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Author Archives: Matt

The Sunny Side of Sad

TCM Sunny SideThis morning I was having my usual idle TV watching session and was disappointed to find that Turner Classic Movies replaced their longstanding “Sunny Side of Life” movie intros with a more generic intro showing contemporary footage of morning commuters, pigeons and tall buildings. Yawn. This was inevitable, since the channel’s previously chaotic on-air visual identity has been gradually moving to a more consistent “cityscape” theme over the past year. Supposedly this is part of an overall effort to attract more youthful viewers, but mostly the new imagery comes across as safe and borning. One TCM forum poster likened this new intro to a late-’80s Levis ad, and I’d have to agree. “Sunny Side” must have played in our home at least a thousand times, but I never got tired of the spot’s calming animation, Edward Hopper-like visuals, and Chet Baker’s voice/trumpet. Oh well.

At least TCM still does one visual identity with a sense of style and panache: the “This Month” promos. Vintage clips expertly edited with a current, edgy song on the soundtrack can actually make old movies look hip. Look at the beautiful job they did using Beck’s “Lonesome Tears” (this one’s from 2003, I believe):

Book Review: Mingering Mike

Mingering Mike bookToday I start a new and (hopefully) continuing feature in which new books which fall under the “pop culture/art/design/retro goodness” umbrella are reviewed. Our first subject is Mingering Mike: The Amazing Career of an Imaginary Soul Superstar from Princeton Architectural Press.

The story behind this book really started in late 2003, when Washington D.C. deejay and record collector Dori Hadar found a cache of unusual LPs during a vinyl hunting trip. The records weren’t records at all but intricately drawn artworks representing the works of one “Mingering Mike” — a mythical Soul/R&B performer whose career encompassed dozens of works on several different made-up labels. Hadar took photos of the albums and shared them in the Soul Strut forums, and his findings became the talk of the internet. As the story spread among crate-diggers, then bloggers, then the mainstream media, everyone wanted to know the identity of the enigmatic person behind these appealingly funky folk art creations. Eventually Hadar located the man — and the whole fascinating journey of these pieces, from their creation to their rediscovery, is told in this book.

I think one of the main things that initially attracted me to these pieces is how they express the need to project oneself onto the things you enjoy. This guy found so much to identify with in his favorite musical performers that he attached this stylin’ alter ego to it, building an intricate world around him in the process (that’s the way I interpret them, anyhow). Adding to the charm is the fact that he used whatever was at hand — scraps of cardboard, children’s tempura paint, ball point pens. The pieces are clumsy and childlike, obsessively detailed and situated in a quintessential early ’70s world of afros, Nixon-era social issues, and kung-fu movies. Mike’s album art, sketches and poems are lovingly presented here in large format alongside text telling where he was at that time, and why he abruptly retired Mingering Mike in the late ’70s. It’s a fascinating story that overlaps between the worlds of music and outsider art. There’s even a nifty Mingering Mike discography in the back!

Mingering Mike: The Amazing Career of an Imaginary Soul Superstar will be released May 1st. Pre-order at here.

Mingering Mike Tuxedo cover

Objects in Darwinsanity

Here’s something for intelligent designers — online mag Inkling (no, I haven’t heard of it either) is holding a contest to redesign the Darwin fish seen on so many cars (via UnBeige). What the entries lack in polish they gain in the funny dept.

Let’s All Go to the Mall

Keith Milford of the terrific Malls of America shares a short video of Phoenix’s Metrocenter circa 1990 (you can tell when it was videotaped because that lame-o “Baby I Love Your Way/Freebird” song is playing in one of the shots). I visited Metrocenter only once as a child, but it was amazingly clean, white and big. Some of that amazingness has been preserved in the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. My favorite part of the video is the shot of Goldwater’s with its textured gold brick wall on the mall’s entranceway. Goldwater’s was a mainstay on the Phoenix shopping scene, a swanky destination which unfortunately got bought out by Macy’s in the ’80s. I loved those gold bricks.

What a Relief It Is

PenguinsWatching the Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth makes me wish we had an HD-equipped television. It looks nice enough on a regular 36-inch flat screen, however.

Last weekend, we caught the latest two installments on our tiny 12-inch Sanyo backup television. As usual we were wowed by the gorgeous photography and the unprecedented footage of unusual animals in their habitats. I even like how they’re not shy about showing the reality of nature — namely, that cute lil’ baby animals become afternoon snacks for all sorts of predators. These last few episodes have been especially high on the carnage: a few seals, a couple of penguins, a fluffy gosling (pathetically peeping for mercy, no less), an adorable little miniature bunny, and most spectacularly an elephant falling prey to a pride of lions. It’s uncomfortable to watch, but that’s the nature of nature — leaving it out would make the series nothing more than a bunch of pretty pictures. My only caveats are that Discovery replaced the original BBC narration by Richard David Attenborough with a bland Sigourney Weaver, and the commercial breaks seem too awkwardly shoehorned into the program’s narrative. Better wait for the DVD for a purer viewing experience.

Anyway, the whole point of this post was to tell about our television woes. Our Dell flat screen had been showing some weird horizontal lines once the TV was left on for a couple of hours. It would start off subtly, but the longer the television stayed on the more lines would appear, until the top half of the screen would stretch horizontally into a flickery mess. This problem was so bizarre that we couldn’t find any reference to it on the internet. Since the set was out of warranty, Dell wouldn’t help. Or so we thought. We went ahead with pursuing a refund via American Express, and in the process we spoke with Dell again. A simple procedural call turned into Dell offering to replace the TV free of charge (wow!). We got our new set this afternoon and the picture looks lovely. The old set has already been shipped away, and life is good. Back to Planet Earth in large screen. Until this new TV starts crapping out, that is.

Idol Chatter

I was thinking I haven’t posted anything “artsy” here for a while, until this interview with illustrator Calef Brown came up via Drawn! Brown is one of my idols going back 15 years or so, and it’s good to read that he seems like a nice, down-to-earth kind of fellow.