Monday, June 25, 2007


Ruth Asawa reminds me that I'm obsessed with the visual form of the blob. What's a blob really ? It's a shape made by liquid as it encounters the forces of nature and physics. My love of the blob really took hold when I saw my first lightshow and watched colored blobs scoot across the walls, dissolving and reforming. The sixties elevated the blob to a recurring motif.Think Marimekko prints and egg chairs. Nowdays the blob has made a comeback in architecture, due to computer programs that can plot the most complicated of strange organic forms. The Japanese are mad for the blob. It almost makes me upbeat about the future, if we can implement full-on blobism. That will be a world I can maneuver in....

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ruth Asawa is my Hero

Have you seen Ruth Asawa's work ? Her wire sculptures are breathtaking in their sensuous simplicity. Get closer and the simplicity gives way to organic complexity. her work draws me to it and then makes me laugh in pure visual enjoyment.

Ruth Asawa is my hero not just because I love her work but because of how she responded to the arc of her life. Growing up as a Japanese American in Southern California she worked her father's farm as a kid. After Pearl Harbor government men came and took away her father to the first internment camps. She soon followed. She says about those times : "I learned a great lesson there- how to make decisions and look out for myself, skills I didn't have growing up as a good Japanese daughter."

Later she wanted to study to be a teacher, but that was denied to her too, being of Japanese descent. So she went to Black Mountain, a famous experimental art college . There she studied with former Bauhaus teachers, met Bucky Fuller and most importantly her future husband. She says of the time : " I was asked my opinions. I had never had opinions before then..."

One summer she went to Mexico and learned to weave baskets out of wire. This led to her discovery that wire weaving could be taken even further, thus her sculptural work was born.

Ruth married and moved to San Francisco with her architect husband and had many children. She also began to create endless streams of sculpture in her big house in the hills. She met and mingled with the bohemian who's who of the Bay Area. Her home became a center of conversation, cooking and creativity.

Ruth Asawa took all the minuses in her life and found the pluses inside them. She learned to balance each side of her life and still make beautiful work. She is older now and illness has slowed her down. Someday I'd like to see that house on the hillside. Ruth Asawa is my hero.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

David Axelrod Live

Last night I went to the premiere of the music documentary" David Axelrod Live - Royal Festival Hall" at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood. David Axelrod is a sort of self-taught musical genius, a long time producer, arranger and composer who released many albums on Capital over the years. His soundscapes from the 60's and early 70's have been rediscovered by hip hop artists worldwide. He has been widely sampled in the last few years, providing him with a nice income and a lot of respect from a whole new generation of turntablistas and arrangers. They were out in force last night
to pay tribute to the man, who appeared afterwards to take questions and receive tribute. It was an interesting mix of generations and musical persuasions, but that typilifies Axelrod's approach to creating music.

The film itself was mesmerising. Filmed in London with a 26 piece orchestra ( which kicked butt) , it showed Axelrod reinterpeting his personal work from the late 60's/70's -particularly "Songs of Innocence" and "Songs of Experience". The sound was lush, layered and beat-heavy. The camera lingered on his face and gestures as he conducted. Watching it I realised that there would be no Air, no Portishead, no trip-hop without this music. The DVD will be out soon. It's a must-have.

It was rather beautiful to see the cross-pollination happening between a gifted man in his late sixties and a hungry bunch of
upcoming young musical creators. It was a rare night. you could feel the excitement and inspiration flying.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sunday Morning Raga : Monterey Pop . 4

Mist & Music

Sunday morning in Big Sur. Mist and campfire coffee. Cornflakes and an apple eaten at a picnic table as I scrawl in my journal like a good fifteen year old soulful artist type. I get up for a moment and two bluebirds have swooped to steal only the seeds from my apple slices. My sister has bedhead, which is considerable as she has hair down past her butt. "Bluebirds of happiness?" she asks no one in particular. The mists ghost through the Torrey pines. The smell of dust and old trees. It's quiet here.

At the fairgrounds life continues in a mellow mood. Naked children crawl out from sleeping bags. Oranges are being passed around and eaten. I feel like I'm in an indian encampment in the 19th century. This morning I'm wearing my my WW1 green army cap with a flower stuck on it. Also I have on a button that reads "Frodo Lives!". I bought a lot of buttons over the last few days. I'll wear them to summer school as a badge of my travels. Summer school - that seems so far away on some other planet.

This morning I discover the Moog Synthesizer room, a little nook past the concession stand. Walking in it's brown and dim with a room of audio equipment set up. A patch board with cables and many knobs . No keyboard. That hadn't been invented yet...instead a sliding ribbon of copper that you can put your fingers on to produce a sound. Anyone can come in and mess about with it. It's mysterious and very cool. I manage to produce a few burping noises by switching around the patch cords randomly. I'm hogging the machine- I best be off it and out the door. Outside is a man with a beard wearing a sportscoat. He asks "Did you have fun?" I nod, wondering if he's a cop or something. Turns out he's Robert Moog.

The sun is still hidden by the Monterey fog as we settle in to listen to Ravi Shankar and Alla Rhaka, the tabla master. Flowers are being passed down the rows. This mystifies me, am I supposed to take it or pass it on ? The tribe is silent on this one. I keep a white daisy and pass on a small orchid. Soon everyone is wearing flowers. Incense wafts everywhere...this time it is from the stage- a traditional offering to the gods before the music. It's all dreamy. A little sleepy. Rock gods stud the audience down front. It's a morning for many in the pantheon to actually hear the greatest Indian master musicians live.

I love the mood here this morning. Like we are all dreaming up some utopia in the curls of this music. It seems as if my young brain is being rewired quietly. My sister grabs me from behind and holds me in a soft hug for a while. The music builds like sex and becomes so complex that all we can do is let it flow over us. then it ends and there is an explosion from the audience of cries and clapping, like waking from the best dream ever and we're all here. Here.

We are off after this. It was enough. Tomorrow is Monday and I have to be at summer school. I will arrive in the quad that Monday dazed and with a little gleam in my eyes. Friends will notice that I'm different. I will make a new friend that morning. Following my nose I will cross the quad to find a girl in a black velvet dress, wearing a siver paper star on her forehead. She is scented with patchuoli. She had been at Monterey too. We find each other and garb and jump up and down. Kids look at us like we're crazy. It's gonna be a good summer.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

MONTEREY POP 3 : A saturday night in June


A Very Long Mythic Night

The evening concert is well known to anyone who has seen the documentary. At last I got to see a real San Francisco light show. Instead of a couple of highschool guys fooling around with some vegetable oil and food coloring on a borrowed overhead projector, I was going to see what the big guys did. So, I was excited about that.

The Jefferson Airplane played that night. I had seen them a couple of times already. Their performance at monterey was actually pretty sub-par. Maybe they were self-conscious, or quarrelling..or intimidated by the royality back stage. Monterey itself was kind of a world stage - one on which the famed "San Francisco Sound" was breaking out of it's West Coast reign to introduce itself to the wider world. I remember the songs from Surrealistic Pillow being the most effective. Somehow the chemistry between Marty and Grace never seemed to mesh for me. When it did the band flew out to the galaxies...but not that night.

But the night didn't stay mellow for long, with the Who and Hendrix, of course. The Who were still in their rock-opera stage - which meant that there were many quirky stops and starts, songs within songs, jokes and nudges that only a Brit would get. Still they had that famous ending where they smashed their instruments to oceans of feedback. Most of the hippies around me were visibly put off by the noise & destruction. Or maybe plain shocked actually. There was a distinct vibe that these English groups were coming from a different place.

That sense of invasion became even more intense when Jimi Hendrix followed. People were intrigued. Here was a black man who was dressed as an English dandy and played guitar as if he were making love. There was no peace involved - but a lot of love. Squishy hot blackman love. We all had his album of course, but this live performance shifted the whole emphasis of the music away from layered UFO psychedelia into a more carnal area. This mix made people stand up and pay attention. You have to remember this was his first performance in the States as the rock god we think of today.

As the music built there was also a feeling of the Vietnam War coming in the back door. The noise of helicopters, bombs and jets were sliding through the feedback. In a sense the famous setting-the-guitar-on-fire moment was actually small on stage,compared to the close-ups on film. It was more the breakdown into utter sonic chaos that carried into the audience. The Who had set it up and Hendrix delivered the dark confusion under the Summer of Love.

As my sister, Kirk and I stumbled out into the warm night the word was spreading that there was another scene happening a few blocks away on the track field of the local high school. Monterey had been overwhelmed with the number of kids showing up who had no where to stay. The city council and police decided to open up the athletic field to anyone who needed to camp for the weekend. Rumours were flying that a second set of concerts were happening after the festival into the wee hours. That sounds cool ! Let's go.

It was a curious scene. Many people were milling around in the dark, trying not to step on dozing types in sleeping bags. A large sheet had been draped over the goal post at one end of the field, turning it into a projection screen. A large painted bus was parked on the track with painted people scrambling around on it and in it. Hell's Angels were revving their Harleys and racing around and around the track menacingly. In the center of the field a tower had been set up topped by a powerful strobe light. Under the strobe various stoned dancers were flinging chains up and down in the flashing light. Sort of a tripped-out version of jump rope. The chains appeared to be frozen in the flashes into different configurations. The use of heavy chains and the Hell's Angels gave the whole thing an interesting edge.

I headed to the bus, to see what they were up to. There I met a bunch of Really Friendly People who invited me in. The bus was impressive inside, what I could see of it in the half-light. There was a round cut out hole in the roof that had a clear plastic dome over it - you could stick your head up and see outside. I then followed one of the guys up a ladder onto the roof of the bus. There a whole array of slide projectors, 16mm movie projectors and liquid light set-ups were set up. A couple of people in white overalls were beginning to fiddle with the gear. There also seemed to be audio stuff set up. They kept talking about "the movie". "Have you started the movie?" Abruptly images started to appear on the goal post screen. Black and white sort of shaky sometimes pixilated images of the same people I was with on the bus, running around the bus, smirking into the camera, flashes of white, footage out he window, etc. Then they began running two films, one projected on top of the other...and some slides of moire patterns and odd slogans in bold type. I climbed down eventaully to go find my sister who was over by the strobelight dance.

It wasn't until many years later that I understood who the nice people on the bus were. I was reading "The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test", a book by Tom Wolfe . It came to me that I had been hanging that night with the Merry Pranksters , running around on a mythic bus named FURTHUR. Which now rots in the swamp in Oregon. I was watching the equalling mythic "Movie" which was shot as they traveled across the US stoned on government manufactured LSD. The projectors were used in the infamous Acid Tests.

We didn't see any rock stars that night, stumbling around in the dark. Maybe they were there, stumbling around too. I had a more mythic encounter with a fleeting troupe of psychedlic rangers, now lost to legend.

Friday, June 15, 2007

MONTEREY POP continued...

In Which We Actually Hear Some Music

Saturday dawned in our camp space with a visit from a brown bear
and a racoon . Evidently they were a team specializing in
breaking and entering with a side of feasting.. The racoon
climbed up the pole to the food locker and deftly removed the
stick which held the latch shut. The bear then moved in and
pawed out the loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter. The
racoon tore open the bag of bread quite skillfully and the bear
managed to break open the jar of peanut butter. I was, of
course, the only one awake. I slowly sat up in my sleeping bag
and the bear whipped around and leaned in my direction growling.
I layed down again and waited for them to leave. The bear
smelled like shit. The racoon made chattering sounds as it ate.

We arrived at the fairgrounds, to enter our happy new world.
Incense, campfires, patchouli...yes all the scents of late
sixties paradise were there to waft us over the threshold. We
passed a bunch of teepees with mysterious girls wandering around
with more babies. Yes, there were flutes playing, I swear to
God. The midway area was set up as a sort of long psychedelic
craft market. Painted balloons bobbed in the misty morning light
(oh my god, is that a Dylan lyric ? More like Jimmy Webb). There
were many odd and interesting things for sale. I wanted it all.
Batik banners, silkscreened anti-war posters, strange silver
jewelry of swirling organic knobs studded with porcelain
eyeballs...vaguely satanic . Oh, hippy crafts, where are you now

First up that afternoon was a blues concert. I hated the blues-
but my sister's husband was mad about every freakin' harp solo
and stolen negro song sung mostly by young white guys just out
of college. It bored the hell out of me but it was a huge part
of the music back then. I can appreciate it now a little bit,
but then - forget it. There was something amazing that
afternoon. A little chick in the yellow mini dress took the
stage and began to belt it out like the second coming. It was
the coming out party for Janis Joplin, and it was something. I
remember everyone got up on their chairs and crained there necks
to see just who the hell was making that extraordinary racket!!
And these were folding chairs, so you had to be careful doing
that. It was a true MOMENT...and everyone instinctively knew it.
It really got the festival going and gave a hint as to what was
to come later that night and the next morning.

On the grounds I had odd sightings of famous people. I got a
glimpse of Brian Jones walking around unmolested..he had that
Morrocan layered look going. Later I found out he was there with
Nico. What a's frightening to think about it. Now
THAT would make a good movie. Also, everpresent was Mickey
Dolenz of the Monkees, dressed in full Souix Indian gear,
including an enormous war bonnet. I imagine it was all rented
from Western Costumers. You always knew where he was by the
chorus of snickering hipsters in his wake.

I knew I was in a different world when I decided to buy a T
It was a good one:deep purple colored with egyptian
heiroglyphics silkscreened in day-glo orange. I had to have it.
I approached the vendor who was wearing tinted grannie glasses
and an old top hat. He had impressive muttonchop sideburns and a
nice mustache.
I picked up the shirt. "How much is it ?" I asked.
"How much do you think it's worth ?" he answered, grinning
Now this really threw me for a loop.
"I really think it's neat." (Oh, groan!)
"Do you have anything to trade me for it ? " (What!!!! the!!!
I was completely confused at this point. He caught the goofy
unfocused look on my face and took pity.
"Just give me five bucks"

Sold. To the kid from another planet. To take home to his
homeworld Fullerton. To be worn proudly to that next Doors concert.

Monterey Pop Festival : Looking Back

Monterey Pop : Some Weekend, Eh ?

This weekend forty years ago I wasn't home, I was up north at
the Monterey Pop Festival. My older sister Pam took me there, as
a late birthday present. I had just turned fifteen the weekend
before. I probably would have missed most of the excitement of
the late sixties had my sister not taken an interest in sharing
her world.
My sister was six years older than me and in college, a world I
visited often on weekends. We both loved the music coming up
then, it was a bond between us.
Monterey would take it to another level.

Being in the suburbs of Fullerton, I wasn't really a hippy yet.
My dad had rules about hair length that I hadn't yet defied. Pam
was the wild child, coming home for visits with her hair down to
her ass and wearing Indian bedspread mini-dresses. Her husband
Kirk played in a campus blues band. They were college students
who smoked pot and read Burroughs and had a monkey who got
stoned with them. They were right in the middle of that
"youthquake" demographic. I was a bit young for it all, yet I
had Fillmore posters on my wall and listened to Country Joe and
the Fish and Donovan on my record player at midnight. I was mad
for the Jefferson Airplane. I would sneak down to the local art
store and buy the LA Free Press, a weekly "underground"
newspaper. Reading it late at night I would go into little
ecstacies of excitement at the alternative hippy scene that was
building in LA. So I was primed for a taste of the real thing.
Little did I understand what a bit of history I was heading into
as we drove up the 101 towards Big Sur that Friday.

We got to the campgrounds in Big Sur in the early afternoon and
stowed our stuff. Restless to see what was happening, we headed
into Monterey. We found our way downtown to discover a complete
traffic jam of psychedelically painted vehicles, old pick up
trucks full of dogs and shirtless boys with beards, and of
course the hapless
citizens of this small and tasteful town caught in the middle of
the madness. It was the first time I had seen real
know, from The Haight and all. I was particularly dumbstruck by
a bearded young guy in a long robe with jesus hair carrying a
naked baby on his back who had feathers dangling from his/her
long infant curls. You don't see that in Fullerton. The streets
were completely filled with beautiful exotic colorful creatures.
Teeming. I had never seen anything like it. At that moment a
feeling came over me that was to stay throughout the weekend : I
felt like I was on another planet. I felt excited and a little
lost, like I was thrust into a unknown tribe without a clue.
Where was Margaret Mead when I needed her ?