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Jan

13

2015

Happy New Year! 

For the last few years I've read "Ring Out, Wild Bells" a poem by Alfred Tennyson aloud on New Year's Day. Though originally written as a eulogy for his brother-in-law, I find it a fitting end to the events of one year and the incoming hope of another. The first three stanzas are below... 


Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind. 


Nov

6

2014

 

Kevin_Smokler_01

My buddy Ninna Gasensler-Debs who works at the awesome KALW 91.7 Local Public Radio San Francisco (exhale) asked me to appear on The Book Report, which asks local authors about a book that's meaningful to them. I spoke about James Baldwin's essay collection The Fire Next Time which I read last year in residency at Ragdale to get pumped (and better) at essay writing. 

They also rendered me as a pen and ink drawing, which was a bucket list item I didn't know I had. 

Only 4 minutes long and Ninna did a bang up job with audio production. How often can one speak while scored to with the immortal Nina Simone? 

Listen!



Sep

5

2014

Ferriswheel

  • The Ferris Wheel was named after its creator George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. an engineer from Illinois who began his carrer building bridges in Pittsburgh. 
  • The Chicago Wheel had 36 cars, took 20 minutes to make two revolutions and carried 60 riders at a time. An immediate success, 38,00 fair goers rode it each day. 
  • George Ferris had seen a version of the wheel a year before in Atlantic City. When his own design was a success, the inventor of the Atlantic City ride sued him. 
  • Ferris had a terrible time keeping himself out of trouble and also spent two years in ligitation trying to get a larger share of the profits from the fair organizers. He died bankrupt at the age of 37. 
  • Ferris's creation spent the next 10 years as a neighborhood attraction in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, then made an appearance in at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. The ride was dynamited in 1906. 
  • Because of their height, Ferris Wheels are often the visual stand-in for a much larger gathering of people be it an amusement park, a neighborhood (the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island) or an entire city (The London Eye). 
  • Ferris Wheels say summer, enjoyment and romance (a Ferris Wheel car is a rotating kissing booth). They also, despite being several tons of steel, paint and machinery, feel fragile. The size but openness of the structure makes it at once grand yet unstabble and notoriously prone to malfunction and collapse. That Ferris's original wheel was dynamited and not dismantled (as it had been after its debut in Chicago) speaks to a kind of sudden end, a violent death.

    The idea that a Ferris Wheel can both signify a whole place yet also be dangerously ephemeral speaks to what we love and mourn about public amusement. Public amusments create other worlds. But those worlds are meant to vanish, to live more in memory than for real, to end suddenly and without explanation. They contain the seeds of their own ending.  

 



Aug

4

2014

2010-12-27_1293491157

Was a poster for a terrible 80s throwback movie I saw 10 minutes of in a hotel 11 months later and then turned off. I'm pretty sure my caption was pun on the Eddie Money song, which I love. The video for that song is 3 1/2 minutes long and infinitely better than the movie, which felt about a month long. 

The video then: 

Trivia: the song is a duet between Eddie Money and Ronnie Spector. They never appear on screen together.  



Jul

31

2014

If you'd like to know what my next book Brat Pack America: Places you Know and Love Thanks to 80s Teen Movies is about, here's the nut of it in five minutes where I explain all. 

 Thank you to Brady Forrest and Ignite San Francisco who invited me to do this presentation in the spring. Great prep for the 9813 times I'll be doing it next year when I go on tour.  

And I want to do more Ignite Events (say what?). This one was so much fun. 



Jul

17

2014

Billy_zabka

Do you keep in touch with the folks from “Karate Kid”?

Yeah, we’re kind of a fraternity. Ralph and I have become better friends in recent years, first from me calling him out of the blue to work on the “Sweep the Leg” video with me. We also reconnected in 2008 at Pat Morita’s (Mr. Miyagi’s) memorial. The Cobra Kai guys I’ve stayed in touch the whole time. And Pat we were all very close to. We called him Uncle Pat. He called me BZ.

“The Karate Kid” is a family. Like family, you don’t talk every day. But when you do, you pick right back up. And I can’t really imagine my life without it.

Complete interview up at Salon



Jun

19

2014

Caseykasem

None of us buying our first Radiohead T-shirts could have known that, three decades later, we would be living in the world Casey Kasem helped create. It is the music fan's time, powered by self-curation and the urge to share. Our playlists, queues, devices and social media profiles may be as unique to each of us as our genetic code. But sharing and effusing are the highways this data travels. Since those highways are choked with music already, we search in the noise not just for experts but also for common ground, not just for someone who knows music better than us but someone who feels as enthusiastic about sharing the joy of it as we do.

In an earlier time, we would find our musical brothers and sisters by picking a side — alternative over mainstream, rap instead of rock — seeing who agreed, then defending our choice to the death. In the 21st century, that feels like hating on hugs and world peace. We like the music we like. Instead of xenophobes, we are now all world travelers, on the same journey to find more.

 

One of my heores, Casey Kasem passed away this past Sunday. I wrote this remembrance for NPR.org. Thank you to Linda Holmes for the opportunity. 



May

28

2014

Unknown

"Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes,
Into your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning."

I was on the Washington Mall that clear January in 1992, 19 years old, having voted in my first election the November before, when Dr. Maya Angelou read her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" for the inauguration of President Clinton. I will never forget that day, standing there in the freezing cold, with my mother and youngest brother, seeing a speck of a tall African-American woman in the distance speak of the new president and the America we all came from and was dawning that morning. 

I thought of how my mother had marched for civil rights and the rights of women, how my father had welcomed the black friends of my brothers and I to our Passover Seder table then insisted on hearing about their families, their traditions and how my late grandfather, at risk of reprisal, loss of business and professional standing, had given good paying jobs and no interest loans to the African-American men who worked on his construction crews, simply because it was the right thing to do. 

And I looked at that tall woman in the distance, whose voice and words rolls from the steps of our capitol, like thunder rolling down the mountains. I knew that woman's personal history meant she had every reason and cause to be bitter and disgusted with the country of her birth, the country that broke its promise to her and generations like her. 

And I heard her say it was our country, all of us, and at its root was not the promise to get it right the first time, to try and do it better next time, with year, each election, each generation. That to be an American was to believe, fundamentally, that from night always came morning. 

I will miss you, Maya Angelou. You were the guiding spirit of one of my proudest days as an American.



May

21

2014

Long_duk_dong_430-541a4dbec110a78e108ca33d0cded0da5a18aa9a-s40-c85

 

Ask someone to quote a line from the ’80s teen classic Sixteen Candles and there’s a good chance it was uttered by Gedde Watanabe. Thanks to “What’s happenin’, hot stuff?” “Ohhh, sexy girlfriend!” and other quotes, his character, Long Duk Dong, lives on in ringtones, comedic folklore, and a debate about whether he’s an offensive stereotype or just a caricature like nearly every other supporting role in the movie. In the years since the portrayal — Long Duk Dong and Sixteen Candles was released 30 years ago this month — Gedde Watanabe has appeared more than two dozen films, played Nurse Yosh on ER, and done voice work on the The Simpsons. To celebrate three decades of the movie, Vulture spoke with the actor about exercise bikes, growing up in Utah, and having his feet tickled by John Hughes.

I interviewed Gedde Watanbe, the actor who played Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles, for Vulture. Bucket list item of the biggest kind. 



Apr

16

2014