My Vandalism Focus Group Dilemma

I've been feeling fairly anti-social lately. The holiday season always throws me off balance. American behavior is at no other time of the year so codified and constricted as it is between October 31st and January 1st. It's all consume & shop and clog up the highways in these twin pursuits. The daily activities of life seem to be placed on hold, making it difficult to get anything done.

If I only had the financial security, I'd take a sabbatical for these two months in a cave in the Bofecillos Mountains. Yeah, it sounds cheap enough, but I'd still need to pay the rent on my place.

But here I am, in the city, surrounded by the candles in pumpkins, the frozen turkeys and tamale fixin's pilled in grocery carts, and the endless residential districts festively lit with lights in red and green (which I rather like, I just wish they were a year-round sort of thing). And then there's all this sports crap — it seems so much more strident now than other times of year.

At least I have a job that should get me through to the new year.

I've been helping out with Urban-15's Holiday Laser Show that will be happening this coming weekend at the Aztec Theater.

The show is designed by Tim Walsh, a laser artist from San Marcos. It seems he was one of the founders of Brave Combo. What a interesting career arc.

Check the Aztec's website for show times. But, for Urban-15, the most pressing component of the Laser Show is their outreach program to the local elementary schools. Most of these schools are on the southside and westside. We're expecting over 5,000 students for three shows per day for four days: Thursday, Friday, Monday, and Tuesday (which is December 6th, 7th, 10th, and 11th).

My job last Thursday and Friday was to hand-deliver the tickets along with lesson packets for the teachers. We have 34 schools coming. We split up the deliveries. I took those further to the south, as well as the schools on the westside. It was nice to see that some of the schools are still in the old buildings that still have character, however, way too many were in these horrible structures that look like low security prisons … which, I guess they are.


I've found myself in a weird position. Other than floundering along on my November novel (I only made half of my 50,000 word monthly quota), I've not been engaged in anything with even the hint of creativity in months. But still, I seem to move fairly freely within this city's art world. And therefore, I'm getting more dirt than a Bissell Broom can masticate. The San Antonio art community runs on a paltry amount of $$$, but, make no mistake, the slack is taken up by high octane gossip (which you might know as “chin music,” or perhaps “balloon juice,” as regional idioms do vary).

The most recent topic of conversation is our Mayor's push for the Luminaria.

This, from the website, sounds promising:

“An artist-driven celebration of the arts, Luminaria is an unprecedented collaboration of over 40 non-profit organizations that will come together for 1 day to celebrate the dynamic vitality of San Antonio’s creative spirit.”

The problem is that there is not yet a provision for paying the artists. Cause, you know — “artist-driven.” I've heard some folks say that this will be remedied. I certainly hope so. Because this sort of crap needs to end. When local vendors, who sell beer, gorditos, and Alamo shot glasses, make loads of money on an event where people show up because of the arts, well, one would assume that the artists would all get fat honorariums. However, this just doesn't happen in this town.

I'm hopeful that this Luminatia event will fix this problem and recognize the artists in this city with some cold coin, and not just the old style assumption that pro bono work makes them all giddy and sweaty with the hope of promoting their names and their works. For the most part they're not terribly giddy … unless they get ahold of enough Alamo shot glasses brimming over with beer and frozen margaritas.

Much of this event will happen along Houston Street. And this brings to my mind that, for some odd reason, I've only recently heard of a monthly arts event that happens in downtown San Antonio (which is pretty much where I live). I'm speaking of the Houston Street Fair & Market. This event is just not talked about in the arts community. And therefore I assume it's just an opportunity to sell frozen margaritas, turkey legs, and Alamo shot glasses. We've all stumbled into these festivals, right? Mylar balloons and soulless music. I'm afraid that this Lumanaria will be much of the same — just larger, and lasting late into the night.

What's up with this city's obsession with parades and festivals? If the city council wants to support the arts, do it. Just fucking do it. Get all these filthy vendors out of the picture and aim the spotlight at the arts.

Or, hell, just begin laying out the plans for the 2008 San Antonio Turkey Leg Festival and Parade! Sign me up for the one-legged race.


Last weekend was the San Antonio 48 Hour Film Experience. There was a time the other week when I almost signed up. But my camera is ailing, my editing set-up is having problems, and I just don't feel inspired. But for those who took the challenge, bravo!

The screening will happen tomorrow (Tuesday) night at the downtown library.


Instead of rubbernecking at the SA48HR Experience kickoff, I spent last Friday night at Urban-15. They had a poetry event, part of the Urban Verses series. It was part poetry slam, and part curated show.

Anthony M. Flores was running the event. And as curator, he'd decided not to read any of his works. I was disappointed. I've heard him read at least twice before, and he's very good.

Andrea Sanderson and Midnight Radio were one of the evening's featured performances. Andrea is a talented young poet, as well as a singer. However, there was a moment in the evening when Andrea and the two fellows backing her as Midnight Radio, deviated from their original songs and moved into some covers … and at that I had to stand up, pretend to get a call on my cell phone, and slink down the back stairs to join Hector, Debbie, and Rosendo in the courtyard. As the strains of “Killing Me Softly with His Song” (which I hated in the '70s, and it has yet to grow on me in the ensuing decades), I was glad to see that the clouds were starting to break up, and the misting rain that had been an off and on affair for the previous few hours had headed out of town. There were tiki torches, strings of white Christmas lights, and a cozy fire blazing away in a raised cage off towards the back fence.

And then the slam itself began. I'm not really familiar with the rules of poetry slams, but one of the poets gave me a run down later in the evening. Rules and competition. Yeah, sounds like the perfect way to suck the life out of poetry.

However, the poets who took up the slam challenge were all great. This city has some outstanding poets.

The professionalism of the evening was maintained, no doubt, by the fact that I decided against reading a poem I'd prepared.

Whether my piece is good or bad isn't the main issue. In fact, I susspect it's fairly good. But the problem is, I'm not up to the level as a performer to compete with the likes of Amanda, Rene, Nick, Andrea, and even Santiago, who got up to read after having been away from poetry for quite a few years.

Guess I just whimped out.


On a poetry-related note, it might amuse some that because of a near cock-up (so to speak) with spell-check, the poetry slam was almost promoted as a Poultry Slam. That would have been something else all together. But in some regions of the East Texas Piney Woods and probably most of the Florida panhandle, such an event should attract quite a crowd. No doubt many would arrive with their own notched and polished lengths of 2×4 lumber nestled in velvet-lined cases.

“Yo, pops, where do me and Skeeter sign in?”


I took in a matinee of the new Todd Haynes film, “I'm Not There.”

I never saw Haynes' “Far From Heaven,” but I was very enamored of his “Velvet Goldmine” when it came out.

To call “I'm Not There” overly pretentious is only a problem is you find the artificiality of Todd Haynes films off-putting.

The clips I've seen of “Far From Heaven” are so screamingly lush in their set design, that it takes one's breath away. And were it not for my irrational aversion to Julianne Moore, I'd probably have rushed out to see it. As for “Velvet Goldmine” — it was so obsessed in recreating the euro trash glam rock aesthetics of a bygone era that one wonders how anyone got around to the business of acting.

That times ten with “I'm Not There”.

The script breakdown for this film must have been a nightmare. There are five different actors playing six different fictionalized versions of Bob Dylan, and each of these intertwined sections has a different look and a different sensibility — different film stock, different lighting, different color palette. I mean, you have fucking Richard Gere as some weird confluence of Billy the Kid meets the current old man Dylan riding his horse through some old west town peopled with Runyon rejects, circus freaks, and the occasional and inexplicable giraffe and ostrich.

I think the film's a fucking mess. But it's so beautiful. And just when it seems to be veering into high-earnestness, it down-shifts to playful surrealism. For instance, the scenes with the Beatles, Brian Jones, and Pete Seger, are dead center between creepy and comical. To paraphrase “Brownsville Girl” (that masterpiece where Dylan and Sam Shepard collaborated) “I didn't know whether to wince or to laugh, so I laughed.” These scenes are all in the Kate Winslet section. I was a bit distracted by her prominent cheekbones (so lovely on a pretty girl, like Kate — but so, and here I'll say it again, so creepy on Bob Dylan) — but Winslet had the mannerisms of Dylan down solid.

It's a lovely disjointed mess. I have nothing against long movies. Some of them need a lot of time to tell a story. But with “I'm Not There” it seems like too much padding and bloated showboating. It would not have suffered were the whole section where Heath Ledger's Dylan persona were stripped out. (Yeah, yeah, were that allowed to have happened, we would have lost some moving, winsome performances by Charlotte Gainsbourg … and, um, her nude scenes …. And now that I think it through, it seems these sorts of decisions are made by folks wiser than I.)

Probably the elements that will make this film sink or swim among the fanatical Dylan fans will be the book-end bits. We open with Marcus Carl Franklin. He plays Dylan as an 11 year old black boy calling himself Woody Guthrie as he rides the rails and eats fried catfish in the homes of sharecroppers. (And I'm not making this up.) And then, at the end, we have the Autumn (Winter?) of Dylan's life, where Richard Gere trots though rural Missouri on horseback wearing granny glasses and a buckskin hat and he's seemingly been transported back in time to that era of outhouses and Victrolas. And if all you can grumble is a sour “what the fuck?” I can only caution that it sounds like you've wandered far from Brother Bob's path, and you'd better pop into the nearest freight elevation, fire up a joint, and get right with God and get the fuck back into your seat before the opening credits begin rolling on the next screening. Tell me that the second time around still has you scratching your head, and I'll know you to be a rube not worth my time.

The film made me realize that Bob Dylan means so many things to so many different people.

Todd Haynes has his own personal interpretations of what Bob Dylan and his music means to him — much of his point of view is lost on me. Haynes' is walking his own subjective beat.

My own take on Dylan is a scattered memory of images and sounds. First, there was that great “Subterranean Homesick Blues” period. Somewhat later was that iconic scene in “Don't Look Back” (Pennebaker's wonderful 1968 documentary) where Dylan and Donovan meet in a hotel room, and both come off as self important twats — but the scruffy American is the one who, ultimately, has something worth saying. And I guess that, really, so much of my knowledge of those early Dylan songs comes from the versions done by the Byrds.

The fact is that the most interesting (at least to me) period of Dylan's life was already in the past when I was of the age I could have embrace it — but in my youth I already had contemporary music of my own. For those years of my life, Dylan was little more than a guy from another generation who had a nasal voice and often wore funny hats. And then, in the mid '80s, I was blown away by the song “Brownsville Girl.” Sam Shepard wrote the lyrics. Bob Dylan made the song. I remember the first time I heard it on the radio. I had to go out and buy the album.

And so that is my Bob Dylan. The kid from the super-8 music “video” for “Subterranean Homesick Blues;” the cocky brat who made Donovan look like a washed up flower-power casualty; and the well-seasoned burnout who sang about driving across the country, skirting the law, and, as is mentioned in the final stanza, was more than comfortable with vanishing into the absurdity of his own iconography:

There was a movie I seen one time
I think I sat through it twice
I don't remember who I was or where I was bound
All I remember about it was it starred Gregory Peck
He wore a gun and he was shot in the back
Seems like a long time ago
Long before the stars were torn down

These are my interpretations of Dylan. He had a strong impact on my life. And, really, I'm not at all what you'd call a fan.

And that, I believe, is as good a definition of a pop icon as you can get.


To close on, here's what you can do to serve your community.

Click for full image

This is in my neighborhood (well, a bit further south in the trailer park and ice house district). I'm trying to figure out the best type of spray paint to use when I add the word “CRAP” at the end of the first sentence. However, another person suggested that the alteration should be to cross out the word “serve, and add the word “POISON.” And then another person pointed out the the closest McDonalds is over at I-35, a couple of miles away. The fact of the matter is the double arches isn't even poisoning the community where they are advertising.

“The guy in the billboard is too happy to work at McDonalds,” someone in my vandalism focus group said.

“And too svelte,” piped up another, scowling in the back row.

The exit polls had “poison” and “crap” in a dead tie.

I've not been so conflicted since the return of the McRib.

I'll have to think this over some ….


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