Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Pianist

If you've never seen this film, do so. But be warned: This flick does not simply tug at your heart-strings; it tears at them. I was completely unprepared for the emotional tumult this movie put me through.

Based upon Wladyslaw Szpilman's autobiography and directed by Roman Polanski, this movie stars Adrien Brody as Szpilman, a pianist living in Warsaw, Poland in 1938. Guess who comes to visit? The movie is about Szpilman's struggle to survive in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation.

Polanski did not pull any punches with this one, and considering that both of his parents were taken from Poland to concentration camps (where his mother eventually died) and that he himself escaped from the Nazi's as a boy, I can't imagine what making this movie did to him emotionally.

Adrien Brody's performance is truly inspired. And after seeing this movie, I now understand why he won an Oscar for this role.

I really don't have much more to say about this movie other than that it's a must watch, even if you can only sit through it once (as previously mentioned, this movie is pretty brutal). The Pianist truly is a cinematic masterpiece.

I'll leave you with Chopin's Ballade No. 1, which is performed during what is probably one of the single most heart wrenching scenes in history:

Monday, August 29, 2011

Music Mondays!

It's that time of the week and I have to admit, I am one morose mf today. So I'm simply going to post what's been getting me through this day. I sincerely hope that you're having a better one than me. Cheers.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Victorian

Here it is, one of my Top 10 Favorite Customs of all time, The Victorian.

Built over a 2 year period by the amazingly talented Alexander Bros of Detroit for Sy Gregorich, the first version of the car began taking shape in 1957 and was completed in 1959. Starting off with a stock (and almost new) 1955 Ford Crown Victoria, the A-Bros molded in '53 Studebaker pans front and rear. '55 Oldsmobile headlight trim was added and a chromed mesh grill was set behind the narrowed '59 Chevy front bumper, while a pancaked and louvered hood with rounded corners completed the front end. Around back, they frenched in '55 Mercury station wagon tail lights, and chrome side-pipes were molded into the rocker panels. The door handles and superfluous trim were removed to give the rest of the body a clean, un-cluttered appearance. The car was then finished in a brilliant pearl white with subtle, understated candy red scallops.

The car didn't stay in this form for long, eventually evolving (as was normal for show cars in those days), including several wheel/hubcap/tire combos and at least one new interior. The stock trim was replaced with modified trim from a '57 Ford and a tasty candy red paint job was applied.

To me, this car is pure, functional art. One of the most perfect Customs to ever hit the show circuit. Just how much time the car saw on the street is unknown to me. Much respect to Mike and Larry (RIP) Alexander for their impeccable taste, style, craftsmanship and trend-setting forward thinking.

For comparisons sake, first I'll show you a few stock, un-molested '55 Crown Vic's:


Here's the finished car:

Sy eventually sold The Victorian and it was shown by its' new owner for a while before falling off the face of the earth. Pictures of The Victorian have surfaced in the last few years, showing its' dilapidated condition. Rumors have been circulating about it's restoration, but as of this writing, I have yet to come across any current news regarding this amazing Custom.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Stand-Up Review: Christopher Titus and the Neverlution!

I recently received my dvd copy of the new (and autographed, thanks dude!) Titus stand-up special, Neverlution. More on that in a bit, but first I want to talk about how I became a fan of Titus...

I became an ardent fan of Titus and his work when I first saw his Fox sit-com, Titus. The show, based loosely upon his life, really struck a chord with me. Because, not only was he from a dysfunctional family and into cars (like me), but he managed to make both really funny, especially the dysfunctional part! And I don't mean in the grunting, sappy, cheese-ball Home Improvement type of funny, more akin to irreverent, crass Married With Children funny. Growing up in a some-what dysfunctional family that always had an old Chevy (and various other forms of vintage tin) in the driveway, I couldn't help but be drawn to the show and Titus' sarcastic, cynical and often times straight-up silly sense of humor, and the "Negative Space" from which he narrated and commented was, I thought, really unique. It was different than any other show that had been done before. And while I referenced Home Improvement and Married with Children to describe Titus, really the only thing it had in common with either were cars and dysfunction, respectively. Unfortunately, Titus only made it to the 3rd season. Figures. The really good stuff never lasts on TV.

But nonetheless, I've continued following his stand-up act (though I have yet to see him live). He's released several televised and/or recorded specials since his show ended; Norman Rockwell is Bleeding (2004), The Fifth Annual End of the World Tour (2006), Love is Evol (2009) and most recently, Neverlution (2011).

Titus has never really been shy about broaching even the most taboo of subjects; substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness, suicide. He's included all of these plus others into his acts. He even finds a way to make you laugh about them. And not to say that he makes light of such heavy matters, but he definitely finds a way to make you laugh about even the most soberingly serious subjects. His facial expressions, tone of voice, characterizations/impersonations, gesticulation and body language are as much a part of the performance as the subject material and words themselves. Plus, he always finds awesomely interesting and creative ways of incorporating visuals, whether with his sets, lighting, photos, etc. And the thing I really like about the visual aspects he employs, is that they never detract from his performance. They almost always simply add another layer of nuance that you probably won't notice at first. Despite the very un-subtle way he approaches comedy, the visuals are tastefully understated.

One of my favorite things about Titus, is that, in the tradition of the Late Greats George Carlin and Bill Hicks, Christopher Titus is not afraid to offend, though it is not his intention to do so. He says what he wants, how he wants to say it. No apologies or back-pedaling. Just, this is what it is. Laugh or don't, Titus is here to entertain. And not unlike the work of Carlin and Hicks, Titus seems to make you think as hard as you laugh. I believe Mel Brooks might refer to such as "Stand-Up Philosophers."

In my opinion, never has that M.O. been more apparent than in his latest special, Neverlution. In the past, a bulk of his material dealt with family and personal relationships, backed up with his social commentary. This release is kind of the other way around. While never really getting deep into the realm of politics, ala Lewis Black, Titus sets his sights on our crumbling society and the causes of it. Not so much the political reasons, more so the social reasons; modern parents and their shitty parenting or lack there-of, "terrorism", our country's techno-philia, our society's mediocrity, banality and apathy and the out-and-out douche-baggery of the people in our country.

He basically says it's up to us to make the change. If we sit around waiting for our government to do so, it'll never happen. I read somewhere that "Dissent is the highest form of Patriotism." With that said, Titus seems upset at what our country is becoming and can you blame him? We should all be upset, but in the word's of Carlin, "Nobody wants to rock the boat because we've all got cell phones that make us waffles and rub our balls for us. We've been bought off by gizmo's and gadgets..." Titus makes a similar observation, saying sarcastically that "I'd rather give up my freedom, than give up my shit." That seems to be the general consensus throughout this country. And I'm not immune to it, I love my shit. Do you think I have an old car because I needed one? Is it essential to my survival? No. I wanted one. We are a people of wants. And I suppose there's nothing wrong with that mentality, but...  The time for change is coming. What that will entail and what it's going to cost us as a people remains to be seen. But tensions are rising all over the world and we are not immune to unrest here in the United States. History has proven that to be true...

Regardless of where you stand politically, or what kind of family life you had growing up, I think just about everyone can get at least a laugh or two out of Neverlution. Though personally, I laughed my ass off.

Here's a few clips of some of Titus' work, plus the Intro from Neverlution:

From Norman Rockwell is Bleeding:

From The 5th Annual End of the World Tour:

From Love is Evol:

From Neverlution:

If you like what you see and hear, "Like" Titus on Facebook and visit his website. Say hello and buy a dvd or two!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Music Mondays!

So, I drove my Nissan yesterday for the first time in months to go blow all the dust off/out of it. Having not been behind the wheel of this car for sometime, I couldn't remember what cd's were in the 6 disc changer. Going through them, I couldn't help but laugh at the interesting range of music stored in there. Imagining a repo man or a car thief going through the roster gave me a chuckle. From 1 to 6, the albums were as follows:

1. Lamb of God: As the Palaces Burn
2. Mariachi el Bronx: Mariachi el Bronx
3. Pantera:  The Best of Pantera: Far Beyond the Great Southern Cowboys' Vulgar Hits!
4. Aesop Rock: Alchemy
5. Fear Factory: Obsolete
6. Chimaira: The Impossibility of Reason

Granted, Metal is the predominant genre here (I loves me some Metal), but with the wild cards of Aesop Rock and Mariachi el Bronx thrown in the mix, it's easy to to get an idea of my musical a.d.d./schizophrenia/whatever.

Metal is my favorite form of music, period. No other form of music makes me feel so "god damn electric" (Chocolatey Kudos to those of you who caught that reference). It's empowering, to say the least. But any kind of music that is written and performed with style, imagination, creativity and above all heart, is like ambrosia for my soul. And by "ambrosia", I mean "Food of the Gods", not the tasty dish or a certain book about psychedelic mushrooms... Though I suppose great music has the same effect on me, regardless of the word's definition or usage.

To me, true art is Divine. True art is moving. If a song, a movie, a book, a painting, a photograph, a sculpture or whatever moves you? That right there is something to praise the Gods about. It doesn't matter if it makes you angry, makes you happy, makes you laugh, cry or rage; that piece just moved you. Art, at it's core is an external, often times physical manifestation of emotion. Everything else? All that emotionless, souless, gutless and trite nonsense that gets widespread notoriety and critical acclaim? Just another product. Sorry justin bieber, lady gaga, miley cyrus and all the rest of those other talentless-hack, corporate bitches. You've all sold your souls and there's no turning back. You have forever removed yourselves from the realm of Art and became a permanent fixture in the world of BANALITY. And in case you're wondering, yes. I intentionally neglected to capitalize their names. Ha! Take that!

Without Music, the world would forever live in silence.

To quote JoJo from the incredible movie Across the Universe, "Music is the only thing that makes sense anymore, man. Play it loud enough and it keeps the demons at bay..." God damned right. Music has helped to keep me sane and filled my life with joy, laughter, strength and many amazing memories (good and bad) in my 27 years on this planet.

Throughout high school, there were a couple of albums I can think of that helped me through that ordeal. I can remember listening to Tool's epic AENIMA whilst in the depths of depression... The incredibly sculpted music and the deliciously ambiguous lyrics contained within helped me to feel better about myself and the world around me, even during the lowest of lows. Slipknot's frantic (might as well say schizo) and aggressive self-titled debut made me feel like I wasn't alone in feeling helplessly and hopelessly angry at a world that didn't accept me for being who I was. It even made me feel like it was ok to be angry. It gave me a healthy outlet for that aggression. Those two records helped carry me through those 4 years of social hell. Sonic Therapy. Gotta love it.

I've been to hundreds of live shows, each with their own little adventure, along with the pleasure of seeing some of the greatest (in my not-so-humble opinion) bands to ever grace this Earth. And of course, all of the shows that I personally had the honor of performing with 2 completely different groups of awesome musicians that I'm still proud to call my friends. Not to mention all the time I spent with those guys, writing, practicing and just having fun. Plus, being in a band is one hell of a networking tool and the friendships and experiences that came of all of that could fill one big ass book.

Thousands of hours have been spent listening to music throughout my life, beginning with my brother Augustine constantly listening to and playing the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fishbone (amongst other greats). And of course my Dad, who's impeccable taste in music from the late 40's to the early 70's instilled a deep rooted love, respect and I'll admit, an out-and-out obsession with music. I remember being about 8 or 9 and my Dad getting upset with me for continuing to steal his tapes (specifically Otis Redding's and Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits and Cream's Disraeli Gears. And not to forget Dennis Leary's No Cure for Cancer, but we'll talk about stand-up another time).

Music (and Art in general) is a universal language. Ever wonder why that is? It's because Music speaks not only to your conscious self, but also to your sub-conscious and more importantly, Music speaks to your soul.

Music, sweet music. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways... Well, honestly I don't have enough time and you probably don't have enough patience for a list like that! With that being said, here's some of my favorite tracks from each of the previously mentioned albums in all of their incongruous splendor. Enjoy!

Lamb of God:

Mariachi el Bronx:


Aesop Rock:

Fear Factory:


Monday, August 8, 2011

Music Mondays!

Today, it's all about Aesop Rock. Ace Rizzle. The Bazooka Tooth. A Hip Hop Artist in every sense of the term. This dude is incredible. Born Ian Matthias Bavitz and originally from Long Island, New York, Ace's brand or story telling is, to me, delightfully unique. Especially given the banal state of most Hip Hop and Rap today.  The first time I heard Aesop put it down, I said out loud, "Thank the Gods. Hip Hop still LIVES." Up until hearing him, I had long feared that the majority of the Rap/Hip Hop community had gone the way of MTV; bunk, lame-ass excuses for "artists", pushing their mediocre rhymes over weak, recycled beats, all the while inadvertantly furthering a capitolist agenda and purposefully perpetuating cheauvinistic and violent lifestyles. And to be clear, in my opinion, there is a distinct difference between Rap and Hip Hop. In the words of KRS One, "Rap is something you do. Hip Hop is something you live." Rappers talk about and are focused upon things. Hip Hop artists speaks and cares about people. When Hip Hop began in the late 70's/early 80's, these guys had something to say. Their social commentary scared the shit out of White America. Then what happened? Producers diluted Hip Hop into Rap and de-clawed it's message into one of nothing but a bunch of posers and corperate puppets. Aesop Rock lives and breathes Hip Hop, and it comes so naturally from him, it's like a breath of fresh air.

He has the ability to tell a tale in a way that it changes meaning almost everytime you hear it. His vocabulary is extensive, so much so, that I would go as far as saying he has the largest vocabulary in use by any musician, living or dead. This guy layers his songs with metaphores inside of metaphores, allegory, moral stories and sometimes just plain fun (this dude's got jokes like a mf!). There's so much ambiguity in his words that their original intent becomes almost irrelevant, leaving enough room for the listener's interpretation as to their meaning. The words themselves almost become irrelevant. To me, Aesop Rock is hands down one of the best lyricists in music history. A true poet.

His beats are rock-fuckin-solid (which he himself produces about 50% of the time. The rest are done by close friends), featuring some of the tastiest grooves and funkiest beats I've ever heard. From his Avant Garde brand of Trip Hop, to the straight up Hip Hop that earned him his well deserved reputation, Aesop Rock delivers. If you like what you hear, please buy his records, they are well worth your hard earned dollars. Enough of my blabbing, I'll let Ace do the talking from hear on. Enjoy.

None Shall Pass:


Holy Smokes:

And one of my very favorites, "The Harbor is Yours". This song is about pirates! YAY!


Cook it up:

Aesop Rock's Discography:

Music for Earthworms: 1997
Appleseed (EP): 1999
Float: 1999
Labor Days: 2001
Daylight (EP): 2002
Bazooka Tooth: 2003
Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives (EP): 2005
None Shall Pass: 2007

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Artist Profile: Irving Norman

Born Irving Noachowitz in Poland, 1906. His family emigrated to the United States in 1923. He was your typical young man until going to Spain in 1938 to fight for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War. He returned to the States in 1940 a changed man... How many young minds have been distorted and forever altered by the horrible reality of war?


Having seen the true, horrific nature of Man at his worst, Irving channeled his frustrations and terrifying visions into art. He saw what Man really was: an animal. After facing the battlefield, he knew humanity's true face, and he saw what he felt to be a possible future and reality for us all... Most of his work is a little confusing at first glance; many repeating shapes and themes, with somewhat incongruous elements, usually a very dark color pallette. I remember seeing his work for the first time and, though I liked it, it's true meaning eluded me. It wasn't until one fateful evening while looking at his work, that the true meaning of it reality-checked me right in the teeth.

Norman's work showed a terrible world where the Elite reigned supreme and the rest of us, the endless blue collar masses, were but more meat for the grinder. His paintings showed that we the people were nothing but numbers, a seething, writhing mass of blissfully ignorant victims for the Machine. His vision terrified me; it couldn't be true... But the more I looked at them, I could not deny the truth of his paintings.

His paintings are huge in scale, sometimes as large as 9 Feet tall and 15 Feet wide, allowing him to pack even the most minute details into them. Paintings like The Bus (1953), featured hundreds of people (all with completely unique features) packed into a bus, detailing the cold, harsh reality of surviving in what he called the "Dark Metropolis."

Despite the bleak, dismal content of his art, Irving Norman is amongst my favorite artists. His un-flinching and un-apologetic view of society are visual cautionary tales of what not to do with one's society. Whether or not he's speaking directly about government control or if he's commenting on people's willingness to give up their freedom and individuality, the shocking imagery is enough to rattle the apathy right out of you.

Either way, I feel that his art tells a story everyone needs to hear at least once.

The Bus (1953):

In Blind Momentum, he shows Man's headlong rush to dehumanize ourselves in as short a time as we possibly can.

Blind Momentum (1960):

Martyred (1971):

American Street Scene (1961):

Irving Norman passed away in 1989, leaving behind hundreds of works of art, most of which he reffered to as "Social Surrealism". His scary, scathing and undeniably accurate social commentary is, I feel, even more relavant now than it was while he was still with us. It seems to me that even just the phrase Blind Momentum describes our current trajectory more so than just about any other current synopsis by even the most learned sociologist. Where are we going and why? What is happening to us? Why has apathy, greed, cruelty and banality become the accepted modes and memes of our world? We're on a shit machine of perpetual motion, and most of the people of this country seem absolutely ignorant of it. Irving began seeing, predicting and painting this vision more than 70 years ago.
Learn more about Irving Norman and his work here and here

Monday, August 1, 2011

Music Mondays!

Today is dedicated to Animals as Leaders. Why? Because they melt faces, that's why!

Last summer, I was hanging out with my friend and former band-mate Mike Sebedra. Keep in mind that Mike is a pretty damned exceptional guitar player... Mike walks up to me with a huge grin on his face, and in an uncommonly cheery voice asks me, "Hey! Do you wanna hear a band that almost made me quit playing guitar???" Interest now incredibly piqued, obviously I replied, "Fuck yeah, I do!"

Mike proceeds to show me this song:

My jaw immediately hit the ground. The lead guitar player Tosin Abasi (formerly of the mathcore band Reflux) astounds with his jazzy, classical, yet at times brutal 8-string guitar wizardry. And of course fellow Animals' Javier Reyes (guitars) and Navene Koperweis (drums) hold up their end of this eclectic and eccentric instrumental Jazz-Metal trio with incredibly capable hands (and feet). Granted, Koperweis didn't record or write the drums for the album (former drummer Matt Halpern has that honor), but he plays those beats flawlessly nonetheless.

Is it Metal? Is it Jazz? Is it Classical? Is it Electronica? Is is trippy? You bet your ass it is. Animals as Leaders are easily one of the most stunning, innovative and moving acts in music today. Period. Granted, that's just one assholes opinion. But having seen these young masters at work in person, you can't help but be awed at the technical ability, the raw emotion, the sheer power and beauty that this band pumps out at will. Watching these guys live, it's hard to deny that there isn't some divine influence involved. You can see how much it physically hurts them to pull off some of the things that their songs require, and yet, each one of them is smiling through the exertion. There were moments that I was honestly brought to tears at the overwhelming sensations of awe, respect and pure joy that the intensity and soul contained within their sonic onslaught.

On songs like "The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing" (my favorite), it grooves and shreds through tasty riffs and solos alike, peppered with electronic flourishes, wholly impressive drumming and timing the likes of which are all but incomprehensible to lamen's of music theory such as myself. The song ebbs and flows into a crescendo of epic proportions, hitting you with a melody so heavy and groove-tastic, that if you're not bobbing your head in time with it, you might want to check your pulse; you may in fact be dead. Don't believe me? Check it out:

Still not a believer? I would think that the music would speak for itself... But you know what they say; You can lead a horse to water, but... Well, I would hope you know the rest ;)

Happy Monday.