Local Art News
Seattle’s rap scene has a kind of Yin and Yang complex. On one side are the shining intellectual Paladins, “message” rappers like (duh) Macklemore, The Blue Scholars and, to some extent, Shabazz Palaces. Moor Gang (often caps locked as MOORGANG) sits across the aisle — on a pile of cash, in a cloud of blunt smoke.
The tension between these two camps — one politically correct, one deliciously provocative — delineates the biggest stylistic rift in Northwest hip hop.
The banner of Moor Gang’s website reads “Seattle’s Favorite Bad Guys.” The music this collective of rappers and producers releases never minces words. It’s brash braggadocio, full of slick wordplay, blatant sexuality and drug fantasia. It is also wonderfully creative, inextricably woven into the expanding tapestry of Seattle’s rap scene.
Moor Gang counts more than a dozen members, a boy’s club with one exception: Gifted Gab.
The 24-year-old artist has been compared to Queen Latifah, and deserves comparison to Missy Elliot as well. Her songs sound like they could have been released last month or 10 years ago. She raps with as much swagger and aggression as any Moor Gang member, and often surpasses her male peers in lyrical complexity.
Surrounded by caffeine-fueled college students at the U-District Cafe Solstice, we discussed her near-future career moves, opinions on the changing Central District and the ever-challenging work/life balance.
Let’s talk about some musicians you’re interested in.
I really like Royce the Choice, I’m glad he’s now getting the shine he so deserves. I really like UGLYFRANK from Tacoma a lot. He’s in the group ILLFIGHTYOU. I like all of them, but Ugly Frank … he’s tight to me. Also The Moors, and The Physics.
Tell me about the recording process for your debut album. Who do you like working with production-wise?
I’ve been working with JayB Beats. He did all the beats on “G Shit,” the last EP I dropped. He did some s*** on “Girl Rap” as well. I like Blvck Sinatra, he just changed his name to Hanzo beatz. I believe, he’s from from Tacoma. And of course Rob Skeetz from Moor Gang, he does a lot of the beats. Pretty much those four. I’m trying to branch out now, the next [project] I have coming out I have a lot of different producers.
Well, yes and no. [Hanzo Beats] and Skeetz are the ones who actually know my sound. They’re the type that could send me a beat pack and I’ll like half or all of them. Other people, it’s kind of hit and miss. People think they know. They’re like ‘you’d sound great on this!’ and I don’t hear it at all.
Could you tell me what your “sound” is in terms of beats? What do you like?
When I say ‘these producers know my sound,’ I mean they know I like to switch it up, and they can keep up with me. [An older mixtape] “Queen La’Chiefah” was a little more mellow. I’m not really on that anymore. “Girl Rap” had more hard hitting beats. Someone I really admire a lot is DJ Quik. His beats are really West Coast, as in you can sing on it or rap on it. Right now I’m on some grittier stuff. What really inspired me is J. Cole’s new album [“2014 Forest Hills Drive”]. He had a few beats on there that made me say ‘That’s what I’m talking about!’ I wish someone had made some of those for me before he got to it (laughs).
You sing the hooks on some of your own songs. Did you grow up singing?
Yes I did. I grew up in the church, so I was singing at a helluva young age.
Would you ever release an album or mixtape where you sang instead of rapped?
“G Shit” was the closest. When I put it out, I was still in the process of working on some other stuff, so it’s just three tracks. These days people’s attention spans are shorter. Even a couple years ago, you could make four-minute tracks and people would listen to them, but now not so much. People skip through.
I noticed that although you have a lot of material out, the lengths of many tracks are shorter.
I’m very observant. I watch other people, and I go to a lot of shows. When I go out it looks like I’m kickin’ it but I’m really studying. You can put out an album of 13 or 14 tracks that are four minutes long, but Bandcamp has these stats that show your plays and the number of people who play [songs] all the way through. There’s a lot of people who only listen halfway through. It just makes more sense to release a project of five to 10 songs where each song is only three minutes.
I don’t know if you’re a Kanye West fan, but his latest album “Yeezus” was like that. He took the punk rock approach, he’s in and out in 40 minutes.
I definitely admire Kanye. It’s all about the EP’s and stuff. My next project is going to be a full album, but the three-minute song is where I’m at.
I noticed that Moor Gang has a mission statement which says “familial pride is as common to the members of Moor Gang as self-sufficiency.” Could you explain that?
So Moor Gang is named after the Moor tribes of Africa. They were some cold dudes … They were self-sufficient and did their own thing. We take a lot of the same values. There’s 12 or 13 of us, and we’re all a family pretty much. A lot of us are blood-related or grew up together. We’re all intertwined in some type of way but we’re all individual artists. At the end of the day, it’s all about the unity.
How did you get involved with this collective? How do you know these people?
So Nacho [Picasso] and Jarv [Dee] are the creators of Moor Gang. My older brother and Nacho grew up together, but they’re like six years older than me. I caught on [to Moor Gang] right when [Nacho and Jarv] were putting it together.
And you would have been around 18 at the time?
I’m 24 now, so that sounds about right.
Another part of your mission statement is about “forming deep roots in a swiftly-changing city.” You see lot of graffiti tags calling out gentrification. How do you see this city changing?
Seattle, just like all over the US, is going through this now. Myself, I’m involved in saving the Central District. I just attended a community meeting trying to come up with some solutions. I was born and raised in the Central District, and over the course of less than 10 years it’s become unrecognizable. A lot of the mom and pop businesses, and a majority of the black-owned businesses are gone.
That’s what the meeting was mostly about. The area on 23rd Ave and Union Street is in danger of being bought by big-time executives. Like Uncle Ike’s across the street — I f****** hate that. I can’t support it. It’s exactly what’s wrong with the Central District. They already bought the car wash next door, and they’re trying to push the church out. They’re building some apartments kitty-corner from the pot shop, and I heard from a few different people that they own that too. They have everything we don’t: the lawyers, the money, the power.
How would you like the city to change, and how do you see your art and your peers’ art playing a role in that?
They have a 20-year plan for how Seattle’s going to look, called Seattle 2035. But talking to people who have been to meetings, the black people, the artists, the minorities, the people at the lower end of the totem pole, they aren’t a part of it. We need to keep the culture and diversity. I remember Capitol Hill … it’s unrecognizable compared to back in the day. There are all these useless stores now.
There need to be more art hubs too. I remember there used to be a lot of artist lofts, but I tried to get into one and there was like a two-year waiting lists.
I’m curious about how you write your lyrics. Do you have a set time you write every day, or is it more spontaneous?
I really don’t have a process. My s*** is everywhere. I have about 600 notes on my iPhone. Some of them have full songs, some of them just have a bar or two. I just write whenever I feel inspired. I’ll hear a beat and if I’m really feeling it I’ll write a whole song right there. There’s times where I can sit there and think I’m writing something but don’t like it and delete it all. It’s pretty haphazard.
Right now I’m working on writing songs for some singers. I write all my own stuff, but this is another lane, you know? … I’ll write some songs and be like ahh, I couldn’t do it justice. I’ll write from other people’s perspective, like a guy’s perspective, where if I were to try and do it people would be confused.
On “No Days Off” you talk about how it’s challenging to succeed in the music business and take care of your personal life. What are some of the biggest challenges?
One of the biggest changes is that I’m really f****** busy all the time. I have friends and family that just don’t understand it. I work four days out of the week from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. If I have meetings I have to do them before or after work. I’m off on Saturdays, except not really because there’s always shows or something I have to do.
And I’m definitely getting noticed everywhere I go. I don’t mind it, but it takes getting used to. You get the passive people at the bus stop who stare at you and be weird about it. Don’t be weird about it. I’m hella regular, you can come up and talk to me like anybody else.
One day, I’ll have all the time in the world, but it’s a lot of grinding, a lot of comeuppence. Especially being a female in the game; that’s a lot of extra hurdles. A lot of people come up to me saying they need this, or lying about dumb s*** … I would love to pass them my shoes for a day, or any other female’s in a male-dominated game.
Sounds like you’re working a full-time job and swimming up-stream in a misogynistic industry while trying to take care of friends and family.
I’m more about grassroots and taking it slow. I don’t really have any desire to sign [to a label] right now. It’s already stressful … if you don’t know how to handle [signing], you’re going to drown and your career will be very, very short. It’s an entire lifestyle change. I’m still in my artist development stages, still studying. This is my life.
There’s always different intentions. Some people want to get rich quick, or the fame. Some people just want to f*** b****** all day. That’s fine. But those aren’t my intentions, so please stay out of my lane. People hit me up all the time to do collabs, and it’s cool to get the money, just for the simple fact that at the end of the day, I’d do it for free … but I’m an artist. If I don’t like the song, I don’t care how much money you give me. I have my job, but with my [music] career, I’m the boss … I love it! (laughs).
You did a very funny interview you did with The Stranger where you said, at one point, that you weren’t much of a feminist. What did you mean by that?
I don’t even put a title on what I am. I’m a woman. I want to see other women succeed. But once you put a title behind it, you have these expectations. I talk about bitches and pimping in my songs. I’m all for women’s power, but [the title] just changes s***.
“Helicopter parents” is the term used to describe hovering, hyper-success focused moms and dads, but the parents featured on the Discovery Life channel program, World’s Worst Mom, are more like prison wardens. Over-protective to the point of paranoia, they incarcerate their kids in a world ruled by fear.
Surf excerpts from the show and you’ll encounter a jaw-dropping parade of wigged-out women, from the mom who won’t let her 16-year old daughter ride the school bus to the mother unhinged by the thought of allowing her five kids play in their expansive New Jersey yard to the skittish matriarch reduced to a nervous wreck while her 11-year old son takes the family dog for a walk. These women are clearly in need of an intervention.
Enter Lenore Skenazy, author of “Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)”, a book that has helped ignite the backlash against safety-obsessed parents who believe, as Skenanzy’s website puts it, “that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.”
Skenazy and her camera crews document the parental handwringing, pick up a few soundbites from the bemused children, and then she offers practical tips for pardoning the kids from their cellblocks. In one case, a pre-teen boy not only gets his first chance to pedal a bike by himself (in a parking lot), but he also rides a city bus completely alone, for two horror-filled blocks!
The excerpts on the Discovery website end before we get to see all of Skenazy’s solutions, and the videos sometimes have a suspiciously staged quality to them. The doom-filled soundtrack and Frontline-style narration are a bit much, and I’m also not sure why the show picks only on mothers (dads sometimes appear in the episodes as enablers-in-waiting). But it’s obvious these moms are over the top. In one case, a terrified mother accompanies her 10-year old daughter into all public bathrooms.
Not just the bathroom, but the actual stall.
The casualties of war, oppression, poverty and religious zealotry confront all of us in the photographs of Sebastião Salgado, whose remarkable career is the subject of the documentary The Salt of the Earth. Salgado has witnessed the horrific aftermaths of genocide, the terrible cruelty of famine, the awful exploitation of workers, and he has captured these distinctly human evils with a deep-focused, exquisite eye. His pictures are magnificent and monumental, and usually expensively printed in coffee table books or displayed in art museums. One can find compressed versions on the Internet, but to see them displayed on the big screen of a movie theater is a rare treat.
Salgado’s transformation from a young man studying economics to a world-class photographer is a compelling early part of this film (playing at Seattle’s Seven Gables). He was drawn to remote pockets of the earth, not only by the indigenous people who lived there but also by their often miserable conditions and the choices they had to make to survive. Perhaps his most famous series was shot in a Brazilian gold mine, where men carried endless sacks of dirt up rickety ladders for hours on end. Salgado reveals that these men were not slaves, but freelancers; intellectuals and students scattered among the laborers, all hoping to strike it rich. But rather than letting capitalism off the hook, his photos of these mudcaked men, shot in luminous black-and-white and framed against a hellish landscape, tell us of the dangerous lengths humans will go in order to eke out a living in a globalized world.
Other series follow, including pictures of the grotesque carnage of the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides, and a particularly heartbreaking sequence of starving refugees in various war-torn African countries. As these photos accumulate, so too does our sense of rage and sorrow. Just when we think we can’t stand it anymore, neither can Salgado. He finally retreats from his interrogations of the inherent nastiness of human beings, and instead concentrates on the wonders of natural beauty, both in his photography and his creation of a national park on the reclaimed land of his Brazilian childhood.
While what we see and hear in The Salt of the Earth is consistently revealing, even ravishing, we don’t get much of a sense of how Salgado works, how he approaches the people he photographs, how he achieves the dense, fine-grained silvery palette of his pictures. His wife, a longtime partner and champion of his work, is barely heard from. The film was co-directed by Wim Wenders (Pina, Wings of Desire) and Salgado’s son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, and narrated intermittently by both.
This may explain the movie’s odd rhythm, which can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a biography, a testimony, a personal journey, a celebration or an essay on human suffering. Wenders, perhaps feeling constricted in having to accommodate both Salgado’s creative presence and the intrusion of Juliano’s vision, comes up with the arty technique of electronically broadcasting a Salgado photograph from the viewpoint of the camera lens and then, with Salgado staring directly at us, having him comment on the photo. The result — a half-dissolve between the photo and the photographer’s face — is mostly distracting, but it does allow Wenders to claim a personal stamp on the film.
Unlike Pina, which illuminated the work of a legendary dancer and teacher by relying on the voices of her students and colleagues, and which featured a dazzling stylistic design by Wenders, The Salt of the Earth will be remembered mainly for Salgado’s unforgettable pictures, a singular and staggering vision of the human capacity for destruction.
The Weekend List: Guest curator C. Davida Ingram picks Mary Ann Peters, Buster Simpson, Complex Movements
Featuring picks from artist C. Davida Ingram
Earlier this year at the wonderful Genre Bender event, conceptual artist C. Davida Ingram blew audiences away with a spoken word/audio/film project about love and discovering why she could not cry.
“I’m not a sketch-in-the-studio artist,” Ingram, 38, explains. “I tend to have some question on my mind that I want to pursue.” That approach results in some provocative, spiritual, stays-with-you-for-months type of work. Like when she explored the labels, name calling, perceptions and identities of African Americans with “Stereotype,” a show she curated at the LxWxH gallery last year. Or when she tackled the notion of white privilege in 2006 by placing this ad on Craigslist: Black woman willing to make your favorite meal. Strangers signed up; Ingram cooked.
In her latest project, Ingram queried a range of people about their hopes and dreams for themselves and their community. “I feel like everyday people are philosophers,” she says. Her “Eyes to Dream: A Project Room” includes recordings of these voices alongside text-based work from “Stereotype” and photos and pieces from Ingram’s 2014 performance show “I Wish a Mother Would.” (If you go, look at a lacy white dress embroidered with dried fish; it’s about feminism, women of color and mermaids.)
“I want to make art that’s not inconsequential,” says Ingram, a transplant from Chicago who is arguably one of the city’s most appreciated artists. She’s a convener, a connector, a multi-hyphenate with a warmth and intelligence who has generated many friends and fans. Her newest daytime job is doing public engagement work for the Seattle Public Library. I, for one, can’t wait to see what impact she’ll have there.
In the meantime, Ingram shares some of her not-to-miss events for Crosscut’s Weekend List.
If you go: “Eyes to Dream: A Project Room,” Northwest African American Museum, now through July 5 ($7) — F.D.
* Denotes events that are $15 or less
Mary Ann Peters *“Stardust” by Mary Ann Peters
“She does really beautiful, large-scale abstract works about memory and history,” says Ingram. The Seattle-based painter has been exploring her own Syrian and Lebanese ancestry of late. She is known for her political and social activism.
If you go: Mary Ann Peters, James Harris Gallery in Seattle, Now through May 9, (Free) — C.D.I.
Buster Simpson *Palouse Campanile by Buster Simpson
“He’s been doing social practice work, countercultural work, for years,” Ingram says. “He’s shown internationally but he’s not always known here at home.” This is Simpson’s first one-person gallery show. It features works about the urban environment and nature from his 40-year career, including pieces made at various residencies as well as work shown in a 2013 retrospective at the Frye Museum. “Buster has spent his career identifying urban maladies, ” said Scott Lawrimore, curator of that Frye retrospective. “… and his works can be viewed as prescriptions.”
If you go: Buster Simpson, Greg Kucera Gallery, Now through May 16 (free) — C.D.I
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck *
Considered the first authorized documentary of the music legend, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck uses home videos, journals and personal interviews with Kurt’s loved ones to paint a breathtaking, breathless picture of the artist’s tumultuous life and success. At the 7 p.m. showing on Thursday, director Brett Morgen will be on hand to discuss the film, which has been lauded by both fans and critics for its intensity and intimacy. Rolling Stone calls it an “eight-years-in-the-making collective labor of love.”
If you go: Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, SIFF Cinema Egyptian, April 23 through April 30 (showtimes vary) ($9-$12) — N.C.
Martyrloserking.com is a cryptic amalgam of images and words. A post from April 3 links to an Executive Order from the White House concerning illegal cyber activity. A March 28 entry displays a block of text consisting mostly of phrases like “Hack into the rebellious gene. Hack into narcissism. The effects of poverty on the psyche. The effects of race. The effects of cruelty.” There are many images, seeminglyfrom all over the world. According to the press release, this new endeavor from rapper/poet Saul Williams is “a multimedia project that engages the digital dialogue between the 1st and 3rd worlds, and the global street sounds that yoke the two.” The album was recorded in Senegal, Reunion Island, Paris, Haiti, New Orleans and New York. Williams’ hip-yet-intelligent blend of rap with more formal spoken-word poetry has earned him a diverse and substantial following. Trent Reznor and Rick Rubin have both produced albums for him, but Williams produced this latest release himself. (Embedding has been disabled, but you can see the video go here.)
If you go: Saul Williams, Chop Suey, April 23 ($20-25).21+ — J.S.H.
Jeffrey Karl Ochsner *
In recent years, Jeffrey Karl Ochsner has given a lecture on the history of Seattle architecture from the 1880s to present. This Saturday, the dynamic and insanely knowledgeable U.W. professor focuses on the development and lasting impacts of regional modern architecture, also described as Northwest Regionalism. Ochsner will focus on residential and small institutional buildings erected between 1930 and 1970. While I haven’t seen this lecture yet, I can guarantee that Ochsner will give us all a new appreciation for the structures we pass by every day.
If you go: Jeffrey Ochsner, Seattle Central Library, 1 p.m. on April 25, All ages (Free) — N.C.
Complex Movements: Beware of the Dandelions *Photo by Vanessa Miller
“They’re a media arts collective out of Detroit that does smart, consistent, community-oriented work,” says C. Davida Ingram. The group is inspired by 99-year-old Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs. Its latest work is a mobile art installation that weaves together hip hop, architecture, theater and community organizing. Several free events preview the installation, followed by discussions. Performances are sold out but a wait list is available.
If you go: Complex Movements: Beware of the Dandelions, On the Boards, Preview installation events (free) begin April 25; performances are May 7-10 ($25). — C.D.I
Alice Gosti: How to Become a Partisan
On the 70th anniversary of Italy’s liberation from fascism, Alice Gosti, who bills herself as a “space transformer,” presents a 5-hour, world premiere immersive event with dance, choirs and musical compositions by Hanna Benn. Ingram is a big fan of Benn, who was her creative collaborator for this year’s Genre Bender event. About Gosti she has this to say: “I love the way she [Gosti] thinks.” Gosti is another local artist who doesn’t shy away from performances that push buttons and prompt deep thoughts. A piece this long is sure to challenge audiences. But it’s a come-and-go experience so you can drop in at any time.
If you go: Alice Gosti: How to Become a Partisan, St. Mark’s Cathedral, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. April 25 ($18) — C.D.I
Mommy Long Legs *
There are so many articles chastising Millennials for their apathy, abuse of technology, lack of empathy, etc. Making jokes at their expense isn’t nearly as fun as it used to be. Regardless, it’s worth noting that as the Facebook generation ages, rock music has never been more nihilistic or ironic, and Seattle is leading the charge into the inky abyss.
The ladies of Mommy Long Legs are killer because they keep their nihilistic Millennial rock amusing. Like local musical trendsetters Chastity Belt and Tacocat, Mommy Long Legs’ lyrics find humor in faux-enthusiasm and tongue-in-cheek quips. They sing in baby talk, and Cali girl accents. The cover of their debut album, “Life Rips,” shows a girl sitting in a grave; a tombstone behind her reads “Life R.I.P.S.” Musically, Mommy Long Legs makes stripped-down punk rock injected with lots of sun and surf. The band opens for garage rock duo Pony Time at the Highline, and tickets can only be bought at the door.
If you go: Mommy Long Legs, Pony Time, The Highline, April 28 ($7) 21+ — J.S.H.
Danny Westneat is a Metro columnist for the Seattle Times, and an avid-fiction reader who has spent 21 years in the same book group. He grew up in Ohio, the son of a scientist who was the son of a Baptist minister. Danny spent four years covering Congress and the White House, and has also written on the environment, politics and local city halls.
What books are on your nightstand right now?
I’m reading Preparation for the Next Life, by Atticus Lish. It’s about a Chinese illegal immigrant and a PTSD-addled soldier in the Patriot Act era, so it’s kind of “topical fiction.” After that I’m going to read the new Kazuo Ishiguro book Buried Giant. It’s getting mixed reviews, but the one he wrote before that, Never Let Me Go, was beautiful — which is saying something because it was about cloning.
Do you read more fiction or non-fiction?
For my job I read tons of non-fiction, mostly newspapers and magazines. So off-duty I read fiction. I have been in the same book club now for 21 years, and in that time we’ve read about 250 books, all fiction. The book club is all men, and for some reason many of them went to Whitman College in Walla Walla. I can’t vouch for that place, other than to say their graduates for the most part know how to read. Our book club has two rules: 1) We only read fiction, and 2) If you foist a book on everyone that turns out to suck, you will be mocked for as long as the book club exists. When we made that rule we didn’t expect the book club to last for decades. So the mocking has really started to pile up.
Have you read a truly great book lately? One you’d unhesitatingly recommend to friends and colleagues?
About 10 years ago our book club instituted a “summer book policy,” in which we spend the entire summer reading a longer novel in the category of “books you should have read but were too lazy to do by yourself.” So that means Don Quixote, War and Peace, Tin Drum, Ulysses, Infinite Jest, Anna Karenina, Shadow Country, Gravity’s Rainbow, Moby Dick. That’s like 10,000 pages of some of the best writing in the history of the world. It’s also the least-summery summer reading list ever compiled. I doubt I would have read a word of it without being intensely peer-pressured. But it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.
Of those, War and Peace and Moby Dick rule. Who knew Moby Dick was laugh-out-loud funny? The first half of Don Quixote is also absolutely not to be missed. Also Infinite Jest, because it’s true that David Foster Wallace was the modern American genius, and the book is so revealing and human about addiction. It’s also dead-on prescient about how our real drug is entertainment, which he knew even before smart phones. But all of those books are so hard you definitely need a support group, or at least I did.
Any hands-down favorite authors?
One book I think about constantly, though I read it 13 years ago, is Erasure by Percival Everett. Sheer brilliant satire, of the kind where you’re nodding along thinking you’re in on the joke until suddenly you realize you are the one being satirized. It’s about race and media and America tied up in knots by both. Best book you’ve never heard of. Other favorites: Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Death on the Installment Plan, Robert Coover’s Universal Baseball Association, Inc., and Edward Jones’ The Known World. My favorite movie is Apocalypse Now, and once our book club read the movie screenplay along with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It was a stroke of art to update the 1800s Congo with “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Maybe you can tell I like the dark stuff.
How many columns do you write for the Seattle Times each week?
I write two columns a week. When I say that people usually ask: “Oh, what do you do with the rest of your time?” It’s a great question I can’t answer: I’ve got summer reading to finish? I guess the truth is I spend most of my time in a neurotic, confused search for the next thing to write about.
What sources of information do you rely on to stay informed about local and regional issues?
I read tons of community news. I probably read 25 community newspapers a week — from the Bellevue Reporter to the South Whidbey Record to the Ballard News-Tribune (where I wrote my first post-college article back in 1989). I’m searching for hidden stories or themes to turn into a column. I like the small stories.
Any well-reviewed or popular books lately that you felt didn’t live up to the hype? That disappointed you? Why?
I’ve hated all the pompous self-indulgent stuff Jonathan Franzen has written since The Corrections, which truly was a great book. He should have stopped there.
What were your most cherished childhood books?
There are four non-fiction books I read when I was younger that together propelled me to go into journalism. One was Ball Four, which I read when I was 16. It showed me I knew nothing about the one thing I thought I knew the most about, baseball. Another is Heaven Is A Playground, by Rick Telander, about street basketball in New York City. A third is Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert, about how America’s dam-building obsession was driven not by need but by bureaucratic ego. And Bruce Brown’s Mountain in the Clouds, probably the best book ever written about the Pacific Northwest (although Ball Four is about the Seattle Pilots)! All four of these books made me desperately want to go find stories and tell them.
After Ball Four came out, supposedly Pete Rose yelled at the author, the pitcher Jim Bouton, during a game: “(Bleep) you, Shakespeare!” Not only is that the all-time best literary insult — it alone qualifies Rose for the Hall of Fame — but as a kid I found it perversely inspirational. I realized I wanted to write something that would get people to say “(Bleep) You, Shakespeare!” at me. As a columnist, I’ve now achieved that “Bleep You” goal many times over. Still working on the Shakespeare part.
What do you plan to read next?
This summer my pain-seeking book club is reading Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth. It’s supposed to be great, but it’s 1,400 pages! Oh well, you can’t survive in a book club for 21 years without learning how to do some serious skimming.
What Val is Reading This Week: A book by a young journalist about her near-death descent into a virulent illness, and her perilous recovery. “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness,” by Susan Cahalan is the author’s careful reconstruction, through videos, diaries and interviews, of her missing month. Her story is a shocking and compelling medical mystery story, and an illumination of how our ability to survive such a crisis depends on advocacy, money and luck.
The Project Room: UPCOMING: Legacy Assignment Series 2 w/ Sierra Nelson! Plus Levertov Film Screening & Shock and Awe Photo Essay!
A few words with Seattle Erotic Art Festival Director Sophia Iannicelli! Come to the Festival – April 23-25, 2015!
The largest youth film festival in the world is happening this week in Seattle. The 2015 National Film Festival for Talented Youth, which opens on Thursday, April 23rd and runs through Sunday, April 26, features 248 films from an international roster of directors, age 11 to 24. And this year, for the first time, female filmmakers are in the spotlight: 48 percent of the festival’s films are the work of women directors.
The 2015 lineup includes poignant tales of goldfish and a zany zombie musical. A lot of personal experience goes into the creation of the films, says festival Program Manager Todd Kaumans, who describes NFFTY as a “filmmaker’s festival.”
Indeed, the NFFTY audience is mostly the filmmakers themselves, who get to network with this year’s special guests, including James Foley, director of a dozen House of Cards episodes, and Warren Etheredge, host of Reel NW and The High Bar. Connections forged at NFFTY can have surprising results. Kaumans notes that NFFTY attendees often “come back having made a film with someone they met the year before.”
Kaumans’ own festival entries (in 2010 and 2011) led to a producing gig for PBS. “Young filmmakers are always overlooked by regular film festivals,” he says. “NFFTY is all about proving they have just as much talent and potential.”Filmmakers on the NFFTY 2013 red carpet. Credit: Sarah Sprouse/NFFTY
The female focus of this year’s festival gives aspiring women directors a rare chance to shine. The fact that nearly half of this year’s films have women directors places NFFTY well above last year’s industry standard: seven percent of the top 250 films were directed by women. To top it off, the closing night program is, entitled “Femme Finale,” showcases the festival’s best female filmmakers in a special screening.
The opening title sequence of Mad Men, with a Don Draper-esque black-on-white cutout tumbling perilously to his doom, may be remembered much longer than anything the Draper character does in the program’s seven seasons. After all, how many cigarettes can he smoke, whiskeys can he guzzle, married women can he bed, before it all blurs together like a carousel going endlessly round and round?
There are episodes of The Walking Dead so embalmed the only good thing about them was its credit sequence, a creepy montage of dystopian detritus; the found footage remnants of a world eating itself alive; capped by the terrifying telephoto of a lone zombie in a sunlit field, relentlessly stalking your nightmares.
And in the criminally under-seen and now defunct post-Katrina series Tremé, the opening title sequence consisted of the water-damaged photos of a storm-tossed scrapbook, real pictures of the busted homes and broken lives of New Orleans dwellers intercut with hurricane video and the rolling party that is a second line bop, set to the insanely danceable jig of John Boutté’s title song.
These are my favorite title sequences in this golden age of series television we find ourselves in. So many programs, so many channels, so many intriguing ideas. If you judged most of these shows based on their credit sequences alone, you’d think they were all masterworks. So why not skip the actual programs and just watch the credits, provided here by Vulture magazine in this roundup of the Ten Best TV opening credits of 2014.
The breathtaking water-borne imagery from The Affair is their number one pick;
followed by the haunting decapitated super-impositions of True Detective;
and the chilling frescoes of The Leftovers (in third place), a program that, apparently, no one liked except me.
Some shows on Vulture‘s list I’ve never even heard of: Manhattan, Black Sails, Marco Polo. Others seem like they’re trying too hard. Halt and Catch Fire is nothing but some digital streaks of color.
Penny Dreadful treats us to bleached close-ups of insects.
But Outlander’s title montage is a total turn-off, playing like one of those ghastly PBS Celtic song specials plunked onto an abandoned backlot from Lord of the Rings.
If a show about wind-tossed tresses flapping to a Gaelic wail is what you’re after, this is definitely your ticket.
This is the first in a 2-part series on changes in Seattle’s built environment.
Tucked into a side street in Seattle’s International District is a three-dimensional metaphor for the changes being seen all across the city.
The delightful Eastern Café is bounded by two long interior walls. The south wall is layered with many decades of paint, some of it peeled off to reveal the handiwork of past owners and purveyors of goods and services. The wall is chipped and battered, possessing a richly colorful and eccentric patina. The other wall is made of gypsum board, a synthetic product of the 20th century that replaced hand-built lath and plaster for interior walls. It is flat and boring with a relentlessly perfect smoothness and uniform beige color that add to the monotony.
The contrast between these two walls is being writ large across the city, with large blocky new apartment buildings replacing smaller scale, often idiosyncratic structures. In many neighborhoods behemoth projects consuming entire blocks now rise up eight stories. A number of developments in Ballard reflect this shift in scale.
Occasionally, we get a flash of design brilliance with forms, patterns and compositions from creative minds. Some of the recent development along 12th Avenue East on Capitol Hill falls into this category. But in most cases, new buildings are wrapped with the external version of gypsum wallboard; they are repetitive, flat and featureless.
The reason for this visual “meh” can be traced back to the early 90’s when the City of Seattle did something that no other city in the country had done: It adopted a building code which allowed a never-before-seen, hybrid form of construction. The development industry calls it “5 over 1”; that is, multiple floors of light wood-frame construction erected on top of lower floors made of concrete. (In the lingo of building codes, wood frame construction is called “Type 5”; fire-resistant, concrete construction is “Type 1.” Hence the “5 over 1″ nickname.) In some cases, this code has been literally translated into five floors of wood frame over one floor of concrete, but it can also be six levels on top of two.
One rationale for this hybrid approach was lowering the cost of construction and, therefore, the price point for the consumer. Prior to the code change, buildings taller than four stories had to be built with much more expensive materials and systems. Over the years, as dozens of 5 over 1 structures went up in Seattle, fire marshals around the country watched to see if residents would be consumed by conflagrations. When that didn’t happen, building codes were changed to allow 5 over 1 anywhere.
Since Seattle has been at this longer than anywhere else, the city also discovered a basic flaw in the 5 over 1 approach. Because wood expands and contracts in response to changes in weather and moisture content, certain types of rigid materials used on building surfaces pull apart at their seams, leaving cracks that wind-driven rain can penetrate. And penetrate it did.
Along with the accompanying mold and mildew, water damage led to massive insurance claims, litigation and costly repairs. For more than a decade, numerous buildings around Seattle were cocooned in plastic wrap while their exteriors were being reconstructed. As it turns out, only a few materials perform well when stretched across many floors of wood framing. Many of these materials, such as “Hardy” planks and metal sheeting, are, well, as boring as sheet rock, aesthetically speaking.
Thankfully, in recent years new exterior materials have become available that can convey a richer character and perform well over time. But despite the wider array of choices, the results can be either overly repetitive or visually chaotic. As with any artful endeavor, striking a balance can be challenging.The mix of materials, colors and fine details enhances this 5 over 1 building in downtown Seattle. The top floor against that blue sky is pretty cool too. Credit: Hewitt
There are ways to bring elegance to 5 over 1 structures, but it requires a high degree of skill and commitment. Only a very talented designer can take such a limited palette of materials and make the resulting building interesting, if not elegant. But developers must be willing to hire those skilled designers. Many are simply not interested. And this reveals a hidden flaw in the City’s design review process: No amount of process can “make” a designer talented or a developer committed to creating superb buildings. Hence, the wildly uneven — and often uninspiring — architecture in Seattle today.
Recently the rapid pace of development has exposed this construction-based flaw. There are scores of sites under construction, as documented by the wonderful SeattleinProgress.com. With tall steel cranes visible in every direction, the city seems besieged. In a sense, Seattle is a victim of its own success. With all the articles and rankings touting its culture, its music, its natural setting and its high-paying jobs are we really surprised that so many people want to move here? Even corporations that previously located in outlying areas — Weyerhaeuser, Facebook and Expedia, for example — are piling on.
The pace of development here has also been fueled by dramatic changes in the national demographic makeup. Households are smaller but more numerous. Boomers, who make up a quarter of the population, are downsizing and opting for more compact dwellings in urban places that offer transit, cultural amenities and high-quality health care. Millennials, another 25 percent of the population, are eschewing the suburbs in favor of density, diversity and public transit that only urban places offer.
Some middle-aged cynics suggest that Millennials will refill the suburbs once they have children. I’m not so sure. In sharp contrast to past generations, Millennials are putting off marriage and kids. Moreover, their values are rooted in lifestyles that only denser urban places can provide.
We are seeing a sea change in the preferences of younger Americans. For one thing, Millennials are acutely aware of the environmental damage done to this country by five decades of outward expansion into an auto-dependent landscape. Climate change is only one negative outcome of those growth patterns.
Right now, virtually every major metropolitan area in the country is seeing a significant uptick in the development of rental housing, often in the form of multi-story, stacked flats. This is due, in part, to the fact that financing for condominiums has been, until very recently, non-existent. But even if owner-occupied housing was more available, many Millennials would rather not be tied down by a house with 30-year mortgage. Given college loan debts, even those with higher incomes may not have enough saved for a sizable down payment on increasingly costly single-family, detached houses. No surprise then that apartment development is booming like never before. Seattle is not unique in this regard.
Last May, The Seattle Times made an assertion that has been repeated by politicians, journalists, and community activists: Seattle is the country’s fastest-growing city. Too bad the claim is untrue. We are not the fastest growing urban area; we’re not even in the top three. Those honors belong to cities in Texas according to recent research by Forbes Magazine.
One explanation for this phony claim, alluring or alarming as it might be, is that most organizations monitoring urban growth look at metropolitan areas, not at the individual jurisdictions within them. But rather than touting a dubious title we should instead be discussing how to shape the patterns of growth as well as the choices we offer.
In this region, growth and change are occurring in almost every city and town surrounding Puget Sound. We live in an urban region with “Seattle” as its collective avatar. Seattle may be seeing a decrease (aka displacement) in certain population groups, but those folks are replenishing older, inner-ring towns that were, not too long ago, mono-cultural bastions of the white middle class.
All cities change over time; that is their nature. Many Puget Sound communities are now a rich mixture of cultures with different customs, history, language, dress and cuisine. There are certainly downsides to gentrification. This trend isn’t one of them.
For the last decade, we have gone through an awkward period of adjusting to a whole series of changes. We have seen a rapid uptick in demand. Some developers are here merely to grab the gold; they seem to have little interest in creating lasting communities. Meanwhile, designers with wide-ranging abilities try to create buildings of larger scale and higher densities and they frequently miss the mark.
And even more changes are coming. Within the next decade, we will very likely see a massive misalignment in the demand and supply of particular housing types. But that is another story.
Coming soon, Part 2: How Millennials – and Boomers too – are driving a need for more townhouses.
2015 KAC Artists’ Exhibition features the broad talent of local artists May 2 – June 20, 2015 Opening reception: Friday, May 1st, 2015, 6:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Welcome to City Superheroes, the second installment of a regular column that highlights the powerful figures walking among us with the help of a (usually local) illustrator. This week’s pairing: performer Prom Queen and cartoonist Mark Palm.
Moniker: Prom Queen
Given Name: Celene Queeno Ramadan
Other Aliases: Leeni
Superpowers: Time travel, shape shifting, spatial manipulation
First Appearance: April 2012 at the Can Can Kitchen & Cabaret for the release of her record, Night Sound.
Local Haunts: Vito’s, the Can Can, Café Racer, the Blue Moon
Archenemies: Closed-mindedness, Defeat, Complacency
Even Heroes Have Heroes: David Bowie, Debbie Harry, Amy Winehouse, Lesley Gore
Origin Story: Born in Massachusetts and raised in New Hampshire, Celene Queeno Ramadan visited Seattle in 1999 and fell in love with it. She moved out in 2004, after graduation (from the University of New Hampshire) and a year-long stint working at PBS. It was when Celene moved to the Emerald City that her super powers – time travel, shape shifting, etc. – really took off. Indeed, no historical era is beyond her reach. A virtuoso creator, Celene can also summon a magic genie whenever she needs extra inspiration.
She began her Seattle career as Leeni, a solo musician performing Chiptune (synthesized, 8-bit music derived from vintage electronics). In 2011, she transitioned to Prom Queen, a solo, cinematic confection with a bouffant and a pink guitar.
Prom Queen, the band, emerged soon after when Celene joined forces with keyboard and guitar player, Ben von Wildenhaus, and hit its stride when lead guitarist Jason Goessl and drummer Tom Meyers joined a few years later. In 2014, the four bandmates released their musical and cinematic masterpiece, Midnight Veil, a 12-track audio and video project featuring Seattle luminaries such as Waxie Moon, Ahamefule J. Oluo, Lily Verlaine and Fuchsia Foxx. The project’s Parisian, 1950’s-noir aesthetic is as alluring as an ounce of Chanel #5.
Her Philosophy: “Get out of your own way and do the best work you can. Realize that while art is important it is not the end-all-be-all. The most important part of art is that it’s truthful. Choosing art is choosing honesty, a certain level of openness, a very humble life and finding joy and celebrating in the immediate.
“I always want to have a community that I feel like I’m a part of where we’re really supporting each other and everyone has their own gift to bring. I just want to keep people close because people have such unique voices — and that goes for both creative collaborative and friendship.
“I love that I can go out in Seattle and see someone I know. I like that the city is small enough that you can do that and large enough where you’re always meeting new people. It’s the perfect sized city, which helps build strong foundations.”
What’s Next: Prom Queen plays Vito’s on Saturday, April 25th.
About the Illustrator: Marc Palm is a Seattle illustrator/cartoonist and organizer of Intruder Comics Newspaper. He’s been making independent self-published comics since he was 16.