Thursday, April 22, 2010

My Amazing Friends

Okay, sure, I've had a few Forrest Gump moments with famous folks but really, my actual friends are pretty famous and amazing in their own right. I've already bragged enough about Michael but here's a couple of others I haven't mentioned:

Heidi Nye: Knowing Heidi is to meet someone from another world - a better world - where there is endless light, love, adventure and honesty. We met in the late 80s in the CSULB journalism program. Heidi has faced a number of medical challenges over the years but the kidney dialysis has really tested her strength.

She recently went to New York to be a subject of an HBO documentary on the plight of those needing kidney donors when - whoops! A fence she was leaning on gave way and she broke her hip. (Dialysis makes your bones quite brittle.) Then, while in the hospital, she broke it again! When I called Heidi to see how she was faring, her response was true journalist: "Well, at least it makes for more interesting filmmaking...."

Here is Heidi's story in the New York Daily News. She even looks glamorous in her hospital gown! (Photo by Taggart.)

Andy Isaacson: I met Andy years ago when we were both cubicle rats in San Francisco. He's since gone on to live the life that everyone else dreams about. He basically travels around the world, writing and photographing his journeys for the rest of us to enjoy. (He's skilled at both, of course.) His latest adventure is worth sharing, as it involves peanut butter.

As Andy explains in a recent issue of AFAR: "I once invented a dessert sushi, in Laos. It was made of bananas, peanut butter, sticky rice, sesame seeds, and honey. My then-girlfriend Lauren and I created it spontaneously one December afternoon in 2002, while dining on the deck of a restaurant in Muang Ngoi, a rural fishing village on the Nam Ou River in northern Laos. Scores of backpackers lay up in Muang Ngoi, so we called it the Falang Roll, using the Lao word for “foreigner.” The owners indulged us by providing the ingredients, and we promised them that the roll would be a sensation. They added it to their menu."

Seven years later, the Falang Roll caught on and is now offered as standard fare to those traveling through Laos. When he saw it referenced in a Lonely Planet guidebook as something that now included 'veggies', he packed up his bags and headed back to the same village to protect his culinary legacy. It's quite a story and Andy's photos are, as always, exquisite.

Everybody collects something. Me? I collect amazing people - they're entertaining and require no storage.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Adult Failure To Thrive

I have a habit of reading the obituaries of little-known-but-wildly-successful people. Every single one is alike a mini-movie as you picture the expanse of the person's life neatly summed up by two or three inches in a newspaper.

The other day I read the obit of H. Guyford Stever who led the rocket redesigns after the Challenger disaster. His life was amazing but his death puzzled me. Stever was 93 and died of "adult failure to thrive", an actual medical term with a dramatic, maudlin tone.

Stretched out on my blanket in the park, I made my iPhone look it up immediately:

"In elderly patients, failure to thrive describes a state of decline that is multi-factorial and may be caused by chronic concurrent diseases and functional impairments. Manifestations of this condition include weight loss, decreased appetite, poor nutrition, and inactivity."

What struck me about this was how generic this type of death is, especially in a culture where we demand detailed explanations for things as unwelcome as death. Essentially, this phrase is the more official version of "He just died from old age." Evidently, this isn't a term you can list in one's obit so they came up with this "failure to thrive" business.

Still, I feel like there's an important philosophy embedded in this phrase, or at the very least a solid alt-country song. Take heed: Failure to thrive results in death.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Music Extravaganza

The logic in my head went something like this: "If I'm going to see the new movie, 'The Runaways' about the first all-girl rock band in the 70s, I must go with a she-rocker." Makes sense, no?

And so I grabbed Camille, my mohawk-wearing rocker friend who writes a song a week, or something like that, over at BloginSong. She also sings with an 80s cover band called Mullet Over. They kick ass.

The movie was gritty, awkward and totally necessary. Sure, an all-female rock band seems like no big deal these days but back then, it was the craziest idea ever.

Kristen Stewart really nailed it in her portrayal of a young Joan Jett, that dark slump and black leather pout - it was all in place. Dakota Fanning was dreamy and fragile as Cherie Curie, the 15-year-old lead singer of The Runaways. It got me all nostalgic for 70s fashion and music but certainly not all the sexism that came with it.

Michael Shannon steals every scene he's in as that freaky visionary, Kim Fowler, who makes the girls world-famous. The movie's worth your money if you're a music nerd or at least a feminist. (I'm more music nerd than I am feminist but both sides were pretty pleased.)

But the music didn't end there. We ended up at Swallow Hill, now joined by Reid, and experienced additional greatness.

First there was The Dovekins, a funkalicious band described on their site as "Psychedelic/Western Swing/Bluegrass" which is about right. Laura Goldhammer, the headliner, is also in the band and plays a mean banjo. They felt like Squirrel Nut Zippers meets M Ward. Truly awesome.

Then, there was Widow's Bane - which was a spawn-of-Tom-Waits/zombie band that completely charmed me. The lead singer looked like he'd just stepped out of a Tim Burton movie but one song he sang (about death - surprise!) brought me to real tears. Well done, dead guy & friends! I hope they come through town again.

In a completely different room, my mind was blown by Palmer Divide, a local bluegrass band with phenomenal talent and lots of great jokes. As soon as I got there, the lead singer announced, "We're going to give this shirt to whoever can yell the loudest." I thought, 'Jeez, they might as well give it to me right now.' Sure enough, that shirt was mine but really, how hard is it to outscream a bunch of folkies?

We eventually left and ducked in to a nearby lounge, where lo and behold, another amazing band was playing: Tough Grooves. The leader was a Joan Jett look-alike who could not only rock the drums but she sounded an awful lot like Janis Joplin. We chatted during the band break about our favorite female singers and we all agreed that we'd love to be Chrissie Hynde for a day.

Sometimes, good things happen when you leave the house ...

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Market Street - 1906

My brother, Robert, sent me this wonderful video today and it is mesmerizing. It's a seven-minute (or so) film reel shot in San Francisco just four days before the 1906 earthquake. Thankfully, it was immediately shipped to New York for processing, hence its survival.

You have to see the unbelievably randomness of the traffic - clearly, there were very few, if any, rules of the road. No traffic lights yet either. Streetcars, buses, automobiles, horses, bicycles, buggies, wagons, pedestrians - everybody just flows around at the same calm pace as the car heads directly for the beautiful Ferry Building, which still stands today.

Oh, it gave me such a homesick pang for my City by the Bay! They even used a song I used to listen to all the time when I lived there, "La Femme D'Argent" by Air.

Big thanks to David Kiehn with the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum who painstakingly figured out exactly when it was shot. He studied New York trade papers (announcing the film), noted wet streets from recent heavy rainfall and studied shadows indicating time of year comparing them to weather conditions on historical record. He even studied car registrations, ultimately figuring out who owned them and when the plates were issued. Talk about diligence.

Viewing it full screen is best. It's the closest to time travel you'll ever get.