Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wish I Didn't Know Now What I Didn't Know Then

I've Avoided This for Over a Year

Partly because I didn't have the money. Partly because I didn't have the time to figure out if it was better to go mono or stereo. (I mean, the mono mixes were the ones they labored over... the stereo mixes were tossed off quickly by assistants with most of the principles long, long gone.) And partly because I just don't know how many times I can be expected to buy certain Beatles albums in "new" configurations.

Sure, I read all about the remasters.

But I hadn't heard them.

Until a few days ago.

Maybe I'd hoped I'd win the lottery (or at least pay off all my debts).

And maybe I'd secretly hoped the remasters wouldn't really be that different. Or that good.

But I'm sad to report that the remasters are crisper and clearer. And just plain better.

Damn it.

Guess I'd better start buying lottery tickets.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Lazy Lazy Lazy Road

Jack Be Nimble Jack Be Quick

"I love this song," she said.

Not possible, I said.

"No, it's cool. I love it."

But the lyrics.

"I don't care. I never listen to the lyrics."

It didn't last long, but there was a brief time in the late 70s and early 80s where Lindsey Buckingham seemed to live and breathe catchy melodies. That may just be the only possible explanation for this insanely catchy song.

And yet... to call the lyrics insipid is an insult to insipid people all over the world.

There barely are lyrics at all ("I found out long ago it's a long way down the holiday road" and "Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, take a ride on the West Coast kick") and they don't seem like anything more than placeholders.

And sure, no one expects much from a song written for the movie National Lampoon's Vacation, but that was 27 years ago.

Wouldn't you think he'd have wanted to write some lyrics and make a real song out of this?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Shortest Night of the Year

The Druids Had it Right

Deep breath in. Hold. Deep breath out. Hold.

Anyone can breathe in and out. It's the holding where the magic happens.

The Druids knew this. So they celebrated the holding.

Most of the year we're breathing in. Or we're breathing out.

Twice a year, we hold.

And in the pause, anything's possible.

So after months of losing light, we pause. And in that pausing we can reflect light outwards. And then we start the long, slow process of gaining light.

And yes, the gaining and losing is part of a wonderful universal cycle.

But the pauses... the areas between.

That's where the rules are (briefly) thrown out.

And that's where (briefly) anything is possible.

So while others lament the shortest day of the year, the Druids would pause.

And make magic happen.

Happy Winter Solstice -- here's wishing you your own magic.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Leg Men

Awareness, like a wave, swept over us

Looking back, it's the suddenness that was shocking.

On Monday, none of us knew or cared.

On Tuesday, the awareness of female legs manifested itself in my 6th grade class. Suddenly, everyone was an expert on what made good legs and what were considered bad legs.

And then on Wednesday, the leg discussion narrowed. Because all anyone wanted to talk about was Carla's legs.

Or, more accurately her leg. The fake one.

It's hard to pinpoint where the knowledge came from. But within hours, every boy in my school was aware that Carla had a fake leg.

And we'd stare at her going down the hallway, then argue about which leg was real and which was fake.

We'd argue with great certainty that far eclipsed any of our knowledge of or contact with a female leg.

We'd discuss where exactly the real leg ended and the prosthesis (a word we suddenly all knew as if it had come down from the heavens) began.

We had the knowledge and the certainty. So we debated and discussed.

But we never questioned.

And the proof mounted -- she never rode a bike. She wouldn't go swimming. She didn't wear skirts.

Sometimes she'd catch us staring and she'd smile. Enigmatic. Carefully weighing whether to say something, then turning around and leaving us to our discussions.

We'd huddle together, daring each other to think of a way to find out which leg was fake, hatching dozens of plans, then chickening out before any of them came to fruition.

Her family moved away the next year. And that should have been the end of the story.

Except that my friend Greg loved strip clubs.

And last year he found himself in a strip club. In the middle of Kansas.

Where Carla was one of the dancers. And she recognized him. And gave him a private dance. For old time sake.

As she stretched out first one leg and then another, she could see Greg struggle and strain to see where reality ended and the fake leg began. But he couldn't. Not on either leg. Not on either side.

So he asked her what we'd all wanted to ask back then if only we could find the words. Or the courage. "Which one is fake?"

And Carla smiled, telling him both her legs were real.

"But you must've known what we all thought in 6th grade. So why'd you let us all think you had a fake leg?"

And she explained, over the course of 2 private dances and $85 in tips, that sometimes it's better to be noticed for something that's fake than ignored for something that's real.

Her logic was ridiculous. It didn't hold up. It didn't make sense.

Just like our 6th-grade debates. Which started on a Wednesday in the fall. Right after we decided we were all leg men.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Anchorage International Film Festival Diary

Back to music tomorrow... meanwhile there's this:

Crossposted at

You might want to read part 1 and part 2 first.

Anchorage International Film Festival Diary (part 3)

I wake up early enough to shave (if I'm gonna be on TV, I probably should shave) and finally figure out how how easy it is to get to the Bear Tooth. Taavi is there and we talk about what he should see and do while he's in Anchorage. The TV crew shows up and interviews all the Snowdance filmmakers -- including the Beekeeper guys (who again arrive in a pack). While I'm there, they do a projection check of my movie and I'm thrilled to see how good it looks on the big screen.

I get back to the theater about 45 minutes before the screening and I'm thrilled to see a huge number of people already lined up to get in. I do a quick interview with Robert Forto from Dog Works Radio in the lobby; he's moved up to Willow from Colorado to train for a 2013 Iditarod run. I'm impressed by his digital audio recorder, which resembles an old-time radio microphone.

A bunch of the people I interviewed for the movie are there and I'm thrilled to see the movie with a packed theaterful of Alaskans. The short A Portrait of Nikolai screens first -- it's a fantastic look at a changing community put together by a group of Nikolai teens enrolled in a summer filmmaking workshop. More than once I find myself wishing I'd had their equipment! (And more than once I feel guilty about that wish.)

The movie starts and I'm sitting in the back with my friend Jaime. Sue Allen, Mike Suprenant, Larry Williams, and John "The Poodleman" Suter (mushers I interviewed for the movie) are all here. Mary & Janetta (who used to run the B&B where my wife and I stayed the first time we came to Alaska) are here too -- although I don't get a chance to really talk to them. I've seen the movie so often I think I might know it all by heart and as it unfolds I'm bombarded with memories of filming the scenes and the months of postproduction on the movie. It looks good on the big screen and I'm relieved to hear people laughing at (most) of the things I thought they would laugh at. (It's also interesting that a few things get much bigger laughs from Alaskans than I expected.) More importantly, everyone is completely engaged and caught up in the movie. I've got too much nervous energy to sit still, so I find myself wandering in the back of the theater, lurking for on different sides, scanning the audience and watching them watch the movie.

It's over quickly and I go up (along with the Nikolai filmmakers) for a Q&A. The audience seems totally engaged and really into it. People come up to me afterwards and in the lobby and I feel like a rock star (even if it's just temporary). More than one person tells me it's hard to believe a non-Alaskan made a movie that captured the spirit of Alaska so well (which is just about the highest praise I could ask for).

I have dinner with my friend Jeanne Devon from the Mudflats blog and we indulge in pumpkin pie martinis. I'm completely exhausted but totally wired and happy. The feeling of seeing something that for years has only existed in my mind become a tangible thing that other people can experience is completely wonderful.

The rest of the trip is a blur: the next day I wander back downtown, stop and say hi to my new Facebook friend Star, have breakfast at the Snow City Cafe, walk back to the sled dog statue on 4th Avenue (that marks the start of the Iditarod), pop into a Starbucks to check email and run into Larry Williams (an ex-musher who's in the movie; he and John Suter are developing a movie based partially on Suter's experience running the Iditarod with a team of Standard Poodles) -- we have a great talk, then I'm off to meet Peter Dunlap-Shohl (who directed the fantastic animated short Oblivion 1964) for coffee, chat with several filmmakers who just got into town, have a great conversation with director Erik Knudsen (not to be confused with SAW actor Erik Knudsen; I'm sorry I missed Erik's workshop "Cinema of Poverty: Independence and Simplicity in an Age of Abundance and Complexity" and his interesting movie "The Silent Accomplice," which follows water on its journey from a spring out to the sea"), watch Stephen Greenberg's do "A Life Ascending" (the story of a mountaineering guide in the mountains of British Columbia), then head over to Out North for a sold-out screening of Journey on the Wild Coast, about a married couple who hiked, kayaked, and skied 4000 miles from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands. I had talked before with Journey director Greg Chaney, who sifted through hundreds of hours of footage shot by the couple to make the movie (for details, click here). Volunteer coordinator (and all-around amazing person) Beth managed to snag me an AIFF t-shirt from a previous year that I admired -- and she squeezes me into the packed theater so I can see the movie. More than one person I've met has said that Beth should be a line producer (or maybe a fixer in some war-torn country) because of her amazing ability to get the impossible done almost immediately.

From there, it's back to the airport -- where the TSA agents run my back through the X-Ray machine three times and gather around to stare at it. I realize they're looking at some of the film festival Swag -- a pair of handcuffs promoting a film that AIFF distributed to all visiting filmmakers. I start to say something, but the TSA agents just smirk, raise their eyebrows, and let me through.

My overnight flight from Anchorage to Seattle is fairly empty, so I get an entire row to myself and sleep most of the way. I've got a 5-hour layover at SeaTac, which I spend working (thanks, free wifi) before I catch my flight back to LA (I sleep through most of that one, too). I wake up just before we land, watching the sun shine brightly off the sandy beaches.

I know I'm still mostly in Alaska, because all I can think is: "How great -- it snowed here too."

Thanks for an amazing weekend, Anchorage!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

You Can't Fit Denali Into Your Hand


Last spring, after I'd returned from Alaska filming things for my Iditarod doc MUSH, I was pouring over all the footage trying to figure out how to put everything together.

I knew what I wanted, but I wasn't sure it would all come together.

So I went to see Brandon Schott who was playing in Hollywood to celebrate the release of his "God Only Knows" single. There were a bunch of other people who got up and performed, including Matt Hopper.

Hopper's music is almost a lot of things without ever quite fitting neatly into any one hole. It's almost indie rock and almost Americana. It's definitely almost folk, but it's also definitely not folk.

We talked afterwards and I learned he was originally from Alaska and I told him about the Iditarod project and he told me he had a new album coming out with a song on it called "Denali" that might be perfect for my movie.

And it was.

So here it is:


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mooseward Bound

Again, I'm wondering if a flight can really be considered non-smoking if the airline chooses to have it depart at 4:20.

If that's too much to ponder, here's a little travelin' music from Marian Call Alaskan:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Some are Mathematicians, Some Are Carpenters' Wives

And some order 178 pizzas in the middle of the night...

My hometown is in the news.

And not in a good way.

Bob Dylan performed this weekend at UMASS Amherst and, hours later, someone wearing a backstage pass walked into a pizza parlor in the center of town and ordered 178 pizzas for Dylan and his crew.

At 1:30 in the morning.

The staff of the pizza place (perhaps eager for the reflected glory from a music legend whose best days are decades in the past) agreed to stay late and make the pizzas.

The man with the backstage pass promised to return and said he would leave a huge tip on top of the $3900 for the pizzas.

This raises a lot of questions.

Such as: when did my hometown decide that a pizza should cost $22?

And why would anyone think that Bob Dylan would have a crew large enough (or hungry enough) to eat 178 pizzas in the middle of the night (or first thing in the morning)?

Do they think that Dylan has an entourage that numbers in the hundreds? (If everyone were to have 3 slices, that would mean nearly 500 people. Even if everyone ate half a pie, that's still 356 people. And if the average is only 2 slices, that's more than 700 people. Doesn't anyone do simple math anymore?)

And more importantly, why would anyone start a job like that without getting at least partial payment in advance?

As a friend of mine used to say, that's the problem with college towns -- everyone's really book-smart and totally lacking in common sense.

"It may be pepperoni, or it may be extra cheese, but you're gonna have to serve somebody..."