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Jan

9

2017

Each year, I make a playlist of 50 songs I heard for the very first time that year (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 editions). They don't have to be new songs, just new to me. Beginning around mid December, I listen over again to every song I discovered that year (usually between 400-500 although in 2016, it was 798) and whittle it down to 50 for your listening pleasure. 

Idea is not to be a compendium of new releases or a greatest hits of my favorites but rather a musical mosaic of that year in music. If I have done my job, I can look at the list and see my year captured in song. If I have done my job, you look at this list and say "Wow! This is all over the place." If you love everything here or even hate most of it, I have had a timid, mediocre year as a student and explorer of music. 

Listening: Start at the beginning. Give a song 20 seconds. If it ain't grabbing you, skip to the next one. You will not hurt my feelings in doing so. If you like where a song is going, keep listening. The goal is never for you to fall in love but to want a second date with new songs and artists. 

Listen in good health, enjoy. And here's to a sonically rich 2017.

 



Jan

9

2017

5 Great Movies From/Seen First in 2016: 

Group of Irish teenagers in 1980s Dublin start a band to impress girls. Think The Commitments in high school. If you think Stranger Things was the best use of the 1980s this year in pop culture, think again. 

Documentary about a 50 year-old New Yorker obsessed with trains and buses who keeps posing as an MTA driver and getting arrested for it. Big-hearted, sad, fascinating. One of the best documentaries I've seen in a very long time. 

Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis in a romantic comedy that miraculously transcends being about blandly attractive white people and their issues. Accepting that both Nora Ephron and Carrie Fisher are irreplaceable, this is the closest I've seen to a 21st century When Harry Met Sally


True story of three black women working at NASA in the 1960s and were instrumental in first Apollo space of the1960s. No joke, this portrait of unknown, modern day heroism makes you proud to be an American. If there's justice, has Oscar written all over it. 
 


1984 concert documentary of the Talking Heads at the height of their fame on tour for their breakthrough "Speaking in Tongues" album. I can't claim to know this band or their music very well but their use of stagecraft and effects the way they make this not just a concert but a great show and a great movie, well you must see for yourself.  

 
Directed by Johnathan Demme, just a few years before he won an Oscar for Silence of the Lambs

 



Jan

8

2017

 

  • March (3 Volumes) by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Ayden and Nate Powell. 

A graphic-novel/autobiography of Civil Rights pioneer John Lewis, who was present at the Selma "Bloody Sunday" march in 1965, who worked with Martin Luther King and has served in Congress since 1981. March won both the Eisner Award and the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, the first graphic novel ever to do so. Illustrated in haunting black and white, told like a great legend from America's past that feels, hauntingly like America's present. 

Similar to: MausPersepolis
 

A hilariously joyous debut novel about a woman deciding to forgo sex and how this lines up in her relationship history. The kind of book you find yourself sneaking 3 pages over breakfast because it's so much fun and you feel you are living a grimmer life without it.  

Similar to: Waiting to Exhale if one character manifested the traits of all four friends. 
 


Fella in semi-famous 90s indie rock band finds time travel portal in closet that can take you back to the great concerts of your past. Loses best friend in portal. Enlists physicist to help him retrieve friend. Falls in love with physicist. Somehow manages to be a music book, science fiction and a love story. Another book that seems glued open in your hands because you simply cannot stop reading it. 

Similar to: Dr. Who, genders reversed,  meets High Fidelity
 


2016 began with the death of the great Justin Chin, poet, essayist, a brilliant talent and inspiration to me personally. It had been far too long since I had read any of his seven books so I started over at the beginning: His second collection of poetry Harmless Medicine is my favorite, both political, personal, vulnerable and, as much, just a plain old breathtaking use of the English language. Great for carrying around with you when you need a quick 2 page reminder of just how beautiful words can be. 

Similar to: A Keith Haring mural rendered in text. 
 


Dave Holmes was an MTV VJ in the 90s. A gay, catholic kid from St. Louis who found his way professionally by representing mainstream pop culture to kids all over America. You may have read Holmes in Esquire or listened to his podcast and know his snappy warm voice from there.

If you don't, start with this book. You'll be reading about the life of someone you definitely want to be your new smartest best friend, one who is eager to share how much he knows about pop culture which will surely be more than you.And you'll want to hear much more.  

Similar to: Dan Savage meets Chuck Klosterman than has lunch with How Stella Got Her Groove Back



Oct

24

2016

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Two years ago, I announced that I was working on a new book called which would be a look at the teen movies of the 1980s.

Today, I can announce that My new book Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to 80s Teen Movies has just been published and I’m Footloose-dancing which excitement. 

 

Brat Pack America is a nonfiction look at The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Heathers, Real Genius and Dirty Dancing, about where these movies were made and what that said about that moment in America, in pop culture and why they are as loved today as they were then. It's contains about 45 of your favorite movies from the 1980s and a ton of behind the scenes info and trivia. I also talked to some of your favorite actors, writers and directors responsible for these great movies, including the geniuses behind Fast Times at Ridgemont High, House Party and Heathers

The book also looks great thanks to the team at Rare Bird Books in Los Angeles, my publishers and friends, who have worked so hard to assure it a fighting chance at a bookstore, on a nightstand and in a purse and backpack near you. The cover looks like this 

 

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I'll be touring across America this fall and next year in support of the book. See you on the highways and byways of Brat Pack America and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. 

The book may be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powells, Indiebound or your local independent bookstore. 

If you've like a signed copy, please order from Booksmith in San Francisco where I will be sending out books personalized to you by me. 

Thank your for support, dear friends. Let's make this DeLorean fly. 

 



Aug

18

2016

The following is from my semi-regular newsletter The Smoke(ler) Signal
-- Ritualize creativity. Far and away the first reason I hear from students and my own head for why creative endeavors don't happen is "I can't find the time. I'd like to write/draw/paint/record more but practical shit always get my attention first." 

Solution:  Pair creativity with practical shit. I'll take a few notes after parking my car. I take a few photos while running a stupid errand. I sketch or doodle for about 90 seconds before morning meditation. 

Creativity happens regularly when it feels regular. If it's workaday, like brushing your teeth, it will happen as often as you brush your teeth. If it must be special and mind blowing and a great communion with the muse every single time, well how often does "mind blowing" happen? 

-- Read long and short. I'm in the middle of reading a mammoth book right now and while it's magnificent, it's also dense, slow and the size of an adult raccoon. Which means I can usually do about 5 pages a day before collapsing from reader's exhaustion then gazing with lust at the stack of shorter, more fun books that taunt me from the nightstand. 

I'm usually a one-book-at-a-time reader. But in this set of special circumstances, I've taken to reading my mammoth book and a shorter, fun book at the same time, I get to read the fun one after I've finished 5 pages of Gigantor. Candy after broccoli. 

-- Apple Trailers. You wanna know what movies are coming out, even to just add them to your Netflix Queue? Apple Trailers updates every Monday. I watch 15 minutes of trailers on Monday before getting to work and feel like Roger Ebert. And no, I don't find trailers spoil the movie for me. Usually all I remember from the trailer is the decision to see the movie or not. 

-- Music Discovery: Ancestors and Descendants. The AllMusic database is Wikipedia about musicians before Wikipedia existed. More importantly, each artist page (here's Prince) has a section that lists that artists' main influences and whom they influence, their parents and their children, musically speaking.

If you find yourself having a hard time discovering new music, start here. Pick 3 of your favorite artists, see who influenced them and who they inspired. You won't be straying too far from what you already like, musically speaking but you will also have kicked out the back door and gone outside. Which is a great start. 

 -- The Creative Ramp. Every creative endeavor that seems hard has easier, quicker pieces to it--playing scales on a musical instrument, warming up your voice to sing, taking notes to write. Always start with that simple stuff. Because trying out camera lenses or comparing paint colors is easy, right? It's photo spreads and finished novels that seem hard because they require several staircases to ascend. 

Don't try and broad jump to the top step. Begin with a slow, gentle ramp. then turn and look behind you. You'll be further up than you think. 



Aug

3

2016

Silverscales

Silver Scales (San Francisco, August 2, 2016) 

 

 

 Today's Top Tune: "Love Sensation" by Loleatta Holloway



Jul

20

2016

Easterncolumbiabuilding

Art Deco entryway

 



Jul

18

2016

 

Front Door Sunburst

Front Door Sunburst (San Francisco, July 16, 2016) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Jul

6

2016


-- The movie This is Spinal Tap was born as Saturday Night Live-sized comedy sketch, satirizing a rock concert  TV program called The Midnight Special

-- The very first host of "Shark Week" was Peter Benchley, author of Jaws. 

-- The word "moxie" comes from a New Hampshire soda pop and its slogan "you've got Moxie!" 

-- Until the 19th century, the word "conversation" also meant "sleeping with." 

-- Until 1970, gay characters in movies weren't referred to as such. Instead Hollywood screenwriters came up with aenormously weird set of euphemisms which are creative and sad all at once. 

My favorite? "Has a party with an open guest list." 
 
 
If this is your kinda thing, subscribe to The Smoke Signal, my occasional newsletter of the interesting and useful. 


Jun

28

2016

The performer is currently in final rehearsals for his new theatrical piece, John Leguizamo: Latin History for Morons. The solo show — his sixth to date — begins its world premiere run at Berkeley Repertory Theatre on Friday, Jul. 1. Directed by Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone, it’s a 90-minute blitz through the much-overlooked contributions of Latinos to U.S. history.

Read the whole interview at KQED Arts