Saturday, April 27, 2013

Friday, April 26, 2013

If Mars Needs Wimmin...

Left to right: Marianne, Anna Marit, Turid and Solveig: my beloved Katzenjammers

… then Katzenjammer has the Healing Prescription. These bright, dynamic ladies from Norway (who play something like 27 instruments between them) have the Gift and the Power to Make People Happy — and with their complex, sparkling music and their high-energy performances they have been raising spirits in Europe since 2005. I would be a Horrible Person if I did not try to spread their goodness as far and as wide as I possibly can.

Not to be confused with a band named Katzenjammer Klub, this Fab Four got together while attending Music School — the curriculum bored them and they wanted to do more interesting things. On principle I love people who find the mass education system tedious because they’re too clever and talented for it, and I can well imagine these gals giving the instructors a run for their money! There are lots of "eccentric" bands out there, some of them quite excellent, but none of them bring this level of musicianship and plain JOY to their work. In many ways they remind me of a certain other Fab Four from Liverpool, not because their music is similar (it isn't) but because they are unique, they have Magic in their bones and blood, they were made for this, and they arrive at just the right time in history.

I first “discovered” them while scouring the internet for something else. It was an accident of the happiest kind. I no longer remember what I was actually searching for that day; the revelation of Katzenjammer has burned it out of my head. 

They don’t just play songs. They create a world that surrounds them and encompasses all who listen to them and get the message. Imagine stepping into an intimate Max Fleisher cartoon or a Circus that’s brash, majestic, wistful, romantic and vibrant all at the same time. That’s Katzenjammer. Pressing the "play" button on their music is just like pressing a "Happy" button. If you don’t like them, you and I can’t be friends. 

They share lead vocal duties in the same way that they share instruments. At some point during the act, every one of them does duty on the drums and the keyboards; Marianne and Turid take turns at a gigantic cat-faced balalaika; when Solveig isn’t playing trumpet she plays guitar just as well; Anne Marit is often seen playing harmonica, ukelele and xylophone all at the same time. In the vocal department, all four of them are marvelous and bring different qualities to the table. Anne Marit is the serious one, Turid is the one with attitude, Marianne is all woman but can laugh and sing with the enthusiasms and expression of a child; Solveig sings like a long Scandinavian night. Wistful is something they all do, more or less. If you listen to them with an open heart, their harmonies will make your spine tingle. 

With two studio albums and a live album (the latter of which is scarce and pricey here in the States; you’re best off watching the many videos that have been posted of and by them on YouTube), these girls are ready to take the world by storm. Their first album, Le Pop, is a great place to start, but I can practically guarantee that you won’t want to stop there. Their second album, A Kiss Before You Go, is still available only as an import (this is just a sin) — so you’ll want to go the way of the MP3 download, just $7.99 for 45 minutes of Bliss — how can you go wrong? I hope they’re working on a third! I can’t get enough of them.

A couple of the Kazenjammers are doing work outside the group, especially Marianne, who works solo under the name Dandylion and whose EP Images Under Construction - Part Three is both excellent and different from her work with the group. Anything these girls do, separately or together, is worth listening to, but I really hope against hope that they can hold it together in the way that lots of groups can’t. They are strong individuals, but they are strongest together. It would be a tragedy if these girls broke up before they achieved the Total World Domination that they deserve.

But don't take my word for it. Watch and learn:

I hope they come to the states soon! Hands down, they are the best musical "discovery" I've made in literally decades, and I don't say that to put down any of the other talents out there whose work I admire. Thank you, Katzenjammer gals! Keep on!

— Freder

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Will the Real Audrey Tautou Please Stand Up

I gave myself the night off and watched a movie. This hasn’t happened in a while; I used to watch a new film at least once a week, but I’ve been so focussed on Making Books lately that this has gone by the board. Meanwhile, the DVDs pile up — because I am compulsive and can’t resist the things when they throw themselves in my path. I have a backlog of Jimmy Stewart and Cagney and Bette Davis and others that amounts to the best sort of problem a movie fan could possibly hope for. My credit card is beginning not to like me very much, but I get around that problem by not thinking about it. Ignoring things is my preferred method for making them Go Away. Once in a while it works. It seems that I inherited more from my mother than just a creative spirit and a houseful of her artifacts. 

So — for last night, the plotting and planning of my next move was put aside, and I settled in to the French countryside for Coco Before Chanel. Audrey Tautou stars as the woman who needed to be exactly what she was to accomplish all that she did in an age when women were emphatically not entrepreneurs. It’s a grand, deeply felt performance that would certainly be Oscar-worthy if Hollywood wasn’t so busy dismissing Tautou as just another pretty face.

I confess that Tautou is the only reason I focussed on this movie in the first place; I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’ve got a crush on her or anything like that — but who in their right mind would take their eyes off of a face as naturally and deeply expressive as hers? In case anyone wrote Audrey Tautou off as being just a bit of Silly Putty in the sly, precisely controlling hands of Jean-Pierre Juenet, here is proof that she is one of an elite breed of actor: the kind who can physically alter their appearance from part to part, chameleon-like, so that while the logical part of your brain registers that this is, must be, the same woman who played Amelie Poulain and Mathilde Donnay in A Very Long Engagement, your eyes and heart tell you otherwise.

For Coco Chanel, Tautou seems to have dropped a significant amount of weight and broken out in hair and eyebrows. All the softness is gone from her face and nearly all of it is gone from her eyes. Tautou’s Coco Chanel is an ironclad icebreaker cutting through waters so frozen up that no other woman of her age would even attempt to navigate them. She sails almost blindly at first, not knowing her destination but assured that she has one, somewhere; she only needs to find it and then shovel the coal onto the fire like mad.

The film doesn’t gloss over Coco Chanel’s mercenary nature, but it does suggest that she came by it honestly, almost superhumanly focussed on her own self-determination and willing to do Whatever It Takes to meet her destiny. It creates a world so sensual that sex is just another thing, like eating, drinking and singing. I don’t know if other people react the same way to this sort of a movie as I do, but when I’m confronted with a movie this epicurean I come away with my senses so heightened that every little movement, every sound, every breath becomes magnified and intense, demanding near-silence for hours afterward. You begin to perceive the world around you with eyes and ears that seem freshly wakened from a deep sleep filled with vivid dreams. 

That’s what Coco Before Chanel is like: living inside a dreamy painting that’s propelled by a being who is half shark and half butterfly.

I wish I could let it go at that, but the MPAA, in their infinite wisdom, has given this film a PG-13 rating and I can’t understand why. It deserves a PG at most. True, it does have sexuality as a specific theme; but that sexuality is presented frankly as a vital and natural aspect of adult life. There’s no nudity, no foul language, no violence, and y’know… anyone Not Old Enough to be thinking about these things is likely to be bored to death by this movie. I’ve seen things in PG and even G-rated movies, and also lately on Broadcast TV, that made my teeth curl, things that 13-and-under types are deemed ready to see, and yet this sensible movie about the role that sex plays in adult life is for some reason ruled off-limits. Once again, the MPAA demonstrates its idiotic mindset that wild extremes of violence are perfectly OK for kids to see, but, oh, whisper about sex and forget it — we can’t pollute Junior’s mind with the anarchistic notion that sex might be a perfectly natural thing with uses that go beyond procreation.

I can’t believe that America is the Land of Idiots. But too many of the people who have their hands on the reins are dunderheads of the highest order. How does that happen?

— Freder

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tinsel*Town: Origins

To celebrate the publication of volume 1 of my graphic novel Tinsel*Town in paperback, I'm presenting the four-page concept strip that I originally drew for the story 'way back in the '80s. These four pages are the first pieces I created, before I ever knew that it would become a webcomic, but they have been newly recolored. The book is available right now from this site, from in both print and Kindle versions, from Barnes & Noble and all other online retailers, and wherever fine books are sold -- be sure to support your local indie retailer! Retailers can order from Ingram, B&T or CreateSpace Direct.

I've been bouncing off the walls about this for a couple of days now. It's a real labor of love, Volume 2 will be out later this summer, as will Quirk and a couple of other projects that we have in the pipeline. The book retails for $15.99, and is in full color! It will have its own special page here on the site soon.


-- Freder

Tinsel*Town, Eddie Fox and all related characters tm & (c) 2013 Duck Soup Productions, all rights reserved.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Casualty of Spring Delayed

Okay. I admit it. I’m getting a little discouraged. It’s not that this winter has been so bad — it hasn’t. But it won’t GO AWAY. 

It’s not getting above 33 degrees out there this morning. Most demoralizing when you consider that temps were finally climbing into the low fifties just last week, and the nights didn’t get below forty. I threw open the porch and even some windows. 

When you get a taste of something, it’s just cruel and unusual punishment to have it taken away.

I haven’t seen any sign of my daffodils yet, and that’s got me worried. I tell myself that they can’t all be dead. But what’s keeping them?

The worst thing of all is that my outdoors cat, Tiger Whitestockings, who has stayed with me through thick and thin ever since the move, seems to have gone. She was last seen with her boyfriend, a big stupid cat-about-town (She likes them Big and Stupid. Typical woman), and she had been gone for several days before that, so I still hold out some hope that I’ll see her again. At the very least, I hang onto the hope that she’s still alive, but has maybe just found herself a better gig, somewhere with her boyfriend that’s at least warmer than the shelter she had here (I don’t see how the food could be any better — I sometimes gave that cat Fancy Feast fer crine out loud). 

I’ve seen it happen with other outdoor cats in other winters… they survive through the most terrible cold, the deepest snows, they come through winter like a champion. Then a whiff of spring comes and something happens; you never see them again. 

It will save me some money, not having to put fresh food out two times a day… but I miss her. For a wild outside girl, she was a great cat. We kept an eye on each other. She was the last of the three outside cats who outlived my mother. Big Stupid Yellow Cat Junior was the first to go, he disappeared late that first summer, before I ever moved. Tiger Grumpyface and Tiger Whitestockings actually transplanted well to the new house that winter. But Tiger Grumpyface disappeared in the late summer of that year, after an awful catfight in the night. 

Now, Tiger Whitestockings is gone. No more outside cats. That’s another sad milepost in a long string of them. I haven’t lived at a place with no outside cats to care for since I was about thirteen years old. 

A long-time-ago ex-girlfriend (who may actually be reading this fershlugginer blog now) used to complain that I expressed myself almost entirely in quotes. As it turns out, it’s an Asperger’s Thing, and I’m going to do it again now. I invoked Uncle Billy Faulkner yesterday here on the blog, and the quote that comes to mind now is from his The Sound and The Fury, my all-time favorite novel.

“ ‘Whyn’t you quit dat, Mammy?’ Frony said. ‘Wid all dese people lookin. We be passin white folks soon.’ ‘I’ve seed de first em de last,’ Dilsey said. ‘Never you mind me.’ ”

I used that one in my high school yearbook, well over thirty-five years ago. Folks didn’t understand what it meant. “Never you mind.” I did, and it’s only gotten more meaningful, and more depressing, with the passage of time.

— Freder.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Words about Word

Word Processor.  What an ugly, sterile name for a writing implement! That’s what you get when those damned right-brainy, businessy types of people are given all the power to decide the names of things. Why not call them “Writing Engines” or “Thought Transmogrifiers” or “Dream Aspirators” or something cool like that? Even the Latin Verbum Processus would be better. Let’s make it a rule right here that only creative people get to make up the names of things from now on. That change alone would make the world a much more interesting place. Instead of going to the movies, we could go to Cinematograph Exhibitions. Instead of Frozen Food we could enjoy a Cryogenically Preserved Repast.  

Whatever you want to call the things, I very nearly dropped twenty dollars on yet another Writing Tool yesterday afternoon, and although the twenty dollars would not have broken the bank, it was money that could buy more pleasing things (a few weeks back I scored fourteen-plus hours of Baroque music for a measly ninety-nine cents. I’m just sayin’). The new software had one feature in particular that I thought would be terrifically useable when it comes to writing this blog: unlike old-school Document Construction Machines, Ulysses III works with what they call a “single library.” More on that later. Fortunately, I caught myself before hitting the “Buy” button, and eventually the coin dropped in my head: I don’t need it. Boom! Twenty bucks saved, and all I have to do is rethink how I use the tools I already own.

Here’s the thing: Microsoft Word used to be the only writing tool that anyone could ever need. But in their drive to be the best, to constantly update, modify, add on and elaborate Word with new and different (generally annoying) features — or to simply mess about, rename and re-arrange the features that it already has —  the only thing Microsoft has succeeded in doing is to turn Word into a bloated, completely unusable dinosaur. An expensive bloated unusable dinosaur. 

I actively hate Word now. In its desire to be all things to all people it has become the opposite of an enabler. It’s an impeder. When you’re actually fighting with your tools, you aren’t getting any work done. This is what was happening to me. 

Just as the smallest example, let’s discuss Minion Pro. This is a font that I never installed into my system and never would install. Next to Helvetica, it’s the ugliest font devised by man. It pisses me off. And yet, in Word, I can’t get rid of the bloody thing. I have tried modifying the templates. I have tried removing it from my system. You can’t do it. It’s there to stay, there to haunt you forever with its ugliness. Minion Pro is worse than a damn vampire because you can’t even drive a stake through its heart! And so, every time I create a new Word document, the first thing that I have to do is put my thoughts on hold and change the whole layout of the document to something I can use. By the time I get a chance to write I’ve forgotten what it was I wanted to write about.

And that’s just one thing. Multiply it by a thousand; that’s how irritating Word has become.

I get down on my knees and thank his holiness Uncle Billy Faulkner for the day that I finally trusted my instincts and, for a measly $40 (Word is more like $200), bought Scrivener. It has been a blessing in so many ways. It was designed not by a computer geek but by an actual Writer. It’s not only more useable than Word, it’s actually helpful. My only problem is that I wasn’t using it enough. 

For a while now I’ve settled on writing all my fiction in Scrivener and all of my blog posts in Apple’s Pages. This worked well, up to a point. Pages is a good basic Prose Generator that is very easy to pick up and use, with no muss or fuss. Mainly, it allowed me to cut and paste each post into the blog template without having to do a lot of reformatting. Would Word do that simple thing? Are you kidding me?

The one and only thing that I liked about the new Word was its fullscreen or “focus” mode (and even that got changed in a recent update, making it impossible, at first, to find). It’s an elegant way to write that blots out the rest of the concerns that are most likely cluttering your computer desktop. 

I would have missed that — except that guess what? Scrivener does it too, and does it better. 

Scrivener was a hard sell. It looked too New-Agey for me. It looked a bit like… how should I put this? It looked a bit like one of those things that you sell to people who want to be writers. Like Dramatica (a piece of snake-oil software if I ever saw one). Instead, it really does turn out to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, and something that opens out, creating more possibilities the more I use it. I can no longer even imagine writing a novel in Word. I’ll never go back. It would be like using a popcorn popper to make ice cream.

But when it came to writing the blog, I had it in my head that Scrivener was overkill. Blogging is down and dirty writing; these “Swiss Army Knife” apps offer bloggers a lot of overkill. Or so I thought. That was why I forced myself to use Pages. 

But — I tend to have several posts going on at a time, and I like to keep them in one place, which in a conventional word processor means keeping them all in one document. What I end up with as a result is a single long page scrolling endlessly with however many topics stacked one on top of each other. Not only is this inconvenient, but I forget about the posts that find their way to the bottom, where they gather dust and mold and start to smell. Some perfectly good and valid posts become crud just by going past their “expiration date.” That’s right — my blog file is a lot like some people’s refrigerators. 

Ulysses III, which I almost bought yesterday, has its roots in mobile app development, and offers a different level of organization called a single library which keeps all your documents separate but equal in one location. Like email. “a brand-new writers’ environment,” as they call it. No more scattering of individual texts around your hard drive. “A single library that holds every piece of content… letters, notes, blog posts or a series of best-selling novels – it’s all there, just a click away.” Genius. 

Except that I came to my senses and realized that I could “just use Scrivener to write your blog posts, dummy!” It was my “DUH” moment for the day. It took maybe ten minutes to copy my blog file into Scrivener, break it down and arrange it into a cohesive library. My individual posts, although contained in a single “clickable” file, are kept apart from one another and appear in a “table of contents” at the left of the screen. Genius! Finished posts can be retained in a separate file-within-the-file for later reference. Fantastic!

Plus, Scrivener formats for me and auto-magically transforms all my double-dashes into em-dashes — like that. Magic! With Scrivener there’s no need ever to hit the “Save” button. The application does the saving for me. The probability of losing my work — near 100 percent in other apps — is nonexistent in Scrivener. Try getting that from Microsoft Word! Lawd have mercy! It’s a freakin’ miracle!

It’s the old, old David and Goliath song. Microsoft has turned into IBM — too big and too established for its own good. Adobe, are you listening? You’re next. Photoshop is starting to get the crap kicked out of it by an array of smaller, cheaper apps. Unless the software giants of today change their mindset and start making their products useful instead of adding on a widget here and a doohickey there until the whole thing collapses under its own weight, they are doomed to extinction.

Now if you'll excuse me, it’s off to fire up my Dream Aspirator of choice to work on my next novel… 

— Freder

Keep a Little Song Handy: TINSEL*TOWN #2 is here!

At long, long last (or so it seems to me, anyhow), delayed only by the publication of print editions for Persephone’s Torch and Méliès' Notebook, Tinsel*Town #2 is now available in its PDF edition, exclusively from this site. See the BOOKSTORE page for details.

The enhanced iBooks version (which is really danged cool; this is the way comics will be read in the future, mark my words) should be ready to go by the end of the weekend — it will be available at the same price both here and worldwide at Apple's iTunes. Watch this space for the update. 

But that’s not the BIG news. The BIG news will have to wait until next week. The BIG news is really exciting. I can hardly restrain my typing fingers from blabbing the whole secret. But — it’s not a completely done deal yet, and I don’t want to jinx it by making the announcement now. My fingers are still crossed on this one. 

Thanks to everyone for visiting me here on the blog. I appreciate each and every hit. You’re what’s keeping me going! Well, you, and my Quats. 


— Freder
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