Friday, October 12, 2007


More melodramatic ranting on the death of alternative culture

Having just switched to high speed Internet I've been exploring the video options across the net, mostly at Youtube. I found that I can find a short video on pretty much any subject. Actually, I can find a couple of dozen videos of any subject. Last night when somebody sent me the goofy cyperpunk material I embarked on a brief journey reminiscing on some cultural influences of my early adulthood, including clips of the Residents, Negativeland, and Bob Dobbs. Tonight I traveled a little further back in time to my "cultural awakening" in high school, and found this pre-PC scene from Fritz the Cat triggering old memories of chemical mind alteration in a seedy repertoire theater on Market Street called the Strand.

Something's lost in the translation though. As teenagers my friends and I would defy our parents wishes and wander down to the Rocky Horror Picture Show party at the Strand rather than the much safer if more sanitized gathering at the Laurel in Daly City. I remember one friend's father trying to turn his racism into a joke by telling us that we'd "run into gang kids down there none of whom is any lighter than Nipsey Russell." (For those who might be too young to remember, Russell was sort of the black ambassador to suburban white America during the 1970s. He was on a bunch of game shows.) This was a time in which music videos were avante-guarde, seen late at night on PBS during time they didn't have to worry about offending too many pledgers. The rustic darkened neighborhoods of SOMA, the Mission, and the Haight contained a slew of bookstores, some of them thematic with black culture, women, politics, etc. You could find an old used bookstore with back rooms and books stacked on the floor in no particular order, with stained glass windows, baroque music in the air, a friendly old cat, and maybe you could find a dusty old book on witchcraft with spells that really worked.

On the film front, eventually we graduated to other midnight showing cult classics like Eraserhead or Phantom of the Paradise. The pump primed for our pseudo-intellectual cravings, we ventured to the same theaters in daylight. The repertoire theaters would put out multi-color fliers with their film schedules, which would include among other extra-mainstream films Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, Divine Madness, Space is the Place, A Boy and His Dog, Quadrophenia, Tommy, A Clockwork Orange, Harold and Maude, etc. There were plenty of subtitled Kurosawa, Bergman, and Fellini films, and off-beat documentaries about dadaism, Warhol, or old Pink Floyd.

These theaters were mostly done in by the VHS machine. The Strand, the UC, the Laurel, the Vogue, Taraval, and almost all the others have disappeared or switched to new release format. I think there are two left in San Francisco - the Roxie on 16th and the Red Vic in the Haight. As we moved into our 20s we'd rent the same films. But it wasn't the same, not even "altered." There was something to the experience of of a pilgrimage into forbidden areas of town, immersed in an alien culture, or at least the illusion thereof. It was a full-bodied experience where we escaped the comfort of suburban familiarity for a context that seemed to be mind expanding, and on a certain level probably was.

To see a film like Fritz the Cat in the comfort of my living room, where the aura is literally contained in a box kind of reveals the wizard for the man behind the curtain. It's even worse if you view the extras on the DVD's and realize that the people who made these films aren't particularly deep, or at least don't come across that way in interviews. The mysterious becomes mundane. And very quickly as we aged we realized that complexity of form is not necessarily depth of substance. It's not that the art is no longer available. But we see too much of the real context, instead of the seemingly extra-normality context. The dreamlike qualities of Jim Jarmusch's movies Stranger than Paradise, Ghostdog, and Dead Man are diminished when he comes across like a shallow airhead in an Entertainment Tonight interview. The music of the Wolverines or Black Flag are available in "best of" DVDs, with Jello Biafra in advertisements and running for president.

And then there's Youtube.

Negativland, the Residents, and Crass - all with a plethora of clips to be found on Youtube, contained even more compactly on a screen within the screen, the rest of the space taken up with hyperlink options, rating stars, and dorky ignorant comments. I used to listen to Negativland's Over the Edge on KPFA after Music from the Hearts of Space on Sunday nights. I'd fallen asleep during the latter a few times with the former chaotic audio art affecting my dreams. I'd wake up partially then remember some of the material in the morning wondering how much of it I'd dreamed. When I finally set up for recording and played it the next morning I found it was as weird, disorienting, and transcending as I'd remembered. I hadn't been dreaming. To click on the hyperlink in the light of day and watch it with video materials, no matter how legitimately artistic, just doesn't allow the mind to take you to the places for which I think the medium was intended. It's safe. And sterilized for popular consumption.

Don't get me started on the Residents. Those of you who remember the Mabuhay Gardens on Broadway, SF during the 70s and early 80s remember the otherworldly experience of their performances, and like performances by other artists. They don't belong on Youtube. Their viewing should be the culmination of a journey, preferably on public transportation, and without parental permission. The movies weren't as deep as we thought they were, but they took us out of our usual contexts and made us look at the world a little differently. There's not much in bohemian terms to offer a teenager in the cities anymore, except goth clubs, grunge bands, and "power exchange" parties.

The Fritz the Cat scene linked above should be disturbing and challenging. It was in full-bodied context. Now it's as trite as Shrek. Okay, seeing the Disney characters cheering the napalming of Harlem, that image is powerful in any context. But I shouldn't be able to watch just this clip. I should be watching the whole film. And not comfortably contained.

Even the blog. Not exactly comfortable. But not transcending either.

Anothers love, anothers pain,
Anothers pride, anothers shame.
Do you watch at a distance from the side you have chosen?
Whose answers serve you best? Who'll save you from confusion?
Who will leave you an exit and a comfortable cover?
Who will take you oh so near their edge, but never drop you over?

---From Where Next Columbus, by Crass

What about that night at The Stonewall when that cop bashed you with his nightstick for no apparent reason? Or that time in the coffee shop when you convinced Kerouak to take a car instead of the train? And who can forget that fateful day when you said "Martin, America doesn't need another Pullman porter." Man those were the days!
Eric suffers from a clear case of Gump Syndrome. Nothing that a few popcorn shrimp won't cure.
Eric... It was all hormones and now you're getting old. Soon you will discover Second Life and the possibilities of realized fantasies. Virtual, of course, and a huge waste of what time we have left.
Darling, it's "dramAtic".
Well, seeing as I have been a lover of R. Crumb's comix ever since I picked up #1 Zap with a Crumb cover in 1968 at a headshop in the Height (or was it #0 in '67?). Those were the days, but anyway ever since seeing the first issue of Zap the week that it came out I was hooked on undeground comix and specially on Crumb.

That said, I must continue and state that the Fritz the Cat movie is an absolutely worthless piece of shit! I appreciate your atmospheric emotionally toned viewing of it in your teenage years. That's beautiful. But any movie is good in that context. Back to reality, I can't see how anyone who appreciates Crumb can even bare to watch the movie version of Fritz the Cat. I walked out in the middle back in '74 or whenever it was that it came out. Fritz was completely ruined by the film-makers.

I know it's merely my opinion, but at least it's an 'educated' haha opinion. I had read all of the Fritz strips about a zillion times as well all of Crumb's other material, everything I could get my hands on, before viewing it. And I am not alone in my view, Crumb himself hated the film and there were some lawsuits or some kind of dispute between him and the producer. I don't remember the details but I do know that because of the conflict Crumb decided soon after to kill Fritz in a strip, I think it was called "Fritz the Cat Superstar", or something like that. Too bad.

But the point is, the movie is NOT the real Fritz, and like I said above it's a piece of shit, and furthermore, they ripped off Crumb. Shameful.
I viewed Fritz The Cat at the drive-in theatre. YouTube can't hold a candle to that.

Eric, have you heard of the term, "Screenagers"? A generation is growing up glued to screens of various sorts. Why will we need bookstores and nightclubs and seedy theatres when we can watch it all on "the screen".

It's kind of like listening to a synthesizer create a symphony on a digital recording device rather than attending the concert. Where are the audience coughs, the visual enhancements and the smell of perfume that goes along with the experience.
Black ambassador? Who's racist? YouTube stinky rodriguez for some entertainment, I think R Crumb would approve.
What about that night at The Stonewall when that cop bashed you with his nightstick for no apparent reason? Or that time in the coffee shop when you convinced Kerouak to take a car instead of the train? And who can forget that fateful day when you said "Martin, America doesn't need another Pullman porter." Man those were the days!

All before my time. And I'm sure the Beatniks thought my generation's alternative entertainment was shallow.
Darling, it's "dramAtic".

I was tired. Too much youtubing.
factory girl - I know about Crumb's complaints. I had the virtue of not only being a teenager, but also of having never read the strip. Without a basis of comparison, it's probably not a bad movie. I remember disliking Charlie and the Chocolate factory movie as a kid simply because it wasn't like the book. But later in life I acquired an appreciation for the film in its own right.

Still, I haven't seen the film since I was 15 or 16. Hard to say if I'd like it now.
Eric, have you heard of the term, "Screenagers"? A generation is growing up glued to screens of various sorts. Why will we need bookstores and nightclubs and seedy theatres when we can watch it all on "the screen".

Yeah, it's telling that the SF Bay Guardian doesn't do book reviews anymore. People don't read books. Not even elitist pseudo-intellectuals.
Let's show some respect. Kerouac with a 'c'. Beat generation not the pejorative beatnik.
Eric, I do enjoy and relate to your reminiscing about being an open eyed kid wandering about in the city. Haha -- 'the virtue of being a teenager'. That's good, and I guess it, along with seeing the movie before reading the strips let's you off the hook. For now. I don't know maybe it took reading Crumb when it was fresh and commenting on the culture of the time to feel like I do. I was a teenager in the 60s --turning tricks in the tenderloin.

I think Crumb is a genius, and, like I said, the movie insults him, as well as myself as an appreciator of the 'real' Fritz. But it has nice colors and lots of 'action'.

I think now as an adult who has read and appreciated the strips you will see how the movie cheapens, ruins, the original character. I remember the first thing that bugged me was the voices. But really, they had everything wrong. The whole flavor is completely different from Crumb. For chist sake watching a Janis Joplin video is closer to the real Fritz vibe than that cheesy F the C movie.

Charlie and the Chocolate factory is something I am unfamiliar with, both book and movie, so no comment on that; but another genius author that is utterly trashed by a hollywood style technicolor animated interpretation is Lewis Carrol, as witnessed in Disney's version of "Alice". What do you think of that one? Do your kids like it? They probably haven't read the book yet, maybe you've read it to them, or will some day --I hope so.
I think now as an adult who has read and appreciated the strips you will see how the movie cheapens, ruins, the original character.

I actually haven't read many of the Fritz strips, although I've read Crumb's other stuff.

And the Disney Alice was horrible, as was its Treasure Island.
Crass was an interesting group. Anarchist punks who didn't believe in taking drugs.
I think Crass is still playing actually.

I was never really into punk, but I bought their albums because had a crush on Eve Libertine.
Who didn't you have a crush on?!
The puzzling evidence show is still on KPFA regularly.

I listen to the podcast at work since it provides me with a more than adequate amount of weekday brain-numbing.
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