Saturday, December 18, 2010

Elsewhere in Mexico: Ancient Dinosaur Art, Artisanal Bread, and the Art of the Hoax in Acámbaro

Shreds and Clippings was a bit sparse on writing during August and September, and here's why: I visited a small central-Mexican town that is home to a collection of alleged pre-Hispanic sculptures that depict dinosaurs, camels, and extra-terrestrials, and were discovered by a German amateur archaeologist in the 1940s. Then I wrote an article about it.
The article is out now, in the November/December 'Art' issue of the Believer. The town where the figures were found looks like this:

The museum that houses the figurines looks like this:

And the sculptures look like this:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Adventures in Rhythm: Oh Captain, My Captain. Captain Beefheart Is Dead.

With the above words my good friend JWR in Connecticut informed me that one of the most creative musicians of the last fifty years died today.

It's strange because during the past six months I've been going through a bit of a personal Beefheart revival, after not listening to his music for years. In April, for Vice magazine's 'fine art' issue, I proposed interviewing Don Van Vliet, who devoted himself to painting since he gave up music and being Captain Beefheart in the early 1980s, but one or more of the editors didn't like the idea. Or they just realized that it would have been impossible since Van Vliet lived somewhere in the Mojave Desert and virtually never granted interviews. When he did he conducted them by fax.

In the meantime I satisfied myself by finding live performances of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band on YouTube. Among the best of these was a set of performances taped for French television in 1980 (one of which was featured on this blog recently), just before he stopped making music.

There are two funny things about these performances. One was that the Captain is much thinner than he was during his 1960s blues-ringleader days. Later I read that he just wanted to 'try out' being fat for awhile.

The other is that, as much as you have to thank French television for putting on so original an artist well after the height of his fame (whatever that means), you realize that they didn't really get it—in the way that I think the French have never exactly gotten American rock and roll. At the beginning of each song, a title appears on screen, and beneath that, in parentheses, "Van Vliet"—as if "Safe as Milk" was an old jazz standard composed by some Tin Pan Alley scratcher. After two songs, you kind of expect something other than "Van Vliet" to show up under the title of the next song, but I don't think Captain Beefheart ever felt compelled to do covers. The French station titles one song "Bat Chain Pullet," which clearly makes no sense, since the song is called "Bat Chain Puller."

But the best thing about these performances is that Beefheart has thrown off the warped blues trappings of his 60s and 70s bands, and actually sounds more unique than before. Even more you realize he never queued his musicians. The violent stops and starts no longer sound random—though they never were—and are now simply shocking.

So long, shiny beast of thought.

Mexico City: Scenes—Halloween

I kept telling people here how nothing can equal the pageantry of Halloween in New York City. But I have to stay that the folks of Mexico City impressed me mightily. We headed down to the main square of Coyoacan, a quiet and slightly traditional neighborhood in the south of the city. And it was madness.

At first, all we could see was this.

Then the lights went on, and we saw this.

Last-minute makeup adjustments in a truck window.

That's a real person.

Traditional Mexican pan de muerto. Some are ghost-shaped.

Sand painting in an ofrenda, or altar to the dead.

More of the ofrenda.

Then a costumed motorcycle gang showed up.

At one point while we were struggling through the throng some of my friends started saying, 'It's Changoleón! Take a picture! Take a picture! He's famous.' It took me awhile to realize they were talking about the damp guy in the Mickey Mouse sweatshirt. Apparently Changoleón is a beloved drunk who became famous after appearing on a Mexican reality TV show. There were fears that he had died in 2006, but he's still here, hanging around Coyoacan. His name means 'monkey-lion.'

These kids won.

The strangest thing was that the shopping mall where we parked had this huge Christmas scene in the lobby. I guess without Thanksgiving to conveniently mark the division between fall and winter, Mexicans can basically start gearing up for Christmas whenever they want.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Stranger with You: I Looked for the Hamster in the Chevrolet

Over a year and a half ago, while doing some work for the magazine n+1 in Brooklyn, I read a short story by Juan Villoro called 'Among Friends' in which a Mexico City detective, who is questioning a local screen writer about the kidnapping of an American journalist from an Oxxo in the Distrito Federal, constantly makes statements such as “This is pure Buñuel, God damn it!”

The claim that Mexico City is a surreal landscape is a popular one, and not just in literature. Several months ago I was in a meeting with a lawyer here when he gestured out the window excitedly, in relation to what I can't remember. "This is a surrealist city!" he insisted. "You could look out that window and see an elephant walking through the courtyard!"

I never found these assertions all that convincing. But then today I saw a man who looked like a body double for the ambassador from the Republic of Miranda in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie while walking to the metro.

Mexico City: Scenes

Horse topiary, near Metro Hospital General.

Kitchen of a friend and amateur herbal medicine practitioner.

El Chopo market.

Street-side altar, la Condesa.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Stranger with You: One and a Half Episodes

Someone explains to me how this happens, because it's happened to me before.

I have seen the show Two and a Half Men exactly one time in my entire life. It was four months ago, in Guadalajara, at a friend's house. In that particular episode, the hard-living best friend of Charlie Sheen's character (played by Emilio Estevez) had just died; Charlie Sheen's character is worried about his own mortality, and the following joke is made during a funeral in a dream sequence:

  Emilio Estevez: Nice turnout.
  Charlie Sheen:  Yeah, standing room only.
  Emilio Estevez: Goes to show you. Give the people what they want...
  Charlie Sheen:  You mean the open bar, right?

Today, on my seventh day at a new apartment, my roommate turned on the TV in the living room and I heard the following dialogue:

  Voice of Emilio Estevez: Give the people what they want...
  Voice of Charlie Sheen:  You mean the open bar, right?
  Voice of Emilio Estevez: Sure.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Adventures in Rhythm: Your Hat's Too Small

Charlie Winston's "Like a Hobo": "Like a Virgin" for the hipster generation?