Mark Allen's Top Ten for May 24th, 2004:

1. I went to see New York City Ballet's performance of "Variations Pour Une Porte et Un Soupir" at Lincoln Center
    Last week I had a few hours of uptown avant guard glamour "old skool style ... even old hat!" ...when a friend took me to the New York State Theater in Lincoln Center to see the NYC Ballet's Centennial Celebration of famed choreographer George Balanchine. It included four of the ballets he choreographed; "The Steadfast Tin Solider," "Ballo della Regina," "Variations Pour Une Porte et Un Soupir" (aka: 'Variations on a Door and a Sigh') and "The Four Temperaments." My friend's main reason for taking me was to witness "Variations Pour Une Porte et Un Soupir," which was choreographed by Balanchine and scored by modern composer/musique concrete-ist Pierre Henry, and performed with a remarkable costume/set piece designed by Rouben Ter-Arutunian. I've had an interest in Pierre Henry's music for a while, particularly the music he did for this ballet.
    Premiering in NYC in 1974, Pierre Henry scored the Balanchine two-dancer ballet entirely with the sounds of loud creaking doors and a few electronically manipulated bells... nothing else. I have been a fan of this CD  for a long time (which has his famous 'Psyche Rock' and related songs, some spooky electronic landscape pieces, and then the entire score for 'Variations...') The score was actually premiered at a large church in Paris by Henry in 1963, and after the "Variations..." ballet debuted in '74, was originally released as a one-sided vinyl album. It actually gained some notoriety within American popular culture at the time as "that creaking door record." My guess is that it was used a lot for school and church haunted house fundraisers.
    So it was nice to see the ballet it was actually intended for. The actual choreography consisted of two dancers, one female (the door) and one male (the sigh). The dancers this time aroud were Maria Kowroski and Tom Gold.
    Maria was dressed in a kind of 1920's flapper-esque outfit and wig, which then had a huge and I mean huge cape streaming from her back (simultaneously attached to her and stretched across to the back wall, covering the dimly-lit stage and then reaching all the way up to the ceiling). The cape was made of very light, shimmering black material (think of playing with a parachute in grade school gym class) and was operated by her and what must have been at least ten or so stage hands behind the back wall, invisibly pulling the cape this way and that with ropes... depending on which way the giant thing was intended to sway. It was pretty dramatic and nostalgically surreal, and the whole set up made me thing of trying to capture on a live stage what is only possible in animation. At times she kind of reminded of the scene at the end of Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" when the Evil Queen erupts with her massive cape into a gargantuan dragon.
    Tom Gold was doing kind of "modern"  Martha Graham/Mummenschanz moves all around her... but let's face it, her cape (an inanimate object) stole the show. Which makes me realize how perfect the creaking door soundtrack was... music made from inanimate objects (doors). Which then makes me then realize that musical instruments are inanimate objects too, just brought to life by living beings. Does one inanimate object take precedent as a musical instrument over the other because it's more traditional? Can flowing material get credit for dance in the pages of a ballet program? Aren't the nerves and cells and atoms that make up the living beings sitting in the seats of the New York State Theater watching "Variations..." just inanimate objects themselves, when you break them down to their most base molecule?
    What makes one molecule inside a living being stay as part of the whole, and another get evacuated? Why do the "good" and "healthy" molecules in a living body stick around to form functioning cells and nerves and muscles and neurons? Why do the "bad" and "unhealthy" molecules get pooped out of the body with the other waste, or just stick around causing confusion, mutation and disease? If you consider the entire history of music as a living body, and instruments as the most base molecules of that living body... then I think a violin is considered "healthy" molecule, while a sample of a creaking door is considered "unhealthy" molecule. Am I stoned?
    So... that's just the long way around of saying that the avant garde in culture is a disease that causes change only when it's threat is so great that it forces the healthy culture to try and "cure" it... or better yet, adapt to it. Everything else gets flushed down the can (eventually). One has to wonder with the medium of ballet, which is so tradition-bound, how "Variations..." will be remembered. With Balanchine and Henry's reputations both solidified within their respective fields however, I think "Variations..." can safely be said to have made the cut (however, the countless techno and rap artists who have sampled Henry's music in their dippy records may eventually be headed for the cultural sewer... but we'll have to see).
    I was beginning to suspect that the audience in the seats of the New York State Theater last Sunday were molecular inanimate objects after all, as their applause after "Variations..." seemed politely enthusiastic in comparison to the hearty cheering and shouts of "Bravo!" that followed the other three performances. I think "Variations..." is seen as a fascinating oddity in the history of ballet more than anything else. Although, I did hear a few young children in the audience gasp and giggle in wonderment at the crazy lady and her giant cape moving robotically to the sounds of creaking doors on the massive stage... and naturally, why not?  Afterwards, I heard the woman next to me explained to a friend; "...I like unusual music... but that this was a little extreme for me. I need something to grasp onto... some sort of melody or harmony or structure."  Not to sound mean... but do ballet aficionados, when not attending performances at Lincoln Center, spend all their other time living underground, in caves, with their eyes closed and their hands clasped over their ears?
    I remember all the while the dancers were up on stage and the wild cape was doing it's thing, all I kept thinking about was the music. In the beginning I kept wondering how they were going to perform the sounds... recorded... samples... or possibly even using microphoned creaking hinges? I actually got really excited at the very beginning when someone's seat next to mine creaked when they moved. Alas, for this 2004 performance... the score was obviously a recording, or triggered samples (the other three ballets, which were more traditional, had live symphony scores). Hearing it projected so loudly in such a grand hall in front of a formally sat-down audience was the real mind-blower.
    Sitting in my creaky seat, I must confess though, I felt like a bit of an inanimate object myself... as this was the first ballet I had ever attended. It's logistics and characteristics were impressive, but were alien to me... and of a realm I'm naturally inclined to view from a distance. I had been a fan of this Pierre Henry score for years... and seeing the ballet it was meant for was a treat... but an alien treat. I loved getting to experience it all. But I felt like it was a trip down other people's memory lanes.

    Yes... it is what it sounds like. You know those rating sites like Well the concept is spreading to other ...areas. Here's the link to You have to rate each photo before you can move onto the next one, so you may want to get your clicking finger working because, trust me, the less time you see some of these photos... the better. Here's one (above) who looks suspiciously like Thurston Moore.

3. The spooky and mind-blowing "Gukanjima" - a once densely populated, now completely deserted Japanese island
    "This is probably the closest chance you'll ever get to inhabit a life-size recreation of your favorite 'Twilight Zone' episode, in this lifetime and on this planet and in this dimension at least."
    Yes, besides relating to this story, this above mantra is actually my daily affirmation that I say to myself every morning, as I have my first cup of coffee. Trust me... say it out loud in the AM, before you walk out the door... and your whole day will fall into place like a Hans Arp collage.
    Nevertheless... hidden off the westernmost coast of Japan, there sits a giant, long rock island called "Gukanjima." Apparently it was nothing more than a reef until 1810, when massive amounts of coal were found in the area. The hoards moved in and it became a hugely populated mining community, with a population of 5,300. Because the rock this artificial community was built on was so densely populated, and skinny... people built buildings upwards... way upwards. Hence the island's looming, maze/labyrinth-like streets twisting and turning all over the place. Because of the high, skinny structures and elongated shape (one kilometer long), from the distance it looks like a battleship, hence the name "Gukanjima" which translates to "Battleship Island."
    By 1974, the coal had dried up... and slowly but thoroughly the most densely populated island of it's kind, and everything on it, became completely deserted. Amazing. Inhabiting or exploring the island is now forbidden, but many people have visited and documented it's existence from time to time. Lots of that information can be found here:
    Here's a link to some photos taken recently Here's a link to some explanation from that photographer. Here's a glut of photos taken on the island right at 1974, when the last of the last was still there. The site is translated from Japanese, and is a little awkward... but here is the main page, and if you just go exploring around you can find all kinds of images and explanations, much like actually being there I suppose.
    (Found out about this on

Courtney Love as Red Skelton "Sad Clown Face" painting
Courtney Love as Alien Autopsy

4. Courtney Love's latest court paparazzi photos... worse than the Nick Berg beheading video
    Fabulously apocalyptic klutz Courtney Love quietly drifted like a yabber-mouthed specter into court in Manhattan two weeks ago, making an appearance regarding that microphone bashing thing that that fag sued her for. She didn't disappoint, as usual, searing shut the eyeballs and ear holes of anyone within a one-mile radius. Simultaneously channeling Ruth Buzzi and a possessed Linda Blair (and everything in the kook-ball spectrum in-between) the cameras sometimes caught her face muscles breaking down momentarily as her brain impulses told them to relax between rants about Cameron Crowe, her house being leined and "stealing candy from babies." And at these chemically-induced moments of neuron gaps, her faced looked almost normal... and showed all the resignation and naive wonderment that a child might display in the headlight of an oncoming train. A similar "mood" can be found in a Red Skelton clown painting. Of course at all other times she was her "normal" self... and we LOVE to love her for it.
    The commentary on about the spectacle was pretty funny, which compared her persona to "Joan Rivers shedded skin that decided to visit Jocelyn Wildenstein's make-up artist for a quick rouge bath..." Here is the collection of photos from the AP wire. She's weirdly chameleon-like in the series... at some angles she looks good... but others make her like like a wicked witch that's been hit full speed in the face by a Boeing 747 filled with powdered sugar and cherry pies.
    Of course you can't hear what the microphones caught here (which was all over the local news that day - FOX used it in their ads to boost ratings). She rambled on and on and on and on and on through lipstick-covered teeth about absolutely anything that passed through her mind... sometimes seeming to change whole personalities within seconds. My God, this fantastically weird neutron bomb of a woman is a walking high-rated reality show... when is it going to happen? I might actually buy cable!
    Speaking of beheading...

5. Nick Berg beheading video conspiracy theory web site... a growing trend
    Of course if Courtney Love's recent paparazzi photos were worse than the Nick Berg beheading video that same week... what if the Nick Berg beheading video was not real and was actually some sort of secret propaganda? Could the same be said of her? Maybe her career is Alien Autopsy.
  Here is a great conspiracy theory web site about the Nick Berg beheading video... one of a growing number.

6. Jimmy Kimmel as Jabba the Hut
    Late night comedy host Jimmy Kimmel was rushed to a hospital in an on-air medical bloating during a live interview on ABC-TV two weeks ago. His face began to swell, his voice went raspy and his eyes swelled shut. Immediately after the show he was rolled to a Hollywood-area hospital (where all the nurses are glamorous vixens no doubt) where he was administered treatment and is said to be recovering from an undisclosed allergic reaction. The cause? Too much Advil. I kind of like the look... celebrities are getting way to boring these days. Famous people need to experiment more extremely with new and exciting human body shapes, like Kimmel here did.
    Speaking of stretched out...

7. Anal magic has "stretched out" my friends!
    Yes! If you're a regular reader of my site, you know how I worship at the alter of Anal Magic.
    Yes... that is the name of artist Kenny G.'s weekly radio show on the excellent WFMU. Kenny's ear-splitting radio stunts are WAY ahead of their time, depending on who you ask, and two weeks ago he once again topped himself (hmm...). Amid the frenzy of mediocrity that was swirling around the finally final episode of the TV show "Friends," Kenny decided to broadcast the audio of the entire episode, including commercials, stretched over his entire three hour block of time. While watching "Friends"* may have been the equivalent of eating marshmallow fluff covered in sprinkles, listening to Kenny G.'s "Friends" show is the equivalent of eating marshmallow fluff covered in quaaludes... while under water. I highly recommend it. As usual, just the pure concept of stretching out the audio to three hours isn't enough for Kenny... as he adds all sorts of odd details here and there.
    Listen to Kenny G.'s "Friends" show here.
    Whilst I'm on the subject, in addition to Kenny's weekly show, I (again) highly recommend, as a starting points (that will cling till the end) the shows of:
    1. The electric, multitasking shape shifter Brian "the Nikola Tesla of WFMU" Turner
    2. The fantastic diorama of phab-oo Pseu "sweet 'nsizzlin" Braun
    3. My latest 'FMU obsession... woozy sound garbologist The Cosmic Cowboy
    4. Your great, great, great grandparents were right! It's the Antique Phonograph Music Program alt. w/ Thomas Edison's Attic
    Aren't I like one of those hopeless nerds at a party who won't stop quoting "The Simpsons" episode lines to pretty guys? Why do people always run away from me? Although there is much, much, MUCH more to discover at the infinite WFMU (listenable from anywhere in the world via the web). So if you aren't as addicted to it as I am... I recommend caving into peer pressure and taking that first hit. It's a gateway drug!

    * Was  the TV show "Friends" a swirling, engulfing, black hole of irrelevance? An abyss? According to early test screenings (posted on it most definitely was. But who knows, the totally great "Gilligan's Island" failed in front of test audience screening after test audience screening, long before it was reluctantly debuted on CBS in 1964.

8. M-o-o-o-o-r-r-r-e-e-e-e-e Ed Shepp!
    More "bling" I say! If you were familiar with Ed Shepp's work that last phrase would make a lot of sense to you. Ed's work causes me to think that things I thought were "uncool" are actually transcendant. Ed warps my mind and makes me smile... much like shock treatment.     I've tried to convince a few magazines around town to let me write a glowing article about the mind-bending genius of Ed Shepp... but they've been pretty aprehansive. Maybe I'll have to get in a time machine and go forward a few years when Ed's warped vision has had time to infect popular culture.
    The excellent Ed Shepp (yet another WFMU discovery) is about to plop out another CD/mp3-collection (already has, and I just don't know?) on the unsuspecting minds of the sleepy world. It's title is "Ed Shepp Exposes" and Ed has put a few of the pieces up online already ('Back to the Crack Shack' and 'Ed Shepp Exposes: Christina Aguilera'). Here is a link to the mp3s of his new CD which is called "Ed Shepp Exposes" or maybe it's called "Ed Shepp: Radio Friendly" - I'm actually not sure. Here is a link to Ed's blog. Don't let the techno rap effects, futuristic Freudian slips and nightmarish Butthole Surfer-esque voices fool you... take the plunge into Ed Shepp (if you're new to his work I recommend 'Girl of Convexitude'). If you want to take a stroll down memory lane, here are links to mp3s of Ed's "Bling" and "Images of Rapture From the Boggle Woggle."
    Try him... he's another gateway drug!

LEFT PHOTO: performance artist Chris Burden after getting shot in the arm by a friend at F-Space gallery, in "Shoot" (Chris Burden, 1971)
RIGHT PHOTO: Chris Burden documents shooting a plane in "747" (Chris Burden, 1973)

9. The gun-toting, body bag getting-into, violent side of left wing, free-spirit, tree-hugging, dolphin-riding, moon minds
    I bet YOU thought this entry was going to be about Chris Burden. I love the work of Chris Burden, the above photo (right) of Chris Burden shooting at a Boeing 747, is one of my favorite images of all time. But, I don't feel like writing about him right now. Any artist who placed himself in a body bag and positioned himself in the middle of a busy highway ('Deadman' - 1972) doesn't exactly inspire writing, you know? Performance artists shooting each other in the arm and getting in body bags in the middle of busy streets are like carte blanche for carpe diem... and make me realize that you only live once, so I should really get out more. But I've been everywhere. How about the moon? Can you fire a gun on the moon? Can you? Will it work? What will happen to the fired bullet in low gravity?
    Speaking of inspirational violence... here and here are some interesting write-ups on artistic suicide. Here's some more thought-provoking performance art.

Actual photo from my weekend

10. A ripe trip to the country... and a rare trip inside my mind
    This last week I went to visit Jim at his new, new, newest digs in the Catskills. It was a wonderful trip, I actually worked with Jim on some stuff. We had a really nice time together, riding bikes, playing with wild cats (we named one 'Snobby'), watching movies, sleeping. We spent a lot of time on Jim's fantastic back porch in his wildly overgrown back yard... swinging in his hammock and sipping wine and talking. I had my camera with me and took a few photos. But for some reason lately I'm very ho-hum about my camera. I did take this and this photo of dandelion seeds wafting in Jim's backyard one afternoon. But really that was about it. For some reason I'm finding it hard to get excited about capturing things on binary "film" as I experience them. Maybe I'm just getting lazy about it. Maybe I'm turning Amish and consider the camera to be the "devil's eye."
    Well somebody in Jim's town obviously does (above), although I don't think he's Amish. The above photo was taken just an hour before I left to come back to NYC... literally across the street from the train station. It was taken just seconds after I snapped this photo (for some reason I thought the indian sign and my reflection were 'interesting'). After I snapped the slanted sidewalk, I walked back over to Jim and he gave me that "look" that lovers use to silently communicate with each other. It's a "look" that Jim and I often use on each other... it means "Look behind you there is a really freaky person." Jim and I give each other this look all the time.
    When I turned around, I saw... to the left of what I had photographed... a kind of chunky, older, kind of filthy, possibly black man sitting on a ledge with a lunch box next to him. According to Jim, he had quietly placed his jacket over his head when I came within 50 feet of him with a camera (with the lens pointing nowhere near his direction). Jim thought he looked like that special kind of "odd" that we both idolize... so he brought my attention to him. As I had missed his quick attempt at camouflage (it worked!) I decided to add gasoline to the kindling by walking back into the street and pretending to take a picture of something else, then, at the last second... quickly turning the camera in his direction to snap a photo of this lovely small town kook.
    I of course chickened out a bit, as I didn't get close enough to really capture him on film. Plus, this person with the jacket over his head seemed to radiate a very "angry" vibe that was kind of intimidating... it kept me at bay. I mean, how mentally balanced is a person who puts their jacket over their face when someone 50 feet away from them is taking a picture of something nowhere near them? It's like gratifying your ego by seeking out and manipulating a situation so you can feel persecuted... and if imaginary persecution is your main source of ego gratification, then you're my kind of person to photograph (but not become friends with - trust me).
    What was weird is that I naively thought the man couldn't see anything because of the jacket over his head. But I was wrong. He must have been looking through a little hole in the jacket (it was pretty tattered). The second I did the old switcheroo and turned my camera in his direction to hit the shutter button, he reached up to pull the jacket off of his face (captured above) and... do what I don't know. Scowl at me? Pull out a gun? Shoot fire out of his mouth? Neither Jim nor I found out because as soon as we saw this happening, I snapped the picture above and we turned and walked calmly but quickly away towards the train station entrance.
    I mean, normally I'm kind of obnoxious at times, but this guy seemed to radiate an aura of scary violence that kept me from getting right in his face. Sometimes the most vicious bloodbaths can occur on the sleepiest of small town streets. Jim said he chose to look away before he saw his face because "...he didn't want to add to the oncoming hideousness" that I had caused. So... the two of us, not feeling any bullets or poison darts in our backs... walked into the train station without having ever seen his face. Whew... it was over.
    But it didn't stop there, at least not in our heads. As my train was an hour and a half late (which caused me to miss a client in NYC - thanks Amtrak!), Jim and I had all kinds of time to sit and paranoid-ily ponder. What if he was waiting for the same train I was? What if, because of his paranoid-al, anti-social nature, he decided to wait across the street for the train? What if I had now become his new target in some kind of paranoid delusional anti-camera violent world that he lives in and takes lithium for? What if I had committed the ultimate offense in his secret value system and now must pay the price? What if he was just some drifter who didn't have a ticket for the train, but knew I did, and had no qualms whatsoever about just hopping onto the train when it arrived... murdering anyone who asked for a ticket or got in his way... with the eventual goal of murdering me? Train murder. We've seen it in a million horror movies... it's quite a good plot device! It's terrifying!
    Ahhhh... how the country air can really clear your mind. When my train finally did arrive, Jim and I said our good-byes, and I boarded the rather sparsely populated car. I didn't see jacket-headed man anywhere... at least I didn't think I saw him.
    Jim waved from the station as I settled into my seat. I looked around... hmmmm, I thought my car had a few passengers. But apparently not... as I was the only one around. The gorgeous green countryside and Hudson river passed outside my window as the sunlight shone into the roaring, rumbling car windows and flickered in strobe patterns all over the carpeted walls and cushioned seats. I started to read the book Jim had loaned me about haunted houses in the New York area. Suddenly... I heard a rustling way in the back of the car. I turned around and peaked my head over the seat.
    Way in the back of the car was... a dark shape. It looked like a pile of filthy gray laundry piled onto the back seat. But as soon as the train came out of a clearing... the sunlight flickered through the window onto the pile and the reality of what... or who... it was became chillingly clear. It was HIM. He sat all the way in the back, his jacket still pulled over his head, his lunch box still next to him. I quickly turned around and sat forward, my breathing increased and my palms got sweaty. He hadn't been there a minute ago! How did he get on the train? How did he get in this car without me knowing? Maybe it's all just a coincidence... maybe he is indeed on the train going to New York City, and what happened earlier with the camera was all forgotten. Maybe he suffers from some horrible face-disfiguring disease and covering his head with his filthy jacket is just his way of dealing with it. Maybe, maybe... everything will be okay. I have a two hour ride ahead of me... I think I can make it all the way without letting my imagination get the best of me.
    I toss my haunted house book onto the floor of the aisle, pretending I dropped it. I bend down to pick it up and... as I do, I take a quick peek backwards to see if he's still in the back seat. All I see is the sun flickering on the oddly patterned fabric that covers the back of all seats on Amtrak trains. But no him! He's not there! Did I imagine it all? Am I letting my own fears get the best of me and play tricks on my eyes on this beautiful, sunny, train ride through the countryside? Well, even if I did let paranoia warp my senses... it doesn't matter. I'm on a train moving towards the city and the scary, no-face, camera-hating man with the jacket over his head is way... way back in that small town I just left (gosh... I hope Jim is OK!). I sit back up, still looking backwards... exhaling a sigh of relief.
    As my eyes lock with the rest of the seats behind me... I get that feeling that you get when you jump into water that is way too icy cold. Your breath chokes... your skin starts to get prickly... and every muscle tenses. This is because... unbeknownst to me, the creepy man is now several seats ahead of where he was! About five rows behind me and on the other side of the aisle. How did he move forward without me hearing or seeing him? He just sits... his jacket still pulled over his head... the sun still flickering patterns onto him as the train moves along. I quickly turn around and try to pretend that I'm not petrified. I open the book in my shaking hands and pretend to read it. God I wish someone else was in the car besides me and him and what could be my possible murdered. Where is the conductor looking for my ticket?
    I make the decision to move to another car, with more people. Whatever this guy's intentions are... I don't think they're good... and I think he may mean me harm. I need to get within sight of others in case my worst fears are realized. Even if it is all just a coincidence... and he's not angry that I took his photo, even if he keeps his jacket over his head because of some grotesque deformity, and even if he didn't sneak onto the train to kill me... even so, better safe than sorry. I almost smile as I think how silly I'm being, and reach under my seat to grab my bag. I have to look under the seat to get it out and as I do... I see them. The black, worn, muddy boots. The boots of the person sitting in the seat right behind me ...the aluminum lunch box placed right next to them on the floor. It's him.
    I explode out of my seat and race for the sliding door to the next car. I run into the next car... it's it can't be... empty? I run all the way to the other end... forward, into the next car. All that greets me is the rumbling car, cushioned seats, flickering sunlight and amazing countryside moving past the vast windows... but no one, not a soul. No conductor, no one. I keep moving forward in the train through empty car after empty car. Where is everyone? eventually I see a restroom and I run inside and lock the sliding plastic door with the "occupied" handle. I decide I'll just hole up in here until I hear the voice of a conductor pass by, and then I'll tell him about the jacket-over-his-head wearing, camera-hating manic that has snuck onto the train and is trying to kill me. The conductor will help me!
    I wait for what seems like minutes or maybe hours. The train keeps lobbing along... the blue water in the toilet keeps swaying back and forth as the train vibrates. But... I never hear the sound of anyone... not even the conductor's voice coming over the intercom.
    Suddenly... my cell phone rings! It was in my pocket the whole time! I forgot I had it... my God... whoever it is... I have to tell them to send the police! I hurriedly take it out and answer it. "Hello! Hello! Oh whoever this is! My God I don't know who you are but listen to me! I'm on a southbound Amtrak train going through the New York countryside on route to NYC and someone... someone who didn't want me to take there picture... they're trying to kill me! THEY'RE GOING TO KILL ME!" ...I stop, almost sobbing. I realize the other person has said nothing. My mouth shuts, my forehead relaxes and amy wet, fear-filled eyes look towards the phone as I press it closer to my ear... listening for anything. After a few seconds I hear a voice... a voice that sounds like Fat Albert... a voice that sounds like it's muffled by a jacket held over the mouth. The voice says slowly... two words; "N-o-o-o-o-o photos."
    I scream and drop my phone as I jerk the bathroom door open and run with all the speed I can muster to the front car. The train engineer! Someone must be driving the train! Drastic situations call for drastic action! I'll tell him what happened and he'll stop the train and we'll go for the police! I race through car after car... all empty. I reach the doorway into the lead engine car and slam it open with all my might. I see a figure at the controls of the train, his back to me. Next to him I see a coal oven with a pile of coal and a big shovel. The room smells of hot, burning metal. Funny... I didn't know Amtrak trains ran on coal these days. I yell to the engineer to help me please. He turns around... no... NO! The jacket-headed, no-camera man has killed the engineer and is now driving the train!
    All I see is the jacket over his head as he lunges at me... shrieking in his muffled Fat Albert voice "N-O-O-O-O-O-O  PHOTOS!"
    He grabs me and I try to fight him off but he's too strong. I'm jittering and flailing all around in terror. He lifts me over his jacket-covered head and I look out the front window and see the train approaching a high, curving bridge at top speed. He reaches up and grabs my digital camera out of my pocket, yanks it away and puts it on the control panel. Then, with no hesitation... he uses both arms and plunges me right into the doorway of the glowing orange hot coal oven... the hot coal hits my skin and I scream in terror and pain... but not before my melting eyes look and see the head of Jim inside the oven as well... slowly roasting and melting. Jim! Jim... nooooo! Jim aaauuugghhhh noooo!! He got you too!
    He shuts the door with my and Jim's bodies inside the coal oven, powering the train that is heading towards a rickety bridge at top speed. Just as the hot coal is melting the skin off my bones and I stare into Jim's severed, flaming head... I feel the train dislodge from the tracks of the bridge and begin to plunge deep into a canyon. I hear the subtle *click* of my digital camera outside in the control room... it's the jacket man taking a picture out the front window, with my camera, of the speeding ground as it comes closer and closer as the derailed train hurls towards the earth. I guess he does like photography... as long as he's at the controls. I scream and scream and scream and scream...
    In case you were wondering, these are the kinds of things I fantasize and think about while in the country.

Mark Allen's Top Ten for May 10th, 2004:

Hopperstad Stave Church, built in 1130AD, Vik, Norway

1. The Stave churches of Norway - objects of fantastic earthly beauty... co-opted by Christians... targeted by Norwegian Black Metallers
    Aren't these photos so alluring and spooky?
    Don't you just want to step into them? Step with your feet right over those tall, white "Copyright by Thu Data" letters and right onto the lush green grass, gentle breeze and amazing-looking, 12th-century, made-entirely-of-wood, Viking "Stave" church? These otherworldly photos are of the  Hopperstad Stave Church, located in Vik, Norway... which is one of many Stave churches left standing in Norway.
    I think that Winsor McCay was looking at structures like these when he began to dream up his lavishly illogical (and often architecturally-centric) "Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland" comic strips.
    Fantastic art and architecture can have that kind of delayed, domino effect... it's like a quiet, invisible, radioactive emission that slowly infiltrates and mutates things in it's vicinity, challenge people's value systems without uttering a single word. Norwegian black metal music followers have obviously noticed the power that seems to radiate from these ancient Stave churches... some band members and sects have attempted to burn them down on numerous occasions (sometimes succeeding). So whether it inspires whimsical cartoon characters or Satanic pyromania, great art's lasting influence wields it's highest concentration of power in people's subconscious, and is indeed a bitch to be reckoned with.
    In Viking times, (when dragons, conquest and survival ruled the consciousness) boat construction and home building had developed the technique and tradition of combining art with wood working, hence these structures' weirdly subtle but kind of also elaborate sculptural techniques and angular spires and steep roofs reaching towards the heavens. Named so because most of them have corner posts, or "staves," that support them (kind of like stilts)... these stilts lifted the walls from the ground to prevent rot (which destroyed some of the Viking's earliest attempts at wooden homes). These places of worship were constructed mostly during the 11th - 13th centuries. Probably about 500 stave churches were built all throughout Norway, but when Christianity was introduced to the region (around the year 1000AD), most were destroyed. Somewhere around 25-30 remain standing today. A large portion of the wood surfaces on the insides of the churches have elaborate carvings (especially the doors), and many of these carvings depict animals, specifically dragons, in various fantastical forms (which were a bit frustrating for Bible-thumpers of the time to associate with The Holy One).
    Even though these fantastic churches were co-opted by Christians in the 12th century, the finely honed Viking tradition of wood carving is the hidden worship here. I mean... you just look at these buildings and you can kind of feel the passion that many of these people felt about the characteristics and subconscious symbols of this malleable building material. Wood was an element that came from nature all around them, growing out of the ground, birthing unstoppably out of Mother Nature. Removing it from the ground and learning to tame it's habits to suit one's needs in such a commanding manner, was one small way of chipping away at, and attempting to solve, the great scary mystery that was nature (religion in a nutshell). The Stave churches of Norway almost seem like man-made, fetishistic temples constructed to pay homage to, and celebrate man's domination over, the properties of wood ...and making a peace offering to the oozing, violent natural world that wood comes from. Culling, shaping, treating and bending wood to fit your needs in such a "primitive" time is akin to our greatest nanotechnological and gene-splicing technologies today. And to do this with such remarkable, subtle and unique beauty... way back then, is the mark of an advanced race.
    The simple arrival at such an economically beautiful and remarkably unique design back then seems to have less to do with wanting to achieve intellectual status and shake the eyeballs and minds of one's fellow man (the aesthetic of my generation), and more to do with pleasing the Gods. Or perhaps pleasing the Gods within oneself. Which makes me wonder... was Marcel Duchamp the anti-Christ or some kind of mentally disturbed pervert? How come when things were so rough for people... they were having to eat rotten meat covered in bugs and drink hot milk right outta cow's boobs, and scabies and death-breath were a state of normalcy, and the life expectancy was like 30... did people make art and architecture so grand and perfect and beautiful? And with such limited resources? Now we have every convenience known to man and life is all la-tee-da for most people and Duchamp is suddenly all "...a toilet is brilliant!"
    I mean, how did we as an advanced society end up here? Modern churches, obviously controversial, can nevertheless be breathtaking. I mean, look at this and this. When the scientists of today finally reveal the first nanotechological, gene-spliced human clone... I'll travel forward in time twenty centuries and look at it's corpse... just to see how it stacks up compared to how the old Viking Stave churches or Norway still look today.
    Lots of info on these hearty structures' history can be found here. Some great photos can be found here. A great database/list of many of the Stave churches of Norway can be found here. And, here's "Stave churches" Googled.
    Because of Norway's extreme(ly), beautiful, rugged terrain... it is a haven for extreme sports enthusiasts. Did you know Norway has what is commonly called "Freedom Camping Laws" which are part of a bigger theory called "Everyman's Right." Everyman's Right is loosely translated to mean that everyone has the right to walk freely in nature, and also natural land even if it is owned... as long as they don't bother people and leave things unharmed. There is actually a law that says you can camp anywhere you want, on land public and private, as long as you are 300 meters from a dwelling, you clear out in 24 hours, and you don't leave anything (campfires are not permitted). But it's not a total free-for-all. You cannot pass a fence unless there is an unlocked gate, you cannot disturb people's garden's or arranged rocks, you can't let domesticated animals run loose on someone elses property, etc. It's like the people in their houses are wildlife you can observe from your tent with binoculars.
    Also... pack light! Basically, it is not explicitly forbidden by Norwegian law to take a swim in the nude or to be naked in the sun in a public place (however, 'indecent behavior' will be prosecuted).
    Norway, as you may already know, is also home to a huge, sometimes frightening and often uncompromising black and death metal music underground.
    However... there's no free lunch... Norway is one of the most expensive places to visit in the world (when you're actually buying food and travel tickets, rent, etc.), so if you go... be an adventurous billionaire satanic grindcore fan in search of fantastic old Viking churches and snow boarding and naked Aryan boobies.
    Speaking of all three subjects...

    bad church web site design

2. Do you have what it takes to make a fucking kick-ass web site for your church?
    Very helpful web site that gives guideline for "how to make a great church web site" ...and also offers some examples of really bad church web site design (one pictured above) ...which is a sub-genre of web design that's examples' urls could fill the Old and New Testaments themselves. Here's the link.

This is not the ad photo for the upcoming CBS TV movie "Helter Skelter," but I think it should have been... I made it myself:

3. TV movie "Helter Skelter" - May 16th on CBS... Sunday 7/8 central!
    Slowly-paced, overly-styled, awkwardly edited scenes of brutal murders portrayed in G-rated fashion? Pouting, model-y actors with no clue as to the diction and manor of 70's American etiquette? Mind control cult product placement? Savage murders safe enough for Nabisco and Maaco ads to be spliced in between them? I'm so there. This Sunday, 7/8pm central, on your local CBS affiliate! The newest made-for-TV movie about the Manson murders. For all info, follow this link to CBS's web site about the movie. The CBS press release about this Sunday's broadcast reads:
    "Jeremy Davies stars as convicted killer Charles Manson in this new television movie based on the true story of the August 1969 Tate/LaBianca murders, as chronicled in the best-selling book Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. It was almost 35 years ago, late in the summer of 1969, that Manson's followers, at his instruction, brutally massacred seven people over two consecutive nights in Los Angeles and scrawled bloody messages on the walls of the crime scenes. The first night, director Roman Polanski's wife, eight-month-pregnant actress Sharon Tate, was murdered along with coffee heiress Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Voytek Frykowski and Steven Parent. The second night, supermarket chain president Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, were found stabbed to death in their home. In 1976, CBS broadcast the mini-series "Helter Skelter," which was the highest rated two-part made for television movie ever. That movie chronicled the grisly murders focusing on the investigation of the gruesome slayings and the trial of Charles Manson. This new adaptation focuses on who Manson was, why he did what he did and how this morally corrupt ex-con was able to persuade the members of his Family to commit such horrifying acts."
    As mentioned above, the apocalyptically obnoxious crimes of Charles Manson and crew have gone the TV movie route once before. CBS (again) aired a two-part mini-series on April Fool's Day in 1976, also called "Helter Skelter" (linked here at the excellent site), which was based on the same book, and was broadcast in the middle of the night in some markets because of it's touchy subject matter (the murders and book were still fresh on everyone's minds). This original 1976 TV adaptation, despite having all the trappings of a 70's TV movie, has acquired a following due to an effectively ominous quality, and an apparently memorable performance of Manson by Steve Railsback (the film also stars 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' star Marilyn Burns) and is now available on DVD.
    I remember when I was a very small child, the infamous "Helter Skelter" book was on every bookshelf (except ours), in every house in our neighborhood. When over at friend's houses, me and my friends used to leaf through it's creepy pages of white silhouette-ed victim crime photos, and dare each other to open it to the center where the famous wide-eyed photo of a crazed Manson was in full two-page spread. We would actually dare each other to touch the picture.
    Be there this Sunday the 16th! Don't miss it! It'll be Spahn-tacular!

    Ricky Gervais as office manager David Brent, social disease victim number 4,910,587,206 and counting...

4. Ricky Gervais as David Brent on BBC's "The Office" - our private bitch
    Seeing as how I tend to latch onto the latest and most popular cable TV shows at the 11th hour (I don't have cable) I must now be the tardiest messenger in the world. My great, great, great grandmother (who's been dead for eons) has just now telephoned me from the afterworld to tell me that this cool new British comedy (which has been popular amongst high-concept comedy connoisseurs for years now) has finally reached her plane of existence, and I simply "must" watch it. I now will tell the perhaps 3 or 4 people left on Earth who have not seen the British comedy show "The Office" watch it immediately.
    It's an ingenious representation of the obliterating banality of modern office life... it captures the skewed, diagonal reality that exists in day-to-day business work... and the air-conditioned, industrial-carpeted, potted plant, fluorescent lighted, "No Exit"-ed Hell that it's doomed prisoners secretly wail and gnash their teeth at from behind partitioned drywall. Also, the series captures perfectly the perpetual dilemma of most people walking around in a state of social retardation... with even the most casual human interaction immediately rotting under the spreading plague of the often hi-LAR-ee-us social diseases that infiltrate our every interactive moment. If you've ever worked in an office job you loathed to the point of secretive, murderous rage (haven't we all?) and swore you would never work in one again (haven't we all?), or if you have ever been a helpless victim of the embarrassing stigma of awkward social moments once or even a billion times (haven't we all?) ...then by all means rent the now-available 2 seasons of "The Office" on DVD (or tune into cable... it's still running on the BBC channel). I highly, highly recommend it.
    Of particular note is a remarkable performance by actor and show co-creator Ricky Gervais... as the obliviously asshole-ish, ineptly friendly and disastrously buffoon-ish office manager David Brent. Gervais' portrayal of Brent's ability to put his foot in his mouth every three seconds to the degree that it almost seems to stop time excruciatingly real, and hysterically funny. Trust me, you've never seen an act like this... it's like you identify with him, but are simultaneously mortified. His character's smile-veiled blame tactics and hostility stumble out under the slightest mishap (which for him is every five minutes), all the while he keeps his carb-heavy face stretched into a grinning-death-mask, wrapped in a greasy glow. His character is a reluctant scum bag who is constantly painting himself into a corner and dragging everyone along with him, but at the same time, you love him, feel for him, because you can shamefully see parts of yourself there ...from deep-buried recollections of your most unspeakable, darkest moments. He is a pariah for our social diseases, our collective subconscious' patient zero.
    BBC's official "The Office" site.

    this weird toilet thing has nothing to do
    with the anti-Bush rant linked below

5. Funniest, most kooky, most cracked-out, surreal-iest anti-Bush "editorial" EVER!!! - go here.
    Hands down winner in a competition of which there are a zillion new entries every day... this is the prize-taker (so far). To be experienced here (it has nothing to do with the all-American toilet picture above). Thoughts anyone?

    air head?

5. Fly-away hair choppastyle
    My friend Marc Charbonnet is always sending wacky things to his buddies in group emails. This was included in one recent one that had all kinds of photos of amazing "ghetto" style. Isn't it great? I assume the attached wire means that the blades rotate.

    air ass?

6. What in the HELL is this woman doing? (with "guest" commentary by Tony Lagarto) posed the question first. I saw the picture and was baffled... but rather than ponder in binary black and white right here, why not let someone else's earlier thoughts (which I read via a newsgroup) ponder for me (and you)? Tony Lagarto, creator and maintainer of the absolutely brilliant and vital Tony's "Strangers With Candy" Companion web site, left no tiny cavity un-searched when he offered these thought provoking and exploratory theories:

Tony Lagarto's Top 10 explanations for what this woman is doing:
10.  Blowing up Ricky, her inflatable imaginary baby
9.  Doing the latest kind of fad liqueur shots at Namibia's hottest new club
8.  She ran out of diapers, so she's using that old gasoline-siphoning technique she learned back in the late 1970's as a pre-emptive strike to clear out the baby's pooper
7.  She's Uganda's greatest Jazz baby-bunghole player
6.  Someone told her to close her eyes and French-kiss Christina Aguilera
5.  CPR: Colonary Poohole Resuscitation
4.  Getting an Angola Spa facial
3.  This is the Sudanese version of the Atkins diet
2.  She saw the face and decided she'd rather kiss this end instead
1. What does it look like!? She's giving the baby a rim job
Thanks Tony!

7. I actually made a cheese ball
    Speaking of Tony's "Strangers With Candy" web site... while tooling around it, I ran across an interview with Amy Sedaris from Bust magazine in which she talks about her ongoing cupcake and cheese ball making business (in addition to everything else she does). She actually gave one of her trade cheese ball recipes in the article. It was then that the all-American, carb-faced, breast-loving male lying deep inside the "normal" me suddenly craved lots and lots of cheese. Okay, I crave cheese all the time... even when I'm asleep. According to the article, Amy says she likes making and selling cheese balls because no one makes them anymore. Strange because you would think typically super-sized, over-fed Americans would love them... they're so delicious and decadent! Maybe it's because you actually have to make it ...they aren't readily available in stores... or maybe the fact that they look like something out of one of those creepy old 1950's cookbooks keeps people away.
    Plus I think it may have to do with the actual name itself... which has left the realm of the serious English language, as far as the original meaning is concerned. I mean... can you see me striking up a conversation with that Spanish lady I always see next to me on the leg press at the gym? Finally breaking the ice and turning to say to her, huffing and puffing and sweating; "Yep! Gotta do some more repetitions to work off that cheese ball I ate for lunch!"
    I found the ingredients (according to Amy's recipe) cost around $20... although many of them I could use again. It was also extremely quick and easy to make.  And even though I have seen Amy demonstrate how to make this exact cheese ball for Conan O'Brain on "Late Night" (in which she wore an old wig as a hair net) I suspect that she may have been leaving out a trade secret or two in the recipe she is releasing to the public (like that they are the perfect size and consistency to smuggle a shiv in).
    Mixing the ingrediants was very... visceral. When I was rolling the giant, slimy, wet ball of cheese in the plateful of crushed walnuts (which I decided to toast beforehand) and the pale goo was oozing between my fingers, I kept thinking of that scene in "Fantastic Voyage" where the giant white corpuscle engulfs Donald Pleasence when he's trapped in the shrunk-down ship. It ended up being about the size of an abnormally large-headed baby's head (that's a lot of cheese!) and I felt a little Jeffrey Dahmer-ish handing it. Domenic walked in on me doing this and was laughing so hard he just had to snap this middle photo (above).
    The verdict? It's superb (I used twice the amount of A-1 steak sauce that Amy recommends though, and I burned my crushed nuts) ...and it will literally last for a week or more (cooling nicely in the fridge). It's so rich that you can't eat more than four or five cracker-fulls at a sitting. I think it would be really good with red wine, or old grape Kool-Aid that has been fermenting under a radiator. Oh boy is it delicious and so, so, so fattening.
    It looks like I've got dinner set for a week all for me and my five new chins. No, silly... not on my neck... my new Chinese neighbors who moved in across the hall! The Chins! They moved in next door to the Hips. HAW! HAW! HAW!

8. Eric Drexler's new nanotechnology web site
    Mind-blowing reading at It's a more straightforward and simple layout of information than the ever-growing, and an even easier read than Drexler's excellent book "The Engines of Creation." If you've never had an overview of nanotechnology and what exactly it's capabilities are, and the potential it could hold for the future, then this is the best place to start.

    say it loud!
    say it proud!

9. Floccinauccinihilipilification
    Pronunciation: \'flO-chI-'nE... uh, flO-chI-'nE ...oh fuck it\
    Function: noun
    Definition: The act or habit of estimating something as worthless.
     - eg. floccinauccinihilipilification.

10. New York City street robot shell's obviously changed forms.

Mark Allen's Top Ten for May 3rd, 2004:
1. Conceptual surrealistic photography through the ages:


2. Revolutionary avant garde performance art photographs through the ages:


3. (United States government funded) homoerotic S&M photography through the ages:


4. "The surreality abounds..." * does the hilarity! This is possibly the most mind-blowingly ripe situation for the best Monty Python sketch ever in the history of British slapstick... but personally I've never gotten English humor (lie). Although the very Dali-esque photo (above left) is of American soldiers "torturing" Iraqis, the spark that ignited the controversy about this creepy crime was centered around the British military.
    Couldn't you just see The Flying Circus troupe milking this whole scenario for the funniest situation comedy since "The Meaning of Life" or "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," or some of the countless Hitler or gay-themed sketches they brazenly broadcast on the BBC in the 1970's. I mean, I know Monty Python's glory days are way in the past, and other more current English comedy minds have far and exceeded their influence, but something about John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and the rest of the troupe doing this (along with maybe some of Terry Gilliam's rubber-limbed special effects) ...or maybe in front of a live British in-studio audience, roaring with guffaws ... it just feels right. The Python's could be the U.S. soldiers (with their trademark American accent parodies) ...maybe some of them even as the short-haired women soldiers, pretending that they aren't getting off on it... getting less and less in denial about the turn on until it turns into a total gay empowerment thing (think of the 'I Am a Lumberjack' song) while Iraqi characters are getting tortured in the background and maybe turning the whole thing around somehow (think of the stoning scene in 'Life of Brian').
    I mean, could this war get any funnier?
    Even more photos of this amazing, mind-wobbling series can be found on a specific page here at Russ Kick's excellent site. More images are also available at The New Yorker magazine (witty black & white ink drawing cartoon anyone?) online here (click on the 'view the images' in the 'related links' box on right).

* Thanks to Preston in Texas for the photo, link and quote

Jim Krewson for a bruisin' under a country mountain moon - photos by Jim

5. Jim's report of the latest "pickin' party" in upstate New York that I wasn't at goddammit!
    So... this weekend I missed a truly amazing two days which, for me, would have been an extremely fun soul-enema. The Christ punching-ly fabulous and vagina declining-ly gorgeous Jim "pick-droppa" Krewson... who is settled nicely into his great newest, new, new digs in the Catskills... invited me to go to a "pickin' party" on the hillside next to his friend and fellow band-mate Matt's cabin. So... since I didn't go. How was it Jim?
    Jim reports:
    "It's starting to even SMELL like summer up here for me! One of the best things about living near the Berkshires is the great summer-long pickin' parties (guitars, not boogers). The second one of the season happened last night (Saturday) and was a blast as usual. It took place on my friend Matt's hillside, behind his cabin. He and Otis built a gyro-fire contraption that  worked on the same principle as those Christmas candle spinny things, only  huge. It was a pole in the middle of the stack of firewood with a windmill on top. Kinda like a cross between an Inquisition-era torture device and something the professor would build on Gilligan's Island, it's sole purpose to stupefy and entertain stoned hippies. The keg was flowing, fire blazing, and homespun music good'n' GRATING!  What else is there in life... by the end of the night even old buddies Myra and Geronimo (his real name) were swaying to the echoes of Seth's bluegrass  version of  "Don't You Want Me (Baby)" by the Human League. Ya shoulda been there!" - Jim
    Now, this is a hillside that was literally at the tweaking peak of ripe-ness... birthing with Mother Nature's sensual springtime oozing, violent, visceral bloom. If that alone wasn't enough to get me there... there was the bonfire with helicopter propellers.... the scorching live yodle-y mountain music, the moonshine, the weed, the kooky characters, dancing rabbits, ...Jim's Hollywood-smile lips locked with my teeth as we tumbled in the hot, wet grass and let ladybugs crawl all over our nakedness and caught fireflies in our mouths and ate them and then tried to see if it made our cum glow-in-the-dark. This weekend up there was also some festival at Bard University where there was some live noise music thing where members of Sonic Youth were doing solo clatter ...AND some weirdo film buff on the other side of the mountain was having a special outdoor, dual-projected screening of Warhol's "Chelsea Girls." Gee... anything else you need to tell me about the weekend in the country I'm going to miss? Do the squirrels hand out mink briefcases filled with millions of dollars in cash to all humans who happen to be traveling in the mountains as well? Hmmmm?
    Since I wasn't with Jim, he skipped the free noise show and Warhol screening, and just opted for the party. I really wish I could have been there. The two of us there this weekend would, for me personally, have had the soul-cleansing and time-stopping properties of getting a thousand blumpie jobs (look it up) while I had two tampons soaked in liquid ecstasy and morphine jammed up each nostril. God it would have been so fucking great.
    Why oh why oh why do I live in awful, tired, bored Manhattan? Well... I ended up not being able to go because I had to stay here in stupido New York City and do all this writing stuff. Even though Trucker John had called me that he was in town, and maybe would have been interested in going if I asked, and we could have driven up there in his 18-wheeler... I didn't want to ask him because I felt like I would be using him just for his wheels and then later I realized he may have indeed been interested in going and oh what a fool am I. But, wait... I stayed here and got all this writing stuff that I have to do done. That's good, right? It was constructive... lonely, boring and dumb... but constructive! Anyway there are lots more weekends like this planned... and Jim and I are working out our car situation so we have the ability to have a car when we need it so we can zip all over upstate on our own and moon fellow passengers on moonlit mountain roads, rather than be vehicle-less losers in the Hell of friend's endless driving favors.
    Here are large versions of the photos Jim took that night:  picking burning farmpicking burning farm 2picking hillpicking hill 2picking dogspicking rockers. All photos by Jim Krewson.

    Jorges Luis Borges accepting the Légion d'honneur in Paris, 1983

6. Jorge Luis Borges (1899 - 1986)
    Even though I've referenced his work; "The Library of Babel" before on these pages, I was never really exactly aware of the metaphysticascifialistic Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899 - 1986) and his warped career. I was first introduced to his trippy writing via a reference to one of his works in a favorite film, Jean-Luc Godard's "Alphaville." Leave it to Godard to give character Lemmy Caution's electronically omnipresent god, Alpha60, dialogue spiced with Borges' writing (his 1946 essay 'A New Refutation of Time' to be specific).
    Jorge Borges wrote stories that had to do with time theories, reality and non-reality, infinity, labyrinths and... one of his favorite subjects: mirrors. His books were filled with fantastic, "Twilight Zone"-esque plot devices (a story about a man who lives in an infinite house keeps telling the same tale over and over, a detective story in which the principle clue turns out to be the ineffable name of God, a man standing before a firing squad is granted a year of time standing still, a town's structures begin to vanish if no one is there to remember them) that were also mixed with realistic stories of South American life (stories of folk heroes, street fighters, soldiers, gauchos, detectives, historical figures). Imagine Harry Stephen Keeler mixed with Gilbert Hernandez's graphic novel series about the town of Palomar.
    Borges also loved to write in strange formats that predated today's trendy authors with postmodernistic tendencies practically a whole century. He liked to write whole books that were reviews of imaginary works, flawed literary forgeries of books that never existed, and "found" pages of tomes that were never written. Pseudonyms abound in Borges' body of work. He developed this oddly skewed perspective of the literary medium from his real life work as a translator and literary critic in a column in the Argentine magazine "El Hogar" in the 1940's. He would sometimes publish things in the "style" of other works, originally passing them off as translations of things he had come upon in his reading. He would sneak falsely attributed pieces into his otherwise legitimate and carefully researched anthologies on other author's work.
    Hey... even DEVO, in their earliest beginnings in Akron, Ohio in the 1970's... used to only be able to get work as a cover band. They would sometimes slip their own songs like "Shrivel Up" and "Space Girl Blues" into their usual cover routine playlists. They would announce "...okay everybody, here's an old one from Bachman Turner Overdrive!" then they would break into "Mongoloid" in front of a drunk, oblivious audience at the local barbecue dive bar.
    Sometime you gotta do what you gotta do...
    But I don't think Borges was just surviving, these odd fictional formats were just a reflection of how his mind worked. Some of these conceptual literary pranks have been documented in the "Universal History of Infamy" series. Borges went blind later in life, and during this time he was also a director of a library (!)
    In one of his more popular short stories; "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," (which you can read here) two men discover an alternate version of  "The Encyclopedia Britannica" that lists details about a country that doesn't exist... and as they uncover more about the book, it's details start to alter the very universe around them... it's discovery and investigation proving to be the prime ingredient in the merging of two alternate parallel Earth worlds. This story contains the odd passage; "From the remote depths of the corridor, the mirror spied upon us. We discovered (such a discovery is inevitable in the late hours of the night) that mirrors hare something monstrous about them... Copulation and mirrors are abominable...  The text of the encyclopedia said:the visible universe was an illusion or (more precisely) a sophism. Mirrors and fatherhood are abominable because they multiply and disseminate that universe." This is interesting as well: "Things became duplicated in Tlön; they also tend to become effaced and lose their details when they are forgotten. A classic example is the doorway which survived so long it was visited by a beggar and disappeared at his death. At times some birds, a horse, have saved the ruins of an amphitheater."
    You can also read Borges' story "The Library of Babel" here (it's about a man who is a caretaker in the Library of Infinity, which contains the pages of every book ever to be concieved by man).
   Here is one of his most popular stories "The Aleph" (A man trying to recreate the world through poetry shows his friend the universe below the stairs... the aleph is to space what eternity is to time).
   "Emma Zunz" (a tale of justice and displacement) can be found here.
   "The Zahir" (when a memory becomes a predator, the mind is devoured - but can the soul be so released. note: not the full text, just a summary) can be found here.
   "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote" - (Borges explains why Menard's twentieth century [but identical] 'Don Quixote' is superior to that of Cervantes' - one of Borges' most notorious and satirical works) can be found here.
   "The Babylon Lottery" (the history of a society ruled by the random, invisible, and godlike Company) is here.
   "An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain" (reviews of three strange pieces of fiction by a very unusual author) is here.
   "Funes, the Memorius" (story of a nineteen year old invalid reveals that language is an inadequate tool for those who can forget nothing) is here.
   "The Secret Miracle" (a writer's last days under a Nazi death sentence) is here.
   "The Sect of the Phoenix" (the sectarians are a cult that have survived the ages, judiciously keeping the Secret which unites them) is here.
   "The South" (in this semi-autobiographical tale, a copy of 'The Thousand and One Nights' precipitates the strange sickness of an Argentine nationalist) is here.
    I'm going to explore this author's writing more in depth, I'm told to start with "Ficciones" or "Labyrinths." I should probably write a little more than I have here... but I probably need to read more of his work first. He's just one of those artists who, after a mere brush with a few scattered details about their work... you suddenly realize you could become obsessed... and are compelled to investigate further... and quote whole passages from their stories, for others to read, because you find them so striking.

* Thanks to Joel in France for the additional story links, and the info about Borges being a blind library director

7. The best antique boombox ever
    Amazing page that traces the history of boomboxes through the 1970's - 1980's in exquisite detail (it even has a whole page celebrating Alan Moyle's film 'Times Square' - a supposed showcase of early 80's-era boomboxes).
    But it was the boombox above in particular that caught my eye. Manufactured by Pioneer sometime in the early 80's, and called "Disco-Robo" (aka: The Multimedia Machine) the site (via boombox collector Munk) claims it "...a most unusual portable system designed by Pioneer. We're not sure what to make of it... is it a robot that plays music or a boombox with a brain? We're not sure, but this would most certainly fall into the holy grail genre of systems. It takes 12 D cells, has 2 x mic inputs, echo filter, tuner, tape deck, all able to be mixed, and multiple units can be chained together via outputs. Robot collectors and boombox enthusiasts alike are drooling over this one. This thing rocks!"
    It was the fascination with technology, hip-hop, breakdancing and Star Wars all rolled into one product! Unfortunately it bombed. Today, we have battery-operated robotic animals that are programmed to bark Clay Aiken songs in 12 languages, and lift a leg and urinate Mountain Dew on command. The kids are all like "...yawn." This kind of computer design is used for things that are practically given away free in the bottom of cereal boxes now. But, it's nice to see with the "Disco-Robo" that someone had the foresight to try something like this out on the black urban market of the early 1980's, long before the technology was perfected. The only thing it's missing is feet with matching checkered Vans.

8. The return of
    I should probably mention... no, I would be thrilled to mention the return to the web of Jennifer Sharpe's excellent website, one of my favorite sites on the around... who's nearly year-long absence had me driving out into barren fields late at night and screaming it's url address at the top of my lungs with fear in my eyes. But now it's BACK!!! A little different format, and growing (I recommend scaling down the site's left column for the archives if you're new to Jennifer's world).
    Actually... to tide me over, I got to meet Jennifer in the flesh (gasp!) this winter while she was visiting in New York. No, she does not have a shaved head... but she will tell you an odd story about one time when she did... (she is filled with them... odd stories, not shaved heads), and she proved to be an even more interesting person than I had ever even expected. When you finally meet people in real life who have really unique websites, they can sometimes either turn out to be boring weirdoes or pretentious boobs... or sometimes maybe a boring weirdo with pretentious boobs (and those are usually the guys).
    Jennifer was neither... she was smart, totally happy, filled with interesting info, funny, sociable (gasp!) and kind. While everyone in New York was taking pictures via digital, she was running around snapping with a real antique slide film camera. She also lives in a small white house in California, with large windows that let in tons of natural light, and that is surrounded by a lush lawn and whispering trees (swoon).
    So anyway the new format of Jennifer's site has contributions from other people, me being one of the proudly chosen. So look for my first contributions to ...appearing when Jennifer herself least expects it.

9. My review of Black Dice's new CD "Creature Comforts" (Fat Cat/DFA records - released June 7th, 2004)
    I love Black Dice's CDs. I thought their last full-length one, "Beaches and Canyons," was a masterpiece. I listen to it almost every day... I find it an excellent CD to work or write to. I also liked that "Cone Toaster" song they did. I've never seen them live, and I'm not sure how enjoyable that would be, probably pretty good... but I find their recorded output to be pure majick. So... with their newest full album, "Creature Comforts," being released in June... I couldn't wait. I downloaded a bootlegged advance copy from a file sharing program (WHICH YOU SHOULD NEVER DO BECAUSE IT'S A WRONG CRIME!)... and all I have to say is that if you liked "Beaches and Canyons" - you'll really, really like this one. It's a natural extension of  that one, and is just as enjoyable... similar in all the right ways and different in all the right ways. I can't wait to buy it when it's released so the sound quality is better.
    Here is my track-by-track review:

Black Dice "Creature Comforts" (Fat Cat/DFA records)
(playing time: appx. 43 min.)

1. Cloud Pleaser (1:44)- twee-da-da-da, creeeeeek, groan, twee-da-da-da, klunk, twee-da-da-da, creeeeeek, groan, tap, tap, twee-da-da-da, spiral-zip-zip, twee-da-da-da, plunk, zoot, tweeeee...
2. Tree Tops (6:23) - budububudubudub, pop, swit-swit-swit, pop, budububudubudub, pop, swit-swit-swit, pop, thunk-a, pop, thunk-a, pop, thunk, budububudubudub, pop, swit-swit-swit, pop, thunk-a, pop, thunk-a, pop, thunk, pop, sizzle, pop, budububudubudub, pop, peep! pop, swit-swit-swit, you-scree-weee-oooohhaaaahhh, pop, oopee-dooey, pop, oop! pop, oop! pop, oop! scrimble-scramble, pop, budububudubudub, pop, swit-swit-swit, pop, budububudubudub, pop, swit-swit-swit, pop, thunk-a, pop, thunk-a, thunk... grooooaaaannnnnn... pop, tweee... tweee... twitter... tweee...
3. Island (1:14) - un-nuhuh, un-nuhuh, mmmmmmmmnnnnnnnnnnn, duuuuuuhhhh-greeeeeep, un-nuhuh, un-nuhuh, mmmmmmmmnnnnnnnnnnn... eeep!
4. Creature (8:54) - ugudugudugudug, eek-a-eek-a-eek-eep! deep-a-doop-a-deep-a-doo, ugudugudugudug, zeeeeeeep-zap-zap, ooop! chicka-chicka-chicka, doopa-doopa-doop, eek! eeeeeee! ee! ee! eeeeh! ugudugudugudug, squeek, sqirt, pooooooooooaaahhhh.... pound, pound, pound, klank, klitty, kloop, twitter...
5. Live Loop (1:28) - choooon, choooon, choooon, bee-boo-doop-doo-doo, choooon...
6. Skeleton (15:26) - enahh, enahhh, enah, anahhhahah, o-o-o-o-h-h-h-h-h-h-e-e-e-e-e-e, ziiiimmmm... enahh, enahhh, enah, clip, anahhhahah, o-o-o-o-o-h-h-h-h-h-h-e-e-e-e-e-e, enahh, enahhh, enah, anahhhahah, o-o-o-o-o-h-h-h-h-h-h-e-e-e-e-e-e, enahh, enahhh, clop, enah, anahhhahah, o-o-o-o-o-h-h-e-e-e-e-e-e, enahh, clip, zuuummmmm... synth-rise-rise-riiiissseeee!!!! enahhh, enah, anahhhahah, o-o-o-o-o-h-h-h-h-h-h-e-e-e-e, enahh, clop, enahhh, enah, anahhhahah, o-o-o-o-o-h-h-we-we-h-h-h-h-e-e-e-e-e-e, enahh, zim, zum, enahhh, synth-rise-rise-riiiissseeee!!!! more!!!! more!!! zuuummm... aaahhhhh.... enah, anahhhahah, beep, o-o-o-o-o-h-h-h-h-h-e-e-e-e-e-e... dun... dun.... dueee... doopa... zimmm...
7. Schwip Schwap (2:01) - eeem, eooohhhmmm, eeem, groannnnnn, eooohhhmmm, bounce, klatter, tap, tap, tap, eeem, eooohhhmmm,
8. Night Flight (6:36) - ettah, ottah, ettah, ottah, reeeooouuggghhhhrrrttt!!! ettah, ottah, ettah, protty-prottop-peep-peep, ottah, ettah, protty-prottop-peep-peep, ottah, ettah, ottah, reeeooouuggghhhhrrrttt!!! ettah, ottah, rrreeeeooooghghghghgtytytyetetete!!! ettah, protty-prottop-peep-peep, eeek-a-eeek-a-oop! ottah, ettah, protty-prottop-peep-peep, ottah, ettah, ottah, reeeooouuggghhhhrrrttt!!! ettah, ottah, ettah, pretty-ohhh-ahhh... ggggrrrreeeeeduhduhduh-hu-hu-eeeerrgghhh!!! protty-prottop-peep-peep, ottah, twipper, ettah, protty-prottop-peep-peep, squeek, squak, squick, tap, tap, ottah, ettah, ottah, raaaaauuugghhhh-doop! doop! doooo! boing, groooouuuup... roar, weeen, wooooo...


10. "Marilyn Monroe With Weights" photo by Philippe Halsman
    I can't believe I have never seen this photograph by Philippe Halsman before (Halsman also photographed the 'Dali's Skull' one above). I'm a huge fan of Marilyn Monroe, and I have never seen this photo. How come!? WHY HAVE I NEVER SEEN IT!!!??? WHY I ASK YOU!!!??? Isn't it so great? It's a masterpiece!

Copyright 2004 Mark Allen
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