Thursday, August 28, 2014

Street Trash, Zombie Night, and Dead Drunk

In 2005 I was named the General Manager of Castaways, a dive bar that was literally hidden under a bridge. What could possibly be better than be named General Manager of a bar with no budget, no staff, and no customers? Well, it was also the dead of winter, and I had to bartend for 100 straight nights. Believe me, there wasn't a single person in the world who wanted to see me behind a bar at this point, especially me. To complicate matters, I had no experience. I had no idea what I was doing.

By Spring we were broke, and I had to come up with some ideas.Anything. I started with Punk Rock Night, karaoke with Roller Derby, pajamas and cereal night, Old School Beer night, and Zombie Night.

The first night eight of us watched Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, my favorite zombie movie. 

By that summer we were consistently getting at least 150 people on Tuesday nights at a bar under a bridge to watch movies like Hard Rock Zombies, The Stuff, and Street Trash,

I watched Street Trash again late last night. What a pisser of a movie that is. I liked it so much, apparently, I completely ripped off the premise in my screenplay Dead Drunk. 

Street Trash is a filthy, reprehensible movie, and there's not another one remotely like it. If gore is your game, and you can stomach enough misogyny to fuel Congress, this is for you. Don't try to eat while you're watching it. The premise: a cheap liquor store owner finds a crate of a hooch named Viper in his basement, and decides instead of letting it go to waste, to sell it to the street bums for a dollar a bottle. It makes them melt. I wasn't eating last night when I watched this, and I was able to set aside the unsettling misogyny in the movie and just enjoy it for the strange fucking delight it is. 

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Is Day of the Dead a More Important Movie Than Dawn of the Dead?

I remember Roger Ebert's review of George Romero's third zombie movie, Day of the Dead, from his 1991 version of Roger Ebert's Movie Home Companion. One and a half stars. It's a typical review of Day of the Dead, a movie that for almost two decades was considered a dismal failure, and the least of what was Romero's trilogy of zombie movies. Considering that Ebert was a champion of Dawn of the Dead, and a prime mover in making other critics, academics, and intelligentsia take that movie seriously as an incisive satire of American consumerist society, it seems unfortunate that Ebert seemed to really miss the point of Day of the Dead, a movie with an equally, if not more important statement to make about American society. The loss of communication between increasingly fragmented groups of people with disparate, and often opposing, morals, ethics, and self-interests. Dawn of the Dead was the much more successful movie, but in my opinion Day of the Dead dealt with what has become a far more serious problem in American society long before it became obvious to others. 

One of Ebert's main criticisms of the movie was that the characters "upstage the ghouls" by "shouting their lines from beginning to end." Yes, this is exactly what happens in Day of the Dead. It's mainly a movie about humans not being able to get along and form a cohesive mini-society with some sort of civility when it is needed the most. The zombies are almost a peripheral danger. It's really the humans who pose the most danger to each other. The movie is about loss of civility, communication, and the disintegration of behavior. And it's hyper-relevant in light of recent developments in an America where religion, politics, and race have turned us into a fractured nation of doomsday preppers banding together with those who look and believe like us, and considering everyone else the enemy. If you're not in our camp, we'll demonize and dehumanize you, and you might as well be a zombie because if we see you when the shit goes down we'll aim for the head. 

No, Day of the Dead is not a superior movie to Dawn of the Dead, but thirty years later it's message is far more relevant and terrifying than the consumer-driven zombies shuffling through the mall because it was such an important place in their lives. We've blown past the point where greed or vanity or self-serving interest are new problems in America. We're in an all-out undeclared war where most of us are prepared to blow off another human being's head if they cut us off in traffic. 

In Day of the Dead Dr. Logan, who is working on a way to make zombies behave by employing  operant conditioning techniques, is challenged by the military leader Rhodes, who considers his methods and goal ridiculous, prompting Dr. Logan to say the line I think is the crux of the movie: "It's the bare beginning of social behavior. Civilized behavior. Civil behavior is what distinguishes us from the lower forms. It's what enables us to communicate. To go about things in an orderly fashion without attacking each other like beasts in the wild. Civility must be rewarded, Captain. If it isn't rewarded, then there's no use for it. There's just no use for it at all."

I think in this moment in American history we're losing our civilized behavior, mostly because we've stopped rewarding decent, altruistic acts, and started rewarding selfish, irresponsible behavior. My case in point is a recent book detailing why psychopaths can be good. This on the heels of a popular book by a female lawyer who unapologetically confesses to being a sociopath, and using her deficiencies as a human being as an advantage, not a detriment. Movies like Wall Street and The Wolf of Wall Street have taught us greed is good, and that it doesn't matter how you succeed, as long as you succeed. Just win, baby, to quote the late owner of the Los Angeles Raiders, Al Davis. Now we have generations of Americans, working side by side, who are beginning to believe the ends justifies any means. 

What will become of this? When good behavior is no longer rewarded. Will there simply be no use for it?

Richard Liberty as Dr. Logan in the 1985 zombie movie Day of the Dead
"It's the bare beginning of social behavior. Civilized behavior. Civil behavior is what distinguishes us from the lower forms. It's what enables us to communicate. To go about things in an orderly fashion without attacking each other like beasts in the wild. Civility must be rewarded, Captain. If it isn't rewarded, then there's no use for it. There's just no use for it at all."
The interceding three decades since Day of the Dead was released have done a great deal to allow critics to re-evaluate this film and decide it's pretty damn good. But it's more than good, it's prescient. In it's microcosm of a society falling apart it presaged the past decade in the American experience almost perfectly. Everyone yelling, unconcerned with anything but their own agenda, and zombies lurking in the periphery, just waiting for anyone to make a mistake and get within their reach. 

We're fucked. And we're fucked good. Unless.... Unless what? Unless we can get them to behave....

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Friday, August 22, 2014

The Finest Caviar In the World, Right Out of the Wabash River

    Law enforcement officers from Indiana and Illinois have increased their enforcement efforts of domestic caviar regulations since the onset of the 2012-13 Wabash River shovelnose sturgeon season, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources said.

Conservation officers from both states have recently increased its enforcement of the commercial fishing industry, particularly in the commercial harvest of shovelnose sturgeon, a fish sought for its roe, or eggs. Thirteen Indiana and Illinois residents have been arrested, cited, or warned for commercial fishing violations in the last year, the DNR said, while equipment seizures include 35 commercial fishing nets, three trot lines, two wire fish traps, and one boat/motor.

All I have to say about that is before Jenny started researching and drawing mermaids you would find in bodies of water in the Midwest, I had no idea we had sturgeons, and that anyone was even interested in eating caviar that came out of the Wabash River. I had always pictured caviar coming from fish in the Arctic Circle, captured by Russian fisherman, and exported at great expense. Apparently what has happened is supply had dwindled in the Caspian Sea due to deregulation leading to overfishing, leaving Wabash and Mississippi River Shovelnose Sturgeon to be valued at as much as $320/LBS. One fish can produce up to one pound of roe. 

Commercial fishermen in both states are allowed to take shovelnose sturgeon with approved commercial fishing devices on the Wabash River, as long as they possess the required licenses, the DNR said.

Approved commercial fishing devices in either state include, but are not limited to, hoop nets, fyke nets, basket nets, and basket traps, or trap nets made of twine or cord. Gill nets are prohibited in both states for taking sturgeon.

I'd like to think of this Dowager Sturgeon mermaid, one of 18 in a series of mermaids by Illinois artist Jenny Mathews, as a protector of those waters. 

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Trout Fishing In America, Mermaids, and Robert Redford

I was surprised to see Robert Redford in Captain America: The Winter Soldier last week when we went to the SkyVu outdoor theater in Monroe, Wisconsin last week to see Guardians of the Galaxy with the kids. The crown was surprisingly thing, even though it was a cold night for August. We weren't expecting to stay for the Captain America movie, but I thought it was fairly entertaining. 

What happened to Richard Brautigan, author of Trout Fishing In America? I know he committed suicide several decades ago, but I wonder why. One theory is that he was unable to deal with his fame dwindling. Early success must be a bummer that way. I avoid it altogether. I haven't read Trout Fishing In America, but I find a great many of his poems very entertaining, some profound. 

Robert Redford was in a movie about trout fishing, A River Runs Through It. I probably enjoy that movie more than most people, but don't really connect with the fishing motif. We watched Redford in The Candidate a few weeks ago. I really enjoyed that one.

I have no idea what bait you'd use to catch a Trout Mermaid. In A River Runs Through It they seem to use a lot of fly lures. I'm not sure if they use live bait at all, or what you would use to catch this mermaid. The easiest way to catch this Rainbow Trout Dame by artist Jenny Mathews is to visit her shop at Rainbow Trout Mermaid.

I was reading a scientific article about the Discovery Channel show about mermaids, and why they are scientifically unfeasible, and it seemed likely to me if mermaids existed they would be vastly different than the way they are depicted in popular culture. This scientist, for instance, opined that they would either have to be layered in fat, like a walrus, or matted in a coat of fur, like a sea otter, to keep from freezing.

It's entirely possible, according to this scientist, if mermaids existed, they'd look more like the Damsel Carp Mermaid. Look at those scales. But whatever your favorite species to fish for here in the Midwest, jenny has drawn a mermaid for you. Every fisherman needs her chart of mermaids in his man cave, garage, or boat. 

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Mermaids Like You've Never Seen Them

My creative partner Jenny Mathews is a great illustrator. She is also a feminist. When she set her mind to creating a chart of Freshwater Mermaids indigenous to bodies of water in the Midwest, I knew it wouldn't be the same old fairy tale of the mythical creature. 


Freshwater Mermaids are something I started working on when doing a public art project for the city of Beloit, WI, when I painted my first river mermaid.  

In thinking about our local waterways, it occurred to me the mermaids we are accustomed to seeing are ocean mermaids. We see them starring in movies, advertisements and in popular culture all around us.  This same pop-culture has taught us mermaids have long flowing locks complimented by beautiful sparkly and graceful bodies, but I looked again at the river I grew up near, the Rock River of Northern Illinois. Some of the largest and deepest fresh water collectives are right here in North America.  I began to wonder what might be lurking right beneath our noses in the heartland, perhaps something a little different from what we have come to expect of a mermaid.

I surmised, if freshwater mermaids live far north in the Great Lakes and the areas deep rivers that obviously, as proven by their elusive nature and given the intrinsic feature of a lake being all enclosed, fresh water mermaids do not migrate in the winter.  Smaller, cold-blooded swimmers, with gills, best tolerate staying in their same habitat during cold and icy months by moving towards the bottom of lakes and rivers. Therefore, while the famed oceanic mermaids have lungs and tails that move up and down like other warm-blooded swimmers, freshwater mermaids have gills, a smaller stature and vertical tails that propel with a side-to-side movement like most cold-blooded swimmers.  In response to the utterly contained habitats that these freshwater mermaids experience, generation after generation in the same lakes, they have become extremely specialized with unique adaptations, spines and extra fins abound much like the evolution of animals on an island.  Some of the smaller lakes are constrictive and the food supply limited causing the species residing there to be surprisingly small as seen in the few specimens we have in museums referred to as Fiji Mermaids.  

Once I realized what I was looking for, it was easy to document what Freshwater Mermaids look like.  Their once illusive figures and faces revealed themselves to me every day and I could hardly sketch fast enough. Unlike their glamorous saltwater sisters, they are as varied in shape, size, and character as the women you see all around you.  

-Jenny Mathews

The Damsel Carp is just one of 17 amazing mermaids you can buy now at Jenny Mathew's Etsy shop, Rockford Illustrating.

Buy Mermaids At Rockford Illustrating

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Memories of Me: Iced Cream Book release Party

Increasingly my blog is becoming less a medium to reach other people, and more a repository of things I wish to remember and memories I'd like to catalog. All of this remains contingent upon this platform remaining available in the future. My Space comes to mind. I feel as if I had done some of my best writing about politics and current events on my My Space blog, only to find the entire thing disappear. 

I feel the cold, inexorable creep of dementia the same way I feel the canvas of pain arthritis is stretching across my body. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future this blog will be one of the few mementos I have to remember myself by. I'm very proud of the work I've done over the past five years, and all the marvelous artists I've been able to collaborate with. 

Last weekend we did the book release party for Jesus's book, Iced Cream, at Rockford Art Deli. It was a success. I was stressed out about my performance for a few weeks, and only came up with 3:41 I felt good about last Thursday while I was here holed-up at the apartment. I decided not to deviate from the script I had written.

Having finished that, I'm sort of between projects. 

Here's me in my Converse All Stars.

And here I am with Jesus. I was relieved when it was over. Fantasy football season has begun.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Dogs Playing Poker Poem

Expectation Doing!!! A bell sounds And three dogs, A Great Dane named Basso, a collie named Archibald, and a Dachshund named Federico Begin to salivate. A mousy lab assistant In a dingy frock Serves the frothing dogs Pig entrails and mash. The dogs eat ravenously. Later the dogs talk Amongst themselves. They agree the humiliation Is a small price to pay For aiding Pavlov in his Crucial research and Besides the lab girl Has nice legs. Federico says It’s poker night. The dogs laugh In dog language. Pin It
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