9 Sep
2017

Wonderful Weirdos

Since I've started blogging for Kards Unlimited, I've written about plenty of weirdos, from Franz Kafka to Hunter S. Thompson to Steve Martin.  Indeed, probably the least weird public figure I've written about would be Kermit the Frog, an entertainment juggernaut made of green felt who carried on a romantic relationship with a pig (yup, carried.  Past tense.  They broke up).  It's fair to say that I am someone who admires weirdos.  And the weirder the public figure, the deeper my interest in them.

There are plenty of celebrities who would qualify as weirdos: Lady Gaga, Donald Glover, Tom Cruise, Gary Busey, Dennis Rodman (remember you guys?  HE WORE A WEDDING DRESS!!!! HIS HAIR WAS DYED GREEN!!!!! WHAAAAT?!?!?!?!?!?!?).  However, some wonderful weirdos stand out from the rest for their influence in society and extra dose of weirdness. So here's a few public figures who are important, influential, and most importantly, weird and wonderful.

There's probably another name in there that I'm missing

Prince, or, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, or, that weird androgynous symbol thing, or, Prince...again

Where to start? Well his music, as incredible as it is, is undoubtedly strange.  He made a point of mixing together of-the-moment pop sounds and catchy melodies with experimental textures that would make Lou Reed jealous.  He's also one of the few '80s pop icons that could seriously shred on guitar.  And then there's his enigmatic personality.  He changed his stage name four times.  His relationship with the internet when he was alive was tenuous at best and volatile at its worst, which might be why it was so hard to find any of his original songs or videos until recently.  Actually, if you want a good sense of Prince's quirky personality, Kevin Smith (another weirdo who I've written about on this site) has an excellent story about a documentary he was supposed to film about the music star.  (Here's the condensed version.  The editing is pretty stark, so if you can find the full version I would recommend watching that instead.)

I was actually supposed to write about Prince for one of my first blog posts for this site, but missed the deadline, so it's nice to kick off this list with a truly great, strange person.  At least I think he was a person.  Maybe an alien or some sort of trick of light and smoke.  A mass hallucination, perhaps.

Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe is a perfect fit for a weird and wonderful blog.  She's just...excellent.  At a very young age, O'Keeffe was an impressive painter.  In her twenties, she could easily replicate the styles of many famous artists.  Doing so, however, bored her (a good way to describe many weirdos could be "perpetually bored").  After spending a summer in New Mexico, she wasn't content to just replicate objects and scenic landscapes with her paintings.  Following the teachings of Arthur Dow, she instead painted natural scenes with an abstract edge.  A few of my favorites:

Yes.  The skull is my favorite.  Her early work with charcoal is also quite impressive:

It's hard enough to be strange in 2017.  So in 1910, it must've been close to impossible.  To quote O'Keefe herself: "I wonder if I'm a raving lunatic for trying to make these things."

Eh, maybe.  But thank god she made them.

David Lynch

Is Eraserhead from 1990?  No?  Late '80s?  Early '80s? No? Ok, so it's from 1977, but it has to be a foreign film, right?  It's American?  Ok, put a pin in that.

Ok, so who does the ear belong to?  What is that...laughing gas?  Why isn't he laughing?  What is he doing?  Oh my god...Put a pin in that, as well, I guess. (Also, Laura Dern!)

It's a murder mystery, right?  No?  Well, ok, so it explores the dark secrets of the residents of a small town.  What do you mean "not exactly?"  A doorknob?  Ugh...pin.

So, wait, it was all in her head?  And what were all those other scenes?  Ok, just...put a pin in that, too.

...what?

So yeah.  David "More Questions Than Answers" Lynch.  You'd be hard put to find an active director more original and bizarre.

Before I wrap this up, I want to quickly mention a lesser-known wonderful weirdo.

Yayoi Kusama

I'm not going to write Yayoi Kusama's biography.  Suffice it to say that she is a Japanese artist who has been active since moving to New York in 1957 (although she started making art at the age of 10).  Here are a few pictures of her work:

And my favorite for last:

If you would like to know more about her, I've heard that people use a website called Google to look up things that interest them.  If you live in the Pittsburgh area, you can see a few of her installations at The Mattress Factory in the North Side.

Now, let's wrap things up correctly:

Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Thin White Duke, Heathen, Hero, Goblin King, Blackstar, David "What The Hell Man You're Never Allowed To Die We Need You Now More Than Ever ALMOST TWO YEARS LATER AND THIS STILL REALLY HURTS" Bowie

For a very different reason than with Yayoi Kusama, I'm not going to take a crack at summing up David Bowie's life in this post.  I'm not one to indulge people who were born and raised under rocks.  Again, Google is very popular.

What I will say is that David Bowie was a man who seemed to be a wonderful weirdo almost by default. He made being weird seem wonderful. And he wouldn't have had it any other way.  When he wasn't inventing genres whole-cloth he was taking established genres and making them incredibly strange and experimental.  He was, and continues to be, a gargantuan influence in the world of music and art.

Bowie only had two late career releases.  The Next Day was a very pretty outing with one song in particular, "Where Are We Now?", that I liked very much.

I heard Dave Grohl say in an interview after hearing the song something along the lines of "the song is so sad.  I remember thinking 'man...is he dying or something'."

Well, he was.

David Bowie blew our minds one last time by releasing an album detailing his own demise.  Blackstar is an out-of-this-world experimental jazz/rock/morbid-as-hell release that almost proves that Bowie was more than just a man or even an alien.  He was more a deity, shining a light through the darkness of status quo mediocrity and artistic compromise.  He told the truth.  Even as cancer was ravaging his body and death was months away from extinguishing his flame.

So I will leave you with a video that can only be described as...I dunno.  Strange and marvelous, I guess.

1 Sep
2017

September 2017 Events and Birthdays

WHAT UP SEPTEMBER?! We don't know who let summer end so soon but that's okay. We'll recover just in time for all of the great things to celebrate this month! Like Pleasure Your Mate Month, Eat an Extra Dessert Day, Wonderful Weirdos Day, TOLKIEN WEEK, and Celebrate Bisexuality Day (to name a few!) Read on to see all of the amazing things we're jumping into leaf piles for!  Read more >>

15 Aug
2017

Wish This Jerk a Happy Birthday

Read these jokes aloud:

  • "Don't have sex, men. It leads to kissing and pretty soon you have to start talking to them."
  • "I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, natural, wholesome things that money can buy."
  • "I believe you should place a woman on a pedestal - high enough so you can look up her dress."

What do you think?  Funny? Not so funny? Corny? Sexist? Read them again in Steve Martin's voice.

They become funny again; at least I think so.  And it's not just these jokes.  Indeed, the bulk of Steve Martin's material is composed of unfunny jokes.  They are corny.  Like unfunny-uncle-corny.  You know which uncle I'm talking about.

I can actually hear your eyes rolling

These jokes aren't the exception.  They are the rule. Watch any of his stand-up specials and you'll find these terrible jokes all throughout.

When I was a kid, plenty of people talked about what a genius Steve Martin was.  Even at 11-years-old, I considered myself pretty savvy when it came to stand-up.  My brother introduced me to George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks (by way of Denis Leary), and many others.  Comedically speaking, I was quite adept.  Steve Martin, however, vexed me.  Why is he wearing an arrow through his head?  Why are his jokes bad?  And most importantly, why is everyone falling over laughing at this (my family included)?

When I watched The Jerk, a brilliant anti-comedy starring Steve Martin as Navin Johnson, a white man who was adopted by an African-American family, it all came together.  Martin's jokes aren't meant to be funny.  He's a jackass.  His character is a dumb person who believes himself to be the smartest guy in the room. So when he's on stage, he's actually playing the role of an entertainer who is mediocre but believes himself to be quite good.  If you think the jokes above are sexist and unfunny, it's Martin saying 'most stand-up comedians are sexist and unfunny.'

His stand-up isn't as simple as "get up on stage and tell unfunny jokes ironically," though.  His show is wonderfully deconstructionist.  The pacing is manic.  He works with props briefly.  His rhythm is completely different than anyone else who came before him, ditching the traditional formula of 'set-up/punchline' for sporadic, random bits that tricked the audience into laughing.  Or, to quote the man himself:

"What if there were no punch lines? What if there were no indicators? What if I created tension and never released it? What if I headed for a climax, but all I delivered was an anticlimax? What would the audience do with all that tension?"

If anyone else did this, they would look really foolish.

This is from his autobiography, Born Standing Up.  If you want a thorough account of Martin's life, I would recommend reading it.  If you don't have time, however, here's a short, not-so-thorough version:

Steve Martin was born August 14, 1945, in Waco, Texas, and raised in Inglewood, California. He is the son of Mary Lee and Glenn Vernon Martin.  After attending Garden Grove High School, he went on to study drama and English poetry while attending Santa Ana College.  His comedy career began when he landed a writing job on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, where he and his fellow writers ended up winning an Emmy.  He went on to write for The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.  On top of his many stand-up specials, Martin has acted in many movies, including The Jerk (which he also co-wrote); The Man With Two Brains; Three Amigos; Planes, Trains, and Automobiles; and, most recently, It's Complicated. Martin is also an accomplished author, including his aforementioned autobiography, Born Standing Up and his novels Shopgirl, The Pleasure of My Company, and An Object Of Beauty (available at Kards Unlimited!).

The list of Steve Martin's accomplishments goes on and on.  I literally don't have the time to write about it all.  He plays the banjo, he performs magic, he wrote a play.  He's prolific, to say the least. And he is undoubtedly intelligent.

Genius at work

His apparent intelligence is what made me not give up on Steve Martin; what made me dig deeper and drove me to understand his comedy style.  On its surface, the material is really shallow and stupid.  If you read the jokes above in, say, Andrew Dice Clay's voice, they fall flat and come off as disgusting and misogynistic.  Through the filter of Steve Martin's thick sarcasm and satirical persona, however, it becomes a biting commentary on mediocrity in the entertainment business.  I had to put in the work and it paid off.

Happy birthday, Steve Martin, you wild and crazy guy!

8 Aug
2017

An Icon Passes: Remembering Romero

"They're coming to get you, Barbra." These words will forever echo in the minds of horror movie fans around the world.

These famous lines, which sparked an entire genre of horror, were written by none other than George A. Romero, legendary director, writer, editor, and creator of the modern day zombie monster. A native New Yorker, Romero came to Pittsburgh to attend Carnegie Mellon University. Sadly, he passed away from lung cancer July 16th at the ripe age of 77.

I love zombie movies. To me, they are the most terrifying monsters. Whether they're Romero's slow moving, dim-witted flesh eaters, or fast and tactical like in 28 Days Later, just the thought of an undead army whose only intention is to eat your brains sends shivers down my appetizing spine.

My fascination with the zombie world started at a young age. My brother showed me Night of the Living Dead when I was around ten years old. It scared me to death, but it opened me up to the world of horror, and for that, I am forever indebted to Romero. 

Night of the Living Dead was released in 1968 with a budget of $114,000. Since then it has grossed more than $30 million and has become a staple of any horror buff's collection. The movie was shot locally in Monroeville, PA, putting the little town on the map.

Romero may have not known how important this film would be, but he managed to do two things: create the modern zombie, and use the film as a platform to hold a mirror to American society. Romero was a master at social commentary. To have an African-American protagonist, and to have the protagonist be the hero, only to be shot dead by police officers at the end, in 1968, was groundbreaking. Romero had found his voice, his niche.

His 1978 installment of the Dead series, Dawn of the Dead, continued to mock American culture by having the zombies roam the Monroeville Mall.  Even as thoughtless zombies, they still manage to make it to the center of American consumerism. 1985 brought along Day of the Dead, which shows us how dependent we can be on our government, and how the people in charge don't always know the answers.

Since 1968, zombies have evolved.  They've gotten smarter and they've gotten faster. 28 Days Later, aka cinematic gold, changed what a zombie movie could be. You won't be able to outrun these super-human-like zombies. Today's zombie is a hunter, seeking out prey rather than stumbling around until you trip and fall.

Zombies are no longer the cult they used to be, with television shows like The Walking Dead, and iZombie, video games like Left 4 Dead, and Dead Island, zombies have exploded into mainstream culture. Even literature has tackled  the subject of the undead, Max Brooks's The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z are two best sellers, with the latter being made into a movie starring Brad freakin Pitt.

Without George A. Romero, there would be no modern zombie. Had he not pushed the envelope, this multi-million dollar scene would not be here. Romero was an innovator, a commentator, and an icon. With his passing, he leaves behind a legacy that has touched every horror fan on this earth. He will be missed, but if the zombie apocalypse does happen, it would be an honor to have him eat my brains.

5 Aug
2017

August 5th is National Disc Golf Day!

National Disc Golf Day was recognized by the National Day Calendar in July of 2016, which makes it one of the youngest holidays we've ever featured on the KU blog.  Disc golf itself is a lot older, with various individual accounts of a proto-disc golf-like game being played very early in the 20th century, long before the Frisbee was even invented (in 1966, more on that later), or the idea of a dedicated disc golf course, or even the term itself were even glints in proverbial eyes.

This is what disc golf looks like.

Have you ever looked something up on the internet and gotten completely sucked into a vortex of links and Wikipedia articles?  Of course you have.  Looking up National Disc Golf Day is a lot like that.  There are some really fascinating things to learn about disc golf, actually.  Like, first of all, the man who invented the Frisbee, "Steady Ed" Headrick, also invented the first ever disc golf basket, upon which all modern disc golf basket designs are based.  He also founded pretty much every disc golf organization, including the Professional Disc Golf Association and the Recreational Disc Golf Association.

Here's Steady Ed playing the sport that he basically made happen.

But let's back up a second. I can hear you all asking "What even IS disc golf, Adam?"  Ok.  So you know ball golf, right?  That weird, Scottish game where you hit a tiny ball with a super weird stick so it goes into a hole? Yeah, that's the one.  So disc golf is a lot like that, plus Frisbees, which are super fun, and minus all the snooty, country clubby BS which is super not fun.  Disc golf requires a lot less expensive equipment, there aren't any carts or groundskeepers or anything, and it's pretty much just superior in every way (unless you are snooty, then I guess it's worse.)

Interestingly, there are still drivers and putters and stuff, but instead of clubs, they're different types of discs! Here's a driver; it's kind of sharp and the weight is concentrated at the edge, to help it cut through the air and maintain its speed for a longer distance.

Cross section. So sharp!

The Boss. So bossy.

Versus a putter, which is much rounder and more evenly distributed, a lot like a disc that you'd play catch with, which makes it fly slow and straight, right to the hole.

Short game is important no matter what kind of golf you golf, guys.

One of the most popular putters in disc golf!

There are a bunch of other kinds of discs, too, but that's not terribly important right now.  What is important is that you get out and celebrate National Disc Golf Day!  Disc golf is a ton of fun, guys. There are a bunch of awesome courses in the Pittsburgh area, including several that were the sites of the Disc Golf World Championships in 2015! Don't worry if you don't feel up to playing the courses that the pros play, different tee placements adjust for all skill levels!

Here's a video of some pros playing on the course at Deer Lakes Park in Tarentum!

OH! Hey, before I forget.  Never, ever, ever say "frolf".  Ever.

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2 Aug
2017

Happy Birthday, Kevin Smith!

I think I was about 12 or 13-years-old when my mom told me my cousin, Joe, was coming to stay the night. “He’ll be staying in your room, if that’s okay.” I was more than okay with it. I loved my cousin, Joe. He’s about 3 or 4 years older than me and I really wanted to impress him. It was pretty clear what I had to do.

He came over and I popped in my VHS copy of Clerks. It was perfect. The crude humor and awesome dialogue of Kevin Smith’s premiere film entertained Joe for the first time, and me for the 50th. I like to think that it made the awkward situation much easier on both of us.

I’ve been a fan of Kevin Smith ever since my brother showed me Mallrats and Clerks when I was 12 years old.   Smith had a Tarantino sense of dialogue and my sense of humor (filthy).  But it wasn't until he made Chasing Amy that I started to really appreciate him as a filmmaker.

Kevin Smith was born on August 2, 1970, in Red Bank, New Jersey.  While attending high school (as a B and C student), he would film his school's basketball games and create sketches in the vein of Saturday Night Live.

On his 21st birthday, he saw Richard Linklater's first film, Slacker.  The movie, which lacked any clear plot and focused instead on dialogue and the quirky characters of Austin, Texas, inspired Smith to be a serious filmmaker.  "It was the movie that got me off my ass; it was the movie that lit a fire under me, the movie that made me think, 'Hey, I could be a filmmaker.'"

After attending Vancouver Film School for four months, Smith left halfway through the semester so that he could save money to shoot his first film, Clerks.

The film follows a day in the life of Dante Hicks, a convenience store worker, and his slacker friend, Randall, who works at the video store next to him, though he is rarely seen working.  The film explores such subjects as infidelity, necrophilia, hockey, pop culture, and complacency in the workplace (as well as in life).  Smith shot Clerks at the convenience store he was working at in Leonardo, NJ.  He would work at the store during the day, and then shoot at night, which afforded him about an hour of sleep each night.  Because most of the movie is set during the day, he shot in black and white and kept the shutters for the store window closed so the lighting wouldn't be as prominent.

Clerks was a financial success.  With a budget of about $27,000 (mostly from maxed-out credit cards), the film grossed over $3 million despite a limited theatrical release.  The success of Clerks launched Smith's career as a filmmaker.  He went on to write, direct, and co-produce Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Clerks II, and many more.

It's hard to talk about Kevin Smith and his career without bringing up a few key movies.  After Clerks, many in the film industry had great hopes for Smith, believing him to be a voice for generation X.  His next film Mallrats, though not as successful, kept the same tone and explored much of the same subject matter that Clerks had explored.

His next film, Chasing Amy, was described by Quentin Tarantino as a "Quantum Leap forward" for Smith.  The contents of Chasing Amy share some similarities with his previous efforts.  It was still raunchy and dialogue-heavy.  There were plenty of pop culture references. Even the cast was similar to Mallrats, both featuring Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, and Joey Lauren Adams. But Chasing Amy still stood apart from everything Smith had made.  It was mature, thoughtful, and more emotionally-developed than his previous work.  Even now, I can't think of a movie that better explores the themes of sexual identity and friendship, with a balance of delicacy and bluntness.  If you've never seen it, you should.  Like, now!  I'll wait.

In the meantime "What's a Nubian?"

There's something incredible about Smith as a filmmaker.  In the same way Slacker made him rethink what was possible in film-making,  Smith's films (especially his early work) helped me realize that the only difference between a casual movie watcher and a filmmaker is a camera and a typewriter (um, computer).  You don't need a great deal of money.  You don't need a plot.  You don't even really need an audience.  All you need is a camera and a vision.  You might not make money doing it, but it can be done.  If the movies that exist in your head are better than the movies that are currently out there, do yourself a favor, and make the movie in your head.

That's what Smith did with Clerks.  I revisited the movie a little later in my life and was surprised to find that it holds up pretty well. The dialogue, which I had thought was genius when I was younger, is a little juvenile. It also kind of insisted on itself, like Smith knew that what he was writing was clever. The drama of the film, however, is pretty solid, as is the camera placement and the editing.  But more than anything, it's a unique voice in the world of film.  Smith had never seen a movie that depicted the doldrums of day-to-day living in the working world.  Everything from the annoying customers to the cheating partners, to discussions about helpless independent contractors working on the Death Star, Clerks shows that the day-to-day lives of two store clerks can be just as dramatic and entertaining as anything else in theaters.

Happy Birthday, Kev!  I assure you, we're proud of you!
2 Aug
2017

Put it in my Mouth, or, the Joys of an Ice Cream Sandwich

There exists in nature (and on occasion the hand of man) some things that, when experienced, always seems to be the solution to a bad day.  A tasty, mouth-watering treat can often be one of those things. Good for all ages and all times of the year; I always recommend indulging in an ice cream sandwich whenever you can get your hands on one.

On a hot day is generally best, when the sweat is dripping from your brow and you're incredibly thirsty, an ice cream sandwich is the perfect thing to cool you down. Then again, on a cold winter evening, an ice cream sandwich is the perfect thing to curl up with under the blanket while watching a good movie.

The best thing is that they come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and tastes. Some even come with extras, such as Jimmies or dip. I suggest trying different types, rather than settling on just one. There's a full menu out there. Why not try it out until you find a favorite?

As long as one remembers the simple rules of eating an ice cream sandwich: Never indulge too frequently (moderation is key to enjoyment); wash yourself off afterwards (messiness can be a sign of enjoyment during, but afterwards, no one wants to be sticky and covered in goo); take your time (enjoy all the sensations. There's no use in gobbling it down and forgetting the whole thing two minutes later); never pay for it when you can get it for free (it pays to have a winning personality when hoping for freebies); share (give as good as you get).

Hopefully, you've gained something from reading this and will run out for an ice cream sandwich of your very own. Perhaps the ice cream man will bring one to your door! Buon appetito!