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SEAFAIR AS AN ACT OF CIVIC DEFIANCE
Jul 26th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

dragon dance 1

Most of my hip art-world friends have long sneered at Seafair.

Too square.

Too hokey.

Too small-towny.

Too “Family” with a capital F.

Too unlike anything that would be done in NY/LA/SF.

clowns 2

pirates 1

As if those were somehow bad things.

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But nowadays, this city needs all the legacy, all the history, and (yes) all the squareness it can keep out of the gentrifiers’ Rolex-wristed clutches.

We need our own homegrown racing sport, rooted in tinkerers building boats around surplus WWII airplane engines.

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We need public education, and spectacles that celebrate it.

seattle utilities 2

We need honest shows of support for even the most basic of community functions.

poulsbo viking float

We need to remember the human groups that first made this place what it is.

duwamish tribe 1

We need to publicly honor all the peoples that make up this city and this region.

af am drill team

vietnam float

So don’t knock Seafair.

Love it.

(Except the Blue Angels. Feel free to bash them. They’re just too damn militaristic.)

 

OF DESPERATE TIMES AND VISUAL VOCABULARIES
Jul 24th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

desperate times cover

I know I’ve been taking however many of you are reading this back to memory lane a lot lately. But indulge me a few more times, please, including this time.

This time, it’s back to a weekend day in June 1981.

I went straight from my UW commencement ceremony, still possessing my cap and gown, and went to a planning meeting in a Wallingford rental house.

Also there were Daina Darzin, Maire Masco, and Dennis White.

We were starting a punk rock zine, to overcome what we all thought was The Rocket’s excessive commercialism. (Yeah, I know.)

The result was called Desperate Times.

It lasted for six tabloid issues, before Darzin effectively ended it by returning to New York, where she’d previously lived.

(And yes, like so many New Yorkers, she absolutely KNEW how everyone ought to think and behave. And if they thought or behaved in a non-New Yorkish way, then that thought or behavior automatically sucked.)

I had at least one piece in each of the six issues. The most affecting, albeit in a very indirect way, was in the first issue. I asked readers to write in mentioning the band they hated the most. (A cheap “comment bait” trick, it would now be called.)

It got a response all right.

That response came from one Mark McLaughlin, then a student at Bellevue Christian High School. He wrote that he loved the simple repetitive music of Philip Glass, and hated Mr. Epp and the Calculations. (“Pure grunge. Pure shit.”)

This, I continue to insist, was the first documented use of that six-letter word to describe a Seattle punk band.

And it was the first print mention of Mr. Epp, McLaughlin’s own band (of course).

One night shortly after that, Masco found McLaughlin on the streets downtown, pasting up flyers for a fictional gig by Mr. Epp, which at the time was mostly a fictional band (named after a favorite math teacher). Masco persuaded McLaughlin to stage real gigs.

For the next three nearly three years, Darren “Mor-X” Morray, Jeff “Jo Smitty” Smith, and Mark “Arm” McLaughlin gigged and recorded under the Mr. Epp name.

Arm, of course, went on to Green River and then to Mudhoney, famously performing on top of the Space Needle for Sub Pop’s 25th anniversary in 2013.

Darzin became a scribe for Billboard and other high falutin’ rags.

White and Masco started the short-lived Pravda Records label (not the Chicago firm of the same name).

White now runs another indie music label, “dadastic! sounds.”

Masco took a long hiatus from “creative” endeavors.

But now she’s back with a book collecting every issue of Desperate Times, from full-size high-quality digital scans.

Some thoughts on looking at these pages nearly 3.5 decades later:

The music discussed, well a large part of it anyway, still stands up.

The writing and the graphic design are of their time and of the milieu. That is to say, they’re brash, un-slick, and occasionally immature. But that was part of the whole aesthetic of the period. This was before “desktop publishing.” The text was created on typewriters. The headlines were created with press-type lettering. It was DIY Or Die, and it expresses the emotional states of its content better than anything in Adobe InDesign ever could.

Masco is selling the book online and at a few select local shops.

 

 

chantry speaks cover

Masco’s been living in Tacoma in recent years, with a guy who knows a thing or two about graphic design, and who’s not shy about sharing what he knows.

I’ve written several times in the past about Art Chantry. How he played a critical role in creating my book Loser (itself coming back later this year). How he did most of the grunt work in bringing “punk rock graphics” and poster art beyond the deliberately “amateur” style seen in Desperate Times and toward something that was “professional” but NOT corporate. He took his obsessive research into design schticks high and lowbrow, industrial and “artistic,” and created a whole new visual vocabulary.

In recent years, Chantry’s been spreading his vast knowledge and sharp opinions about the design profession (actually, he thinks of it as more of a “trade”) on his Facebook feed.

Now he’s collected some 50 of these essays in the book Art Chantry Speaks: A Heretic’s History of 20th Century Graphic Design.

The format of self-contained short essays, on different but related topics, works well with the disparate roots of Chantry’s visual aesthetic and career philosophy.

He finds inspiration in everything from monster-movie magazines to industrial-supply catalogs, from trade magazines to Broadway show posters, from hot-rod customizers to girlie magazines.

Unlike the late Andy Warhol (to whom he dedicates a praise-filled chapter), Chantry appreciates commercial design without feeling the need to dress it up in “fine art” trappings.

Indeed, Chantry openly and repeatedly scoffs at such trappings.

He upends the “official” history of graphic design, which treats it as a top-down profession dominated by Manhattan designers and ad agencies.

Instead, he sees it as a bottom-up, working-stiffs’ trade, originating with sign painters, printers, and other craftspeople. It’s a living tradition, re-created and adapted everywhere. It’s something that’s both populist and commercial at once. It expresses social and individual values, even as it overtly tries to sell stuff (products, politicians, religions, etc).

And, just as American pop/rock music absorbed and mutated everything that came before it, Chantry’s personal aesthetic absorbed and mutated everything he’d learned to love in the various arts of visual/verbal persuasion.

You won’t find any images of Chantry’s own works in Art Chantry Speaks. For that, look up Some People Can’t Surf: The Graphic Design of Art Chantry, written in 2001 by Julie Lasky. There, you’ll see his famous posters for bands, film screenings, and condom-awareness campaigns; his cover art for The Rocket; and his many record covers and band/label logos.

But, just as there are now drinking-age people who weren’t alive when Nirvana last performed, many of the various production techniques Chantry’s essays discuss have become lost to time, from the lead-cast “hot type” of letterpress to the photo-strip “cold type” of manual pasteup pages.

And much printed ephemera itself (magazines, newspapers, cheap paperbacks, recorded music on physical media, etc.) has declined or disappeared in the digital age.

But Chantry’s observations are still important in our current era, when even web page design is considered an obsolete line of work.

Typography, illustration, color theory, and layout are all part of the visual vocabulary of our world. There are reasons why all these arts developed the way they did.

And, just as many young adults have discovered the great music of the 1980s and ’90s Chantry’s idiosyncratic views about these can teach timeless principles about how things look (or ought to look).

AMAZON @ 20
Jul 7th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

an early amazon home page, via onemonthrails.com

an early amazon home page, via onemonthrails.com

One month ago, I asked you to turn back your mental clocks to the summer of 1995.

It was a time when Seattle still had a men’s pro basketball team and two daily newspapers. It was a time when Seattle bands still ruled the recorded-music sales charts (and a time when people still bought recorded music).

And, as I’d mentioned last month, it was a time when the whole World Wide Web thang was new and full of possibilities. Wired magazine’s pundits (a homogenous gang of “Grateful Dead fiscal conservatives”) lauded the dawn of a new golden age for media, the arts, medicine, and business opportunities unfettered by either governments or by the physical laws of planet Earth.

Amid all this hype, many “dot com” startups began.

Many of those ventures burned out in one to five years, having run out of money before they could turn a cool domain name into a viable business model.

There are (or were) websites devoted to chronicling the demises of other websites. Many of those obituary sites are also now defunct.

One of those first-generation dot-coms, however, has continued to live, and to expand in all directions like a wild Northwest blackberry bush.

And it’s done this without turning a real profit for most of its 20 years in existence.

Amazon.com Inc. has a lot of very patient investors. That, and its famous aggressive approach to everything it does (under such internal slogans as “Get Big Fast” and “It’s Always Day One”) turned it into one of the nation’s top 10 “technology” companies.

My readers here in Seattle don’t have to be told what Amazon has done for and/or to the city.

It’s brought thousands of swaggering “Code Ninja” programmer doodz into town (often for just one or two years), who’ve reshaped the local nightlife and bar industries while threatening the longstanding civic image of “Seattle Nice.”

It’s helped to accelerate the hyper-inflation of housing prices and the replacement of so many cool low-rise buildings.

It’s reshaped the Cascade (er, “South Lake Union”) neighborhood with its office buildings, and is doing the same to Belltown.

It’s made what was already one of America’s biggest book-buying burgs into a top center of gravity for book distribution and even publishing.

In the larger world, it’s become both loved and hated, often for the same things.

Along with most tech-centric companies, it’s been chided for its low hiring of non-white and non-male employees.

It’s become a symbol of economic inequality, paying many programmers six-figure salaries while being far less generous to its warehouse staffs.

Along with previous 500-lb. gorillas of bookselling (B. Dalton, Borders, etc.), it’s feared and despised by much of the old NYC publishing elite. Like those companies did before it, Amazon has been accused of setting its terms and expecting publishers to fall into line.

With the Kindle, it finally turned e-book reader devices into a real business. It helped to generate an explosion in online self-publishing, facilitating tens of thousands of author-entrepreneurs (who get nervous every time Amazon changes its terms).

Kindle, and the privacy it affords to its users, also helped turn “women’s erotica” into a major commercial genre.

In just about every other category of e-commerce, it’s instilled fear into competitors who don’t have the luxury of doing business for years without profits.

I shouldn’t describe Amazon as completely without profit.

It’s earning healthy margins on Amazon Web Services (AWS), its computing-services division, providing Internet “cloud” servers for other companies, including Netflix (a rival to Amazon’s own streaming-video venture), Spotify, and Instagram.

AWS’s web-page serving business is so big, and some of its clients are themselves so big, that up to one-third of U.S. Internet traffic at certain times of the day comes from AWS-hosted sites.

Another part of what AWS does is a modern, broadband-enabled version of what Boeing’s Computer Services division or Ross Perot’s old EDS company did—crunch numbers and process data for organizations that need stuff done by big computers, but don’t need to own their own big computers to get them done.

That business is almost certainly here to stay.

As for all the other big and little parts of this huge outfit, it all depends.

It can continue to “Get Big Fast” in new venture after new venture, as long as its shareholders (who include a lot of its own top employees, past and present) remain patient.

If they don’t, or if a raider like Carl Ichan muscles into the scene, Amazon might one day have to sell or drop some of its costlier or newer lines of business, raise prices and “Prime” membership fees, pause some of its ginormous office-building plans, hold back on some new projects, and shed some of its 20,000 staff in the Seattle area (out of some 165,000 worldwide).

And if that happens, you could see a local recession comparable to the 1970 Boeing Bust.

You might claim you’d like to see Amazon’s influence on Seattle wane. But a crash would hurt a lot of people.

HEY BABY, IT’S THE FOURTH OF JULY!
Jul 3rd, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

Deja Vu Showgirls with American flag LED sign

The ol’ U.S. of A. sees b-day #239 embroiled by many disagreements. Among the biggest are disputes about race-hate, severe economic inequality, the subversion of democracy by big money, and the perilous future of life on Earth.

The nation stands at a crossroads.

As it always has.

Issues of equality, class, race, and the best long-term use of land and other resources have been with us from the start. We are a nation born of contradictory ideas; ever since it all started with a colonial secession by business men and slave holders publicized as a freedom-centric “revolution.”

Disputes between What’s Right and What’s Profitable have traditionally torn this nation—much more than disputes between different definitions of What’s Right ever did.

Even battles that superficially seem to be the latter usually turn out to be the former.

You undoubtedly know about assorted “family values crusades,” fanned by politicians who really only care about billionaire campaign contributors.

But a similar, if more complicated, syndrome occurs on the allegedly “progressive” side of the political spectrum.

By belittling and stereotyping white working-class people as “hicks,” “rednecks,” and racists, certain elements on the left have helped to enable the Democratic Party’s embrace of Wall Street and other elites, while ignoring for practical purposes the hollowing-out of middle class jobs.

(For a more detailed riff on an aspect of particular contradiction, check out Greta Christina’s essay at RawStory on the fallacy of claiming to be “fiscally conservative but socially liberal.” Christina avows that no matter how much you like legal pot and gay marriage, you’re only a real liberal if you fight against economic and class injustice.)

As I wrote here many years ago, I have a basic definition of liberalism: the belief that Money Isn’t Everything. We have to take care of our people and our planet, not just our bottom lines.

To that, I’ll add a latter-day addendum:

Money may not be Everything, but it’s still Something. Something more people should have more of, instead of a privileged few hogging most of it.

Fortunately, the biggest thing that’s Right With America is our ability to discuss, and even fix, what’s Wrong With America.

GAYS GONE WILD OR GAYS GONE MILD?
Jun 29th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

'for my birthday the supreme court gave me rights'

Another late June, another Pride Parade.

This time, it had the special, one-time-only, added attraction of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to celebrate. Same-sex marriage is now the law of the land from approximately coast to coast.

murray at gay marriage rally

Mayor Murray spoke at a hastily-arranged rally Friday afternoon outside the Federal Courthouse, thanking the high court’s majority for coming down on the side of respect, dignity, and legal rights for all couples and families.

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Thus, the weekend’s pride parades in Seattle and elsewhere took on an extra air of triumph.

But of what?

Will gay men and lesbians settle into mainstream corporate-American culture, no longer threatening to the established order?

justice mary yu

Certainly some of the political figures and public officials who appeared in the parade are out for mainstream acceptance, for the gay/lesbian community and for their own careers.

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One specific politician, of course, will have nothing to do with assimilation or “mainstreaming.”

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And many at the parade, both in the crowds and marching/dancing/biking along the route, also displayed little interest in settling down into domestic boredom (or anything like it).

blonde rainbow flag marcher

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peacock dancer

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No matter how many images get issued of nice, wholesome, show-tunes-loving guy/guy couples in meticulously decorated homes, homosexuality and transsexuality are still about sexuality.

And even whole aspects of “typical” hetero sexuality are topics many Americans don’t like to discuss, or to be confronted with.

“Queerness,” therefore, will always have an element of “outlaw” status to it.

Even now that it’s protected (to an extent) by the law.

THOSE ENDEARING YOUNG CHARMS, REVISITED
Jun 25th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

jones 3 bullseye

Over the next few weeks, I’ll discuss some of the things I’ve been doing this past 10 months when I mostly haven’t been blogging.

They include what one might call Internet research rabbit holes, obsessions with obscure corners of pop-culture arcana.

One of these obsessions is a “rabbit hole” in more ways than one.

It starts with something everybody knows, even if it hasn’t been at the pop-cult forefront in recent years.

Warner Bros.’ classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons haven’t been on broadcast TV in years. The one basic cable channel they’ve been on, Cartoon Network, had lately only shown them on weekday mornings, and only when that time slot wasn’t being used to rerun some Tom & Jerry or Scooby-Doo direct-to-video movie. CN’s not showing them at all now. You have to pay extra for CN’s premium-tier channel Boomerang to see these timeless classics.

Even worse for longtime fans, no LT/MM shorts have been issued on DVD (aside from reissues) since late last year. With the industry-wide collapse of disc sales, Warner Home Video has put any future digital remasters of old cartoons on hold.

The prolific WB cartoon studio made some 1,005 “classic” theatrical shorts over 40 years. Approximately 450 of them have yet to be digitally restored. A lot of those look really dingy in the old TV prints seen online.

Oh yeah: Almost all the LT/MM shorts can be found in unofficial online uploads. WB has gotten some of them removed from YouTube, but they just pop up on more obscure sites. (WB could put them up officially, and get whatever ad revenue there is to get, but mostly hasn’t.)

While I was on my last extended “blog vacation” earlier this year, I set out to watch every darned one of the not-on-DVD Warner cartoons. About half of them feature the studio’s “A list” characters (Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Tweety, etc.). Some of them (in the uploaded versions from old TV prints) look good enough to go on disc as is. Others look dingy, faded, and lo-res.

To keep the LT/MM “franchise” (and its lucrative merchandising) alive, WB needs to (at least) make new digital transfers of these not-on-DVD shorts, from the best existing film materials. This would make the films more viable in today’s hi-def era, for release on broadcast, cable, on-demand, streaming, and download “platforms,” as well as on disc. Perhaps some of the less “commercial” entries (the ones with minor or one-shot characters) could receive less of the labor-intensive digital retouching that was used for the DVD releases.

At the same time as I was re-viewing all those films, I also started to research the music used in them.

The studio’s great music directors, Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn, incorporated more than 500 pre-existing compositions into their cartoon scores. They ranged from classical and folk pieces, to contemporary hits and songs from Warner feature films, to obscurities that had originally been published as sheet music for silent-music accompanists.

With the aid of several existing online lists of the “sampled” compositions, I put together a YouTube playlist of most of them. It’s currently up to 434 entries. They’re all records or film clips of the original tunes—not the cartoon excerpts of them.

If you know them only from the cartoon versions (and you probably do), you’re in for a few surprises:

  • “Hello Ma Baby,” the first frog-sung tune in One Froggy Evening, was originally a novelty song about a man in love with a woman he knows only as a voice on that then-new gadget, the telephone.
  • “Those Endearing Young Charms,” used in the oft-repeated “exploding xylophone” gag, was originally a sorrowful ballad about a man promising his wife he’ll still love her in sickness and old age.

jones 2 mural and guitar cyclone

Warner might be mismanaging one of its most valuable assets; but other parties remain determined to keep the cartoons in the public eye.

They include the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, founded by the Spokane boy who became the most famous of the studio’s several cartoon directors.

The Jones Center and the Jones heirs, along with the Smithsonian’s “touring exhibits” division, created What’s Up, Doc?: The Animated Art of Chuck Jones. It’s now at the EMP Museum in Seattle.

It’s got dozens of original art pieces and artifacts from Jones’s Warner, MGM, and indie films.

It’s got one of his most famous works, What’s Opera, Doc?, playing continuously (it never gets tiresome); plus a mysterious minute and a half of music recorded for “unproduced scenes” in that classic. (Wonder what they would have been?)

It’s got excerpts from several other Jones films (and one Tex Avery WB short, the defining Bugs Bunny film A Wild Hare), on flat-screen monitors around the exhibit space.

It’s got a few spots where you can take photos of one another alongside life-size cartoon props, such as under a “precariously” suspended prop anvil. (Photography’s forbidden in the rest of the exhibit.)

It’s got meticulous explanations and documentation about the now-threatened art of 2D animation.

And it’s got plenty of words, pictures, and video footage about Jones (1912-2002).

Besides hundreds of one-reel films for theaters, Jones also worked on TV specials, instructional films, and a couple of animated features (Gay Purr-ee and The Phantom Tollbooth).

At Warner he created his own characters (the Road Runner and Coyote, Pepe le Pew) and developed characters created by or with other directors (Bugs, Daffy, Sylvester).

Later, he adapted works by Dr. Seuss, Walt (Pogo) Kelly, Rudyard Kipling, and his former Warner colleague Frank Tashlin, adjusting all of their individual artistic visions to his own.

Thematically, Jones’ films ranged from Disney-esque sentiment to violent slapstick and back again. Stylistically, they ranged from slick “realism” to almost pure abstraction (and, in his version of Norman Juster’s story The Dot and the Line, total abstraction).

And while many animators were/are soft spoken and shy creatures, Jones was an inveterate and articulate self-promoter. He made books and documentaries about his works. He gave many interviews to animation historians, sometimes embellished for entertainment’s sake.

And with the exhibit, his take on “the art of animation” has an immersible, walk-through incarnation. Viewers get to enjoy the finished films, and to learn in grit-detail about each of the many components that went into them.

Can this help revive interest in “analog” animation?

And, just as importantly, can it help rescue the classic WB shorts from extra-tier-cable-channel purgatory?

FREMONT SOLSTICE, NOW WITH SHELL-BASHING
Jun 22nd, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

evil oil well 1

 

Another bright mid-June day, another Fremont Solstice Parade.

As usual, it featured wordless performances expressing “political” notions of Good vs. Evil.

Shell’s arctic platform and its noble “kayaktivist” opponents were among the principal tableaux of this type.

corporate person float

But there were others as well. Legendary local artist Carl Smool created a kinetic statement about big-money politics and the notion of “corporate personhood.”

school prison pipeline banner

A banner decried the “school to prison pipeline.”

spirit of mandatory testing

A schoolmarm tied up in ropes signified dreary, “to the test” education.

black boy coffin with white pall bearers

It’s hard to tell from this angle, but these pall bearers are carrying a coffin adorned with the faces of black children and flags of African countries.

giant puppets 2

But also as usual, there were plenty of other spectacles depicting an affirmation-of-life spirit.

starry night costume

orange flag dancers 3

panties and white pasties

This includes the parade’s famous nudes, on and off of bicycles.

tiger skin nudes

blotchy paint nudes 2

orange nudes 2

The body, revealed but still adorned, in a non-sexualized “family” context, is the ultimate example of the “Good” half of the parade’s dichotomy.

Many people, including myself and my half-namesake Kenneth Clark, have pontificated on the meaning of the unhidden human body in modern societies. For now, let’s simply say it symbolizes aspects of the Solstice Parade community’s ideals for life: “natural,” free-flowing, post- (or pre-) industrial, un-commercialized, un-stigmatized, un-pressured.

And impracticable for modern urban environs, except on special occasions and in special circumstances.

 

 

THE RACHEL PAPERS
Jun 15th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

mgm/this tv

Some pseudo-random thoughts about l’Affaire Rachel Dolezal, the just-resigned Spokane NAACP leader who’s claimed at various times to be black, part-black, and Native American, but whose parents claim her to be white (and who have the blonde, blue-eyed childhoood pix to support their claim):

If it weren’t for white people pretending to be black, we’d have no jazz or rock n’ roll or R&B or even hiphop as we know those genres today. American white pop music would still sound like “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?” British pop music would still sound like “Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes.”

(We also wouldn’t have sorry minstrel-show acts, macho-baby-boomer blues bands, or fratboy rappers either; but you’ve got to take the bad with the good, right?)

There’s a long-running meme of college-educated white women identifying, or trying to identify, with black women of “lower” castes. It ranges from recent works such as The Help, back to the predominantly white-female audiences for Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. Walker especially depicted Af-Am womanhood as an ultimate embodiment of a specifically feminine wisdom and righteousness.

Could Dolezal, who had Af-Am adopted siblings, have envied their specific “tribal” identity, collective-struggle heritage, etc.? Not for an outsider like me to say.

It can be said that she should have known “being black” involved more than just looks and “soul,” but (as shown gruesomely in recent news items) a continuing legacy on the receiving end of repression, injustice, and brutality. (As Tavis Smiley asks, “Who’d sign up to be black?”)

Dolezal is the second Spokanian to re-invent herself so thoroughly. The first, of course, is Billy Tipton.

Tipton, a small-time jazz pianist and a bio-female who lived as a (hetero) man until his death in 1989, was essentially (in my opinion) a trans who never had reassignment surgery, but who simply tried to create a being and a life for himself and succeeded completely.

Dolezal attempted a similar life-feat, trying to create a present by rewriting her past. Our age of instant information made that ultimately impossible.

There’s nothing wrong, as Smiley’s above-linked essay notes, with being a white person devoted to helping her less race-privileged fellow humans; people who…

…have the courage, conviction and commitment to unapologetically use their white face—and their white voice, hands, feet, head and heart to make America a nation as good as its promise.

The NAACP has (openly) white local and national officers, past and present. More famously, the late Westinghouse and CBS exec Michael H. Jordan (absolutely no relation to the basketball star) was chairman of the United Negro College Fund for a decade.

In the statement announcing her NAACP resignation, Dolezal stated she won’t stop fighting for justice.

Dolezal has been a student, and occasionally a teacher, of Af-Am culture and history. She assuredly knows, both from book-learning and from those in her life, about what black life is really like.

She could have used this knowledge to work at bridging our racial divides.

If she can transcend the unfortunate image of her own “race drag act,” she still can.

Everybody seems to have an opinion or an angle on the tale:

  • Dolezal’s brothers have spoken on camera: “It started out with the hair.” (ABC)
  • The Daily Beast parses out the whole history of Dolezal’s carefully constructed identity.
  • Variety claims a Dolezal biopic “is inevitable,” and postulates whether it will be a comedy or drama or both.
  • Ijeoma Olio proposes a bargain for white people who want to be black: the ability to dance, a history of triumph over diversity, and the looks of white women clutching their purses when you walk past them. (Slog) 
  • Darnell Moore at Mic.com calls the Dolezal affair a “fiasco” and “a glaring example of white privilege in action.”
  • Twitter users are using such hashtags as #transracial and #wrongskin, as other Twitter users ruthlessly mock them. (KING) 
  • A self described “gay Black man” explains the terms “transracial” and “transethnic,” in terms of the furry community. (Fusion.net)
  • Kara Brown at Jezebel: Girl, WHAT?”
  • Explaining the “passing” as a quest for “empathy.” (USAT) 
  • Gyasi Ross at Indian Country Today compares Dolezal to decades’ worth of white folk pretending to be Native Americans.
  • Author Michael P. Jeffries calls the incident “a lesson in how racism works.” (Boston Globe)
  • As you might expect, the social sub-network known as “Black Twitter” has plenty of snarky reactions. (The Culture)
  • Vox has a think piece on how it proves “race” isn’t a cut and dried issue anymore.
  • Salon has a harsher piece by Mary Elizabeth Williams, claiming Dolezal’s “fraud is unforgivable.
  • For compare-and-contrast, here’s the story of local author Mishna Wolff, whose white father “identified” as black for many years. (KUOW)
SOMETIMES THE MAP ACTUALLY IS THE TERRITORY
Jun 12th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

…Especially if it’s this cartoon map of Washington from the 1930s.

It’s part of an every-state series made by Berta and Elmer Hader. It depicts the histories, industries, topographies, and agricultural products of each part of this Land-O-Contrasts place.

(Found via Vox.com.)

MISCmedia @ 20!
Jun 8th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

BargeIcon

One of the site’s first logos, from some time in the mid 1990s.

Twenty years ago this week, it was an age of dial-up modems, Windows 95, Internet cafés, and the media hype over an alleged “Seattle Sound.”

I hate to use the old cliché “it was a simpler time.”

But in some respects it was.

The ol’ World Wide Web was a child just learning to walk. It seemed so full of possibilities. It hadn’t yet been tamed, corporatized, or commodified.

The “free”/”sharing” ideology of Grateful Dead bootleggers hadn’t yet taken completely over. There was still hope that journalists, musicians, and other “content” people might one day make a buck from this medium. (I know, crazy, right?)

I was in what turned out to be the middle of a seven-year writing stint with the Stranger. The paper itself had little interest in going online at the time, but allowed me to put my own material up on my own site.

I’d already been a regular at the Speakeasy Café in Belltown, essentially Seattle’s first Internet café. I’d been customer #23 on its then-novel home broadband service (which outlived the café, eventually becoming a business-to-business operation owned by something called MegaPath).

The Speakeasy people helped me learn rudimentary HTML and get a site up. I created some simple .JPG graphics, and reformatted (and, in some cases, retyped) columns and zine pieces I’d written over the previous nine years.

I didn’t call it a “web log” or “blog” at the time, but rather an online version of a classic “three-dot” newspaper column format. It originally wasn’t dependent on links to other websites, and it was only updated once or twice a week.

But it was one of the first sites anywhere to have a little bit of this and a little bit of that, curated and compiled from assorted info sources local and worldwide, based on an individual sensibility.

It allowed me to keep writing MISC after the Stranger fired me the first time.

For a while, it got me enough freelance work to live off of, at least until the first dot-com crash in ’01.

And I’ve kept at it ever since, more or less.

There have been times (such as most of last year) when I haven’t really felt like adding to it.

Times when I didn’t even want anyone to think of me as “a writer,” especially if that meant I was expected to gladly work for for-profit companies for free.

(I am not, nor have I ever been, independently wealthy, despite occasional rumors to the contrary.)

Even more than in the past, I’ve been obsessed with finding something, anything, that I could do specifically for money. Not for coolness, and certainly not for that dreaded term “exposure.”

And having the public image of “a writer” meant many people thought I couldn’t do, or wouldn’t want to do, anything else.

But the Seattle corporate world isn’t a fully welcoming place these days for someone who’s neither young nor a programmer.

And reinventing myself at my age (yes, it’s my own birthday today) would be possible, but perhaps more trouble than it would be worth. Especially if that reinvention involved student loan debt.

So I looked into what I could do that would exploit what I’m already known for doing.

Blog ads don’t earn a lot any more, unless you’ve got a really high readership in a national “market niche.”

And asking people to contribute money to a personal, occasional blog wasn’t much of a proposition.

But, perhaps, an information service that would contribute to people’s lives might be something people would want to support.

In 2007-8, I was involved with a group trying to start a local news site.

The project fell through for several reasons.

But the initial notion, of a single handy source for the day’s Seattle-area headlines, stayed with me.

There have been several attempts, but nothing that came close to the type of service I’d like to see.

So I’ve made my own.

It’s MISCmedia MAIL, and it starts today.

Each weekday morning, your email box will be filled with a brief, breezy summary of what’s going on around here.

It’s everything you’ve learned to love about this site, only in a much more useful form.

You can sign up for it at the handy box in the upper-left corner of this page.

Over the next few weeks and months I’ll be looking into ways to monetize it.

But for now, I’m working on building its audience.

Won’t you join us?

 

SELL ME SOME PEANUTS AND CRACKER JACK (AND BEER)
Jun 4th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

safeco field sushi stand in 2001

Last season, the Seattle Mariners were playing for respect.

At the start of this season, some fans and observers thought the Ms would be playing for their first World Series rings. (Hasn’t turned out that way so far, alas.)

But this story is about some of the other teams that call Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field home.

Staging a Mariners game, Sounders FC soccer match, or other major sports event requires a small army of workers, from ushers and ticket takers to standby paramedics.

And among them are an unsung aspect of the teams’ charitable contributions.

This season, the teams and their concessionaires are working in conjunction with local charities including the Millionair Club to furnish overflow staffing in fiood service at the games. The concessionaires get extra hands; the workers, many of whom are long-term unemployed and underemployed, get hands-on experience in the industry.

As with the Millionair Club’s better known “day labor” program, all workers are interviewed and vetted before they’re sent out. The group helps them attain the needed food handling permits, and in some cases also state alcohol servers’ permits.

Despite common stereotypes about the jobless, these are diligent and ambitious men and women, striving to improve their lives.

More than one hundred of them (the number of workers invited depends on expected game attendance) waited patiently outside Safeco Field’s gates in the early morning of Opening Day. As instructed, they were clad in black shoes, black slacks, and black shirts.

Eventually, they were organized into lines, handed uniform shirs and hats, and sent through the gates onto the stadium grounds. Just beyond the gates, the workers stopped at a table where supervisors assigned them to their respective work stations and duties.

One group was sent to the opposite corner of the stadium, to a hot dog stand on the highest deck. While the concessionaires’ regular staffs had done a lot to prepare it and the other food/drink outlets for the new season, much remained in the last moments before the first fans streamed in. But with some applied “organized chaos,” all the menu items, trays, cups, and straws got to their proper spots. The new workers were quickly taught to operate the grills, the soft-serve machine, the beer taps, and the point of sale terminals.

By shortly after 11 a.m. the first customer had the first beer poured at that stand this season. Business gradually picked up as the sellout crowd continued to gather.

By the first pitch at 1 p.m., the joint was hopping. Beer taps that poured mostly foam at first now efficiently dispensed plastic cup after plastic cup of Coors product. The three varieties of hot dogs were sold as quickly as they could be cooked.

While the workers could neither see nor hear the game (the TV monitors on each side of the stand were, of course, pointed outward toward the customers), they heard, and sometimes joined in, major cheers that erupted whenever the Ms did something spectacular. With pitching ace Felix Hernandez leading the team to a 4-1 victory that day, such celebrations came frequently.

It should be mentioned that each of the food and beverage “stands” in each stadium is a fully equipped, permanently installed facility. Each has its own coolers, freezers, and cooking and cleaning equipment. The price of stadium food and drink isn’t just the result of exploiting a “captive market.” The concessionaire companies put a lot of investment into facilities that only earn income 81 days a year. (And that’s at the baseball stadium. The football/soccer stadium has even fewer event dates.)

While the concessionaires tried to anticipate opening-day demand, some of the beer kegs “blew” prior to the scheduled cutoff of alcohol sales at the end of the seventh inning. Supervisors scrambled to replace them, even for just a half hour’s worth of potential sales. That’s what you do when your sales day is so short. (Soccer matches, which run for less than two hours, have even shorter sales “windows.”)

Once the beer officially ceased flowing and the tap handles got put away, food sales also trickled off. The stand remained open until some time after the game’s end. Then came a furious hour of thorough cleaning, wiping, and product inventory. The regular staff and the charity “day workers” had worked as one team, and done it well.

By 5 p.m. the day workers had returned their uniforms and signed out. Only some of them would be needed at the next day’s game, for which far fewer tickets had been pre-sold. But all of them had gained work experience in a high-energy, high-volume, group effort.

Even if that effort was for nothing more significant than feeding some hungry baseball fans.

(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)

GOTTA HAVE THAT (PIKE PLACE) FUNK!
May 27th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

pike place market foundation

When KIRO-TV posted architectural drawings for a “new entrance” to the Pike Place Market in early March, a lot of social-media commenters were outraged. Why, they asked, would anyone rip out such an historic Seattle landmark?

“Why the hell are Seattle (and Tacoma) so hell bent on destroying their history and character?” one commenter wrote. “It is the most short sighted move imaginable.”

“I wish they’d just leave it alone” wrote another commenter. “Tourists can go see modern shopping malls in any town, but our Market is unique. Leave it alone!”

These commenters were at least partly mistaken.

The drawings KIRO showed on TV and posted on its social-media feeds didn’t depict a replacement to the current Market complex but an addition to it.

The Market everyone knows and loves, to the tune of 10 million visits a year, is staying put.

The new buildings will go to the west of the current Market buildings, between Western Avenue and the doomed Alaskan Way Viaduct. A surface parking lot is there now. (The last structure on that site, the Municipal Market Building, was demolished in 1974 following a fire.)

Besides new retail and commercial spaces, the project will also include a community center, 40 low-income-senior apartments, a 300-car parking garage (replacing parking spaces that will be lost when the viaduct’s removed), and a new pedestrian promenade, leading down to the new waterfront project that will eventually replace the viaduct.

Indeed, state money from the waterfront project is contributing $6 million of the estimated $74 million tab for the “MarketFront” expansion. City bonds will supply the biggest chunk of the project’s budget, $34 million.

The Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority, the Market’s management agency, also hopes to raise $6 million through “philanthropy.”

The affiliated Pike Place Market Foundation is selling little doodads with donors’ names on them, to be permanently built into the MarketFront structures. There are black metal discs called “Market Charms” for $180, to be installed along a chain-link fence. And there are bronze pig hoofprints (referencing Rachel, the Market’s beloved bronze piggy bank) for $5,000, to be placed along the Western Avenue sidewalk. Both are considerably higher-priced than the $35 donors paid for inscribed floor tiles during the Market renovations in 1985.

The foundation and the PDA believe Seattle now has enough people who have, and are willing to donate, that kind of money.

And the PDA and its architects also apparently believe the new addition should also look like something that fits in with this new-money Seattle.

The PDA held the usual public meetings and “input” sessions about the MarketFront buildings’ design and uses. The PDA says the public comments at these sessions helped to influence the MarketFront design, which now incorporates hard woods and other special cladding materials to add a little more “old Northwest” flavor, but in a slick retro-modern way.

And, unlike some of the first renderings for the waterfront project, the MarketFront drawings depict a few nonwhite people among the imagined sunny-day strollers.

But the overall look of the architects’ drawings still reflects a modern, “tasteful” look, with clean straight lines, light neutral colors, and open uncluttered spaces.

The original Market, of course, doesn’t look a thing like that.

It’s beautifully, lovably cluttered.

It contrasts World War I-era structures with buildings of 1970s-1980s vintage, which all somehow fit together.

It’s got weird angles, varying ceiling heights, and ramps and stairs and concourses of different widths.

It’s got garish signage, loud noises, boisterous crowds, and great smells.

It’s both utilitarian and archaic, businesslike and freewheeling. It’s a total sensual experience.

MarketFront might eventually become like that after it’s been “lived in” for a few years.

But that, if MarketFront is built according to the current design drawings, could take quite some time.

The PDA and the City want to start MarketFront construction this year, so it (and its parking garage) can be completed before the viaduct is removed. An official groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for late June.

But with the well-publicized delays in building the tunnel that would replace the viaduct, there’s a little more time before the elevated highway comes down.

There’s time to redo the MarketFront plans. Time to make the buildings and concourses messier, less McMansion-like, more cacophonous.

Time to give it something at least vaguely approaching that Pike Place funk.

(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)

(RETURN TO) RETURN TO TWIN PEAKS
May 24th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

fan art by emre unayli, mavenport.net, via tvmediainsights.com

It was The Great Northwest TV Drama.

It took serialized TV beyond the bedroom/boardroom antics of Dallas and Dynasty and into deeply detailed stories combining comedy, suspense, and pathos.

It expanded the range of what prime time could show, not in terms of cuss words and violence but in terms of characterization and complexities.

And, after several years of regularly-denied rumors, Twin Peaks is coming back.

Showtime announced late last year that it would air at least nine new episodes, but not until 2016. That’s 25 years since the last series episode, which included a line from the spirit of Laura Palmer to Agent Cooper in the Black Lodge, “I’ll see you again in 25 years.”

Then co-creator David Lynch said he was quitting the project. He said Showtime hadn’t offered enough production money to make the new series the way he felt it needed to be made. Several of the old show’s cast members said they wouldn’t act in the new series without Lynch around.

But then in early May, Lynch and Showtime said the new show was back on, with Lynch again on board. Only now it will run “significantly more” than the originally promised nine episodes.

We’ve been told every new episode will be directed by Lynch, and written by Lynch and his fellow original series co-creator Mark Frost.

We’ve been told the new series will be set in the present day, and will finally resolve at least some of the plot threads left unresolved all this time.

We haven’t been told which original-series actors will be back, aside from Yakima native Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Cooper. Even without the characters who’d been killed off in the series, and the actors who’ve died in real life since then, some three dozen or more major players could reprise their roles, at least in cameos.

And we initially weren’t told whether it would be shot in the Snoqualmie/North Bend area, where the pilot and the prequel theatrical feature Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me were largely made. (The regular series episodes, however, were filmed in L.A.)

At the time the series ended in June 1991, I was semi-distraught that something this beautiful, this perfect evocation of everything I found funny and evil and odd and fetishistically square about my home state, could die. (Nobody knew the “Seattle Scene” music mania would reiterate many of these themes on a global stage by the end of that year.)

Having grown up in a Washington sawmill town, I loved the series as a mostly-realistic portrayal of power and frustration in such a place.

Yes, it had a murder mystery as its central plotline. But part of what made me love Twin Peaks is that Lynch and Frost deliberately broke several of the rules of murder mysteries (thusly dooming the series to a short network run).

The murder victims (at least most of them) were human beings with good and bad sides and personalities and everything, whose demises were treated with tragic weight, not as mere puzzle pieces.

The killers, particularly the schizo Leland Palmer (a medium-time sleazeball even when in his “right” mind), were also humanized. They were still violent criminals, with or without the excuse of demonic possession, but they were also victims in their own way; victims of their own dark ambitions and vanities.

The subsequent 1992 film prequel went further, abandoning donut fetishes and comedy relief to concentrate on how evil was often performed and covered up beneath our region’s shallow protestations of “small town values”.

The Northwest, even the small-town Northwest, has changed in many (at least superficial) ways since then.

The timber business (the main industry in the fictional town of Twin Peaks) has declined.

Digital consumer devices have rendered microcassette recorders and other major series props into quaint nostalgia items.

But there are still Northwest men and women with conflicting dreams and desires—and demons.

This past weekend at Crypticon, the annual horror fan convention in SeaTac, original series actors Sheryl Lee and Sherilyn Fenn gave a few pieces of good news about the new Twin Peaks:

  1. The new series will have 18 episodes, up from the originally-planned nine (still all Lynch-directed).
  2. Original series composer Angelo Badalamenti will again make the music.
  3. Filming starts in September.
  4. It WILL be at least partly filmed in Wash. state. The production will remodel Twede’s Cafe in North Bend to look again like the Double R Diner from the 1990 series pilot episode. Yay!

@grrlskout via welcometotwinpeaks.com

(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)

BUSES, BANKS, AND THE BUILDING BOOM
May 22nd, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

Still more classic places and things are going away from our once-sleepy city, as it loses more and more pieces of its built heritage to an urban building boom the likes of which Seattle hasn’t seen in nearly a century.

We’ll start this journey with a street feature almost everyone in the city has seen and even used, but to which few might fave given any thought.

The bus stop “island” on Pine Street between Third and Fourth avenues is one of the last standing relics from downtown’s once-prominent streetcar lines.

Those long, track-bound vehicles generally ran in the middle of four-lane streets, and of course couldn’t pull over to the curve to add or subtract from their passenger loads. Riders got on and off the streetcars from raised concrete islands placed one lane away from the curb (sometimes dodging car traffic to get there).

Most of those islands were removed in the 1940s, when the streetcars were scrapped and the tracks were dug up. But the island on Pine remained, for riders on buses and rubber-tired “trackless trolleys” at what remained Seattle’s highest-volume transit intersection.

Until now.

The island bus stop is now permanently closed. By July, piledrivers will clear it away. The space will be turned into a truck loading zone and a permanent parking spot for police vehicles.

It’s part of a major project to completely revamp the bus zones along Third Avenue and adjacent streets. When the work’s all done, the city promises the area will be more convenient and attractive to residents, commuters, and shoppers alike.

But it’ll be without a remnant of a time when public transit was a far more central aspect of city life.

(A more elaborate trolley island survives on South Jackson Street, but it hasn’t been used for transit since the demise of the Waterfront Streetcar.)

streetcar island at third and yesler (seattle municipal archive via kplu)

Even before Seattle’s streetcar network was changed to buses, “Motor coaches” had been carrying people within and between cities.

And in Seattle, intercity bus trips had begun at the Central Stage Terminal on Stewart Street. Greyhound took it over, along with some of the regional bus lines that stopped there, by 1939.

The station was in constant use (sometimes 24/7). Untold thousands of passengers passed through its lobby (which, like that of the King Street railway station, had been sadly “modernized” in the 1960s).

That ended last summer. Developers bought up the entire block, intending to build another of those big new luxury hotels. They haven’t started yet (there’s a shortage of construction cranes and crews here these days).

Greyhound could have moved in with Amtrak at the now-restored King Street Station, but instead remodeled a small building near Safeco Field. (It’s near the Link light rail line, but good luck trying to get a cab from there on game days.)

The old Greyhound station, especially before its remodel, was a passenger palace near the city’s heart. The new station seems like almost an afterthought to Seattle’s transportation network.

Some landmarks don’t have to be (completely) removed to lose their original character.

The Rainier Square block is the biggest surviving relic of what was Washington’s second biggest bank.

The project was originally announced in the early 1970s as Commerce House, the new headquartes of National Bank of Commerce. Before it was finished, the bank’s name was changed to Rainier Bank and the project became Rainier Square. It replaced the stoic, block-long White-Henry-Stuart building with a slender office tower atop an odd looking but functional pedastel. The tower was set above a block of street level storefronts, which in turn led into an underground passageway to the Convention Center.

Rainier Bank disappeared during the first wave of out-of-state bank takeovers in the late 1980s. but Rainier Square remained, and even grew with a second-floor atrium (home to the Rock Bottom brewpub).

Now, developers plan to raze the block’s low-rise northern half for a second tower, bulkier than and almost twice as tall as the first, with a staggered base that will look vaguely like a high-heel boot.

The original Rainier Square tower, one of the finest products of Seattle’s ’70s highrise boom, will remain. But its clean modern lines will be dwarfed by its overwhelming new neighbor.

nbbj/motyw via seattlepi.com

(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)

THE LAST ENCHILADA
May 21st, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

Mama’s Mexican Kitchen, the family-owned eatery that for 41 years has been a bastion of the pre-gentrification Belltown, closes this year, perhaps in September.

Its 1924 building will be razed for yet another 60-unit “mixed use” development.

Mike McAlpin, who’s owned Mama’s from the start (and used to also own the nearby Lava Lounge), says he’ll retire. Many of his employees have been there for 15 years or more.

I’ve been going there almost since it opened. Its Second and Bell corner spot once seemed way out in the wilderness, a million years from either downtown or Seattle Center. Art/music types had begun to flock there, attracted by what were then low rents close by to everything. Mama’s became a hangout and a resource for this community. Its cheap and plentiful food and margaritas, its friendly Elvis/Marilyn interior decor, and its unpretentious vibe kept its regulars coming back, even after many of them couldn’t afford to live in Belltown any more.

Yes, there are fancier and even more “authentic” Mexican joints out there these days, or at least ones more amenable to modern tastes. (Mama’s recipes came from McAlpin’s Cal-Mex grandmother, and are heavy on melted cheese and mild salsa.)

And there are many, many other dining and drinking joints in today’s Belltown; some at prices as tall as the condo towers now dominating the area.

But there isn’t anything else like Mama’s, and there probably never will be.

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