Sunday, March 18, 2018

Snoopy Museum Tokyo


You're speaking Japanese Charlie Brown
The Peanuts are a part of the American experience. It has helped shaped almost everyone born in the last century, and maybe it will continue to, but who knows? When my friend who is really into Snoopy told me she wished she could go with me to Japan so she could go to the Snoopy Museum, I felt I had to go out of obligation. I doubted whether I would enjoy it since I didn't consider myself a huge fan who needed to make the trek to another museum about another comic, but I remember how much I loved seeing the Tin Tin museum in Europe years ago, and figured I'd give it a go. I'm glad I did.

A little surprise twist pulling the exhibit together
The Snoopy Museum is one of the most heart-string-pullingest exhibits I've ever seen. It's called Love is Wonderful, and it dives deep into the relationships between the characters of Charles Shulz's famous comic strip. It becomes aparent that it could also have been called Love is a Toturous Beast Forcing You to Die Alone. But it saves you from that with cute imagery and real hand-drawn comics and an incredible layout. There's a part when you turn a corner and realize there are cuts in the walls that frame a picture of Shulz and his sweetheart, an image you walk past in the beginning, so you're looking back on a love story in someone else's life much like you do in your own, and contemplate how his experiences colored his iconic work.

It gave me goosebumps.

Gift shop totally packed

They even have a kite-eating tree

Snoopy through the ages
You're a foodtruck Charlie Brown

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Movement: The Moving Episode (Ep 4)

Thanks to everyone who listens to my podcast. Every time it plays, I love you.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Missing You (John Waite) Sky Jack Cover

In the 80's John Waite belted out this bad boy for one of the greatest songs of his era. It was his biggest hit, and he's still singing it. He even did a country version with Alison Krauss. Tina Turner did a version of it in the 90's that I always thought was kind of an Ike burn song. It's been covered a million times. Brooks and Dunne, Rod Stewart, and tons of others have done it. I hate pretty much all the covers, including even the Alison Krauss duet. It always sounds overly earnest or over-produced or just too loud.

I think it tracks better as a stripped down sad and quiet song. You could argue that a belting lament is always welcome on a record, but I'd say the song's too good for that.

I love how old-fashioned it is. It mentions long-distance lines, which is so funny because there's no such thing anymore. It reminds me of how hard (and expensive) it was to have a long-distance relationship back in the day when you could barely hear someone through the static of a long-distance phone call. You might as well send a telegraph to be clear. So he sends his lover's soul a telegraph! That's really funny and sappy and such a true feeling for a little pop song.

I love how he admits to lying to himself and how he confesses to his hyperbolic desperation. The confessional parts of the song are simply great because they're intimate and relate-able.

Anyway, here's my sad version of it. I'm noticing myself looking down a lot in these videos. I'm looking at the microphone. It looks like I'm reading or something, but the whole point of me doing these is to really live in the songs, so I memorize the lyrics and change them a little when I sing. I do actually care for you to know that I'm not reading these lines. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Tea Time with Sky Jack: The Bro Episode

I've uploaded the latest installment of Tea Time with Sky Jack, the Bropisode. It's about bros, #MeToo, opium, tea, and how political movements succeed. There's also some talk about what I'm liking right now, like this book:

Friday, February 23, 2018

What's the Best Island Whisky


In my early twenties, I moved from Hannover to Karlsruhe. Hannover is notorioulsy Germany's grayest city, so I moved to Germany's sunniest city. Supposedly, Karlsruhe was inspired by the sun's rays shining through branches as the prince napped beneath them. He woke up and planned "Sonnenstadt" setting up the streets to emanate from the palace like sunbeams. He called it Karl's rest, but many called it sun city and still do. Some even say it has ties to sun worship and the occult.

Karlsruhe 1721

There's a grave in the middle of the city that looks like a pyramid. Inside is the prince. It's one of those cities city planners, transit designers, and architects know about. I taught English around town and spent most evenings at a pub called Flynn's Inn.

Dave Flynn was a guy who traveled around the world opening Irish pubs for other people until he got sick of that and opened his own pub in Karlsruhe. Flynn's Inn was where every English-speaker in town congregated. It was home base. Dave was a whisky nut and had a secret stash from Kildare and other parts of Ireland he'd share with regulars and friends.

I think it's safe to say I knew almost nothing about whisky before knowing Dave Flynn.

One of the bartenders, Simon, a kind Irish poet, rented a room from me for a while. And even though I never had any money, Dave took good care of me and even let me take advantage of some whisky tastings. At one of those tastings I had a glass of my all-time favorite Scotch: Scapa 12-year.

It tasted like a little bit of peat mixed with the sea and grass of Scottland. I couldn't get enough. It transported me to windswept cliffs. I got really romantic about this Scotch. The host of the tasting told me they let Scapa Flow flood the distillery every year and do nothing about it. I can't find any evidence of this online, but I like the legend, so I'm going to keep repeating it until the distillers write me and tell me to stop.

My last night in Germany was spent in Flynn's Inn surrounded by friends I'd mostly never see again.

Stateside, I almost never found Scapa, but when I did I flipped out (I found it at the Franklin in Vegas and nearly drank them out of it). And when I was in Europe I usually sniffed some out. Their 12-year tasted like an 18 and brought me back to unknown shores. Little did I know Scapa produced no new juice from 1994 to 2004.

Now there's the Orcadian, widely available at least in the western states.

The Orcadian is a smooth and super-quaffable 16-year. It's all honey and salt and citrus, and so delicious it's hard to compare it to anything the same age. That seems to be the magic of this distillery: everything tastes much older than its age statement claims. That means it's a bargain because something of similar quality with an older statement is usually MUCH more expensive. Also, they claim that their angel's share is far less in comparison to other distilleries because of their location. Scapa is on the bank of Scapa Flow, and they're the second-most northern distillery in Scotland (Highland Park has them beat by half a mile).

The new packaging screaming for Americans to love them makes me think I'll be able to get this for a while into the future. And it's pretty and blue and has a little boat on it, and I love it. 

I miss their 12-year. That might be just my nostalgia. I love the Orcadian and want to drink more of it and tell my stories of my expatriate days when the only place I could speak English was with the other foreigners at Flynn's.

I don't know what happened to his spot in Karlsuhe, but Dave Flynn has a Flynn's Inn in Bonn now, and I hope to visit him some day. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tea Time with Sky Jack: The Love Episode

The Love Episode explores entropy, inertia, shutting down suitors, standing up dates, and repeat victimization.
Also available on iTunes, Google Music, Stitcher, and Spotify.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

What is the Peaky Blinders' Theme Song?

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds RED RIGHT HAND

I'm probably one of very few people who had heard of the Peaky Blinders before the show came out. I'd heard the name before whilst studying gangs of London. And I thought they were an East End gang. Turns out I was wrong, but the name got me interested enough to check out a new gangster show. I don't like gangster shows very much. They make me hate cops and feel like the world is a meaner place than it actually is.

But when I turned on this show ready to dislike it, a song came on that sent me back to 1996. Back then the coolest show on TV was called the X-Files. My brother and I loved it so much we bought the CD: Songs in the Key of X. I was already very into music, and I knew every name on the track list but one: RED RIGHT HAND by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

We were both immediately converted into life-long Nick Cave fans.

I even bought magazines that included free CD's compiled by Nick Cave. Nick Cave introduced me to PJ Harvey and Kylie Minogue and countless other artists. He's director, a musician, and artist; he's a renaissance man. And it was the X-Files that brought me to him. He even did the secret tracks on that album. It was a magical disc.

Anyway, I love the show; it's awful. It looks like someone watched Miller's Crossing and went nuts with blurry filters, so it looks beautiful. The writing is a kind of selective/convenient realism; people break bones and sweat and drool, but they also get shot with old-fashioned bullets and survive over and over again as if their shoulders are made of steel and the bullets are made of rubber. They can't decide what tone to take when it comes to victims of PTSD or the plight of the working class, London Jews, the IRA, and don't even get me started with women.

When it comes to women, the show's writers can't decide if women are rational agents, emotional tinder boxes, preposterous ex-machina plot devices, expository vessels, or sex toys.

There are two sisters in the Shelby family that can't seem to develop into real characters.

Polly was the secret brains of the operation in the beginning of the series, who kept the business profitable when the men were at war. That doesn't last long. By the second season she's hysterical, over-emotional and given to fits of rage. The other sister is a convenient communist and a black sheep but is easily corralled and used by her brother.

There's a secret agent love interest named Grace, but she wears out her welcome by the end of the second season. But there's also a horse trainer who is all business and seems like a better match for the tone of the story. That might not last long either, though.

The show has some major issues. It's derivative to the extreme. One can't watch it without being reminded of its predecessors--shows like the Black Donnelly's, movies like the Godfather trilogy, the Road to Perdition, Gangs of New York, etc. But the performances of Sam Neil and Cillian Murphy and the ensemble cast of rogues keep it interesting. . . and like I said, it's a very pretty show to look at. It's kind of like Deadwood that way. So if you're looking for an English version of Deadwood with slightly more inventive stories, Peaky Blinders is for you.

They sew razor blades into their peaked caps and swing them like scythes at their enemies!

And you can't beat the theme song. It's so good they sneak in various artists' covers of the song wherever they can.

Beautiful people in violent situations make for great TV. Also, if you like the Pynchonian approach of putting a little-talked-about historical period or event under a magnifying glass in order to investigate a microcosm standing in to take your questions about human nature, what better time than 1919-1925?

The flappers are dancing, the music is loud, the cars are the fastest thing anyone had ever seen. And it's all made modern with contemporary tropes and a great all-around soundtrack.

It's fun seeing 1921 Bugatti's and Ford's and Aston's driving around old cities carrying their own cans of gasoline for long journeys. It's fun to hear "we've just arrived at Heathrow [by boat]; it's just one more day 'til we're in London." It's fun to see people drink every time they meet anyone and smoke and cough their way through a day. And it's always fun to see the villains more virtuous than the cops and the Corleone-esque desire to make a legitimate go of it in a society invested in the established hierarchy.

Anyway, check out the show if you want, but definitely check out Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1


I remember in 1995 the Flaming Lips were playing at the Peach Pit in Beverly Hills. At least, I remember when Beverly Hills 90210 featured the band in one of their episodes, and all the kids at Beverly High were stoked. I thought they were pretty good, and I didn't think about them much after that.

I moved to Germany when I was 19 years old in 1999.

When I was 26, a student at UC Berkeley, I hung out a lot in Oakland bars. At some point, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt 1 came on, and everyone was surprised I hadn't heard it. Their most successful album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots had been released in 2002. I'd missed it abroad.

I instantly fell in love with the experimental psychedelic sound and the lyrics that seem to be saying one thing but meaning something entirely different.

My friends at the time were mostly artists and poets, people who maybe often feel like they are alone without anyone looking out for them. Maybe it was just me. Either way, my circle of friends took to singing the song at the tops of our lungs any chance we could. If there was a jukebox, we chose it. If we were closing down the bar, our friends behind it put this song on and sang along.

Here's what Billboard said about the album:

"beneath the sunny, computer-generated atmospherics and the campy veneer of talk about gladiator-style clashes between man and machines with emotions, Yoshimi is actually a somber rumination on love and survival in an unfathomable world."

During the chorus we'd choose someone to point at and sing that they wouldn't let the robots eat us. Every time we shouted "Oh Yoshimi!" we pointed at a new person until everyone was included. The robots are everywhere. They're programmed to destroy artists and writers or people who just care about anything in the indifferent universe. Sometimes, for fleeting moments, maybe you have a few Yoshimis around you who might take their vitamins, learn karate, and keep you safe. When those people are around, sing them a song. If you can't sing, just play them this.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

What's the Best Cheap Wine


The first time I heard the term Sommelier, was at a place called Club 33, a hidden club at Disneyland. His name was Pierre and he suffered me as a buser who asked too many questions. I learned more about drinks there than I would anywhere else.

I'd find out how to make drinks at the bar from a magical bartender named Lee, and I'd make them for my friends at home. But Pierre was more about wine and Cognac of course. He'd let us try a little bit each day to train us on what we were serving. And at the end of the night, if guests had left bottles not quite empty, we'd help ourselves to their leftovers. It was a great way to learn about wine.

Pierre was from some famous steakhouse in Texas, but he didn't have a Texas accent. He had a very posh American accent; he never said "y'all," but sometimes "you all." And I liked him a lot because he seemed to know everything I didn't but wasn't a manager and didn't lord it over me. My managers there were nice enough, but it was only the second time I'd worked in a real restaurant, and since we were all pretty young, they had a lot to do with training us; they had to be really hands-on.

So one day, I went to the supermarket and saw a bottle of Mondavi,and I bought it because I thought wow, this is the house wine at Club 33. This is really good stuff and it's on sale. I brought it home and shared it with my roommates and went on and on about how good this wine was and regaled them with all the things I knew.

They were sufficiently impressed.

I went into work the next day proud of my accomplishment and told Pierre. He looked at me sideways and asked which Mondavi I'd bought, and when I told him, he burst out laughing in my face.

Apparently CK Mondavi was the cheapest, bottom-of-the-line wine I could have bought. I didn't know anything about how much a bottle should cost or anything.

It took a while for the burn of that embarrassment to cool down--YEARS! I had to leave America a year later, travel the world, and come back to America, before I thought it was safe to drink ANYTHING from Mondavi again. But when there were hard times and I was broke as hell, I drank CK and let it remind me of a simpler, less weltschmerzy time.

CK Mondavi is available in a 1.5 L bottle for around $10.00, and it tastes as good as it did before I knew any better.

At the time this story took place, CK (Charles Krug) was owned by Peter Mondavi, who studied oenology at Berkeley. The vineyard was known mostly for mid-range affordable wine, and still is. Up the street about six miles, Robert Mondavi, Peter's brash brother who'd been forced out of the family business due to sibling rivalry, was busy making premium wine and using his family name and penchant for marketing (he and his brother both studied econ and business at Stanford)  to build an empire. In 1997, the brothers weren't talking except in court.

If you didn't know who Robert Mondavi was, he's the guy who really put Napa Valley on the map. He's also the reason why Americans (and now consequently most of the world) refer to wines by their varietal rather than their region names. For example a Beaujolais is a type of wine that refers to a very specific region. You'd have to know what grapes grow in that region to really know what grapes are in your Beaujolais-Villages (mostly Gamay).

Mondavi hated that because he wanted to grow whatever he wanted in Napa. He wanted the consumer to know what a Napa Cab tasted like versus a Cab from anywhere else, but he also wanted to grow Chard and even Sauvignon (Fume) Blanc blah blah blah. This isn't as controversial today as it once was. And many places were too far in to back up and do it like the Americans. Most people don't know what's in a glass of Champagne, for example. And most mortals don't have the faculties to remember every Italian grape varietal.

Anyway, he changed the global landscape and language of wine. And you can buy entry to that rich history for little more than the change in your pocket, and if you want to fly first class, Mondavi's got you covered there too with much pricier options.

Lee's blog »
In 2008, I ran into Lee at the Claremont in Oakland, and he remembered me 10 years later.

Last bit of Mondavi history I think is kind of important to mention:

A lot of people think of Robert Mondavi as a symbol of everything that's wrong with globalization, and they might be right. But I think it's much more interesting than just this current generation. Cesare Mondavi, the family patriarch, was an Italian immigrant who ran a fruit packing business that shipped grapes to the east coast during prohibition for illegal wine-making.

I don't think it's a stretch to say he was a mafioso bootlegger. Cesare was just really, really smart. He didn't run booze; he ran grapes. He put warnings on the grapes that essentially told people how not to make wine so that people could reverse the instructions and make wine at home. He dealt a lot with a company called Beringer in St Helena, CA, shipping "raisin cakes" and sacrament wine. Later he'd buy a vineyard named Charles Krug basically next door to Beringer, and plant the seed of global wine domination.

If they had been Irish instead of Italian, they'd probably have followed fellow-bootlegger Joe Kennedy into politics.

These powerful dynasties are not exclusively American, but the prohibition of alcohol certainly helped. I wonder what families we'll be talking about in 50 years who made their fortunes in the illegal drug trade.

Monday, February 12, 2018

I Have a Podcast Now: Tea Time with Sky Jack

This is my first attempt at a podcast. My plan is to drink tea and talk about things that interest me every week. Maybe it will be funny. Maybe it will be sad. Either way. It's my first one, and I hope you kind of like or at least enough to see if the next one is better.