Friday, February 28, 2014
The School of Visual Arts in New York City is offering an MFA degree in "Art Practice" that takes a slightly different approach. They define the artists in their program not by medium or by discipline, rather they allow them to engage their 'ideas' first, then develop their plan, which may or may not follow a traditional path to realizing the outcome; often, these artists might utilize technologies or methods that are not usually associated with the making of 'art'. That sounds awfully progressive to me, and I think that any artist who has enough talent and balls should look up this program.
Which begs the question, what do we think of art or of those who make it? Or, who live it? Or, who suffer it? I've selected a number of thoughts and quotations from a recent SVA press release, from some familiar and not-so-familiar humans who have weighed in on the subject, and I offer them herewith to my 'Scat faithful:
"I am interested in art as a means of living a life, not as a means of making a living."- Robert Henri
"I believe that if it were left to artists to choose their own labels, most would choose none."-Ben Shahn
"My life and my art have not been separated. They have been together."-Eva Hesse
"Art is either plagiarism or revolution"-Paul Gaugin
"The hardest thing is to do something which is close to nothing because it is demanding all of you."-Marina Abromivic
"An artist is someone who enters into competition with God."-Patti Smith
"We do not escape into philosophy, psychology or into art; we go there to restore our shattered selves into whole ones."-Anais Nin
"To be an artist means never to avert one's eyes."-Akira Kurosawa
"Only from art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees."-Marcel Proust
The year was 1976. Concorde took off on its first commercial flight, ushering in the short-lived era of supersonic travel. North and South Vietnam joined together to form the new Socialist Republic of Vietnam, bringing an end to almost 30 years of armed conflicts. And, the progressive rock group Genesis released two masterpiece albums of the genre, nine months apart.
"Squonk" is taken from the first of these, "A Trick of the Tail", the first Genesis record following the departure of Peter Gabriel. There is some interesting background on this one: with Gabriel moving on, the band needed a lead singer to replace him, but after auditioning a few and getting down to the last, it was suggested that Phil Collins give it a shot. The rest is history.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
A boycott is defined by Merriam-Webster (online edition of their dictionary) thusly: "To refuse to buy, use or participate in (something) as a way of protesting until changes are made." To this is added: "To engage in a concerted refusal to have dealings with, usually to express disapproval or to force acceptance of certain conditions."
If you read this carefully, a boycott is usually of a 'temporary' nature, and the duration of any avoidance of a product, service or other such 'something' is usually engaged in with the hope that, at some point in the future, the person staging the boycott will return. Unfortunately, some of the targets of my own personal snubs will most likely be permanent, as the conditions under which I would consider returning might never improve enough to satisfy my standards.
This post was inspired by your Scatter-in-Chief's latest boycott, that of National Public Radio. I've touched upon the subject of boycotts in the past, and I've always offered a full explanation as to why I've decided to undertake any of them. Lest you think I am some sort of easily-offended refusenik with an ego that is similarly bruised, I would like to recap my current (and some past) boycotts. As a friend once told me when explaining his own avoidance of the airline industry for a full calendar year, a boycott is sometimes the only power of protest we have left. I bet a few of you reading this might realize that you participate in your own form of protest or boycott, sometimes without a conscious understanding of why or when you started it.
(Editor's note: I have withheld the names of all of the local businesses that I am currently avoiding so as to not directly offend either the owners or patrons of these establishments.)
---NPR: This one caused a minor flare-up of emotions on a Facebook post announcing my decision to "take a hiatus" from tuning in. I have been a listener for more than 30 years, I estimate, of our local affiliate, WNYC and I also seek out any local NPR frequency when we travel within the USA but I have noticed a gradual shift, that has recently gained speed, away from their progressive, investigative positioning and toward one that is more mainstream, more benign. In other words, NPR is playing it safe, as any other huge news corporation that depends upon corporate and government funding would do. NPR is also having trouble holding on to CEO's; they've gone through seven in the last seven years. For those of you who did not attend a school befitting the intelligence of the typical NPR listener, that's one every year. I have other reasons to support my disapproval but for the time being, I'll be taking a break from this old friend and turning to other, more adventurous sources of news for my daily fix.
---Cable television: We pulled the plug on this back in October of 2013, along with the land phone line, thus ending about 30 years of continuous payments to either Bell, Verizon, Cablevision or Comcast. The only service remaining here is high-speed wifi. When I received the first reduced bill from our carrier, showing a $162 credit for payments already submitted, I felt as if I had won the lottery. There's so little quality programming, and I've been watching so little t.v. over the past ten years anyway, I barely miss it. New Scandinavian Cooking is on Channel 25 anyway, which I get through the antenna, so it's all good.
---The National Hockey League: I've been a fan of the New York Rangers since I was nine years old and hockey is one of the most enjoyable sports to watch in action. But with an increase in on-ice violence and the continued big-money wheeling and dealing and lockouts perpetrated by the league's commissioner, Der Fuhrer Gary von Bettman, I'm out. I can't watch the games anyway since I don't have cable, so I can devote more screening time to New Scandinavian Cooking on Channel 25.
---The local diner: This was featured in a TS post from February 1, 2012, and I'm happy to report that I have maintained my abstinence. The combination of a nasty-spirited owner, increased prices and decreased quality of food makes this one a no-brainer.
---The local shoe repair shops: Its a good thing that I am no longer employed in the occupation that
had me dressing up every work day in my Ferragamo's and Allen-Edmonds'. I would either need to ship my shoes out for resoling or other such maintenance or travel to another town to seek a more agreeable merchant. The two repair shops nearest to me have two of the nastiest curmudgeons behind the counter that you'll ever have the displeasure of dealing with. I suspect its the daily exposure to chemical fumes used in tanning and shoemaking that is creating such an unpleasant environment, but whatever it is, I haven't stepped foot (tee hee) in either of them for almost eight years. I learned how to shine and polish my shoes in military school anyway, so fuck 'em.
---The local 'Mediterranean' lunch shop: The home of the 30-minute wait for the $12 sandwich. Also the home of yet another nasty, reluctant employee. Notice a trend?
---The local 'globally sourced' gift shop: This is not so much a boycott as it is a complete disinterest in the goods they offer, but if I were in the market for a $70 teak candlestick made by an eight-year old in Indonesia that probably costs about $7 at wholesale, and would also like to fork over that money to (yet another) nasty shop-owner, this would be the place for me.
---Exxon/Mobil: The Exxon Valdez oil tanker disaster took place in March of 1989. I avoided filling my tank at any Exxon station following that, but this total lockdown only lasted a few years. I gradually drifted back to the sign of the tiger, eventually becoming a credit card holder when they merged with Mobil. I have at least two friends who still refuse to buy Exxon products, and I applaud their persistence, and, resourcefulness, as Exxon dominates the gas station landscape around these parts.
But, let's take a look at this more closely: nearly every major oil company has blood on its hands from either an environmental disaster or from negligent operating practices around the globe. Shell has a horrendous environmental and social track record in Nigeria; BP had its own Exxon Valdez with Deepwater Horizon; Mobil has had numerous spills of varying magnitude causing widespread damage. The list is huge. If you drive a car that requires motor fuel to power it, you need to visit a gas station regularly, in fact, you are directly contributing to the underlying problem merely by driving your car. Do you really want to stage a protest against the oil companies? Get a horse.
I also avoid the following businesses or types of businesses based upon emotional, psycho-somatic or socio-economic conditions or reactions: Costco or BJ's (I've suffered an anxiety attack on the two occasions that I reluctantly visited either of these big box stores); Fast-food outlets (The last time I walked into a Burger King or McDonald's was way back in 1979 while on spring break in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; the ensuing nausea and intestinal distress scared me off for good); and, finally, mayonnaise. I have never even tried mayonnaise, not even mistakenly. I daresay I am the only person of my age, or other, who eats solid food and who has never even sampled mayonnaise. I also daresay that this is one boycott that will most certainly be permanent.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
---Classic rock radio stations. Gotta love 'em. They play the same songs, over and over and over and over. That's what their listeners demand, after all, and they certainly deliver. Their target audience is a 50- or 60-something who grew up listening to Styx, Kansas and, yes, Billy Squier on the radio and goddammit, they want to hear the same exact songs from Styx, Kansas and yes, Billy Squier on the radio now.
I wonder what the guys at the controls at these stations call themselves. Deejays? Radio personalities? I think the most accurate job title would be "Facilitator". They are completely and totally dictated to by a large corporate ownership that has spent countless dollars and man hours studying the lifestyle habits of the guy who tunes in every day and they attempt to satisfy the needs of this individual's extremely narrow profile. They design the playlists based upon their research. Heck, even the 'non sequitur' segments of any of these programs, wherein the facilitator engages his audience with idle chatter about the weather or other such mundanity, are most likely either scripted or very carefully overseen by an underpaid minion whose sole purpose is to make certain that the party line is held to, every day, all day, every minute.
By far, my favorite thing about classic rock radio is the announcement that a "deep cut" is about to be played on the air. I never fail to chuckle out loud at the 'renegade' who decides to play an alleged 'obscurity' from one of these golden moldies, as if he's branching out and staging some sort of rebellious act of creativity. The other day I was stuck in a retail location that always has their house radio tuned to our local purveyors of classic rock, Q-104.3 (owned by the way, by Clear Channel Communications, a little ol' company out of Texas with annual revenue of about $6 billion). The retard pushing the buttons announced that he was cueing up "Since You're Gone" from the 80's band The Cars' third studio album. This song is, arguably, 'fringe' to the casual radio listener. Its from a band that enjoyed huge success from their first two albums, but who were starting to show signs of wear and tear by effort number three. The weird figurings and semi-baritone register from the lead singer, Rik Ocasek are nonetheless easily recognizable by anyone from the age of 45 to 65 who is remotely familiar with pop music in this country. In other words, the cut was about as deep as a puddle.
They always seem to gain a peculiar pleasure from playing one of these gems that have been mined from the recesses of their vast catalog, like the kid in the classroom in 1962 who was furtively reading the hot passages from "Tropic of Cancer" behind his fliptop desk, begging to be caught by the teacher. And, it never fails, no sooner does the song take its last breath than it is suddenly followed up by one of those chestnuts that occupies the very pinnacle of classic rock exposure. You could almost bet the house that you will be treated to yet another audition of "Tom Sawyer" or "Rock and Roll All Nite" lest the station risk you reaching for the dial to see what the other classic rock station might be playing.
Don't get me wrong, I once loved the music from this genre. I remember as if it were only yesterday urging my dad to drive me to Korvettes after school on the Tuesday that the band Boston released its eponymous debut LP. But I also remember the days of rock music before it had enough whiskers to be called "classic". At one time, we called it "progressive". In the late 1960's and throughout the entire 1970's we were were blessed with WNEW-FM. Before they fell victim to corporate ownership and spin-off company merger mania, the station had real, live deejays who knew music through and through, introducing us to the sounds of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Pink Floyd, Yes, the Grateful Dead and Bruce Springsteen. Back then, any cut could have been considered deep.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
MountainWall Massage Works has been in business for almost ten years, with thousands of client sessions performed in that time. Many of them have come at a cut-rate, in fact, most of them have; we've also performed many sessions at no cost whatsoever, as either an incentive for a client to re-up on their existing program or as a professional courtesy or other such promotional offer. Heck, I vividly recall the day I first received actual money for my services, after I graduated from school, I almost keeled over. After performing more than 100 free sessions, including clinic, family, friends, and other lucky subjects, I couldn't believe that someone would actually pay me for this.
We extend discounts to students, patients referred to us by the clinical psychologists in our building suite, members of a certain bath & tennis club, and, occasionally, the unemployed. I can remember giving a discount to a client once (who, by the way, never returned!) who asked me to 'go easy on him' because he was facing a big tuition bill from his daughter's Ivy League college. This guy was in finance; I'm a massage therapist. I'll leave it up to you to figure out the inequity in that relationship.
I have a good friend who is in the (lucrative) business of getting his clients the most amount of money from the sale of their (expensive) products. This fella is a very smart and very rational businessman, and he has often scolded me for not practicing what he calls "pricing integrity". That's a term that smart and rational businessmen use for "charging the same price, across the board, to everyone who walks in the door". This is a dream for most of us in the independent massage racket; there is simply no easy way to get a consistent price for your high-quality service because, well, to put it bluntly, getting a massage is not a matter of life or death. Buying food is. Getting a massage is not.
Now, I'm not posting this so most of you recognize my generosity, which will certainly have you lunging for the phone to make an appointment, asking for a discount because you are "the first descendent of some old Queen or other". I'm making the point that one of the primary objectives in our original 'mission statement' was to offer high quality therapeutic massage at a fair price so it would be made available to a wider subset of the general population. I think we've been successful at that, even if it comes 'at a price' to our own pocketbooks. I know, and you know, that I will never get rich doing what it is I do for a living. That will not prevent me from continuing to offer discounts, whenever applicable and whenever appropriate; just don't take advantage of it.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
It was like a flare, a cheap firework
bright, very fast
high and very fast
but swirling, spiraling up
a flash of light,
twirling through the humid summer night
like a roman candle launched from the beach
at a fourth of july clambake.
The phone rang.
It was my daughter, calling to see if I could pick her up.
Another flash from straight out of the water,
then two showers of flames
spreading over the water, my ocean.
I told them I saw something
a missile or something
but maybe I didn't see anything.
I'm certain of it, that flash of light, a missile
I know I saw it but maybe I didn't.
It's just a poem.
Monday, February 17, 2014
Oh, don't get me wrong, I love the feeling and the look of my freshly-shaven face in the morning; it's the work involved in getting to that point that pisses me off so much. It's like painting a wall in your house: preparation is 90% of the job, and if you mess up one or more of those steps, you're screwed.
I've tried everything since my last shaving rant, including growing beards of various lengths, shapes and styles, but, I gotta face it, I'm just not a beard guy. I need to shave.
Enter "Dollar Shave Club".
I've been a past subscriber to Esquire magazine, and even though I've allowed it to lapse, they still find a way to email me every so often with a plaintive, heartfelt request for my return to the fold. So, I hit on the site every so often, mostly to look at the ads. One day, I noticed a no-nonsense promotion for something known as the Dollar Shave Club, with a tag line, "Shave Time. Shave Money.". I was intrigued by any cost-saving yet effective alternative to the drudgery of this almost daily ritual of removing the unsightly and unevenly distributed whiskers from my 53-year old mug, so I decided to find out more.
DSC is an online retailer selling what they describe as high-quality razor blade cartridges at a huge cost savings over the big brand-names we find in the men's grooming aisles. Their home page features a short video starring the company's founder and CEO, a young, good looking fella with considerable acting skills. This guy had me laughing enough to make me suspect that he was, in fact, an actor, so, in true 'Scat fashion, I engaged in some research to make sure this wasn't just a front for Gillette or Schick.
Turns out the dude's for real. His name is Michael Dubin and he did actually have a short career in the entertainment industry, starting out as a page at NBC and doing some writing and production work at MSNBC. So, that bit of ham acting in the promo video is genuine. But the best part of the story is the genesis of the company. Dubin is a lot like me: he's pissed off at the big name shaving industry. So pissed off that he took his $35,000 life savings, drove around to Los Angeles' media outlets to get exposure. He got his first 1,000 customers without spending a dime on marketing or advertising.
The big idea was to sell shaving cartridges at cut-rate, on a monthly 'subscription' basis, to other men who are pissed off. He offers three varieties from which to choose (2-, 4- and 6-blades); I went for the four-blade version and it will cost me, here it comes, only $6/month, shipping and handling included. Not bad when you've been dropping up to $18 for four cartridges at the CVS, and hating every minute of it.
The company gained momentum, Dubin got investors on board, and now he has about 330,000 pissed off men who shave as 'members' of the club. I've yet to receive my first shipment, but I fully expect to be dazzled beyond my wildest expectations. Hey, as the video states, their blades are "fucking great".
* * * * * * * * * * *
Here's a postscript to the story: Dollar Shave Club has gotten the attention of at least one of the big guys. During one of the Olympics broadcasts, a commercial for Gillette's Fusion blades has the voiceover telling us that it only will cost you "about a dollar a week" to use. It was only going to be a matter of time before they addressed the challenge, and by deftly using the word "dollar", they've made an association that is hard to ignore.