Record Store Day 2014

Posted By on April 19, 2014

In case you didn’t know it, Saturday, April 19, 2014, is Record Store Day. Seven years and still hanging around. I thought I’d recycle this, because it’s still appropriate.

Many many years ago I worked in a record store in Hackensack, NJ with a whole mess of great people, many of whom I’m still in touch with. (Hi Rita, Sam, Bob, Jack, Helen, and Wayne.) Though it was a chain store and not an independently owned shop, it was still very High Fidelity. Oh, the lists…

A certain kind of person works in a record store, then and now. Then the customers ran the gamut, from Kenny G. fans to people who couldn’t wait to get the latest Ministry 12″. Now, it seems the only people who visit record stores are more apt to dig for that Ministry 12″. Well, maybe not Ministry.

Certain things have been gained with the digital revolution where music is concerned. But some things have been lost, too. I miss two things. 1) That tactile sense of holding an LP, reading the liner notes, staring at album cover art groovy enough for framing. 2) As the number of record stores continue to dwindle, the face-to-face interaction with other folks interested in music is disappearing. And I think that’s a shame. (Yeah, I know, you can find folks with similar musical tastes online, but it isn’t the same, really, than, you know, leaving your house and talking to someone.)

So, to honor Record Store Day and the interactions that happen in such establishments, I put together the following blog-only clip from footage Wolfgang Held shot at Hyde Park Records in Chicago, when we first met Robert Darden. Mine is the low voice you hear in the beginning, talking about the Redd Foxx LP being displayed above the gospel section, “the sacred and profane in one eyeful.”

Big thanks to Redd Foxx and the wonderful customer for making this pretty special. I hope you like it. And why not celebrate the day by going to your local record store and taking part in the festivities. I understand many of you ditched your turntables, so maybe you can buy a cd while you’re there. [Do people still have CD players.]

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So, what was the last CD/LP/45 you bought?

Click here to view a clip from the documentary, A Life’s Work (work in progress), featuring more footage shot in HPR.

Artist Rita Flores, who was one of my co-workers all those years ago, today coincidentally posted a piece about the joys of record stores on her blog, Through the Lava Lamp.

What’s on the Filmmaker’s Corkboard? Part 7

Posted By on April 16, 2014

Not that long ago I posted a photo on the Facebook that had as its background my corkboard. An old friend from high school, David Levine, left a comment, “I think it’s time you gave us a tour of your corkboard.”

Who am I to say no to such a request. Here then, with apologies to David Hockney, is the corkboard above my desk. And below that a key explaining some of the things on it. (The big black thing on the bottom center is the monitor.)

The Filmmaker's Corkboard

1. Gifts from friends. Things like cards (bikes and cathedrals are popular), ceramic hawks, a paper rose, a wooden souvenir from Muir Woods in the shape of a tree, a Mad Lib.

2. The structure of A Life’s Work. Along the Y axis you’ll see the subjects (SETI, Arcosanti, Trees, Gospel) and along the X axis you’ll see the film’s “chapters” (Overture, Goals, Beginnings, Unexpected, Influences, Ridicule, Meeting Challenges, Setbacks, Now/Successes, Different Successes). Then…

3. A Life’s Work keywords. Each subject (Y) discusses the topic of each chapter (X), so for each intersection of Y and X, there are keywords. Where “Arcosanti” and “Beginnings” meet you’ll see “Dome House.” Posts have been written about the boxes “Vastness,” “Methuselah,” “Tony Gone,” “Paolo Soleri Dies  Goes Home” (all but the latter include video clips).  Also in a green box is “Legacy.” That used to be one of the chapters, but it is no longer. Many of the keywords have meaning only to me, “Save MD Group” for example, and “Dead Elm Harvey.”

4.  Photos from my past. One from what I think is my third birthday party that I believe was taken by my father and one when I was 18 or 19  taken by my mother . It’s important to look back at where you’ve come from, I think, and to see how people saw you.

5. Reassurance. Tango Octogenario postcard, a film I completed and that was successful, and a name tag from VCCA that identifies me as “Writer-Filmmaker.” It’s important to look back at what you’ve done well and to remember who you are.

6. Clippings and things that inspire. A mini interview with choreographer Mark Morris, a passage from a book review, the same flyer, collected decades apart, advising me not to give up and seek spiritual guidance from Rev. John, Sister Ann, and Teresa.

There’s a lot of stuff up there, to be sure. See anything that piques your curiosity? Ask and all will be revealed!

A Present for You – Music and Video – Brouwer’s Etude No. 1

Posted By on April 8, 2014

For all of you who have donated to A Life’s Work, read the blog, liked the Facebook page, left a comment somewhere, or supported me and my work in some way, here’s a wee present for you — Leo Brouwer’s Etude No. 1. Hope you like it.

Video shot by photographer and friend Peter LaMastro.

Special thanks to the awesome Kate Schutt, who re-introduced me to this piece.

Want more classical guitar music?

Your Fortune Awaits You!

Posted By on April 4, 2014


And if you play those numbers and win the megabucks, remember A Life’s Work.

Broadacre City: Just My Imagination?

Posted By on April 1, 2014

A few years ago I blogged about an imagined quote from  Fredric Chopin.

trevor.pratt, flickr

trevor.pratt, flickr

This happened again recently. I know I’ve seen archival footage of Frank Lloyd Wright standing over the model of Broadacre City (now on view at the Museum of Modern Art through June 1), his vision of urban design. He looks imposing, unshakeable in his conviction that this is how cities should be designed and built. I’ve searched and searched and searched, but haven’t found a thing. Maybe I dreamed it. Or maybe it’s a case of wishful thinking gone haywire. Or maybe I’m going insane. Perhaps a visit to MoMA will clear things up.

In the meantime, here’s me playing a Chopin prelude on the guitar, recorded a few years ago at Blue Mountain Center. Chopin composed it for piano, of course, but this piece was transcribed by Francisco Tarrega.

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More music here.


Documentary Dilemma: One Scene from The Wilco Movie

Posted By on March 27, 2014

I recently watched the documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, the film about the trials and tribulations of the band Wilco as they make and try to release their album Yankee Foxtrot Hotel. It’s a good film about the intersection of art and commerce, but one of the more interesting things to me as a filmmaker was a scene that typifies the kind of decision most documentary filmmakers must make at least once. Let me set it up.

The band has been through the ringer.  They produced an album that, for the indie pop music world, is considered experimental and were dropped by their record label, Reprise Records. A key member of the band is fired. They can’t seem to find their feet. Finally, after months of being in limbo, the record is picked up by Nonesuch Records (Reprise and Nonesuch are both subsidiaries of Warner Music Group). Everyone is relieved, and the band’s leader, Jeff Tweedy, sings Bill Fay’s Be Not So Fearful to his band mates in what looks like a hotel lobby. Here’s Bill Fay singing it:

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It’s a beautiful moment. Some of the band members sing along softly, one  cries. They seem to be simultaneously achieving catharsis, healing, and gathering strength from this song.

Being the film and music geek I am, I of course watched the DVD commentary, which features the band and director Sam Jones. Tweedy says at the end of the scene: “There’s some sort of feeling and comfort in singing Be Not So Fearful at that time, definitely.”  (It’s true, this is one of those special songs. I’ve been singing and playing it a LOT lately.)

Tweedy also revealed in the commentary that this scene was shot shortly after 9/11.

Initially I was kind of stunned that this fact was not mentioned in the straight up release version of the film, and it seemed a bit misleading to include the scene and not at least cite the timing. I mean, we were all emotional messes at that time, and this moment could have been about that and not the trials and tribulation of Wilco.

But then I wondered, what would I have done?

To insert footage from 9/11 would have been wildly inappropriate. What then? Add a date somewhere on the screen for the first time? No. Add a timeline that runs through the film? You’d show how long the process would take and at that moment the 9/11 timing would be clear. Maybe.

What’s the other option? Omit such a  beautiful, powerful moment that is key to telling this part of the band’s story, a moment that happens to occur soon after the U.S. is having a collective freak out?

I think I would have used it. I’m comfortable using scenes and dialogue out of the sequence in which they were shot if they’re in keeping with what was happening at the moment. I am not comfortable using the material out of context. It’s a fine line we frequently have to deal with.

What would you have done?

P.S. Yankee Foxtrot Hotel went on to be a  critical and commercial success, and made Rolling Stone’s list of Top 500 Albums of all time, for whatever that’s worth.

Balancing Act

Posted By on March 24, 2014

My day job is as a videographer for an esteemed academic institution in New York City. I shoot and edit videos, mostly of faculty who are engaged in research. Some faculty do work and research in far off places like Brazil and Uganda. It’s wonderful work that I love. The only downside is that they can’t send me to Brazil or Uganda to shoot the faculty at work there, so I rely on  using the “Ken Burns effect” with stills to liven up the faculty talking heads. The videos tell straightforward narratives.

The last couple of months I’ve been collaborating on a music video with an artist friend.

Reflection of piano interior.

Reflection of piano interior.

The music is avant-garde jazz and the video is experimental. I shot most of the footage and am editing it, but I don’t consider myself the director; I’m relying heavily on my friend because a) it’s her project and her vision and b) experimental is not in my comfort zone. Without a narrative, without a beginning, middle, and end (doesn’t necessarily have to be in that order), I’m pretty much lost.

I’ve always imagined A Life’s Work as deviating from the by-the-books documentary mold, but I never thought of it as an experimental documentary, either.

I’ve been at my day job for about a year, and over that period I’ve learned a lot and found solutions to problems, solutions that I’m using as I continue to work on ALW. I’ve also made shooting and editing choices at the day job because I need to work quickly, or because I don’t have the resources, or because it’s “good enough.” I worry that kind of decision-making will carry over, unconsciously, into ALW.  I don’t have this concern with the music video. Maybe because I don’t spend as much time on it as I do on the work at my day job? Or maybe because experimental is out of my comfort zone and I need to take some lessons from an artist who works more abstractly so that I can bring some of that into ALW? Or maybe because I know I’ll never get that experimental, whereas it’s possible, in my efforts to get the film done, I’ll take the easy route, the “good enough” route.

I feel like I’m walking a tight rope. We’ll see how I do.

Do you earn your living in a field related to your art? How do you let the good stuff from your day job into your work and keep the bad stuff out? What other challenges do you face?



Trees as Timelines

Posted By on March 21, 2014

I was recently out West where I saw this:


Ponderosa Pine Gazebo

Closer inspection revealed that  this structure sheltered a large chunk of tree trunk.

Ponderosa Pine

This was once the largest Ponderosa Pine tree.

The Stats

There are many of these tree-trunk-as-timeline around the country, usually with the same historical milestones  on it.

The Timeline

There is the “Wow, that’s old” factor that first strikes when you look at these things, but my eye invariable heads to the bark of trunk, and how this tree once stood vertically and reached for sky  and exhaled its waste product (oxygen) to our benefit, and now it’s a dead curiosity.


The hope is that seeing this make people experience the majesty of trees, but honestly, it depresses me as much as this photo…

The Fieldbrook Stump, left to our children.

The Fieldbrook Stump, left to our children.


What goes through your mind when you see these?


Expertise? Expression!

Posted By on March 18, 2014

When I was casting Tango Octogenario, I had to make a very big decision. The script called for 80-year-old tango dancers. The  decision I had to make was do I cast actual octogenarians or do I go for younger dancers and try to age them with make up.

Elderly dancer’s would be more authentic. Younger dancers might be more nimble, might be crisper dancers.

When I met Alex and Jean Turney, my dilemma disappeared, because they were the age of the characters and they were excellent dancers. But Alex had occasional doubts. I remember when I told him that I would be shooting a close up of their hands as they clasped just before they danced.

Jean and Alex Turney in Tango Octogenario

Jean and Alex Turney in Tango Octogenario

Alex was concerned. He was very conscious of the look of his arthritic fingers. “You want to show these hands?” he objected.

“They’re beautiful hands,” I told him. “Those are hands that have lived a full life.”

I think that won him over.

At some point Alex asked why I didn’t go with younger dancers, or professional dancers. I told him I wasn’t really interested in expert dancers, that I wanted expressive dancers. And that’s what I saw in them. They oozed expression.

It’s the same with the music I listen to. Give me a lo-fi, raggedly recorded soulful song over a highly produced, technically flawless soulless song any day. Of course, in an ideal world, you get both expertise and expression, but if I have to choose one, I’ll always choose the latter.

And so it is with A Life’s Work.  As I edit, I continue to look first and foremost for the expressive moment, the expressive composition, the expressive cut, the expressive sequence. If those are expertly delivered.

This is related to that post on perfection, but my desire to achieve perfection doesn’t preclude expressiveness. I’m just looking for both, because  that’s what perfect is.

Questions, thoughts, or  comments about this post, or anything under the sun? Leave ‘em in the comments box!

A Quote from Samuel Beckett, The Playwright with the Best Hair Ever

Posted By on March 13, 2014

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”Samuel_Beckett

 ​ Samuel Beckett​