Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Have You Seen Birdman?

Don't know who Roland Barthes is? Don't know what a Chekhov play is? Ever hear of a tracking shot? Can't recognize a Shakespeare quote when you hear it screamed in a New York street? Well, fuck you; that's what Birdman says.

Also, fuck you if you like super hero movies or anything close to the mindless joys of summer.

Despite all that, Birdman is a sweet movie about an aging man who still dreams big and wants the women he loves to be proud of him while he regrets his transgressions against them. The characters feel real with their flaws and motivations, acted wonderfully by a great supporting cast.

It's like an English department got together and wrote an exquisite corpse of a film that turned out beautiful but can't help but howl against the mainstream... needlessly.

I loved this movie and will watch it again. But I do think the film's rallying cry against the industry that created it, posing theater against movies and high-brow against low-brow is a little loud and almost drowns out the soul of this great piece which should be a classic and just might be.

If you don't know who Roland Barthes is, by the way, good for you. French philosophy is great and all, but what good is it for you? Never heard of a Chekhov? That's cool. He's just a Russian guy who wrote a bit. Shakespeare? Shmakespeare. What's the point of knowing anything about Shakespeare?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Will Iggy Destroy Hip Hop and All Art as We Know it?!

Iggy Azalea has been getting some stress from the likes of Q-Tip et al. There seems to be a weird idea floating out there that art is precious and fragile because it is a tool for social commentary and change. Well frankly, nothing can be further from the truth. The powerful thing about art as a game-changer is that it is resilient and poses as nothing more than entertainment. Art is an innocuous little novelty floating around our culture like an unmolested asp in Egyptian sands.

I understand why people like Q-Tip want to guard the genre as their own. White appropriation is as annoying as it is inevitable. And to want to keep something out of the hands of the hegemony is natural if you've been one of the most influential people in the genre for all of your adult life. And if you really love the art, you might want to study the history of that art. You might start to think that history is important in understanding the art. You might think understanding the art is important. But it isn't.

I wish I were less a student of art and more a passive bystander who said things like, "this is cool because it is." I'd love not to think critically about the things I love. Art does not ask you to think critically. Art does not require anything of you but to use your senses. It doesn't want to mean anything. It doesn't want to say anything. It certainly doesn't want to influence the way you feel about this or that issue. It is an artifact. The artist might have had delusions of art as a transcendent language that speaks to the soul. But the artist is dead. Art does not belong to the artist. It belongs to the audience.

That isn't to say that art doesn't sometimes do unexpected, interesting, revolutionary things. In fact, it is precisely because it is so useless every other time that it is so powerful a weapon in rare situations. But you can't expect everyone to desperately want to wield its fickle power. Sometimes its power is just to make people twerk. Not every artist requires a place in history or monuments to their contribution.

And if you think Iggy Azalea is the harbinger of the end of hip hop, if you think she's that influential, what a fragile thing hip hop must be. And if it's that fragile, it was never as powerful as you thought it was. We might see a time when hip hop needs a preservation society and grants to stay alive like that number our progenitors did on jazz. That's a quick way toward irrelevance. But I always thought it was too brazen, raw, and honest to fall.

Hip hop to me was a venting for the violent fantasies of those who felt held down. A white teenager can relate somehow to the frustrations of a black adult male who wants to say "fuck the man, I'm doing shit my own way." It was only a matter of time until people like me grew up on hip hop and started teaching their white kids it was a great art form. There was a whole episode of Friends about this. And when other cultures got  hold of it, what did you think was going to happen? Iggy is Australian, but you should take a look at German hip hop if you really want to rant about white appropriation. A white, english-speaking foreigner is now enjoying a world where hip hop and girls with big butts are acceptable and popular. Maybe she'll grow as an artist. Maybe she'll just shake her ass against Jennifer Lopez until we all tire of it.

But art. Art is nothing. It's a specter. You can't put it in a bottle and hope for it to thrive. You can't study it from every angle and claim more ownership. You can't protect it. It's playground sand. Build with it, throw it, eat it, cast it into the sky until the grains are stuck in the roots of your hair.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Have You Seen Top Five?

Let's face it: most comedies suck. I mean, they might make us laugh, but most of them appeal to our basest tastes, filled with dick jokes and gross-out humor. There's a little of that in Top Five, but at least it has a heart, and it's charming as can be.

Remember Adam Sandler's Funny People? It's kind of like that except it's also a romantic comedy. And it feels realer in a lot of ways. Alcoholism plays a major role in the film, and it's a fair depiction of the fight against addiction, I'd say. There's some weird butt jokes that seem weirdly sex-negative and even homophobic, but it plays because the characters have all sorts of hang ups. The characters are good depictions of the contradictory efforts of Americans. "I don't care what Michelle Obama says; fry or die." Chris Rock's Andre Alan wants to be famous but only for the right things. He wants to be brave, but he's afraid to do almost anything he's already loved for. Rosario Dawson falls for duplicitous men but is a duplicitous man (it's a spoiler if I say more). Rock is surrounded by friends who want to save him but also say he's only funny when he's drunk. I'm a giant fan of contradictions within people and our culture. This film explores that.

There's even a scene where Rock pays to jump rope with kids in the street but is too afraid to jump in. Rosario ends up jumping in for him, launching her character dangerously close to MPDG territory, but she never ends up quite so manic or quite so pixie to go all in and lose the verisimilitude.

The title refers to an in-joke that owes its roots undeniably to High Fidelity (the book--let's forget the movie, shall we?). It's an answer to the question "what are your top five hip-hop musical acts?" Even Jerry Seinfeld gets his answer in with a credits cut scene.

When Adam Sandler, Whoopie Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld, and Chris Rock are all at a strip club chatting about marriage, I just wanted a whole movie of that. In fact, I wish Robin Williams and Billy Crystal were with them. There's also a part on a subway or bus where Rock is talking about his favorite comics, saying he wished he hung out Bill Murray and could talk about him like they were friends. Seriously, there are gems all over this flick that make it rewatchable and just a down-right charmer, scenes that leave you wanting more. That's hard for a writer to do, and Chris Rock does it with casual grace.

Comedy doesn't come like this enough. This film points boldly at what the genre could offer. And I'd even go so far as to say that it shows us what a multi-cultural cast could do for our culture. This isn't a black movie or a white movie. This is an American movie, and I love it for that. In Jerry Lewis's book, he says he always wanted what Chaplin had: Pathos. He wanted to be able to tug at your heart with comedy, maybe even make you cry. Who would think Chris Rock would have it?

And if that's not enough, DMX has a cameo that is as funny as anything you'll see this year. Brilliant stuff.

If you haven't seen it, please do so in the cinema. Your dollar is your vote for more of this.


This is the second beautiful comeback I've noticed this year. Maybe there are more. Let me know if you can think of one in the comments. I'm thinking of John Wick here. Is Sandler going to come out with something decent out of nowhere? Are we finally in a decade with good movies again? Are the studios finally as desperate as they were in the 70's and are beginning to allow our auteurs a little freedom? Let's hope so!


My top five:

  • Tupac Shakur
  • Beastie Boys
  • The Fugees
  • Busta Rhymes
  • Ice Cube

The Whiskey Down

The Whiskey Down is one of my favorite places at the MGM Grand. Before I worked there, I enjoyed having a drink at this lounge, and I adored the atmosphere, which is borderline steam-punk meets speakeasy.

Late at night, I help manage the Whiskey Down. The bartenders at night are super sassy/nice. The cocktail waitresses are funny. The atmosphere is awesome. The lighting is mercifully dim.

There are Black Jack tables in there. There are overstuffed couches and low tables. It's the kind of place that invites you to stay for a spell. It's right in the middle of one of the largest casino floors in America, but it feels intimate and private. Edison bulbs help the old-world quaintness, and there's a delightfully curated collection of old bottles and photos on the walls.

There's also whiskey.

If you're in Vegas, come visit. You'll like it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Big Sleep (1946) - Like Marcel Proust

This has always been one of my favorite scenes in a movie. I want my life to be this. Is it too much to want a Lauren Bacall? Also, I do not care how you say Marcel Proust--neither does Marcel Proust--but I say it the way she does because there's nothing sexier than a woman who knows who Marcel Proust is and compares you to him.

And do you know who wrote this screenplay? William Fucking Faulkner. There were co-writers, but who cares about them? I mean, William Faulkner!

I read the book in college. I chose the coolest Junior seminar: Post-war Detective Fiction. I took that class so seriously that when the professor cut books for time (this was actually not post-war), I still read and wrote about them. I even went to a tiny video rental spot on College Ave in Berkeley and asked them to create a noir section. I watched every single film they had, and there were far too many to be reasonable about it.

And if you're interested, there's this gem which was recorded in post, after they were married and the war had ended:

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pixies and Pump Up the Volume

When I was a kid, a movie came out called Pump Up the Volume. It was the best movie Christian Slater made, and it really spoke to me. I loved it so much, I had to have the soundtrack on this new thing called a CD. My mom must have bought it for me.

That CD came in one of those really huge cardboard boxes they were wrapped in in the beginning. And I put that CD into my little boombox in my room and maybe my whole life changed at that point.

I was already very much into music. I loved the Beastie Boys and Run D MC, and Guns n' Roses was definitely a mainstay in my ears. But I had never heard of Concrete Blonde, Leonard Cohen, the Pixies, or Cowboy Junkies. My life would be shit if I never heard of them, and I have this movie to thank.

My musical taste is broad. I often wonder how it got that way. It seems that I have one of those minds that isn't satisfied with the mere consumption of anything. I have to know everything's origin. I want to compare what's out now to what came before. I want to hear what's next because I'm so familiar with the tools and inspirations that will have brought the artists of the future to those brand-new things.

People who are older than I am are amazed I know their generation's music. I've read books about music to make that happen. I've checked CD's and records out of libraries. I've burned lamps to their ends in deep conversations with people who intensely love this or that genre or artist. I'm a vulture of culture and I'm voracious. I'm weird and intense like that.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Personal Update


What's with your name?
I changed my name when I started travelling seriously and living in other countries. When I came back to the states, I brought a person with me who called me Jack, so everyone else called me Jack, too. Some of my oldest friends and family call me Skyler or Sky. Most of them live in the western United States. Then some people started calling me SkyJack. I like that. But you can call me Sky, Jack, Skyler, SkyJack, or Captain. Those are all the things people still call me, and I'm OK with that. How did I think I was going to have this unique, distinctive, adventurous life without a few different names sticking?

Where do you live now?
I've moved to Las Vegas. It's in the name of my blog now to help people know.

Is your wife with you?
I don't have one of those anymore.

What? What happened?
It turns out I only fall for people who don't have consciences.

Why Vegas?
I've always wanted to move to Las Vegas. I love it here. I grew up coming here at least once or twice a year. My father worked here, my grandmother lived and died here, and I have a cousin and an Aunt here. Plus, work. It might be the only place on earth with opportunities to incorporate my entire skill set. 

Where are you working now?
I'm a Beverage Manager at MGM Grand. It's a dream job for me at this point in my career. I moved my relocation schedule up because they showed interest, and then I was in a holding pattern for a bit, while seasonal managers were moved around and whatnot. Now I'm training and excited about every second of it. There's a lot to take in.

Do you miss Virginia?
I miss some people in Virginia, and I kind of wished I'd seen the leaves change one last time. VA was pretty good to me, when it's all said and done. I did some amazing things professionally, and I saw some stuff I don't think most Americans get to. I lived in Virginia almost exactly the same amount of time I lived in Germany, and I still feel like a German in a lot of ways. Surely, I'll always have a little southern boy in me now, too.

Why didn't you move back to California, either to SF Bay or to live near your mother in SoCal?
I think I might have gotten all the personal development I can out of those places. And moving back to anywhere is symbolically unfortunate. I did consider Los Angeles, but Las Vegas has always been on my target list of places to live. I really want to live in a place where all my friends will visit me from all over the world. Who doesn't visit Vegas at least once? And if they were on the fence about it, now they have a reason to come. I'll always love California, but I don't know if I ever want to live there again.

What about the restaurant?

When is your new book coming out?
I'm almost halfway done with it. It's the most ambitious project I've ever undertaken in poetry, and it's the most difficult thing I've ever written. Some time in the middle of next year I hope.

Are you going to make any more videos?
I don't think so. I was turned off by the lack of response. Maybe I'll try again, but there's too much going on right now to edit videos. If I had someone to edit them for me, I'd do it.

Isn't Vegas crazy all the time?
Well, it can be. But on my morning runs, inside Las Vegas, I run down a street that often has chickens in the middle of it and there are horses and cows, too. I saw someone walking a miniature pony like a dog. Oh, and burros. And I live next to a fairly big casino. So it's a city of contradictions. I love contradictions. Come visit me and find out.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Aces & Ales

I heard Aces & Ales was one of the best craft beer bars in Las Vegas, so I went, and it's true.

It's got fire pits and great tables, it's really dark inside, and there are video poker games on the bar. They play good music, and the service is fantastic. Tons of TVs. Plus, free wifi so I could use Untappd to log all the beers I drank. Actually had to get a DD on this adventure because I planned on doing some serious drinking. It pays to have a cool friend who's Mormon (Thanks for driving, L).

The thing I liked most about this place was the staff. Two ladies were working the bar, and they were excellently friendly. I ordered the first couple beers on my own, but then I asked if there was something on the list I just had to try. She then revealed herself to be a wonderful guide and in possession of Cicerone-level beer knowledge. I love it when someone is really into what they do. You'd think that'd be an easy thing in beer, but a lot of times craft beer people can be snobby and aloof. Not at Aces & Ales; she was excited to share and happy to serve. When I got my bill I had to double check the prices because I thought it was light. But their pricing structure is very simple and cheaper than I expected, which is always nice.

Overall, a very pleasant experience. I can't wait to go back.

This was at the Tenaya location (there are two).

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Dry Manhattan

I love a Dry Manhattan, especially this time of year. A long time ago, I read somewhere it was Frank Sinatra's favorite drink, and Jack Daniels was his favorite whiskey (he was buried with a bottle of it). So, I decided to give it a try, fell in love, and now I always drink it with Jack. And I drink it in a rocks glass because it seems like that's how Frankie would take it, too.

How I make a Dry Manhattan at home:

  1. If I have a jigger, I fill it up heavy and let a bit more slosh over into the glass. If I don't have a jigger, I just pour heavy, maybe I count to two.
  2. I put a dollop of dry vermouth in it (about the same amount I put in my Martinis)
  3. I splash Angostura aromatic bitters in.
  4. I drop in a grip of ice.

I take it with no fruit because I hate the Maraschino cherries most bars use in America. If it's the real-deal ones that really swank bars sometimes have, I'll go for it, but I hate the candy ones. I usually don't have cherries on-hand at home either.
Sometimes I use a shaker, but it isn't really necessary. The ice drop seems to work fine, and I swirl it around a bit.

This is the only thing I drink with Jack Daniels. I don't have anything against Jack Daniels, but that cardboardy background kind of brings together the bitters and vermouth and lingers a little so that you want to take another slug. Sinatra must have said that at some point.

The Manhattan is the sonnet of the cocktail world. The best bartenders stick to the confines of the form but nonetheless express great creativity with it, like the boundaries 14 lines represent.

There are a ton of variations, including one with Fernet-Branca, one of my favorite things on the planet. But my Dry Manhattan is inspired by Frank Sinatra, and there's nothing fancy about it, and I love it.

Anyway, it's kind of my go-to winter drink, and I'm drinking one right now.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Velveteen Rabbit on First Friday.

I'd been wanting to check out the Velveteen Rabbit for a bit.

On First Fridays Art Walk in Las Vegas, there are hot air balloon rides, probably a hundred or so booths, and at least as many food trucks. The arts district here is a fantastic place that couldn't help but remind me of all the Fridays I spent wandering Oakland for Art Murmur. There was a disproportionate amount of street art, spray paint stuff, but other than that, it was great. There were artists doing live paintings, fire workers doing their thing, and more live music than you know what to do with. Also, there were a few art cars on display that I'm sure are cast offs from past Burning Man festivals. First Fridays was great. I wish there were some poetry someplace. . . if there was, I didn't see it.

Bar stands were there, too. You could even text a number and a tequila rep would appear and buy you a drink. And there were mobile ATMs everywhere, too. All and all, just a wonderfully organized event.

There are even free shuttles from Fremont Street. So I went to the container park, got on a double-decker bus, and arrived right at the entrance of the walk. When I was done wandering, I came back to where the bus had dropped me off, and I found out it'd be a few minutes before the next shuttle arrived, and what did I see as I spun around looking for a way to fill my time?! The Velveteen Rabbit! I'd been meaning to get in there, and now was the perfect time!

The blue neon sign is a great clue as to what goes on in there. It's the arts district's mixology bar, replete with elegant DIY lighting, jiggers aplenty, a thick, unpolished bar, and knowledgeable barkeeps that keep things interesting. Super friendly and patient service is what I observed.

I started with one of their seasonal cocktails, asking the bartender what his favorite was. When he suggested one with peach schnapps and mescal, I was slightly apprehensive, but the smokiness balanced by the mellow sweetness was a welcome delight. Then I had a Hank-panky. When you order a drink with Fernet-Branca, "the bartender's handshake," it lets your new friend know you're not just some fuck who doesn't know what he's doing. It was perfect. Then I said one of my favorite things to say: Bartender's choice.

Remember the Maine
He made me a Remember the Maine. I had never had one before, and that's what I love about doing things this way. A new adventure in beverage! In fact, READ THIS ABOUT REMEMBER THE MAINE! It was one of this bartender's favorite classic cocktails, and we got into a pretty awesome conversation about what is great about life in the booze world.

My publisher texted me I should order a Sidecar because he was drinking one in Virginia. So I did, and it was transcendent. One of the bartenders said he went through a long spell when all he drank was Sidecars. I don't often go for them, but I was glad I did that night.

They also have a great beer selection. The tap markers are mannequin hands. A guy next to me was having a hard time trying to decide what to have, and I convinced him to get the Brown from Tenaya Creek. I told him not to sample it, but just get a pint and that if he didn't like it, I'd buy him a round. He loved it. Then he showed me naked pictures of girls he met on Tinder. Girls on Tinder don't send me naked pictures. It cracked me up because what else are you supposed to do in this crazy world where in the span of ten minutes you can have a history lesson taught by a cocktail made in 1933 about a ship exploding in 1898 and then have a guy show you nude photos of a faceless woman on a space age phone after discussing the merit of supporting your local brewery in a city that defies all probability every day?