August

MUSIC - THEE MICHELLE GUN ELEPHANT

Another Japanese band this week in a completely different genre. Thee Michelle Gun Elephant are definitely one of my faves. Singer Yosuke Chiba has one of the great rock voices in my opinion. 

They were active during the 90's decade and have very good catalogue if you like straight forward rock, with a touch of rockabilly and quality musicianship from all the members. All the songs are sung in Japanese but don't let that get in the way of rocking out to one of the tightest bands you'll hear.

I chose this album as it has the song "Sekai No Owari" (世界の終わり) [translates to The End of the World or World's End], which is the first tune I heard by them sometime in the mid 90's and played repeatedly for a good week after listening to it. An amazingly catchy driving tune that I still play quite a lot.

I forgot which album it was for, may have been this one or "Gear Blues" I think but either way they were I'm pretty sure the first Japanese band to get a 4 star rating in Rolling Stone at the time. I may have the details a little wrong but it was a solid review and unusual for the magazine to issue a rating like that back then.

Anyway, check it!

FV

 

ONE YEAR IN A LIFE OF CRIME

This is such an excellent film from legendary documentarian Jon Alpert. Released in 1989 the documentary follows the lives of several people living lives of crime and drugs. Though it looks a bit dated, since it was filmed around 30 years ago, the sad truth is the stories are as relevant now as they were then.

These are people mostly shoplifting and getting high on heroin and cocaine. Seemingly born to lose, we watch from a very intimate view as they start off young and cocky and as things spiral out of control. The desperation and addictions are very upsetting to witness.

The subjects of the film, with one notable exception, are really very likable at their best and I found myself rooting for them to clean up their acts. Of course, easier said than done, and we get a glimpse of the helplessness that hits once you cross a certain line in society. It's extremely difficult to walk it back.

Having known and cared about people like this in my life I had a hard time watching some of it. It's stunningly honest and the filmmaker had an incredible amount of access to these people's lives. While pretty much a downer, I think this is a must watch movie. As I mentioned, the story is still all to familiar as we move towards the end of 2018.

Part 2 is below and the whole thing runs about 3 hours but believe me, like life, it flies by.

FV

 

MUSIC - BUCKETHEAD

A man, a guitar, a mask and a KFC bucket on his head. Must be some kind of joke, right? For those familiar with the mystery man Buckethead, you the answer is definitely no. This is no joke or gimmick by any stretch of the imagination.

I first learned of Buckethead maybe 15 years ago or so. One of roommates in SF saw him at the Hotel Utah, a small watering hole that had enough room for a stage. She told me what she saw and how amazing the guy was. She was so serious I really believed her and thought nothing of the bucket or the mask. I forget when I actually first heard him play but do remember I was blown away. 

Buckethead is a bonafide shredder and one of those people that make running up and down the neck look effortless. Fortunately, unlike a lot of the wankers out there masturbating on their guitars, he's got a lot of melody and soul in his playing. This album is wonderfully quiet and meditative and has relatively few passages of him playing fast.

Don't worry though, if that's your thing he's got something like 70 recordings out there, not to mention an equal or more amount of collaborations with the cats in the San Francisco underground rap scene to having been the guitarist for Guns n Roses for a while.

This guy is really amazing. Watch any of the live performances on YouTube and you might agree with me that he's obviously got more interests in playing with sounds and experimentation and not standing around playing a thousand notes a minute all day just to impress.

He's another example of people who come from distant parts of the universe to visit for a short time on earth and freak us out with their unique ways of communication.

FV

 

 

DEEP DREAM GENERATOR

Lately I've kind of taken in interest in too many things and as a result I'm not getting much done of the things I want to do. Some of it is a function of other obligations and having to get up to speed with software and some of it's just kind of losing focus recently. Maybe it's the heat of the summer but I'm just not making the time for printmaking for example. 

Anyway, while cleaning out my bookmarks recently I found the link to the Deep Dream Generator and started playing with that again. If you don't know what it is, in a nutshell, it's a software program for images that uses algorithms that alter an uploaded image. It's original intent was for computer learning, for AI to detect your friends faces on social media and what not.

People use it creatively now. The software has built in templates you can use or you can combine images to create unusual effects. I wouldn't say it's the greatest thing in the world and it can get gimmicky real quick. However, it is fun and can breathe life into an image that's not so exciting. The shot above is from Kamakura, Japan. Pretty typical tourist type shot of the bird man statues (karasu-tengu) at Kenchoji Temple (建長寺). But a quick run through the software gives it a bit of interest. Kenchoji is a beautiful place to visit if you happen to visit Kamakura.

I linked Deep Dream Generator above if you're interested in playing around with it. As I mentioned, it's a fun tool and the more I think about it, with certain filters could be good reference or inspiration for paintings or drawings if you're in a rut.

FV

 

MUSIC - PUBLIC IMAGE LTD.

I'd forgotten how good Public Image Ltd. was until the other day when I stumbled upon their stuff. Johnny Rotten had gone back to being John Lydon after the death of the Sex Pistols and forged a whole new post punk sound, especially with their first few albums.

I liked the idea of the Sex Pistols when I was a kid and was interested in reading about them in the magazines and their look. But I can't say I liked them too much. I mean "God Save the Queen" was a lot of fun but there's not a whole lot musically I ever liked. Stories of Sid Vicious being too zonked on heroin to play a song live kind of pissed me off too. Johnny Rotten was the most interesting of the bunch in my opinion.

So when PiL came around it was good to see his smarts on display and a whole new sound to leave the Sex Pistols to folklore. The band basically was a vehicle for Lydon as band members came and went. I recall at the time following them on and off and after "Album" more of less lost track of them.

Super glad I reintroduced myself this week. Some real quality sounds and pretty groundbreaking music for it's time. This is "Metal Box", one of their best, but if like me, they slipped off your radar, PiL is definitely worth going back to. Just as good as anything out there these days.

(video is part of a playlist)

FV

 

COMFORT ZONES

Fred Vee 2018

One thing I recommend to anyone in any kind of art discipline is to step out of your comfort zone completely a few times a year. I attend sketch sessions and workshops that cost little to no money and just give myself a couple of hours to free associate with whatever the theme is. Sometimes, it's people moving, like dancers ands this last one for example (pictured above) was to respond to live music being played.

They're an excellent challenge in that there's no pressure. You go with your instincts immediately and use whatever materials are there. This last event had everything from pencils, to crayons, to paints. Big sheets of sketch paper were provided. We sat on the floor and the music started.

This started out as just blobs of color I put down that matched my feeling for the music. Then I just got lost and freed what's left of my mind and I started opportunities to go with a face. Took about twenty minutes to do.

One of the best things is at the end and you take a look at others creations. They range from squiggly lines, batches of colors, color washes, and on and on. There's no rules. There's no correct response, so it's like meditation almost. You just find a groove and go with it.

Although I'm branching out with what I use to create things lately, I'm most comfortable with a camera. I don't know about you, but I can often get stuck shooting essentially the same picture  for weeks sometimes. Nothing looks fresh and I go to things I know will work instead of trying to expand. That's where these kind of exercises become invaluable.

I'm not a painter and I don't draw or sketch well, so right away I'm liberated from expectations. I can just do whatever feels good. It's funny because a lot of your skillsets like composition and what not subconsciously work their way in and it's interesting and fun to see what comes of it all.

To wrap it up, I think it's good to try new things that you may not be skilled at and leave your ego at the door. I think you'll find it expands your mind and actually improves whatever it is you do on a regular basis. 

FV