASY LIVE AID ROSTER
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA
JULY 2nd, 2005

Sly and the Family Stone
Prince
King Sunny Ade
Femi Kuti

Gang of Four
Fugazi
David Byrne and Brian Eno
Adam and the Ants

James Brown
The Roots
Afrika Bambaata
The Beastie Boys

In the meantime, here are the various real lineups.

The Philadelphia leg of the show includes the following:
Will Smith, Bon Jovi, Maroon 5, P. Diddy, Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z, The Dave Matthews Band, Sarah McLachlan, The Rolling Stones, Rob Thomas, Keith Urban, 50 Cent, Kaiser Chiefs

London looks like this:
Mariah Carey, Coldplay, Dido, Keane, Sir Elton John, Annie Lennox, Madonna, Muse, Razorlight, Scissor Sisters, Sir Paul McCartney, Joss Stone, Stereophonics, Sting,Robbie Williams, U2, REM, Velvet Revolver, Bob Geldof, The Killers, The Cure, Snow Patrol

Paris:
Jamiroquai, Craig David, Youssou N'Dour, Yannick Noah, Andrea Bocelli, Calo Gero, Kyo, Placebo, Axelle Red, Johnny Halliday, Manu Chao, Renaud

Berlin:
A-ha, Crosby Stills and Nash, Brian Wilson, Lauryn Hill, Bap, Die Toten Hosen,Peter Maffay

Rome:
Duran Duran, Faith Hill, Irene Grandi, Jovanotti, Tim McGraw, Nek, Laura Pasini,
Vasco Rossi, Zucchero

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Colonial Williamsburg, Part Two

So, by way of an update to the CW thread, and believe it or not, I do have more exciting cultural tidbits to impart to you about the whole consumer-historical odyssey.

The first thing that happens to you after you've been profiled and processed and bought whatever version of freedom you think you can best afford at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center, is that you go to see a movie. The movie in question is called "Story of a Patriot." Story of a Patriot was directed by George Seaton, who was also responsible for Miracle on 34th Street, so this is no ordinary public information film experience, clearly.

It's a weird animal, this story of a patriot. It was made in 1957, it's 36 minutes long, and they're still using it today. Indeed, CW claims that this motion picture has been seen by more than 30 million people, and this might well be true since it's been screened multiple times a day for about 45 years. It's been restored over the years, which may account for the rather garish colors with which the movie favors us, but more about that in a minute.

The lead character is not a real historical figure, but rather a composite who somehow embodies the sense of uncertainty and duty in all of the colonists and burgess who wrestled with the very difficult political decisions they had to make back in the Eighteenth Century. As the CW website puts it:

"The film’s story is told through the character of fictional planter John Fry, from 1769 to 1776. Fry struggles with the questions that faced all colonists in the years leading up to the revolution: Shall the colonies unite to oppose British punishment of Boston for its Tea Party? Meet Britain’s use of force with force? Declare independence? The choices made by the colonists were not easy ones, and, as the film depicts, family members and old friends were often at odds with one another over those choices. Through Fry, the audience is introduced to George Washington, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and other patriots who conceived the 'idea of America.'”

So naturally enough, you get to see John Fry observing these political events unfold with no small amount of circumspection as he tries to figure out whether to join the rebellious hordes of Patrick Henry et al. I won't spoil it for you, but you'd better believe that John Fry does the right thing in the end. Jefferson comes off a little prissy, though.

However, by far the most fascinating thing about the Story of a Patriot in general and about John Fry in particular is the personage of the actor who plays Mr Fry. The credits for this movie roll at the beginning and before you've seen any characters or action. So I'm sitting there in the dark, with my friends B and L and their two delightfully curious children, and I see, at the top of the screen, the following:

John Fry..................................................Jack Lord

And my eyes get all big. And I lean over to my friend B, and I say, in a stage whisper, "JACK LORD? JACK LORD? IS THAT THE JACK LORD? COULD IT POSSIBLY BE?"

And B says, in much less of a stage whisper but much more of a "please-don't-embarrass-me" kind of tone, "Who's Jack Lord?"

At which point I start to wonder about my friend B and his bona fides.

Because, Ladies and Gentleman, Mister John Fry, bipartisan patriot, American Agonistes, archetypal colonaial worrywart, is indeed played by the same person who for twelve glorious years favored us with the ultimate in bronzed and lacquered Pacific detective panache - Jack Lord went onto become Hawaii Five-O's Steve McGarrett. It's almost too exciting and delicious even to be able to recount. The idea that for the next thirty-six minutes I would be enjoying the suave charms of Steve McGarrett in colonial garb made me barely able to contain myself. I can hardly type even now, almost two weeks later, as I think about it.

And let me tell you what he was wearing, oh my goodness what he was wearing. He dons (I think that's the right word, dons) a lot of very vibrantly colored frock coats, from peuce to teal and most points in between, and he sports (yes, he definitely sports) a number of equally shockingly colored, well, is jodhpurs too strong a word? They seemed like jodhpurs. One of the early pairs looks like it's made out of denim, but I couldn't swear to that. And all of this after he left his wife and family to take up his dead father's seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses with nary a carry-on bag, so you have to wonder where exactly he's getting all of these snazzy outfits. All of this adds up to a figure who resembles Elvis Presley in pantomime, if that's not putting too fine a point on it. It's really a feast for the eyes, and even though Mister Lord/Fry/McGarrett doesn't end up treating us to the sight of himself in a powdered peruque (it was probably in his contract that we only got to see his very shiny, very black and very luxuriant black hair), it still adds up to one of the campest thirty six minutes you'll see on the silver screen. Truly, a marvel.

Colonial Williamsburg, Part One

In the spirit of Memorial Day, albeit warily, I paid a visit last weekend to Colonial Williamsburg. That's what they call it. Not just Williamsburg, but Colonial Williamsburg. The addition of the first word means that you're going to be in for a self-consciously historical experience, and they surely don't let you down. I have a lot to say about this odyssey, as you might expect, but I'm going to break it up into manageable chunks, so that you won't be subjected to pages and pages of something that only I might consider interesting, because, you know, why would I do that?

I should tell you that I wasn't quite going entirely of my own accord. I have friends with small children who are increasingly interested in history (the children, I mean), and this seemed to be an ideal venue for them to experience such a thing. I was going along because they're really cool little kids, and because I'm kind of fascinated in the way that history is marketed to the masses as a cultural and a consumer experience. So I was kind of a double agent, but in an honestly pretty geeky way.

The first thing you notice about CW is the big entrance. The Visitor Center is enormous, shuffling and funnelling all of its many thousands of visitors through the initial consumer screening process with frightening efficiency.

First stop: Information. It is here that you explain to your docent what kind of experience you are looking for. Docent tries to match you with an historical package (no titters, please) that will best suit your needs. In our case it went something like this:

Docent: Help you?
Friend: Yes, I'm here with my wife and two children and they're getting into history...
Docent: Boys or girls?
Friend: One of each. The eldest one is more interested in ...
Docent: Boy or girl?
Friend: The eldest is a girl.

And so it went on, the ruthless diagnosis of our particular historical requirements, tailored to the particular profile of a seven-year old girl from Baltimore with a burgeoning interest in "history," although we didn't open that particular can of worms at Information. I stood to the side and listened in, as unobtrusively as possible.

Having been profiled, of course, everyone has to go to the restroom (I learned this, again, about the small child experience this weekend: they have to go the bathroom ALL THE TIME, like old people, but smaller and, for the most part, cuter, but there are obviously some exceptions to this huge generalization). But before you can go to the restroom, you have to go past the costume rental desk. This is very very sneaky, because of course kids are going so say, "Can we rent a costume, mom, can we rent a costume, can we can we can we can we?" And of course, most parents, who may also need to go the bathroom in a pretty bad way after a three or four hour drive from Baltimore, will probably say, "Oh, what they hell, I need to piss so bad, I'll buy you a tank if it will get us into the stall any quicker," so the kids get hats. OK, so they're not full-on costumes, but the colonial tri-corner hats for the boys and the white bonnets for girls are very fetching, and also, by the way, you kind of don't rent them, you buy them, because, obviously, it wouldn't be sanitary to rent hats to all kinds of louse-ridden rugrats and then pass them onto the clean kids next time around. That would be irresponsible.

Of course what it all really comes down to is this: how much money are you prepared to spend at Colonial Williamsburg? And the answer is: Somewhere between $34 and $72, depending on what kind of ticket you buy. So anyway, there are several levels of historical experience available to the cultural consumer at CW, and in a really fascinating way they seem to be connected to some kind of index of how much you really really love freedom, especially American freedom. I will explain. The cheapskates who want to get in on the ground floor can buy a "Colonial Sampler" (really, that's what it's called). Sadly, this particular ticket does not include any chicken wings or indeed any other product from KFC, although you might expect such with that name. This can be had for the bargain price of $34, and gets you what is called a "Colonist Pass." So, more or less, it gets you into the colony, with more or less (actually, less) opportunity to be as free as everyone else. If you're feeling a little friskier about your freedom, you can buy a "Governor's Key-to-the-City Pass," which is $48. Feeling any more free yet? The difference between the Colonist Pass and the Governor's Key-to-the-City Pass is not only the trifle of $14 (really, you cheap bastard, you're just a colonist? I'm totally rolling up into CW with my GKTTCP, on account of how I'm, like, $14 more free than you, THAT'S how much I love freedom on this Memorial Day weekend), but also, and as you might expect, a significant shift in the level of access on can obtain to some of the more exclusive historical experiences. So, as a colonist, you can see most of the regular stuff, but you can't be going into the Capitol building, the Governor's Palace or some other places. The GKTTCP gets you into those joints, but nevertheless excludes you from such totally free experiences as the Colonial Explorer Activities, whatever those are.

Now, if you really really want to be getting your Freedom on, and I mean Freedom with a capital F, then you might want to consider buying a Freedom Pass (I'm starting to feel lightheaded at this point, obviously, because this kind of liberty is just intoxicating, as you might imagine). The Freedom pass is, ironically, and as if you hadn't already guessed, pretty damn expensive, coming in at $59 (that's fifty nine US dollars, in case you thought that was perhaps a typographical error on my part). Now, this is where things start to get pretty seriously "free," although in a way that some of us might perhaps find slightly counter-intuitive. However, to be scrupulously fair to the Freedom Pass, your $59 clams do get you the right to go come back as many times as you want, but ONLY AT THE LEVEL OF THE GOVERNOR'S KEY-TO-THE-CITY PASS. I know. It's a bait and switch. But, on your first visit, you do get to enjoy the Colonial Explorer Activities, which first-time GKTTCP-ers totally don't get.

Now, you would think, wouldn't you, that you couldn't be getting much more free than Freedom? But I have to tell you that you would be wrong. Because there is, indeed, a level of freedom that is more desirable than Freedom its damn self. And that level, my friends, would be Independence. Yes, for the bargain price of $72 (that's seventy two US dollars), you can buy an Independence Pass. The Independence Pass gets you all the benefits of the Freedom Pass, PLUS (can you stand it?) free tickets to all evening performances (offered seasonally), AND express entrance to the Governor's Palace and the Capitol (just so you don't have to be waiting around with all the people who are so much less free than you, because that would be tacky). But I'm guessing that since the Independence Pass accrues to itself all of the benefits of the Freedom Pass, it also means that when you come back a second time, you're just a lowly GKTTCP-er again. It's like getting busted down to Corporal or something.

So, that's the Freedom Spectrum at Colonial Williamsburg. In a strange trajectory of paradox and irony, the most free you can be is independent, and independence is really really expensive. It makes me wonder how the marketers came up with the Liberty Gamut, though. Did they think we wouldn't notice that Independence was more desirable and more expensive than Freedom? Did they have a philosophical conversation about the experiential distinction between the two? What does it mean that one is more expensive than the other? Which ideas didn't make it off the drawing board?

Historical Experience Planner: Hey, I've got one, let's have a Liberty Pass, between Freedom and Independence. You get all the benefits of Freedom, but you also get a hat, and it's only $65.
Historial Experience Director: You mean, we're giving them a hat for $6?
HEP: I guess.
HED: Are you out of your mind? We'll be out of business in six months.
HEP: But Liberty, though, doesn't it have, excuse the pun, some kind of a ring to it?
HED: Forget the ring, we're not giving away $6 hats, mister. I didn't spend twenty years in the historical experience business to throw it all away on $6 hats, all in the name of, what was it, Liberty? I've never heard anything like it. We're adjourned.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Pelican of the Wilderness

Welcome to the Pelican of the Wilderness. I take the name from Psalm 102, which is beautifully oblique and lyrical, like all of the best psalms. The exact wording of the psalm changes from translation to translation, but the pelican of the wilderness part remains just about the same throughout, as you can see from the following sample of various sources:

I am like a pelican of the wilderness. I have become as an owl of the waste places.

I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I am become as an owl of the waste places.

I am like a bird living by itself in the waste places; like the night-bird in a waste of sand.

I am become like the pelican of the wilderness, I am as an owl in desolate places;

I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert.

I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert.

I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I am become as an owl of the waste places.

I have been like to a pelican of the wilderness, I have been as an owl of the dry places.

There's not necessarily a huge amount of self-pity in the choice of name, although there might be a certain amount of poignant melancholy at work, but that might be a story for another time. Mostly, though, the name suggests a lyricism to which this space will aspire, whether or not it's always as wistful as the phrase might suggest.

Psalm 102 introduces itself as a "prayer of the afflicted," and who isn't afflicted after all at this point in human history? The supplicant goes on to say that "by reason of the voice of my groaning, my bones stick to my skin," and I'd challenge anyone to tell me they haven't felt that way from time to time. So we'll be working on increasing the compassion quotient around here a little bit with this new venture. As Wilco put it very eloquently a few years ago, and taking our cue from the 102nd psalm as perhaps they themselves did in however unconscious a way, maybe this project will be an exercise in "how to fight loneliness," even if our answer might not be quite the same as theirs (somehow, smiling all the time doesn't seem like it will cut it anymore in the current climate). So that's a long way of saying that we won't be above bringing a healthy amount of skepticism to the table from time to time. The Pelican of the Wilderness will embrace a broad spectrum of poses and attitudes toward the more malaise-filled aspects of the new millenium, but it will also be fairly self-absorbed, and for the most part unashamedly so.

But on the whole there's no conscious agenda at work. I'll post about a whole number of things, from literature, to music, to random cultural experiences, and perhaps there will even be the odd bout of spiritual pulse-taking. I've written for a number of publications in the past, a selection of which is posted here in the links section, some musical, some political, but it seemed like time to branch out on my own and damn the torpedoes. The true identity of the site will just have to reveal itself over time, for the most part, so I hope you'll bear with me as I find my blogfeet.

So here it is in all of its parched and dessicated variety, the wilderness, the desolate places, the desert, the waste places, the waste of sand, the dry places. Let's see if we can't make it a little less lonely and a little less arid around here. Here's Psalm 102 in its beautiful entirety, for your information and reading pleasure:

102:1 A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed and pours out his complaint before Yahweh. Hear my prayer, Yahweh! Let my cry come to you.

102:2 Don't hide your face from me in the day of my distress. Turn your ear to me. Answer me quickly in the day when I call.

102:3 For my days consume away like smoke. My bones are burned as a firebrand.

102:4 My heart is blighted like grass, and withered, for I forget to eat my bread.

102:5 By reason of the voice of my groaning, my bones stick to my skin.

102:6 I am like a pelican of the wilderness. I have become as an owl of the waste places.

102:7 I watch, and have become like a sparrow that is alone on the housetop.

102:8 My enemies reproach me all day. Those who are mad at me use my name as a curse.

102:9 For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mixed my drink with tears,

102:10 Because of your indignation and your wrath, for you have taken me up, and thrown me away.

102:11 My days are like a long shadow. I have withered like grass.

102:12 But you, Yahweh, will abide forever; your renown endures to all generations.

102:13 You will arise and have mercy on Zion; for it is time to have pity on her. Yes, the set time has come.

102:14 For your servants take pleasure in her stones, and have pity on her dust.

102:15 So the nations will fear the name of Yahweh; all the kings of the earth your glory.

102:16 For Yahweh has built up Zion. He has appeared in his glory.

102:17 He has responded to the prayer of the destitute, and has not despised their prayer.

102:18 This will be written for the generation to come. A people which will be created will praise Yah.

102:19 For he has looked down from the height of his sanctuary. From heaven, Yahweh saw the earth;

102:20 to hear the groans of the prisoner; to free those who are condemned to death;

102:21 that men may declare the name of Yahweh in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem;

102:22 when the peoples are gathered together, the kingdoms, to serve Yahweh.

102:23 He weakened my strength along the course. He shortened my days.

102:24 I said, "My God, don't take me away in the midst of my days. Your years are throughout all generations.

102:25 Of old, you laid the foundation of the earth. The heavens are the work of your hands.

102:26 They will perish, but you will endure. Yes, all of them will wear out like a garment. You will change them like a cloak, and they will be changed.

102:27 But you are the same. Your years will have no end.

102:28 The children of your servants will continue. Their seed will be established before you."