Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Skip this and go listen to something by Ana Egge.

The sequence goes like this: watch YouTube video of Ana Egge performing > recall an absurd comment made by John Mayer about how great it is that, “girls get out up there and bang out a few chords” (paraphrased) > try to find the source article in Acoustic Guitar by way of Google > fail > end up on the Wikipedia entry for John Mayer and find… of all things… a subcategory describing Mayer’s apparent consideration of abandoning music entirely to pursue a career in… design. Where to begin? Clearly, at the end.

Design: who knows how credible the claim is that design was even a consideration? The overall point though is that the disposition is supported by examples of signature model guitars issued by Martin and Fender. Wow. It is delightful that Mayer had the opportunity to select the wood varieties and offer up some styling cues so winningly, but the fact is that he does not design guitars: at best he specified some features when prompted by legendary makers. Oh wait! Wiki says that Mayer also has designed t-shirts and shoes. I bet that he has even designed a method for sandwich construction whereby the mayonnaise is applied to one piece of bread while mustard is craftily placed on… the other piece of bread. It is like flavor in stereo. Design? How to even begin to describe what design thinking means to a room full of designers when the word design is even casually used in the context of some dolt who stencils a shirt? Clearly at the beginning. [The entirety of the shoe issue has been abandoned for even the slightest attempt at brevity.]

There is always a hip-pocket example to counter the quick dismissal of talent: Mayer’s trivialization of women getting started in the singer-songwriter racket implicitly suggests that women cannot play the guitar like he does… which, I guess, is well. [Though, secretly I am thrilled that there are no heroines-apparent taking up his slack.] The number of brilliant women guitarists is overwhelming, to the point that consideration in light of the comment is moot. Let the mystery be, yes? Not just yet. The fact that there is even discussion of Mayer as a designer to be taken seriously brings me right back to the point of this whole thing: Ana Egge. Her talents are immense vocally, lyrically, and dexterously. The cap though is the fact that she IS a designer. The guitar that she plays is an Egge/Musser original: she made it. Her efforts did not begin and end with style choices. She built it. Further, she plays the hell out of it on a daily basis.

In the world of retail sales of vintage instruments, belt buckle “rash” is an interesting phenomenon: it is the collective distress due to wear from belt buckles, keys, buttons, snaps, and the like that accumulates from the physical contact between instrument and player. Only in particular cases (e.g. celebrity instruments or VERY old instruments) does this kind of wear exist without impact on value. Admittedly, there is a certain bravado in beating up a guitar in more than one way. Patina is cool: designers and musicians agree.

The “honest” wear that I see on Mayer’s instruments I suppose is a trophy of his skill, craft, and lifestyle: hard-charging designer on the road belting out the Grammy winning Wonderbread. Sucks to your asthma,I say! I am compelled to cry foul and pull from my hip pocket video proof of something I have seen in person, as well: the skewed buckle. Aha! Now THAT is a legitimate metric of a designer. That’s right John: she BUILT her guitar; she is designerly enough to understand what that means. Now I know that there are lots of guys getting up on stage with pristine Martins buckling their belts on the hip, but it seems like the world deserves at least one good example of a woman doing the same. That is all: long, boring, and needlessly bitter based on a vaguely remembered quote from an article that cannot be located—interspersed with too many colons.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

stairs and sentences

Yes, today was the inauguration of Barack Obama. Sentences! Did you hear all the sentences?

In addition to everything said by everyone, especially Beyonce, I found two parts of Barack's speech to be particularly great details. First, he pronounced the town of Concord correctly. For those not in the know, it's not Con-chord. It's Con-kurd. I believe everything he said that much more because I found him credible on the details that I recognized. Very slick.

Second, the set designer of the speech did a nice job aligning Barack with the blue and red carpeted stairs when viewed on television straight on. It's a classy background that is perfectly suited for television viewers, and a functional and simple piece of infrastructure for those in attendance.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Love Letters of the Future

This is a report on my books: they are sitting in a large pile that I anticipate getting larger within the next few days as some Tintin comics travel from somewhere, here. The stack includes, among others: a travel book on Scotland; The Tempest; Kingsley Amis’, Lucky Jim (no idea why that is taking so long); Slaugtherhouse Five (Homer Simpson has a brilliant interpretation of this, yes?); Thompson’s, Blankets; The Adventures of Tintin: The Black Island; and Chabon’s, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Really I cannot get enough: I need more. Letters to the editor, blogs, instruction sheets, liner notes, and, not lastly, magazines.

The episodic nature of magazine is one of the most compelling and satisfying things about them. Formatted, yes, but each issue has an identity: a new gamble at a satisfying meal. Right? I straddled the recent annual odometer change with two publications that cemented a beautiful year gone and offered particularly inspired direction toward the future.

The cover story of Fretboard Journal (Winter 2008) is Bill Frisell’s interview of Jim Hall. Brief introduction if necessary: Frisell is an exquisite musician and a student of Jim Hall, whose commensurate talents were shifted back in time so as to influence directly and indirectly students of guitar. The cover story itself is a nearly perfect example of the successful transfer of knowledge with the serendipitous effect of broadening the pools in which everyone swims, rather than diminishing a single source of food. Within that piece is a lovely detailing by Jason Verlinde on Gary Larson’s experience as Jim Hall’s student. Larson, creator of the quintessential single-frame comic, The Far Side, is an excellent player, and as Verlinde conveys, also a fine synthesizer of jazz. What are the odds of Larson being a guitarist capable of playing with Hall and Frisell? Evidently about the same as Woody Allen being a professional clarinetist.

Last month’s issue of National Geographic included the eerily beautiful glimpses of Mars conveyed from the Rovers and friends. John Updike authored this piece. John Updike. John Updike. He proffered a tantalizing historical account of the Mars exploration and spun it his own way to make it the fact people take conversationally. William Buckley (R.I.P.) once responded to the suggestion that he was master of words with the following paraphrase: “you know who has a good vocabulary? John Updike.” (I think that this was on the Charlie Rose Show, though I cannot recall exactly.) I would like to imagine a similar moment in history where Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan sat down to talk about who was better at playing baseball. The idea that John Updike can, not only, be an authority on astronomical proceedings, but can also shrug perceptions of expertise to deliver the goods is nothing short of amazing. This is the future and it is being offered by the past.

My thoughts upon finishing these two pieces drifted to the state of design, the state of the world, and the states of America, in particular. In one regard, it was reassuring to read of music being an unowned resource from which anyone can draw, both in difficult and easy times. More contextually, I felt validated by the power of shunning expectations in favor of charging forward in embrace and defiance of challenge. The people I know and those I know who will change their worlds can speak as easily with drawings as with songs, with bridges as with glances. It is a delightful club that can delightfully, by example, include everyone.

Catch Me if You Can

Today I became a particle in the ether. I was an excited electron, put into uber-orbit.

I wrote the above line about a month ago. I was laying on an Aerobed on a hardwood floor in LoHa (Lower Harlem, for those not in the know). I had just eaten a healthy dose of good cheese and salami, played wii, and taken a shower. I reflected on my day. That morning I arrived at San Francisco International Airport, and was dropped off at the entrance to the international terminal. I wasn't flying overseas, but I rolled my suitcase through groups of foreigners dressed up to a level that Americans simply can not achieve while traveling. With no line at the check-in kiosk, I proceeded on to the Virgin America gates.

In front of me on the escalator were three people, all between the ages of 22 and 32. Each wore head to toe comfortable black, with a small red Virgin logo on their sleeve. "oooh my flight attendants are very hip and young," I thought. I descended with them and watched as they smiled and laughed at funny things I couldn't discern before they disappeared down the jetway.

I boarded the aircraft and slid into my clean, leather, aisle seat with full width under-seat storage - none of the half-width aisle seat storage you find on the major carriers these days. The entire plane is lit with colored LEDs that change in color slowly with the time of day. I felt like a musical note. Together with my fellow notes we all composed a song by someone with two almost-first names.

My seat had a mini touch screen TV that let me control its pitch and yaw. I set up playlists and figured out which shows I'd watch before we even left the ground. The TV menus had options to use email and send text messages in addition to watching programming. When I tried to select one of these features the Virgin told me that these features were still in development, and would be rolled out soon. I found this particularly compelling. What a show of confidence from the Virgin! It put itself out there and let me know that, "hey, we've got some neat stuff in the works but we're not all there yet." I appreciated the candid honesty.

Right before takeoff, the captain, one of the three young, fit people I had falsely followed down the escalator as flight attendants came out of the cockpit to do the pre-flight chit-chat. Hello young, fit aviator. He indicated that the emergency information movie would be playing shortly. I watched it: a glorious hand-drawn cartoon animation of the usual strangely diverse clip that is most definitely entitled "My Great Movie" on an iBook near you.

I ended up watching a Top Chef marathon for the entire flight. This means that the Virgin gets Bravo. Bravo! I have cable at home and they don't include Bravo. We landed at JFK a full hour early after about 4.25 hours of travel. I walked off the plane with my rock-star self and right to the baggage claim area where bags were already rolling off the conveyor belt.

Ahhh, so this is why Leo did it!