Montage of Heck

Last night, I finally watched Montage of Heck, the recent documentary about Kurt Cobain by Brett Mogren. The film was moving, as I expected (or worried), and pleasingly focused on Cobain’s and Nirvana’s music. (The dude could shred on the guitar.) The music was in fact the centerpiece of the film: album and live tracks of classic Nirvana tunes, rarities and covers by others (a plinking, nursery-rhyme version of "All Apologies" early in the film gave me chills), and – surprisingly to me – actual pages of lyrics from Cobain’s own voluminous notebooks. Seeing the original lyrics to "Frances Farmer" magnified the impact of that amazing song, which is maybe my favorite. The animations of the notebook pages, and of key scenes in Cobain’s life, were a nice touch, highlighting the fact that Cobain was a talented visual artist – something I didn’t know about him.

Frances Farmer

Of course the film is also and maybe mostly about Cobain’s life, and incidentally about his death, which is treated far too abruptly. I wished that the Mogren had dealt even more with Cobain’s biography. After an excruciating look at his childhood, the film switches over almost entirely to the band just before Bleach. I can understand that choice, but given the detailed examination of Cobain’s youth, I wanted even more about being Courtney Love’s husband and Frances’ father. (Courtney does not come off well from the film.)

Cobain
Maybe I was just falling prey to the tendency of a fan to also be a voyeur, which Cobain himself loathed in his ugliest moments and which he tried to redirect to his art in his best. Midway through the film, some journalist asks Cobain why he can’t or won’t explain his songs to his fans. "There’s nothing to be said, man," Kurt replies, visibly exhausted by the question. "It’s all in the music, man, it’s all in the music. It’s all in the meat… I’d like to hear what they have, have in mind, you know, like, how they interpret it."

It’s a simple notion, but a profound one. Even if he were still alive, I could never explain to Cobain just what his music – Bleach, Nevermind, In Utero, Unplugged, From the Muddy Banks, and all the rest – meant and means to me. It’s literally too much. Too much noise, too much rage, too much humor, too much beauty, too much feeling. Maybe, finally, Cobain is a kind of sacrificial lamb for me. The feelings that poured out of him created a kind of hole where I could and can stuff my own feelings. For that, I have to thank him – even if I also wish he were still around to make more music for me, and for us, and for himself.

Carleton College Senior Art Show

I lost myself in the Carleton College senior art show, Composite, last week. I’ve visited a couple times now, and have only gotten more impressed by the quality of the work. Every piece is worth savoring, and the pieces in the gallery fit wonderfully together. Here are a few of the more easily-photographed pieces.

Paintings by Soren Hope
Paintings by Soren Hope

 

Graphite Drawings by Avery Johnson
Graphite drawings by Avery Johnson

The artist says these pieces, “are a reflection on a human’s physical relationship with technology, especially the mobile phone. By creating huge drawings of human hands grasping for and poking at the viewer as though they were a phone, I hope to evoke a the sense of greed and desire that we feel when interacting with something designed as a multipurpose, interactive tool.”

Metal Body Ornaments by Zoe Abdel-Moneim
Metal body ornaments by Zoe Abdel-Moneim
Hanging sculptures by Ellen Louise Kwan
Hanging sculptures by Ellen Louise Kwan

And then there were Chloe Mark‘s amazing oil on Plexiglas paintings. She sliced them up and hung them in such a way that you could walk through them and watch some of them move almost like a video.

Chloe Mark
Paintings by Chloe Mark

Thoughts on a Rock Shuffle

Driving up to see a friend on Sunday night, my iPhone served me a nice mix of tunes off my favorite playlist, “Rock Goodness.” My thoughts on the tunes:

  • AC/DC, “Money Talks” – A great song marred by a crappy guitar solo.
  • The White Stripes, “Seven Nation Army” – A so-so song improved by an insanely great solo. Or series of solos.
  • Art Brut, “I Will Survive” – Great lyrics with a superb solo.
  • R.E.M., “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth” – Incomprehensible but awesome.
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Fortunate Son” – A pretty freaking apt summary of 2015 America.
  • Springsteen, “Glory Days” – I’m glad this isn’t a summary of my life.
  • Guns N’ Roses, “Sweet Child o’ Mine” – As great in 2015 when it seems to apply (partly?) to my actual daughters as it was in 1987 when it seemed to apply (partly?) to imaginary girlfriends. (Is that creepy?)
  • Kanye, “Power” – Maybe the best rock song of the ’00s.
  • Jay-Z and Danger Mouse, “99 Problems” (off The Gray Album) – The Beatles’ zipper guitars never sounded better.
  • The Who, “Seeker” – The best name-dropping of any rock song.
  • The Hold Steady, “Massive Nights” – A color-by-numbers party song that is so much more.
  • Phosphorescent, “Ride On/Right On” – I’d love this song even if it weren’t about sex and bicycling.
  • Wild Flag, “Racehorse” – You are rock ‘n’ roll fun.

American History Wax Museum

Today was the long-awaited, much-anticipated American History Wax Museum, the culminating event of a big historical project that third graders at my girls’ school work on for weeks each spring. (When Julia was in third grade, she was Abigail Adams.)

Vivi, who has a scientific rather than a historical bent, chose Albert Einstein for as her figure. She did some great research on Einstein (who was, it turns out, not that nice a guy), wrote up a great speech in his voice (and memorized most of it), did the requisite almost-life-sized drawing (over about a week of evenings and weekends), and today dressed up as him (or as a third-grader’s vision of him) for the Museum. She did a great job!
Albert Einstein

Great Plains: Americas Lingering Wild

I just finished reading this amazing book – Great Plains: Americas Lingering Wild.
Forsberg, Great Plans

The Nebraska-based photographer Michael Forsberg thought up the idea for the book and filled it with dozens and dozens of exceptional shots of prairies from Minnesota to Montana, North Dakota to New Mexico – plants, animals, people, and especially the land itself.

Buffalo at the Buffalo Gap

Forsberg’s photographs are complemented by short essays by geographer Davis Wishart and natural historian Dan O’Brien, whose eloquence and erudition complement Forsberg’s artistry. Loss is an explicit theme in O’Brien’s writing, an implicit one in Wishart’s – the decline and death of countless plant and animal species, the near-extermination of the grassland’s original Native inhabitants, the continuing erosion (literal and figurative) of all three kinds of prairie…

Yet as O’Brien comes to realize through his work with Forsberg, denizens of the plains do have some reasons for optimism. Arguably, we are now experiencing a moment when more people than ever before are interested in "saving" the prairies as ecosystems, as homes for myriad living creatures, and as colossally beautiful places. Reading this book makes me – an immigrant to the prairie – want to do more to save it and expand it and love it.

Science Rocks!

Julia’s fifth-grade classes are doing their “Science Rocks” musical this week: a set of songs about science, accompanied by some dialogue, a few short skits, and even a little dancing.

Julia at Science Rocks
Julia at Science Rocks

I went to see the big show on Wednesday morning, and found the whole production very entertaining and educational. The kids were really into it, which was funny and inspiring in its own right. Dedicating hours and hours to songs about the elements and genetics? Brilliant!

Vivi Poetry

Genevieve made a whole bunch of birthday presents for me, and probably enjoyed watching me open them as much as she had enjoyed making them. What a kid. Though they were all good (and though getting a $5 bill from your daughter is a little weird…), the best one by far was a book of poems she’d written over the week before my birthday – one per day. Here are two. Amazing.

“The bright that comes from the blue”
The Bright poem

 

“Life”

Life poem

Best of April Fools Day 2015

No matter what John Oliver says, April Fools Day is great, especially in the Age of the Internet and especially, I think, in Northfield, which is full of people who enjoy staging pranks and who enjoy hearing about them. Here are a few of my favorite AF jokes from 2015. I’m not sure which I enjoyed more – appreciating their creativity or watching fools fall for them.

General

com.Google

Wisconsin Citizens for the Renaming of Lake Michigan to Lake Wisconsin (especially good for fools)

National Air and Space Museum Puts Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet on Display

Academia

Smith College Quad Monorail Construction To Begin Next Year for The Frontier

Houghton College to Become First College in Nation to Construct $84 Million Bio-dome over Main Campus

Cycling

Pearl Izumi Releases the Fat Bike Bandolier CO2 Carrier

USA Cycling to Organize National Gravel Series, Regular Gravel Racing and Bikes (also especially good for fools)

Northfield

Goodbye Blue Monday Coffee House to open second location

City to Consolidate Library Expansion and Skateboard Park Projects

Announcing CarlCat! Cats now available for checkout at the library

Rinella, American Buffalo

Tetons Bison
Tetons Bison

Steven Rinella’s American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon is excellent look at the natural history of the North American bison, framed by the author’s hunt of a buffalo in Alaska in 2006. As his trek illustrates in gripping, gory detail, the connection between humans and bison has always been complicated. Bison are the oldest kind of meat on the continent, but they have also carried a heavy symbolic weight for centuries, if not millennia – as food, as collections of usable flesh and bone, as holy creatures, as emblems of the West and of America itself. Rinella does a superb job examining all these aspects of the buffalo, and telling a great adventure story, too.

This passage on the buffalo’s extraordinary ability to withstand the cold is maybe my favorite bit in the book:

Rinella p. 66

Rinella p. 67