Archive for November, 2008

Sentenced to death for committing suicide

November 30, 2008

By Matthew Ralph

As far from being New York City as even the progressive pockets of Louisville may be, I felt like I was was in New York City again for about 20 minutes when Daniel Johnston showed up to play some songs at a local folk art festival earlier this month.

The king of pre-Internet self-promotion back when he was a novelty act conning music critics and concert promoters to make his off-kilter lo-fi pop known to Music Television viewers and hipsters the world over, Johnston drew the kind of crowd to a converted meat packing plant that only two decades of being name-dropped and a popular documentary film exposing his genius and madness to a wider audience could have produced.

Like a NYC flash mob, people came out of the woodwork just before the clock struck two to get a glimpse of Daniel with his guitar. Along with his presence at a booth for his artwork, his appearance was by far the most hyped feature of the three-day festival. The very capable and entertaining bands preceding him – The Parade Schedule and Centralia Massacre – were mostly regarded by festival goers as Bush leaguers to Johnston’s major league event. As much as I enjoyed both bands – there were a slew of others I missed – they weren’t what drew me either. I was there with a friend in tow to see someone whose music I’ve appreciated since the movie “Kids” had everyone in my high school talking and “Casper the Friendly Ghost” repeatedly cranking on my brother’s crappy factory car radio.

I knew enough from the more awkward parts of the “Devil and Daniel Johnston” DVD – especially the extra scenes of him at Sundance – and his interactions on camera in the Danielson documentary that it would be foolish to assume I would be hearing anything closely resembling the hundreds of recordings I have on my iPod. The unpredictability of it all though still probably had me more excited than I should have been.

When he took to the plywood stage with his binder in one hand and his bottle of Mountain Dew in the other, I was struck more with curiosity than I was with his star status in the indie-rock world. There’s something about watching one of your favorite songwriters spill Mountain Dew on his already stained version of the made-famous-by-Kurt-Cobain-shirt that puts things in perspective.

That a guy as unpolished as Johnston can be the centerpiece of a festival where the mostly young, image-conscious crowd is anything but unpolished, is refreshing even if his popularity does produce the kind of claustraphobic crowd and blog-driven documentation response that has become typical of indie shows everywhere.

His set was four anything but epic songs long. Daniel, notorious for playing nerve-wracking stage fright-shortened sets, hammered through his songs with his beat the hell out of the strings on the guitar style and promptly busted through the crowd with guitar, case, binder and Mountain Dew in hand and made for the exit.

He also told a joke from an old song of his – twice because he messed it up the first time – about a dream he had that a guy was being sentenced to death for trying to commit suicide. The first time he said it it came out that the guy was sentenced to death for committing suicide. It’s apparently a standard ice-breaker he uses from the stage.

That’s about all that can be said about the show itself. Short and too the point the way opening acts no one in the crowd knows should, but rarely ever do it.

If someone had stumbled into the show and not known about Daniel Johnston’s back story or had heard any of his songs on record or covered by artists like Wilco and Bright Eyes (“Devil Town” has been featured prominently in the Friday Night Lights TV show) they may have thought it was a re-creation of Improv Everywhere “Best Gig Ever” because the crowd, my fanboy self included, was soaking up a performance that billed under anyone else’s name would probably be dismissed as pure drivel than it was in reality.

Out of the 200 or so people packed into the tight space, there were probably close to two dozen people, counting me with my crappy camera, taking photos. By Monday, the local Metromix page had a gallery of 30 photos almost exclusively taken during the show. My sun-glared glasses and intense face were in five of them.

And here I am blogging about it all, perpetuating the phenomenon of an experience that looks way cooler on Metromix and YouTube than it was in reality. Don’t get me wrong, getting to see Daniel Johnston in person for the first time was great, but the show itself was probably the most underwhelming aspect of an art and music festival that despite being too big for its space featured fantastic music and art that would have been worth checking out even if Daniel Johnston hadn’t been landed as a headliner.


Quotation: Advent

November 29, 2008

Advent isn’t waiting for joy to arrive. It’s joy already here, waiting to be brought forth. It asks us to be still enough to feel the joy kicking and moving inside, to be aware of what’s growing within and care for it so that it might be born.

-Mary Marrocco, The Catholic Register

(Hat Tip: Circle of Hope blog)

The 10: ‘Christian’ Worldviews

November 29, 2008

About a year ago, e-mails started coming to my inbox just about every week from a place called Worldview Weekend. When I first started reading them, I thought maybe they were some kind of joke. Each e-mail is filled mostly with links to articles and audio commentaries by a guy named Brandon Howse and various others.

From what I’ve been able to tell, Worldview Weekend makes Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and various other well-known right-wing blow-hards sound tame. 

The headlines and article links more or less speak for themselves. These were collected from e-mails received from Worldview Weekend between December 2007 and November 2008. 

1. Brannon returns to the radio studio for his live show minutes after saving a black lab from the interstate that had been hit by a car. Brannon wants to know why PETA nuts drove by while he and two other Christians who listen to his radio networked (sic) stopped to save the dog?

2. Obama wants to “require” 50 hours of community service, brainwashing for middle school and high school students. 

3. Are the poor really getting poorer? Are you tired of hearing liberals use this line to justify taking more of your hard earned dollars for more wasted government entitlement programs?

4. Obama’s Cultural Marxism and How It Came to America.

5. Christian talk radio about to be outlawed as we know it today?

6. Brannon gives 22 similarities between America today and Nazi Germany.

7. Oprah Winfrey has been assigned several new titles including ‘high priestess of the ‘New Age’ and ‘the most dangerous false prophet of the 21st century.’

8. An important financial report you should read if you don’t want to be like the typical ignorant American that may be financially destroyed. 

9. Brannon is the only national talk show host to date to say that the issue is not that 6-7 million people voted against gay marriage in California only to be over-ruled by the California Supreme Court. That is offensive but the issue is not what the majority wants but what the Divine has ruled.

10. Climate change bible? The new evangelicals trash conservative Christians for not joining them in support of radical environmentalism, socialism and hatred for America. 

Elsewhere: O Say Can You Buy

November 28, 2008

Nicole McClelland ended up “hungry, broke and half-naked” after only a week trying to buy only American-made goods. She wrote about the experience for Mother Jones.

I had been cursing up and down the aisles at the grocery store for half an hour when I finally found a can of black beans claiming to be “100% usa family farm organically grown.” I was on a weeklong mission to buy only American-made goods, and my very first shopping trip had turned into a debacle. I’d been forced to put back the bananas, cherries, coconut, and chipotle peppers, and I was about to blow $15 on a tiny bottle of US-made olive oil.

Click HERE to read the rest.

Video: Special trailer

November 28, 2008

Article: Holiday giving guide

November 28, 2008

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Channakuh, Kwanza, Festivus, all four or none of the above, the holiday shopping season is here.

And with it comes the always stressful decision-making of what to buy, make, re-gift or not give at all. We asked some of our astute readers and contributors to share their gift-giving ideas and advice for the holiday season. Feel free to chime in with your own in the comments below.

Just try to remember that the holiday season is not about getting lots of cool stuff, petty politically charged battles over rhetoric or pulling your hair out from stress.

It’s about spending quality time with the people you love and sharing with friends, family and strangers a genuine non-commercialized/non-politicized message of hope, peace and love.

A “New Jersey survival kit.”
The kit will include the first book of Weird New Jersey in paperback, CDs of Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen, a t-shirt from the World Series Philly win, some delicious local-made chocolates (and relatively inexpensive, at that) from a candy shop in Haddonfield a box of Tastykakes. –Erin Boyle

Heifer International and personalized gifts
Click HERE for information on Heifer, an organization that enables you to give animals and training to needy people around the world.

I fully believe you can never go wrong with personal photos, especially put together in some way that required thought. Another free/nearly free options – volunteering to babysit for friends with kids so the parents can have a date night, making personalized mix CDs. -Ann Davis

Dog rescue donations, homemade calendars and stockings
Last year, I sent a letter along with my christmas cards asking people to donate to the dog rescue where I work. Not necessarily money (although that always helps), but we also need things such as paper towels, dog toys, towels & blankets, frontline or heartgard, or office supplies like paper.

Also one year I made homemade calendars for my family members with all our relatives birthdays so they would remember to send cards to each other. I also added dates such as “national accordion day” or “take your dog to work day” to make it fun to look at.

This year for Jared’s side of the family, I had the idea to get together and make Christmas stockings. We’d buy them from the dollar store, then decorate one to give to someone else in the family. Like, I would decorate one and give it to Jared’s sister. Jared’s sister would decorate one and give it to her dad. That’s a pretty inexpensive gift, memorable and creates family time
together. -Heather Hatt McDonald

Craft blogs, Etsy and Art Shop
My suggestion if they want to be uber-crafty is to check out blogs like Craft: or Whip Up, both of which promote what other crafty folk are creating (most often with a tutorial!) and get inspired. Or buy gifts via Etsy or at local craft shows (Art Shop in Philly!).
-Courtney Jones

Ten Thousand Villages, nets and a Butt
If you’re looking for a unique gift that can have a direct impact on someone in the third world, look no further than 10,000 Villages. If you don’t have a store in your area (Louisville has Just Creations) be on the look-out for special sales colleges, churches, schools or other groups in your area might be holding. Mosquito nets also make great gifts – for people in areas where malaria is a frequent killer. Consider donating a $10 net through the Nothing But Nets campaign in lieu of a gift to a loved one. For fun, you might also want to check out Butt Drugs, a drug store near where I live in Corydon, Ind. I bought my brother one of their I (Heart) Butt Drugs T-shirts last year. I think it’s pretty funny because, well, I’m immature like that. -Matt Ralph

Elsewhere: President hating of a different kind

November 27, 2008

When I was a teenager and still bought a bulk of my music from Christian bookstores, I believed pretty much what I was told to believe.

So I had little reason to doubt a video my dad picked up from a local Christian bookstore that more or less implicated President Clinton in all kinds of slimeball behavior: infidelity, corruption, drug trafficking and murder to name a few of the things I fuzzily recall from that VHS tape viewing a decade and a half ago. After watching the video, I do remember being convinced that Bill Clinton was the worst thing that could have ever happened to a nation under God. I may have even written a review of the video for an old issue of Tangzine – I’ll have to see if I can dig it up in the shoebox archives in a closet at my parents’ house.

Somehow, some way, the nation survived under the leadership of Bill Clinton and when his vice president conceded a contested election to George W. Bush a whole different style of hate-mongering erupted. I haven’t heard of Christian bookstores selling any anti-Bush propaganda, but there have been plenty of mean-spirited venom about things the president has said and done in documentaries and on bumper stickers and T-shirts. Insults of the president’s intelligence and the way the war in Iraq has been handled are impossible to ignore.

Hatred of Barack Obama, back when he was still just a guy running for president, has been well documented, but how the haterade drinkers will spew their venom on him once he becomes the president remains to be seen.

Michael Shaffer notes in a New Republic article that the socialist, Muslim, friend of terrorists, love-child of Malcolm X-style routine used against Obama during the campaign may not translate so well when he speaks at a podium with a real presidential seal.

He flashes back to the Clinton years for context because, well, Clinton isn’t so much remembered as the drug abusing, America-hating, murderer he was painted out to be on a video sold in Christian bookstores when he was running for president now is he?

Video: Alice’s Restaurant Thanksgiving

November 27, 2008

Grammar: You say apparel, they say aperal

November 26, 2008

Fatherless families

November 26, 2008

American families are under a great deal of stress. The divorce rate isn’t declining, it’s increasing. And the majority of American women are now living alone. We are raising children in America without fathers. I think of Michael Phelps at the Olympics with his mother in the stands. His father was completely absent. He was negligible; no one refers to him, no one noticed his absence.

-Richard Rodriguez, author in an interview on