Tag Archives: pop culture

LE 68: Amy Young and Ashley Naftule

Happy New Year, everyone. We made it!

Not shitting anyone, I was going to write this entire blarg about optimism and determination. That was the plan. Then, something came up, and now I feel like I have to talk about that instead. Maybe I’ll try and sneak some optimism in at the end.

This month, first Friday, Four Chambers Press published a series of chapbooks which was the culmination of the collaborative efforts between 18 artists and 18 writers called InSight II (in case the title didn’t give it away, it the follow up to last year’s InSight). I am one among those 18 writers, and my collaboration was with artist Ryan Parra. I’m really proud of the finished work, and this weekend should have been a celebration of the efforts of all those involved. Instead, it all collapsed into a horrible, stinking shithole. New City Studios, the gallery where the work is currently on display, instructed the curators of InSight to remove one of the artist’s pieces (incidentally, the artist, Malena Barnhart, is the person with whom Ashley Naftule, one of this episode’s guests, collaborated for the project) for what amount to religious reasons—specifically that the work is overtly sexual.

I’ve been thinking about how I wanted to respond to this, and if I’d written this immediately upon receiving the news of the work’s removal, I would have written a venomous tirade all about theological fascism. Given some time, this is what I’ve distilled those initial feelings of outrage down to in a much more constructive and objective fashion. Personally, I am vehemently anti-censorship. Additionally, while I am not anti-religion—as I believe that would be hypocritical on my part, I am against the idea that religious institutions have the right to impose their values on anyone who does not choose to subscribe to those values, and that extends to their creative output. New City Studios purports to “[exist] to serve and flourish the arts scene of downtown Phoenix. [We] make a point of promoting local art and artists across as many mediums as we can support.” These words and two other similarly worded expressions of community support are the only elements of text outside of external links that exist on the studio’s site. Nowhere on the website is the fact that the gallery is owned by New City Church reported, nor is there any wording which would suggest that the gallery’s support of the Phoenix arts scene is dependent on that art’s alignment with the church’s views. To use words the church may be familiar with, this presentation of the gallery to the community is both overtly and covertly deceptive. To use words that I would in any normal conversational context, this is really fucking far from okay. If the gallery is a part of the church, and it has become blatantly obvious that it is, then the way to support the arts community is not to deceive it. Even something as simple as the addendum “…so long as the work coincides with the church’s views and beliefs” would serve as an honest attempt to convey the gallery’s aesthetic to any artists who may find themselves involved with the gallery to make an informed decision. I know that would have been enough for me to decide that I did not want to be involved with such an establishment, nor have my work on display. I know that my statement as a writer and creative type is that I will only work with and contribute work to an establishment that is honest, inclusive, and truly supportive of an artist’s right to express themselves without restriction. In other words, not a bunch of theological fascists.

Ultimately, things come down to a breakdown in communications between organizers and artists, and as usual, it’s the artists that take the brunt of the negative consequences. All the hard work and collaboration that went into this project is currently being overshadowed by the sensationalized news story surrounding it. The possibility of this was overlooked by the determination of the organizers to see the project come to fruition regardless of the cost to the artists and writers involved, and I’m not talking monetarily, I’m referring to personal ethos and feelings surrounding the work contributed. As I said earlier, I’m immensely proud of the finished work. I feel like my response to Ryan Parra’s art, and his to my writing, speak to each other in a shared language developed without us ever having worked together in the same room. As a result of the events surrounding what should have been a joyful occasion, I cannot feel good about sharing or promoting the completed project. For me, the whole thing has fallen under a cloud of negativity and resentment. My heart goes out to any other artist or writer who contributed to this project and feels the same way.

Fuck.

Right, onto something much more positive. Amy Young and Ashley Naftule came over to the house to talk with me about their new film podcast, Prizefighting Kangaroo, and we sort of managed to do that. I won’t speak for them, but I had a blast. Our conversation went all over the place, and I haven’t laughed like that in a long time. I think I said during our conversation that I was going to edit a bunch of it out, but I didn’t end up cutting much, because when I was listening back to it, it was all too much fun. I hope you enjoy the chaos.

Amy Young and Ashley Naftule are both deeply ingrained in the Phoenix arts and culture scene. Their new film podcast, Prizefighting Kangaroo, is produced by Yab Yum Music and Arts, and you can hear it on Bandcamp, or via Yab Yum. You can also catch Amy and Ashley hosting Triviadome: Cinema and Culture Trivia over at Valley Bar on January 30th, and curating a new monthly series at Film Bar called “Gateway Drugs: A Director’s Showcase” beginning on February 1st. More info on those events here.

Best,
Jared

Listen to LE 68 – Amy Young and Ashley Naftule

P.S.
If you listen to us on iTunes, we could really use some ratings and reviews love there.

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The Blarg No. 58: Tom Petty Tribute

No soapbox this week. Sorry, I know I’ve been up there a lot lately, and you know what they say of opinions and assholes and all that…

I go running every morning. It’s something I do. At this point, I’m not sure whether I enjoy it, or I’ve got a problem—there’s a very fine line. This isn’t about that, though. I have a regular path I run on every morning before work, one that I like because it’s a decent area, but also there’s not much traffic at 3:30 in the morning. Occasionally, there are other runners, people out walking the dog, but for the most part it’s dark, quiet, and cool (soon it will be cold, but that’s another matter). Nothing much happens, I just listen to a podcast and do my thing.

Which is why it was simultaneously jarring and slightly mystical when I happened upon a pack of coyotes slinking their way across Missouri Ave, just north of Central. There were three of them that I saw—two ahead of a third, who stood frozen. They didn’t make a move to approach me, and I was waiting to let them pass, but this last one seemed determined to see me go first—much to the apparent chagrin of the other two, whose attitude exuded an air of, “Come on, man, what the hell are you waiting for?”—so I carried on my way, and then they went theirs. That was it. It was Monday morning, October 2nd. Later that day, the news came down of Tom Petty’s death. I couldn’t help thinking that those coyotes were somehow connected.

It seems like we’ve lost an overwhelming amount of iconic musicians lately. This is bound to happen. Life is one long, inexorable march past the end of the cliff. Some people sprint ahead and skip to the end, impatient perhaps, and then others are propelled forward, or pulled forward maybe, taken when it seems they still have work to do, and it is no less tragic to lose those that wait out the plot. There’s always a little twinge of hurt, the sense of some string being cut, but there are a few where it feels as though you’ve lost a limb, the musicians whose songs have woven an inextricable sense-memory into the threads of our personal histories. Joe Strummer, The Go-Betweens’ Grant McLennan, and now, Tom Petty.

This week, Jason Woodbury and I sit and discuss what Tom Petty meant to us—the songs we love, the memories they’re linked to. It’s a personal appreciation, a tribute from two lifelong fans—a conversation that I think anyone who can remember where they were when they first played their Full Moon Fever cassette, or when they first saw The Heartbreakers descending the escalator in the “Free Fallin'” video with “all the vampires walking through the valley” can relate to and maybe take something from.

Best,
Jared Duran

Listen to LE 58 – Tom Petty Tribute

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The Blarg No. 46: Ernesto Moncada Pt. 2

I find myself compelled to write about delusions this week. Generally speaking, we delude ourselves all the time. I know that I’ve uttered classics such as, “Everything’s fine,” “No worries,” and “I got this” on countless occasions. You may see a theme there—my self-deluded states tend to center themselves around ignoring, glossing over, or denying the existence of problems. They’re never big problems, because I’m also a realist. If there’s a big problem, I am much more likely to openly admit, “Oh, yeah, things are not cool, I am totally, completely, utterly fucked.” You’ve got to acknowledge the big issues immediately, because they have the tendency (read: absolute certainty) of rolling along and attracting other issues to the point where—to use one of my all-time favorite phrases—everything goes tits up and you find yourself hurtling through the jungle being chased by a huge fucking boulder, carrying a golden idol, and Alfred Molina says he’ll throw you the whip if you throw him the idol, but he’s a lying fuck and leaves you for dead. That is how things look to me right now. The government is both Alfred Molina and the boulder, and the yawning chasm across which we have to jump is highly representative of the one between the president’s ears. Oh, and the poisoned blow darts hurtling our way at high speed are really fucking stupid tweets. So, to answer the question you didn’t ask, yes, the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark is the perfect analogy for the straits we find ourselves in.

Some delusions probably serve a positive purpose, right? After all, as creative people, we have to shield ourselves with something, or we’d all just give up and go cry ourselves to sleep every night. Confidence, I think, is at least to some degree a delusion. You gotta fake it until you make it. At some point, if you’re lucky, through success—however one wants to measure that—the ratio of earned, experiential confidence to simply talking yourself up in order to put your work out there, or go for that job, or try out for that part, whatever, tips in the former’s favor, and “I got this” ceases being a functional delusion and becomes certainty, and you know which cup is the Grail, you choose wisely, you save Sean Connery and ride off into the sunset with your buddies. I figured I’d round things out with another Indiana Jones reference, and Last Crusade is unarguably the 2nd best film in the franchise.

This week’s show is part deux of my conversation with Ernesto Moncada. I’m sure I said something last week, but I really enjoyed talking to Ernesto, and I’m excited for you to hear the rest of our conversation. There is more on the notion of things lost in translation, we get to hear some about his experience transitioning from the Mexican literary scene to the arts and culture scene here in Phoenix, and much more.

Best,
Jared

Listen to LE 46 – Ernesto Moncada Pt.2

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A Review of Robyn Hitchcock at the MIM, Phoenix, AZ, 3.3.16

“I’m Not Fully Reconditioned Yet”
Among the reasons for going to a Robyn Hitchcock concert—of which there are more than you might think, and only one of which is the high quality of the music performed—is Robyn’s stage banter. Though he tends to mine similar themes, there is no hearing the same story twice—unless you follow his entire tour, then maybe you’ll hear some retreads, but as most of the banter evolves from his sense of the place he’s in, it seems terribly unlikely, and perhaps it was that the show fell on the occasion of his 63rd birthday, perhaps it was the fact that the size of the audience in attendance was much more robust than the pathetic number that turned out for his last concert at the MIM over three years previously, but RH appeared to be in an altogether more relaxed, less cynical mood, and not at all concerned with the fact that he was playing in a museum (something that seemed to stick in his craw the last time).

This time, Robyn’s banter centered on the dryness of the air; the idea of preconceived notions (and how they can’t apply to Phoenix); something about flies that seemed quite funny at the time; a free-form story about how he hasn’t been fully reconditioned yet, and how when you’re not fully reconditioned bits of you move five seconds behind the other bits; and occasional requests to “Bob,” such as, “Could you make this guitar sound like a 12-string, and also make it sound like I play really well.”  In other words, he was in fine form.

Hitchcock’s set featured a couple of new tunes that are most likely for the forthcoming album he’s spoken of in recent interviews. One might be called “I Pray When I’m Drunk,” and the other might be “I’m a Loser”—these titles are solely speculation based on choruses, and they were quite good. There were plenty of what some might call “standards” or “hits”: “Madonna of the Wasps,” “Balloon Man,” “Raymond Chandler Evening,” and “Queen Elvis”; the classic Soft Boys tune, “I Got the Hots for You”; the requested “A Skull, a Suitcase, and a Long Red Bottle of Wine.” My favorite songs of the evening though were the deeper catalogue and rare cuts such as “Man with a Woman’s Shadow,” “Nietzsche’s Way,” “Sometimes a Blonde,” “Trams of Old London,” and “Glass Hotel.” The encore, as appears to now be the standard for Hitchcock, consisted of a group of covers, the first a solo rendition of his favorite song—which he claimed as his birthday indulgence—Dylan’s gorgeously meandering “Sade Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” then The Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You” and Neil Young’s “Motion Pictures” joined by Emma Swift on harmonies.

The setlist is by no means complete, and not at all in order. For a complete setlist in the order played, please consult someone with a better memory for that sort of thing.

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Birdman Kicks Ass

I walked out of the theater after having seen Birdman, and I felt happy–not just because it’s a great film, but because it’s a great film starring Michael Keaton. I like Michael Keaton, and in many ways, being the age I am (and the rest of this statement will give you a ballpark figure) I feel like I grew up with Mr. Mom–I mean Keaton…

For those who have yet to see Birdman, fear not–this is no attempt to Siskel and Ebert things up here, there will be no spoilers. All I will say is, it’s a great movie. You should go see it. Trust me, I know these things.

Where was I? You’re always making me lose my train of thought… Right, growing up with Michael Keaton.

He was like the cool kid I wanted to hang out with. You know, the kinda weird one who was funny and smart, but also a little scary and given to the occasional bout of depression, but that’s cool, too, because it just means you’re, you know Deep.

I felt that way up through Batman Returns, and then he made some questionable film choices, so it was like, well, maybe we won’t hang out so much anymore, and then it was more, I’m moving out of state, but we’ll totally keep in touch, and then, whad’ya know, it’s been who knows how many years since the last time we saw each other.

Again, just like that friend, he’d pop up every once in a while in some great character roll or other that made me think, oh, yeah, that’s why we used to hang out. He’d come up in conversations from time to time–conversations populated with phrases like “totally underrated” and more often than not end with the words “and I still think he’s the best Batman.”

Then, when I began seeing previews for Birdman, I thought to myself, it’s time for me and Michael to hang out again, catch up, get reacquainted–awkward pauses and all. Now I’ve seen the film, and it’s great–we’ve sat down and had coffee, talked about where we are in our lives, and found out we still have a lot in common.

Whether or not Birdman is a commercial success, it is an artistic and stylistic success, and it gives me hope that things can be as good as they ever were–not just for Michael Keaton, but for myself, and, honestly, you can’t ask for much more from the price of a matinee ticket.

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How to Play Guitar with Your Idol

First of all, we’re gonna skip right over the fact that I haven’t written on here since July of 2013.

Instead, we’re going to launch into why Glenn Tilbrook–on top of being a vocalist of amazing skill and range–is a musician of the highest order, and one of the most underrated guitarists in the history of anything that has ever claimed to be underrated.  Mr. Tilbrook is the musical half of the songwriting partnership (the lyrical half being Chris Difford) behind the band Squeeze who are–in keeping with the theme–one of the most underrated bands in the history of anything that has ever claimed to be underrated.  Squeeze is best known for the singles “Tempted” (which has appeared in approximately a thousand commercials and has been covered by everyone and their grandmother) and “Up the Junction” (the song’s most recent notable use is in a pivotal scene of the show Breaking Bad, one of my all-time favorite shows, and so you can only imagine when I heard a song by Squeeze being used in the background of the scene where Hank, but that’s way the hell off topic). They had some success stateside in the ’80s, sold out Madison Square Garden, had some top 40 singles, blah, blah, blech. You interested in Squeeze? Find these albums and listen to them: ArgybargyEast Side Story, and Play.  Mind you, they’re all good, but those are three of my favorites, and so why shouldn’t you start there?

Anyway, I could (and do) go on at great length about how amazing Squeeze is, but this particular ramble is focused on the nimble fretwork of Glenn Tilbrook (and how I got to play guitar with him).  For recorded examples of Tilbrook’s genius, listen to the following Squeeze songs: “It’s So Dirty,” “Another Nail in My Heart,” “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell),” “Black Coffee in Bed,” “When the Hangover Strikes,” “Slaughtered, Gutted, and Heartbroken,” “Letting Go,” “Some Fantastic Place,” just to name a few; all of his various solo endeavors; the Aimee Mann album I’m with Stupid–he’s all over that one.

However, to truly understand the genius of Glenn Tilbrook, one must experience him live, solo, unencumbered by a band.  The solo stage is where Glenn spreads his fingers and lets them sail up and down the frets in a way that cannot be accurately described, it must be experienced, and I have done so on 5 occasions over the past 13 years. Next time you should go with me, he’s brilliant.

During solo shows, Tilbrook is known for his stage antics–stepping out into the audience, playing the final encore on top of the bar, taking the crowd out into the streets, and even inviting some lucky soul up onto the stage to play with the master.  I had never personally witnessed this last one, but on the night of Wednesday, October 8th, 2014, I not only witnessed, but actually was that lucky soul.  Just before launching into a blistering solo for “Take Me, I’m Yours” (another one of the songs you should listen to), the man asks if there are any guitarists in the audience, a few of us, including myself tentatively raise their hands, he wants one of us on stage.  Absolutely no one is going.  Glenn’s just hanging out on stage keeping rhythm on G minor, and the offer is almost gone.  Before my mind can comprehend what I’m doing (which is probably a really good thing), I am rushing towards the stage and mounting the stairs.

Here’s the blow by blow best I can remember it: Glenn asks if I want to play acoustic or electric (I’m pretty sure I just mumbled something and pointed to his beautiful, black Stratocaster), he helps me with the knobs so the thing makes sound (because I have suddenly forgotten how to do anything), at some point in this I let him know that I don’t know all the chords (one of the few Squeeze songs that I did not know all the chords to), he tells me the chords, he asks me my name, he introduces me to the crowd, and then we’re off and going.  I’m playing “Take Me, I’m Yours” with the GlennmotherfuckingTilbrook, and I did not totally embarrass myself.  Towards the end of the song, he asked me if I wanted a solo, and there was no way that was happening, but, urged on, I did mess around a little bit.  Song finished, the man gives me a hug, a shout out to the crowd, I put the amazing guitar back (I didn’t take the guitar pick–why didn’t I take the pick?), and back into the audience I go.

Down there in audience land, the disbelief sets in.  Did that actually happen?  It did.  My friends took photos, my girl shot video, fellow audience members accosted me and gave me pats on the back.

With all due respect to my friends and loved ones, and not to discount any other achievements I might have amassed along the way, this was probably the single greatest moment in my life.

Oh, and the chords? Verse: Gm Cm; Chorus: Eb D Gm Cm back to Gm; all solos played over Gm.  I will never forget those chord changes.

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Nobody Cares About Your Life…

…and yet, people write memoirs anyway.  Not only do people write them, but they get published by major companies, and other people (presumably) buy them.  Rather than sit around and try to figure out why this is so, or complain about the phenomenon and the fact that these people have published books where I have not, I have decided to write about my own life.  Some things have happened to me, I have done some things to other people, and, dammit, I’m funny.  If that’s not the stuff of a successful memoir, I don’t know what is.  I intend to relate the first thirty years of my life as I remember them (which will no doubt lead to horrendous, wild inaccuracies)–often through pop culture references including, but not limited to, music, film, television, and literature.  Seeing as 90% of my mental capacity is taken up by such references, I can think of no reason not to.

I hope to have this project finished and submitted for publication/literary representation prior to my 31st birthday (for those curious about it, this makes my personal deadline December 22, 2013–so, knowing my work pace, I’d better get moving).  Otherwise I will have to change the concept, and, well, thirty is just such a nice round number…

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