Thursday, May 31, 2012

Month to Month Resolutions, June 2012

Categories and Goals for June 2012

My Month-to-Month Resolutions at this point are more shall we say gestural than in the nature of a real regimen.  But I don't want to be too tough on myself, because it's not like I've fallen all to pieces.  I'm proud of a really aggressive month of running, for instance; I ended up crushing my old monthly mileage record and crossing the 100-mile barrier for the first time; I'm running another half-marathon next weekend, slowly but in a sedate and stately fashion, as befits a man of my years.  I have also been on a crazy quilting binge, slapping together a series of ten small scrap pieces with admirable dispatch, if I do say so myself.  I think it might have been Calico Cat who set me off.

Well anyway, let's check the damage.

Weighing-in: I have been weighing in, and have lost back to 200 pounds, which was where I intended to start from.  So that's actually been pretty good.
  • June Goal: I will continue weighing myself every morning in the established manner, finally implementing the 10 cents per tenth of a pound over 200 pounds penalty come June.  This will be assessed immediately each morning out of my coin jar, and at the end of June we can figure something to do with it.
Push-ups: I was doing so well in winter, but I've had a hell of a time keeping it going into spring.  Maybe it was a mistake to divorce it from the date, which kept it kind of fun and weird.  Nevertheless:
  • June Goal: I wish to perform 50 push-ups a day. 
Pull-ups: I finally, after various travails, managed to purchase a pull-up thingy, and get it assembled, and find that I could not use it anywhere in our home due to the crown mouldings.  So, I sold it on Craigslist for 1/4 of what I paid, to a guy who says it's working out great for his 12 year old son.  So that's OK.
  • June Goal: None.
Cola: With no goal this month, I nevertheless stopped drinking cola until the sun is over the yardarm, which has done more to limit my intake than all the rulesmaking this year.
  • June Goal: No cola before the sun is over the yardarm.
Veggies: Again, I've paid less attention to my rules, but probably eaten a little better this month.
  • June Goal: Eh, we'll see.
Paper Mail Sent: Yeah, I don't know what has happened to my paper mail output.  It's probably buried under all those quilts.

Writing Projects:
  • June Goal: Well, I'll have to work that out with "my authors," of course.
Quilting: I've been quilting like a madman!
  • June Goal: I don't really need goals right now.
And here's the new street map....

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Wednesday Post

Farewell, Jacopo Amigoni!

His vivid 1739 Biblical painting Jael and Sisera notwithstanding, the Italian-Spanish master went two-and-out against Carl Andre and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema.  Yesterday, he become the second artist to exit the Infinite Art Tournament.

Nor has the postage stamp been especially kind to Amigoni's legacy.  Neither Italy nor Spain (nor IAT's home county, the United States of America) has, as far as I can tell, put one of his paintings on a stamp.  In fact, I've only found two countries that have.

Paraguay's issue from the early 70s shows a little more skin than seems entirely necessary on a business letter, but taken on its own terms it's a fairly charming scene of minor supernatural beings at the frolic.  It's fun to pretend that the girl in the foreground is catching an (American) football for an amazing touchdown.

And then there's Mali.  This is the tamest of an issue from last year of stamps commemorating the female nude in European art.  From Mali.  Mali, an African country whose population is approximately 90% Muslim.  This is indeed a most cynical playing of the philatelic market!  However, since the United States Postal Service has long been in the business of promoting products of the Walt Disney Corporation in order to drum up revenue, the IAT is in no position to throw stones.

Amigoni may not be many people's favorite painter, but he has at least one painting with a truly excellent name.  It is a scene from traditional Roman history:

The title in Italian is Il Console Manius Curius Dentatus preferisce le rape ai regali dei Sanniti.  That's Consul Marcus Curius Dentatus Prefers Turnips to the Samnites' Gifts.  Next time you're in The Hague, you can check it out at the Museum Bredius.  Tell them Michael5000 sent you!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Round 2: Alma-Tadema v. Algardi!

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Dutch; worked in England

Lost narrowly to Albrecht Altdorfer in Round 1.
Defeated Jacopo Amigoni easily in Left Bracket First-Round Elimination.


Alessandro Algardi
Trounced North American Romantic Washington Allston in Round 1.
Lost to Jacques-Laurent Agasse in Round 2.


Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting, but likely much longer.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Texts and Contexts, 1999)

The Play: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Edition: Bedford/St. Martin’s “Texts and Contexts,” Edited by Gail Kern Paster and Skiles Howard, 1999.

Genre & Setting: Comedy. Also, fantasy: the supernatural element gives MND a somewhat different feel from, say, Much Ado About Nothing or Twelfth Night, and gives it a factor in common with quote-Romance-unquote The Tempest. It is a play that invites spectacular production, too, so depending on the production it may be in the genre of “Big-Budget Spectacular.”

The Wiki article on Shakespearean comedy (as of May 26, 2012) has an list of Shakespeare-comedy characteristics that I found kind of interesting.
  • A greater emphasis on situations than characters (this numbs the audience's connection to the characters, so that when characters experience misfortune, the audience still finds it laughable) – Check. MND’s engine is the who-loves-whom adventures of four attractive young people who are, as far as the script goes, completely interchangeable.
  • A struggle of young lovers to overcome difficulty, often presented by elders – Check. The kids get in trouble when they run off to the woods to elope.
  • Separation and re-unification – Check. I hope that’s not a spoiler.
  • Deception among characters (especially mistaken identity) – Check. The hijinx in MND really take off when Love Potion #9 is administered to the wrong Athenian youth.
  • A clever servant – He’s not only clever, he’s Puckish!
  • Disputes between characters, often within a family – Titania and Oberon are feuding over who gets to have the beautiful South Asian little boy as their chamber servant. Obviously, the less said about this the better.
  • Multiple, intertwining plots – Check. Three and a half multiple, somewhat intertwining plots!
  • Use of all styles of comedy (slapstick, puns, dry humour, earthy humour, witty banter, practical jokes) – Check!
  • Pastoral element (courtly people living an idealized, rural life) – This is a play about the sons and the daughters of the wealthy frolicking in the greenwoods with faeries, for crying out loud.
  • Happy Ending – Well, I wouldn’t want to give anything away.
The setting is technically in Athens and the surrounding forest, but this really means that some scenes are in town and some are in a tricksy but ultimately benign magical wood.

The Gist, which will obviously involve spoilers: Three and a half story lines! 1) Titania and Oberon are having their unseemly tiff. This thread is largely an excuse to have Puck running around, using magic carelessly to mess with people. 2) Youth A loves Youth B, who however loves Youth C, who however loves Youth D. Puck will first disrupt this chain of attraction, but ultimately bring it back better than ever. 3) Local tradesmen want to put on a play. Puck gives one of them the head of a donkey and then causes Titania to fall in love with him. It is implied that the Queen of the Fairies thereupon commits frisky acts of bestiality and, shockingly, inter-class sexuality offstage, in a play that is frequently put on by high school students. Obviously, the less said about this the better. 3½) This all happens in the context of a festival marking the marriage of the Duke of Athens to the Queen of the Amazons, whom he fell for after defeating him in combat.

Students of Gender Studies might well love this play, or love to hate it, for the symmetrical humiliation of every significant female character. This is especially interesting with the two female monarchs: one is a prisoner of war who is marrying her captor, and did I mention that the Queen of the Fairies is tricked into having sex with a donkey? Since this was written near the end of the long, successful reign of one of the great English monarchs, who happened to be a chick, it’s hard to figure whether Shakespeare was just indulging in garden-variety comedic misogyny or whether there was something more to it.

The Edition: The notes in this edition are dreadful. Despite an unusually transparent text – it is not a complicated play, and the plot engine is set up very carefully – the pages are thick with unneeded explanatory notes, about half of which are definitions of not-especially-obscure words whose meanings have not materially changed since they were written. In points where the text is puzzling or could use some supporting context, however, the edition gives you no help at all.

The value-added of this edition is supposed to be the supporting period documents related to the play and some of its themes, which comprise more than half of the book. These might be useful, I suppose, if you were teaching Shakespeare and these particular documents happened to relate to a point you planned to harp on. They seem rather randomly chosen to me, though, and I didn’t spend more than fifteen minutes skimming through them.

Adaptation: I don’t know that I've ever seen MND in performance. I am however already pained by the way that the scenes involving the tradesmen must usually be staged. Doubtless they are usually made to be the elaborately idiotic clowns in the tradition of most Shakespeare “rustics.” But you know, it would be a lot funnier if they were played with some realism, as slightly dim but reasonably dignified average Joes increasingly over their head with the business of trying to put on a play. The tradition of playing the Shakespeare rustics as slapstick buffoons seems to go back centuries, perhaps all the way to the original productions, but I think that is a long, long tradition of directors missing a bet.

The structure of MND is a little weird. The central action with Youths A, B, C, and D is set up very efficiently in the first inning, and then plays out like well-oiled clockwork. All is made well quite a bit sooner then we expect, however, and everybody is ready to live happily ever after with quite a bit of play left to go. Then, the tradesmen present their play in kind of an extended coda after everything else has been wrapped up. Maybe a clever director could make their tale of Pyramis and Thisbe somehow reflect back on the various relationship problems of the four couples – Titania/Oberon, Duke/Amazon Queen, Youths A & B, and Youths C & D – but it’s not a tidy fit, and he or she would probably have to have some Profound Insights to make a really meaningful connection.

Prognosis: Good stuff. This is the first time I have found a Shakespeare play an easy, fun read. This might mean I’m just getting used to reading Shakespeare, but I think it’s also a play without a lot of complexity or baggage. It is, with the above provisos, a lot of fun. There are wacky situations, and some good lines, and who doesn’t want to be Puck, with all his superhuman abilities and mischief? Plus, there’s a happy ending.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Infinite Art Tournament, Round 1: Campin v. Canaletto

Robert Campin
? - 1444
Flemish, probably


1697 - 1768
Italian (Venetian); also worked in England


Vote for the artist of your choice!  Votes go in the comments.  Commentary and links to additional work are welcome.  Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Friday, May 25, 2012

At the Movies: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

At the Movies with Michael5000

Jiro Dreams Of Sushi
David Gelb, 2011.

Ebert: Three Stars
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%(!) Fresh

As we left the theater, I said – loudly, so everyone could tell I was having a Very Intelligent Insight about a movie – “You know, it’s really not about sushi.”  I was goofing off, of course.  Jiro Dreams of Sushi is very much a documentary about sushi.  Like most good documentaries, though, it transcends its subject matter to give you something to think about beyond the specialized preparation of rice and seafood.

The “Jiro” of the title is the owner and chef of a strange sushi restaurant in Tokyo with an international cult following.  It has ten seats and at least six full-time employees, sells out reservations a month to a year in advance, and has no menu.  You eat only sushi, and only as it is served to you in an order determined by Japanese tradition, Jiro’s innovative sequencing plan (“the order of the meal is planned like a concerto,” enthuses a food critic), and whatever the best available fish at the market happened to be that day.

Jiro is 85.  Orphaned at seven, he has been working in sushi for 75 years.  He does not like taking days off.  His hope and goal, expressed throughout the movie, is to continue mastering his craft – making yet more and more perfect sushi – until the day he dies.

The older of his two sons, well into his 50s, is second in command at the restaurant.  His position is like that of the Prince of Wales, required always to be in proper form but never allowed to rule.  The younger son has a restaurant of his own – an eerily exact mirror image of his father’s establishment.  Why the mirror image?  Dad is left-handed, and the son is right-handed, ergo the perfection of the father’s layout needs to be flip-flopped for maximum efficiency.

If you enjoy food porn, Elizabeth, you will get plenty of lovely and tantalizing shots of exquisitely made sushi (which, as Mrs.5000 observed, cast the theater pizza into a less-than-usually favorable light).  You’ll also tour a surreal Tokyo fish market, watch the mildly amazing spectacle of a daily tuna auction, and meet men whose entire careers are devoted to the pursuit of excellence in one very specific commodity, who say things like “your first impression (of a tuna carcass) is very important” and “What would be the point of selling them my best rice?  They don’t know how to cook it properly!”

The other things that the movie is “about” are the proper place of vocation in one’s life, the line between (or the overlapping of) the pursuit of excellence in one’s passion and simple obsession, the nature of leadership and apprenticeship, and the value or necessity of hard work.  The relationship between Jiro and his eldest son is an ephemeral story line tying the film together; we immediately develop some ideas about what that relationship must be like, and then we have to revise them continually as more information comes in.  It adds just enough human interest – a very subtle note of drama – to hold the rest of the film’s elements in place.

So, it’s not really a movie about sushi.  Except, of course, it is.  Very well filmed and edited within a documentarian’s budget, it is a terrific film for people interested in sushi, restaurants, Japan, or humans.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Saint of the Month: Saint Donatian of Nantes!

St. Donatian

AKA: St. Donatian of Nantes
Feast Day: May 24.

Really Existed? Hard to say.
Timeframe: Late Third Century. Died, depending on who you ask, in 287, 288, 289, 299, or 304.
Place: Nantes, in Brittany.

Credentials: Recognized by Tradition in the Catholic Church.
Martyrdom: The rack, lancing, beheading.

Patron Saint of: No known tradition of patronage.
Symbolism: May lack symbolic tradition.

I got all excited when I saw that St. Donation was one of the couple dozen saints whose day falls on May 24, because he appears in a killer van Eyck painting. Lamentably, it turns out the the guy I was thinking of, the patron saint of Bruges, is Saint Donatian of Rheims. His saint's day is October 14! Nor is today the day for Saint Donatian of Châlons-sur-Marne, nor for Saint Donatian of Africa. No, today, May 24, is the saint's day for St. Donation of "Saints Donation and Rogatian" fame, sometimes called "St. Donatian of Nantes."

The story of St. Donatian was originally written in perhaps the fifth century. He was the son of a prominent local family in Roman Brittany who took to Christianity when it was new in the region and became an avid evangelist. All went well until one of the famous persecutions of Christians swept through the Empire. Donatian was arrested for refusing to worship the gods. His elder brother Rogatian was so moved and inspired that he converted to Christianity, but wasn't able to be properly Baptised because the Bishop had gone into hiding.

The Chapel of Saints Donatian and
Rogatian at Nantes Cathedral was
gutted during the French Revolution.
But let's break for a second so I can tell you why the internet record does not make a convincing case for the actual existence of these worthy brothers. First of all, there seems to be a great deal of difficulty in trying to get their dates to line up with known persecutions of Christians, which certainly happened in the pre-Constantine Roman Empire, but not nearly to the extent that we were once led to believe. Also, the Catholic Encyclopedia points out that the first historically certain Bishop at Nantes appears in 453, so the idea that there was a Bishop in hiding already in 287 can only, as it were, be taken on faith. The best argument for the story of Donatian and Rogatian, as far as I can tell, is the archaelogist's dictum that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

Martyrdom and Legacy

Well. Donatian and Rogatian were tried and found guilty of practicing Christianity. They spent a last night praying together in their cell; some accounts go into remarkable specifics about the details of their prayers. In the morning, after refusing to renounce their faith, they were put through a three-part execution, rendered identically by all sources. They were, first, put to the rack, the legendary torture machine designed to tear a person's joints apart. It would be an agonizing and terrifying way to have one's body destroyed. It strikes me, however, that a rack seems like an esoteric and rather capital-intensive piece of hardware to have been on hand in third-century Nantes. I could be wrong.

Secondly, their "heads were pierced with lances" -- all sources use the same wording for this.  I'm confused about exactly what the phrase means, but I'll hold off on the details of my confusion in case you are trying to finish your breakfast. Thirdly, they were beheaded. The punchline to this grisly tale is that Rogatian received his hoped-for baptism in the end, in the blood of his martyrdom.

Saints Donatian and Rogatian are commemorated in Nantes Cathedral. If you make your way about a mile to the northeast, where Rue St. Donatian meets Rue St. Rogatian, there is the Basilica of Saint Donation, an imposing church in its own right; it is thought to the fourth church built over the tomb where the brothers were buried.  [It has an excellent history of the Saints on its website, if you read French or have a web browser that can provide impeccable translation.] The neighborhood to the south of the Basilica is called the quartier Malakoff - Saint-Donatien. So, St. Donatian is pretty prominent today, at least in his home town.  That's not bad, even if he never got painted by van Ecyk.

St. Donatian's Basilica with its state of Joan of Arc (similar to, but not
the same as, the Joan of Arc statue near Castle5000)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Wednesday Post

Recent Acquisitions to the Michael and Mrs.5000 Boring Postcard Collection
Gleaned from the Greater Portland Postcard & Paper Collectibles Show, February 2011
Thanks to La Gringissima for the tip-off.

4 -  James U. Jackson Memorial Bridge, Augusta, Ga.

The new bridge spanning the Savannah River, between Augusta, Ga., and North Augusta, S.C., is a memorial to the late James U. Jackson on North Augusta, who promoted the first bridge over the river at this point.  Near the Georgia side of the bridge is the site of Fort Grierson of Revolutionary War fame.


There's a man died here & everybody has gone to his funeral, it seems as if the whole town is dead.  Done all my business this morning, have to collect for 2 more this aft. when man gets back from funeral and then I leave for Redding.  Write me at Eugene, Oregon, Gen. Del.  

Yours, Max  
Sanborn Vail & Co.

A Few Marguerites

Dean Lilian, 'Cuse me for not writing sooner.  For I was to the city.  Come down some time.  Regards and wishes to all from all.  The weather here is very bad.  Answer soon.  From Lena Piegaia

Off Strawberry Point 

In the flow of ages
about the maturity of time


None of this week's postcards are available for sending.  If you would like to have a somewhat less boring (but still quite boring, I assure you) postcard delivered to your own home, that is your right and privilege as a reader of this online entertainment.

You may demand your card in the comments or at InfiniteArtTournament ~at~ gmail.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 3: Basquiat v. Beckmann

Jean-Michel Basquiat
1960 - 1986

Defeated Georg Baselitz in Round 1
Decisively defeated Italian master Jacopo Bassano in Round 2.


Max Beckmann
1884 - 1950
German; worked in Netherlands and U.S.

Defeated Gentile Bellini in Round 1.
Edged out nineteenth century Frenchman Frederic Bazille in Round 2 by two votes -- YOUR VOTE COUNTS!


Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Michael5000 vs The Beatles: "With The Beatles"

The Backstory, as I Understand It

So the Beatles, propelled by some potent cocktail combining the strength of their first album, their hard-earned proficiency in performance, market engineering, and the myriad of chaos factors we generally lump under “dumb luck,” experienced this sudden incredible onslaught of popularity after releasing Please Please Me.  Everyone and their dogs recognized the lucrative opportunity to strike while the iron was hot, and the boys were scheduled scraps of studio time amid an intense hurry-up-and-wait schedule of travel, schmoozing, and performance (as parodied not long after in the movie A Hard Day’s Night).  In less time than most bands might take recording a single song, the Fab Four cranked out a full album’s worth of immediately salable consumer product.

Under these conditions, you would expect the album to stink.  That is doesn’t is one of the greatest proofs I’ve seen yet in this project that the Beatles were unusually gifted musicians.  To be sure, it shows definite signs of rushing.  There are minor errors, missed notes, and studio noises in the mix; they don’t distract, but they are there if you are listening carefully and repeatedly.  Songs that want endings go through fade-outs instead.  Most obviously, the record has a preponderance of cover songs, especially on the back half.  The Beatles songs are serviceable, but still lacking much in the way of lyrical sophistication (although George Harrison seems to have been waking up to this problem).  Yet, the record works.  It sounds pretty good and, in a few spots, awfully good.  The lads could obviously perform under pressure.

Key Points:

→ After the five hyperfamiliar tracks on Please Please Me, there is a relative sophomore drought: only "All My Loving" and three cover songs that are very familiar, but moreso in their originals.

→ Some conventions are starting to break.  "It Won't Be Long" is perhaps a more aggressive blast of pleasant noise than anything on Please Please Me, and "Don't Bother Me" and "Not a Second Time" seem like real innovations in songwriting, though the production of the latter doesn't really do it justice.

→ Singing continues to be very strong -- these guys are a good vocal quartet.  Instrumental part playing seems strong across the board, although -- again -- the production, especially in the backstretch, is fairly sloppy.  These guys are genuinely good!

→ This album is probably less good, all things considered, than Please Please Me, and it is by no means an essential collection of songs that everyone should be listening to a half-century on.  But it shows development and potential, and in an assessment of the Beatles as musicians it shows versatility and grace under pressure.

The Songs:

“It Won’t Be Long”
Theme: Muddled, but essentially: Boy promises good behavior to Girl in implicit trade for future companionship.

The album starts with an exuberant guitar-propelled rocker that establishes a dance-party mood and seems to announce that a new, more aggressive rock sound has evolved in the months since Please Please Me. It’s a great opening track, and if it’s energy isn’t sustained through the rest of the album, it is at least a good omen for the future.

We are also immediately reminded that before the Beatles were anything like interesting lyricists, they were exceptional rock singers. For those of you following at home, I want you to listen to the various iterations of the chorus:
It won’t be long, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
It won’t be long, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
It won’t be long, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
‘til I belong to you.
What you’re listening for is how the singer (John Lennon, I think) phrases the word “long” in the second line (for instance at the five-second point). If he just hit that word at the pitch that it eventually settles into, the song would, I think, be ruined. Instead, there is some bending into the pitch that saves the day, adding some subliminal complexity that lends the chorus forward momentum and a sense of excitement. Without that touch, the song is lost: the chorus would be merely sing-song, and we would not be distracted from the banality of the words.

“All I’ve Got to Do”
Theme: Celebration of a successful and mutually supportive Girl-Boy relationship

After the fiery opening, “All I’ve Got to Do” quickly signals that the pace and energy of the opening number is not sustainable. It’s a perfectly serviceable up-tempo ballad, to be sure, and wins points lyrically for taking what initially seems like a eerily domineering sentiment – “when I want to kiss you, all I’ve got to do is call you on the phone and you’ll come running home” – and leveling the playing field: “and the same goes for you, whenever you want me at all.” There’s a BIG vocal sound to the repeated “you’ve just got to call on me” lines that I like a lot, even if it does come a bit out of nowhere. Ringo Starr’s technical drumming skills come off especially well on this track, I think. Against these strengths, we barely have a full song here; even a weak dum-de-dumming fadeout tacked on after its natural end point barely pads the thing out to two minutes.

“All My Loving”
Theme: Boy will save all his loving for Girl

The only hyperfamiliar track on With the Beatles. Unfortunately, this is the first of the hyperfamiliar Beatles tracks I have found to suffer significantly on closer listen, as the simple, pleasant melody is backed throughout with a grinding, unimaginative triplet pattern of guitar chords. You don’t notice it when you hear the song twice a year, but if you’re listening to it daily it starts to hit you like the sound of a dental drill. Also, at the halfway point – one minute into another two-minute song – there is an out-of-place bridge that apparently wandered in from a hokey country and western tune. It’s pleasantly surreal, but not especially good.

“Don’t Bother Me”
Theme: Boy wishes to wallow in his romantic disappointment.

This mid-tempo rocker is probably no one’s favorite, but it has an unusual, sinuous melody line and just a touch of a psychedelic edge to it. It begins to foray into slightly less obvious rhyming words than we’ve seen to date.

“Little Child”
Theme: Boy wants Girl to dance with him

Phrasing! Phrasing! This piece of fluff has little going for it either musically or lyrically, but it’s saved by the reading of the “I’m so sad and lonely” line. The only other strong points are an awesome rocker’s whoop at the 54-second point and some decidedly cool-sounding “oh yeahs” during the fadeout. Otherwise, take solace that your discomfort over the singer addressing his object of desire as “Little Child” is only going to last for one minute and forty-six seconds.

“Til There Was You”
Theme: Boy really likes Girl

Damn! Did you know that the Beatles covered the Great American Songbook standard “Til There Was You”? Eh, you probably did; you’re always up on this things. It’s a shuffling acoustic rendition sung with real sweetness and sophistication by Paul McCartney. It is a real oddity on this record and in the whole Beatles catalog. And I must say, I find it incredibly charming.

"Please Mister Postman"
Theme: Disappointed by a lack of communication from Girl (Boy), Boy (Girl) confronts a postal carrier despite knowing already that there is nothing that this public servant can do, indeed despite knowing that the very act of asking a postman to check again for a letter he forgot to deliver is in itself an act of self-debasement.

Damn! Did you know that the Beatles covered the American girl-group hit “Please Mister Postman”? They did! It is an exceptional reading of the song, and my favorite track on With the Beatles. Somehow, the lads manage to have it both ways, delivering the goofy, hook-laden party hit with all of its musical fun intact, while at the same time conveying the genuine note of pathos inherent in the song. I imagine that 99 out of 100 times this song is listened to, it’s listened to for the fun. But you can also listen to this recording and feel genuinely sad for the Boy (the Girl in the original, of course) who is so cut up by his sense of rejection that he is actually, despite himself, confronting the postman to beg him to check for an overlooked letter.

The mood is unfortunately broken for a moment when the singer (John Lennon again, if I’m not mistaken) puts perceptibly mocking quotation marks around the line “deliver the letter, the sooner the better” [2:12]. At this state in their lyrical development, the Beatles oughtn’t to have been attending to the motes in others’ eyes; “Please Mister Postman,” along with “Til There Was You,” are far and away the best-crafted songs on this album.

"Roll Over Beethoven"
Theme: We are very intrigued by American Rhythm and Blues!

I have always disliked this Chuck Berry rock standard. First, and most reasonably, as a true rhythm-and-blues piece, it conforms with brutal rigor to the same set of chords, changed at the same intervals, as the vast bulk of the blues catalog. If you have heard one blues song, you have to a surprising extent heard them all. Secondly, although Berry’s lyrics are actually pretty clever, the song also erects and enforces a division between popular and classical music which rubs my fur the wrong way for obvious reasons. That is the whole point, of course, but nevertheless. Thirdly, and moving from personal proclivity to wildly irrational pedantry – Berry’s mandate that Beethoven “tell Tchaikovsky the news” grates on me because it would be impossible to fulfill: Beethoven and Tchaikovsky did not share a common language. This “problem” in the lyrics is stuck in my head, and rankles, kind of like what happens to many of us with old Abba lyrics sometimes.

In their version, the Beatles sound like a very competent English band covering an American rhythm and blues song, except for a badly fumbled guitar introduction that is one of With the Beatles’s great mysteries. We know by now that the Beatles have a couple of very good guitar players. Why didn’t they roll another take on the intro to “Roll Over Beethoven”?

"Hold Me Tight"
Theme: Boy wants Girl to hold him tight.

When I was missing the last four tracks of the album, I thought With the Beatles ended here. It’s an upbeat and exuberant tune that would actually make a pretty good album closer. And frankly, since the following three songs smack of filler and the one after that never really made it out of demo, I think I was happier when the record did end here.

"You Really Got a Hold on Me"
Theme: Girl really has a hold on Boy

The Beatles attempt a slow groove with a Smokey Robinson cover. Although there are some some nice vocal moments, I'm afraid the lads sound faintly ridiculous as they try to smolder.

"I Wanna Be Your Man"
Theme: Boy wants to be Girl’s man

A bluntly repetitive and too-hearty number that highlights the Beatles’ obvious grounding (pointedly ignored in conventional rock history) in the contemporary folk music revival. The chorus – I Wanna Be Your Man/ I Wanna Be Your Man/ I Wanna Be Your Man/ I Wanna Be Your Man – is not a high point of Beatle songwriting. Songs with this problem earlier in the album were saved by phrasing, but this song isn't so much sung as belted out.  It was probably more fun to perform than it is to listen to.  The song’s main strength is a nice suite of rock-and-roll yelping at the 1:01 mark.

"Devil in Her Heart"
Theme: Boy disagrees with interlocutor regarding Girl’s moral character

Another cover, this call-and-response ballad highlights another of the Beatles’ obvious influences – the schmaltzy popular music of the immediate pre-rock era.  The line I’ll take my chances/ because romance is/ so important to me makes me flinch a little.

"Not a Second Time"
Theme: Boy, having been made to cry by girl, is unreceptive to rapprochement.

An interesting song, with twists in the harmonies, the melody, and the overall structure that point towards a band with the potential to innovate. Another song that feels like a natural album closer, but there’s still one more song to come.  Also, it's another song that feels rushed-to-market; the band, uncharacteristically, does not seem at all tight or decisive in this recording.

"Money (That's What I Want)"
Theme: Boy wants Money.

It is a little thrilling to hear the Beatles begin to sing about something other than the petty nuances of infatuation. Not only does this make them start to seem like rounded human beings, but it opens up whole new realms of rhyming word-pairs, even if they don’t really exploit this possibility quite yet. This is a heavy song, a solid rocker; it is certainly the strongest of the significantly blues-influenced Beatles compositions to date.

Next on Michael5000 vs. the Beatles: A Hard Day's Night.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Infinite Art Tournament Round 1: Callebotte v. Calder

I've heard it wondered by more than one person when we would get to the Cs. The answer is... right now.


Gustave Caillebotte
1848 - 1894


Alexander Calder
1898 - 1975


Vote for the artist of your choice!  Votes go in the comments.  Commentary and links to additional work are welcome.  Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Jazz Thing

I’ve been exploring jazz for the past three or four years, ever since y’all found the good stuff for me after I put out the call. I’ve been, as they say, diggin’ it. I’ve decided it would be grand to get myself a little better versed in the essential literature of the genre. And naturally, having made such a decision, I figured the most way to approach it was with absurdly intricate methodological rigor.

I kicked off the project by finding five independent “Best 100 Jazz Albums of All Time” lists, and doing some simple collation. Well, to be honest, some complicated collation. I noticed two things: first, that there was a broad consensus on what constitutes the core jazz corpus. Here’s the top 15 according to the (absurd but methodologically rigorous) scoring system I used in blending the lists:
1. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme (1964)
2. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (1959)
3. Eric Dolphy, Out to Lunch! (1964)
4. Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert (1975)
5. Stan Getz & João Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto (1963)
6. Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959)
7. The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out (1959)
8. Clifford Brown & Max Roach, Study in Brown (1955)
9. Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Moanin' (1958)
10. Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus (1956)
11. Louis Armstrong, 25 Greatest Hot Fives & Sevens (1928)
12. Miles Davis, Bitches Brew (1969)
13. Dizzy Gillespie, Collection
14. Charles Mingus, Black Saint & the Sinner Lady (1963)
15. Cannonball Adderley, Somethin' Else (1958)
16. Chick Corea, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (1968)
The second thing is that, as you may have noticed, jazz seems to be largely something that happened between 1955 and 1969. There is of course a certain degree of truth to that, but it's not totally true, so I ventured back into the internet and came back with four different reputable-seeming “Best Jazz Albums since 2000.” These had very little overlap at all.

I managed to cull the records that looked interesting, with a little effort, to one hundred ten albums from the all-time charts plus another eighteen from the last decade or so, to yield 128 records, an excellent tournament number.  Next, I went to a website for guys who run billiards tournaments, and modified one of their 128-player double-elimination tournament brackets for my purpose. This enterprise, after all, is no Infinite Art Tournament. At only an eighth the size of our twice-weekly exploration of the fine arts, “The Jazz Thing” – which is what I’m calling it – is plainly intelligible to the human eye.

So then of course I came up with a rigorous and defensible strategy to convert my rankings into tournament seeding (I really ought to be in a profession where I can make more socially productive use of my math and logic skills, such as professional gambling). Let’s zoom up to the top brackets, which I’ve already filled in, and you can see some of the first few matchups.

Now, you are perhaps wondering what all this has to do with you. The answer is, unlike the art tournament (which all right-thinking people should be voting in), not much, really. All I’m going to do is use this elaborate set-up as a sort of listening guide, giving me a map with which to explore the world of jazz, two records at a time. A couple of times a month or thereabouts, I’ll report back. At that point, any readers who are hep jazzcats can chime in, deride my taste, try to talk me out of my decision, and so on – but you don’t have to vote! In fact, you can just skip those posts, if you want.

One more rule! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I do sometimes have a certain tendency to… shall we say… prolixity. Verbosity. Being a great bloated windbag. So for The Jazz Thing, I’m setting some limits. For first round posts, I can only use forty words per record in my report, plus one sentence explaining which record “won.” Every time a record wins a round, it earns another 40 words. In second-round write-ups, I can use 80 words per record; in the unlikely event that I, this blog, and this project survive into the third round, I can use 120 words per record, and so on.

Rules-based creative writing is my hobby. Don’t judge. Oh, and by the way, best not to tell Mrs.5000 about this. She doesn’t know about it yet, and it might freak her out a little.

The above was written while listening to coronetist Warren Vaché and pianist Bill Charlap’s 2000 attempt to take on Number One seed “A Love Supreme” with an elegant but laid-back set of finely crafted little gems. It sounds pretty good!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The 5000s Go a'Arting

Last weekend, Mrs.5000 and I got our act together and renewed our membership in the Portland Art Museum.  We briefly poked our noses into the South Asian collection, because it's hard to pass up Lord Ganesh on a giant mouse.

Here's me with Lord Vishnu in his incarnation as Lord of the Dance.

But soon we were whisked away, or whisked ourselves away I suppose, to the featured exhibits.  One was a major collection of the work of Mark Rothko.  In addition to his big color fields, there are quite a few of his earlier figurative works in the exhibit.  I kind of liked this Ensor-ish one:

...and Mrs.5000 really likes this one:

To tell you the honest truth, I ended up feeling like I had taken and failed the Rothko test.  I've always been skeptical of his famous color-field paintings, but have also often been told that you have to see them in person, and then, wow!  So now I've seen them in person, but the wow! didn't happen.  It makes me feel like I've let down the side, somehow.

Mrs.5000 did a much better job than me at Rothko appreciation:

I'm more of an Albers man:

Mr. Albers is currently going head to head with Carl Andre in the Infinite Art Tournament, where voter lamanyana recently said he bets that Albers paintings "are great in person."  I certainly thought so.  I asked Mrs.5000 what she supposed it meant that I respond to Albers but not Rothko and she replied, rather kindly I thought, that I must "be more spiritually attuned to the straight line."   Ooh, good answer!

We bumped into works by other Tournament artists as well, including Josef Beuys, currently between matches after being trounced by Gianlorenzo Bernini in Round 1.

This monumental piece hangs impressively in the central lobby, just centimeters off the floor.  Call me reactionary, but I think it might have had stronger overall impact without the big fake turds.

Here's Agnolo Bronzino, looking very good indeed in a painting that I prefer to either of the entries in his current Round 1 contest against Victor Brauner.

And here's Max Beckmann, who's currently throwing down against Frederic Bazille in a Round 2 contest.   Polls close soon!

And the spider-woman herself, Louise Bourgeois, currently in Round 1 action against Antoine Bourdelle!

There was also a exhibit showing the work of a guy named John Frame which was rather remarkable, but also hella difficult to explain, and they didn't want it photographed.  So if you are a City of Roses person, you'll just go have to see for yourself.  And if you're not, you'll just have to come visit.

Mrs.5000 points out that you'll have to come visit quickly, as the John Frame exhibit is only up until May 27.