Friday, September 30, 2011


"Stare. It’s the way to educate your eyes. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long."
--Walker Evans

We Are Stardust

I first heard the phrase in Joni Mitchell's song Woodstock: "We are stardust. We are golden. We are billion-year-old carbon." I next came across it while reading Carl Sagan's 'Cosmos.' But as with any other profound idea, it took years to sink in. Hearing it again at a recent lecture, I realized I could hear it every day for the rest of my life and still be amazed.

Think about it. In their hot, dense cores, stars are fusing light elements into the heavy ones crucial for life, such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and iron. The tiny bits of unused mass left over from these thermonuclear reactions become starlight via the most famous formula in physics, Einstein's E = mc².

We've known this for only a half century. In 1957 Alastair Cameron, in a terse 22-page paper, and Margaret and Geoffrey Burbidge, William Fowler, and Fred Hoyle, in a not-so-terse 103-pager commonly referred to as B²FH, solved the mystery of the origin of the elements. They showed that except for hydrogen, most helium, and traces of other light elements born in the mother of all creation events, the Big Bang, everything else has been cooked up in stars.

It gets better. While low-mass dwarf stars like the Sun keep most products of their reactions locked up inside like old misers, high-mass supergiant stars spread the wealth like philanthropists in self-obliterating explosions known as supernovae. Some of Earth's rarest elements (such as gold and uranium) are so scarce because they're forged only in the spectacular deaths of rare massive stars.

On average, I heard in the same lecture, each atom in our bodies has been processed through five generations of stars. So we're not just stardust—we're stardust five times over, billions of years in the making!

I don't think the profundity of this statement is universally appreciated among nonastronomers. To raise awareness of our stellar beginnings, I propose a multifaceted campaign. In addition to impressing the public with pretty pictures of distant galaxies, strange tales of bottomless-pit black holes, and the mind-bending notion that the cosmos is 13.7 billion years old, we should constantly remind people that we are, in fact, stardust.

Shorter than a haiku, it could easily be slipped into daily conversation, such as when meeting strangers:
"Hi, my name is John."
"Pleased to meet you. Did you know we're made of stardust?" (Pause for look of astonishment.)

Professors could use it to soften the delivery of bad grades: "You got a C-minus on the exam, but you're still stardust."

Waiters and waitresses could use it to tout the evening's menu: "Tonight's special is pineapple-chicken curry served over basmati rice and made from the finest stardust—like you (wink)".

Instead of advertising radio stations or used cars, airplanes could haul banners over stadiums that read, "We are stardust - Go Red Sox."

To help spread the word, weather reporters could predict: "Tomorrow's forecast calls for sunny skies with a 20% chance of precipitating stardust in the form of rain." Newspapers could trumpet their origins, together with their environmental awareness, by declaring on the front page, "Printed on 100% recycled stardust (just like you)."

Pop-ups could appear on the Internet that read, "We are stardust." After two seconds they'd explode into thousands of pixels that, sometime later, would reform into new pop-ups with the same uplifting message.

Why go to all this trouble? Because knowing this curious fact can give us pride in our origins: it's like we're descended from royalty—only better. Our stellar legacy connects us to the universe and to each other. Like the song says, we are golden—we are stardust. All of us.

--by Daniel Hudon

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Just watched...

..."Hereafter" directed by Clint Eastwood.

There have been lots of films made over the last 100 years that suppose what any kind of “life-after-death” would look like. And I am sure the intent behind this Clint Eastwood-directed version was in earnest but it relies too heavily on clichés and the result is fairly lackluster.

Oddly, the sum of this film is less than its parts. And that takes a special kind of inertia and obfuscation to accomplish. The plot feels like it wants to be a grand pattern, weaving three separate stories together into some kind of cohesive whole at the end… except they don’t cohere.

Matt Damon plays a psychic who can communicate with the dead, Cecile de France plays a French television journalist who has a nasty near death experience in a tsunami while on vacation on a tropical island, and Frankie McLaren is a twelve year old boy in London who loses his twin brother in a car accident. The film starts out well—the action begins immediately with horrific scenes of a tsunami sweeping away Cecile de France. But the film falters from there. Matt Damon is a very talented actor, but even he can’t save the dreadfully clichéd “burdened psychic” line, “This is no gift, this is a curse!” And poor Matt Damon, he has to say it not once, but twice! In fact, everyone is talented, but they are fighting against the weight of drowsy direction, hackneyed writing, and an unoriginal plot. For an actor, even a skilled one, there is not much that can be done to combat that.

The film meanders around: Damon tries to date a woman, but alas his “curse” gets in the way (I'm not sure how or why since, despite his real psychic talent, he ends up sounding like all the fake psychics anyhow), Cecile de France writes a book about her near-death experience, and little Frankie wanders around London consulting mediums to try to talk to his dead brother. I know the ending is supposed to be a kind of connection for all of them, but it felt very anti-climactic.

I don’t want to give the impression that this film is somehow off-putting or distasteful. It has a good heart… but a good heart is not enough to make a quality, memorable, or unique film.

Recommend? Sorry, not really…

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Just finished reading...

...GHOST STORY by Jim Butcher.

This is the thirteenth installment in Jim Butcher’s “Harry Dresden” series and surprisingly, the characters seem as fresh and interesting as the early books. This is thanks to Butcher’s willingness to make huge, sweeping changes to the narrative of the series—anything can and will happen, and no character is above being killed off, including our narrator and hero, Harry Dresden himself!

At the end of—and I mean the very last page of—the last Dresden novel, CHANGES, Harry was shot in the back by an unknown—to him as well as us—assailant. Butcher insisted that the book was not a cliffhanger. Harry got shot and died. Well, here we are picking up with Harry in the “hereafter”—which actually looks a lot like his home town of Chicago. Harry is a ghost, or in the parlance of the supernatural world in which Dresden lives, a “shade.” His spirit is sent back to the real Chicago to find out who killed him, and to right that imbalance. Easier said than done when he can’t touch or influence anything and no one can see or hear him. His first visit is to Morty, a medium Harry knew when he was alive. He always assumed that Morty was a borderline fake, but lo and behold, Morty can see and hear Harry just fine!

Harry eventually finds his other group of friends (comprised of loyal and returning characters including Karrin, and his apprentice Molly) and discovers that instead of being gone for an hour or so, he has been “dead” for six months. And he sees firsthand the emotional, psychic, and physical toll his death has had on his friends.

Of course Harry is a detective, and no detective story can ever be straight-forward, especially when the supernatural is concerned. Perhaps there is more to this “right-an-imbalance” than meets the eye. Perhaps Harry can only see the tip of an iceberg. Perhaps Harry must find out the truth about his death, his fate, and the lives of his friends.

I won’t give you any spoilers, so you can have the pleasure of discovering the story for yourself, but I will say however, that the book has a satisfying ending, and yes, there will be plenty of “Dresden File” books in the future… featuring Harry himself.

Recommend? Yup. But just like anything in a series, you must read the others first. None of the “Dresden Files” books are stand-alone affairs. The series is a continuing unfolding of events and you need to be up to speed. It makes no sense to come in without any prior knowledge.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

New Kate On The Way!

I am absolutely ecstatic over the news that Kate Bush will be releasing a new album, her first all-new material since "Aerial" was released in 2005 (I wrote extensively about "Aerial" here) . The album entitled "50 Words For Snow" is coming out on November 21, 2011 and I can't wait to hear it.

On Kate's website, this double album (one song clocks in at over thirteen minutes long!) is described as featuring "seven brand new tracks set against a background of falling snow." It appears by that bit of information, along with the cover art and the track listing:
that Kate has made another concept album, something she does extremely well. "The Ninth Wave" from "Hounds of Love" is one of the most holy and sublime pieces of secular music ever written and the second half of "Aerial" is luminous, filled with sky and birdsong. And now we have a meditation on winter and snow, released just in time for winter and snow. I am counting the days until November 21st!

Kate Bush is magic. Kate Bush taught me how to fly.

I was just explaining to a friend why, every time I post anything about Kate Bush, I have to add the above phrase... I have had many flying dreams over the years in which I know that I am flying because Kate Bush gave me lessons or pointers on how to fly. And now take a look at the amazing, soaring video for "The Big Sky" from her "Hounds of Love" release. It is about the sky as metaphor (for freedom), and in the video we see all the things that the sky can host: sun, rain, moon, birds, stars, chimneys, paper airplanes, airmen, pilots, aviators, jets, Superman, flags, lightning, astronauts and yes, snow. The song is SO HUGE--anthemic and epic--that I just cry with joy and a bittersweet sense whenever I hear it... the song can be literally overwhelming to me... the way it builds, the unbridled rapture, the wildness of it, and the uninhibited wildness of her screaming at the end. It is truly like a Maslowian peak experience for me; I literally get dizzy...

And that is why, whenever I write about Kate here, I always say "Kate Bush is magic. Kate Bush taught me how to fly."

New M83 On The Way!

I am also quite thrilled about the new M83 (Anthony Gonzalez) album entitled "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming," which will be released next month, October 18th, 2011.

From M83's website:

"Produced by Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck, NIN, The Mars Volta, Goldfrapp) and including contributions from Brad Laner (from 90’s band Medicine) on guitar, Saturdays=Youth vocalist Morgan Kibby, and guest vocalist Zola Jesus, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is a double-album journey that takes us to the horizon and introduces us to new landscapes. About awakening, craving, and conquering, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming pushes into new vocal territory for M83. Here we see Gonzalez test out different ways of singing, ranging from a spectral breathy whisper to a howling scream. “I think it is a reflection of my 30 years of being a human being. It’s a compilation of all my previous music together. It’s a retrospective of myself”, says Gonzalez."

"Hurry Up, We're Dreaming," released on Mute Records, will be a double album as evidenced by the track listing below:

Disc 1
Midnight City
Where The Boats Go
Raconte moi une histoire
A Train To Pluton
Claudia Lewis
This Bright Flash
When Will You Come Home?
Soon, My Friend

Disc 2
My Tears Are Becoming A Sea
New Map
OK Pal
Another Wave From You
Year One, One UFO
Steve McQueen
Echoes Of Mine
Klaus I love You

I adore the cosmic, highly emotional music of M83 and this seems like it will be epic. The title is so evocative, playing into my extreme interest in dreams/ dreaming/ dream states, and in keeping with the mystical, nostalgic texture M83 generates.

The first single "Midnight City" will be released September 26th on a collection of remixes. Here is the original...

I love the Trentemøller remix of "Midnight City" posted on the M83 site. Listen to it below...

Currently listening to...

...and watching the lovely "Marriage" by Gold Panda. The percolating electronics feel nearly symphonic... and the sweet video is simple but meaningful.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Happy Autumnal Equinox 2011!

Today is the official start of autumn, when our planet begins to tilt the other direction, tipping the northern hemisphere away from the sun. The days grow shorter, night grows longer, as we move indoors, and into ourselves for hibernation and introspection. Autumn is a time of harvest as the earth moves into hibernation as well. It is a beautiful time, a spiritual transition, a doorway between summer and winter.

Music From A Dry Cleaner

All sound is music.

And watch all his fascinating vids on Vimeo (especially "The Burning Piano!"):

BEAUTY: Installation--Joe Baldwin

Joe Baldwin, founder of Chicago’s Mobile Garden Project, participated in this year’s Art On Track festival last week, September 17, 2011. Several of Chicago’s “el cars” served as temporary art galleries hosting installations of varied designs by different artists, and Baldwin turned his designated car into a charming jungle which circled Chicago’s elevated downtown loop for five hours.

Here are some images of Art On Track from past years:

Happy Birthday, "Wings of Desire"

On September 23rd, 1987, Wim Wenders released an extraordinary film called "Wings of Desire," about the city of Berlin and the angels who watch over its human inhabitants. (The original German title is “Der Himmel Über Berlin” or “The Skies Over Berlin.”) Partly inspired by the angels in Rainer Maria Rilke's DUINO ELEGIES, Wenders wrote the film along with poet Peter Handke, who is responsible for some of the most gorgeous prose ever to grace the cinema.

These angels, visible only to children or other angels, can hear the thoughts of humans in close proximity but cannot touch or control them. Far from being a "religious" film, these immortal angels who are clad in drab trench coats live in a world that is seen in black and white, without emotion or sensation, while the human world of love and hate, and the taste of food and the feeling of warmth or cold is seen in vivid color. (The glorious cinematography is by the legendary Henri Alekan, Cocteau’s cinematographer for “La Belle et la Bête.” He was 77 when Wenders convinced him to work on the film.) It is no accident that the film takes place in Berlin, which at the time was a divided city, one half free and the other half enslaved. The wall did not fall until two years after the release of this film.

The duty of the angels is to record and chronicle the human experience: in little spiral ring pocket notebooks they jot down behavioral oddities, inner thoughts, and peculiar things people have said and done. After millions of years (we discover that the angels have been here even before humans), it is natural that some angels might long to feel what humans feel. And indeed, we witness an angel fall in love and wrestle with his desire to renounce his divinity and become mortal in order to be with the one he loves in a fragile, finite existence.

When I first saw this film in 1987, I was literally awestruck and truly emotionally devastated by its scope of humanity and the clear presence of the "animus mundi" in the story. For the first nearly ten or fifteen minutes, we follow a pair of angels as they listen in on the voice of humanity itself, going from person to person, hearing thoughts of love, pettiness, despair, hope, regret, and forgiveness from men, women, young and old. I wept openly through that stunning and powerful opening sequence, overwhelmed by the force of so much existence, so much life, so much sorrow and so much joy (listening in, through an angel, to the thoughts of a dying motorcyclist who has just been in an auto accident is heart-rending). And by extension, not just now, but in the past and the time humanity has left.

In this way, the entire film is transcendent—we are given a glimpse into and a sense of the collective human experience. "Wings of Desire" is magical, emotional, mystical, and profoundly moving. It is not part of our daily lives to feel this much, to be this open, to take in this much at once, to be this aware of the real, sentient, valued lives of all living beings-- to see the one as well as the many simultaneously--and for this reason, I think everyone should see this film. It is a supremely enchanting and enriching experience which will stay with you forever.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, "Oh By The Way"

Two years ago, I had a dream in which I started a blog called “Oh, By The Way.” When I woke up that morning, I went to the computer and promptly started a blog called “Oh, By The Way.” Seriously--it was the first thing I did that morning, and yes, I often act out in waking life things I have dreamt. The idea was to post things that I would normally tell or email my friends: “Oh, by the way, do you know of this artist/designer/model/singer/actor… or, have you seen this video/ heard this song/ seen this movie/ read this book/ seen this picture/ visited this place?”

I am dedicated to posting the positive (I post things I like, not things I don’t), the fascinating, the beautiful, the interesting, the moving, and the inspiring and uplifting. Sometimes I post cultural as well as personal observations, milestones, and remembrances. And just like life, these things often have a bit of melancholy or even sadness in them, which is what makes our time here so lovely and bittersweet and precious.

Anyhow, Happy Birthday “Oh, By The Way.” You are two years old and you consist of seven hundred and eighty-nine posts, not counting these wishes.

And followers and regular readers: thank you so much! I hope you find this blog positive, fascinating, beautiful, interesting, moving, inspiring and uplifting. Welcome to the birthday party. Help yourself to a virtual slice of rose or violet cake (I adore flower-flavored food!), a glass of milk, and enjoy the band!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Currently listening to...

...the dark, menacing "Just Fascination" by Cabaret Voltaire--live! From 1983...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In Memoriam: Jamey Rodemeyer

Sadly, anti-gay bullies have claimed yet another young man for their very long and ever-growing list of victims: on September 19, 2011, Jamey Rodemeyer, 14, killed himself because of bullying. The heartbreaking Buffalo News article about Jamey, his torment, and his suicide is here.

For Jamey, it is too late. To those still alive, I address the following:

"Dear gay teen contemplating suicide:

You are not wrong. You are not “bad.” You are not sick, defective, or evil.
You are perfect and beautiful just the way you are.
You have done nothing wrong and you have done nothing to deserve being humiliated, punished, or hurt, either physically or emotionally.
Bullying and discrimination are never ever innocent: the bullies are the ones who are wrong, bad, and sick for hurting you.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you are any less of a human being than they are. Don’t let them tell you it is a choice or that being gay is about behavior; you are who you are. Embrace yourself and be proud of being alive.

You have value. You have as much right to be here on this planet as anyone else.
It may seem like the world is against you, but there are people for you out there, there are places for you out there. You will be happy, you will get to live YOUR life the way YOU want to, without having to pay any attention to the bullies or whatever “bible” nonsense some people might throw at you… you are not "impure," "immoral," "unnatural," or "against nature." Those are just ridiculous lies they tell to hide their hatred, fear and prejudice.

You will survive and thrive! You get to live here. That is your RIGHT.
You might turn out to be an important author, a famous designer, someone who invents a new type of metal, an inspiring performer… or you might end up working with kids who need to hear that they have value and are perfect the way they are.
Please stick around.
We need you.


To help, please visit:
The Trevor Project
Dan Savage's "It Gets Better Project"
Please spread the word about this issue and these sites--you never know who might need to hear about them.


Memo from The Pentagon:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Unique Bookstores

Above: The entrance and an interior view of Shakespeare and Co. in Paris, France, just steps from Notre Dame. On my very first trip to Europe in 1986, I visited the legendary Shakespeare and Co. bookstore intending to buy a book. Having just spent a week in London with a friend, I suddenly found myself on my own in Paris so when I came across a very old hardback copy of Dickens' A TALE OF TWO CITIES, it seemed to be the perfect purchase from the bookstore, and the perfect souvenir of my trip. When I approached the front to buy, I was excited to see that the equally legendary George Whitman, owner and grand-nephew of poet Walt Whitman, was manning the counter. He was annoyed that someone--presumably not him--had taken it upon themselves to mark the book down from 35 francs to 30 francs. For a moment, I worried that he thought I had done it myself in an effort to cheat him out of five francs, but he stamped my book with the "Shakespeare and Company Kilometer Zero Paris" stamp anyhow (seen below), took my money and I was on my way. (The stamp refers to the fact that the store is located at the "Kilometre Zero" spot, a spot which is considered to be the center of Paris and the center of the country really, the starting point from which all distances in France are measured.)

Below: George Whitman

Above: Two views of The Selexyz Bookstore in Maastricht, Holland which is in an old Dominican church. The coffee shop (in the second image, seen from above) located on the altar features a little visual pun: a communal dining table in the shape of a cross!

Above: The entrance to the Lello Bookstore in Porto, Portugal. One would think it is also a converted church, but it was designed and built in 1906 to be a bookstore. Designed in a Neo-Gothic style, it features a beautiful, double floating staircase seen in the following three images below.

Below: The El Ateneo Bookstore in Buenos Aires used to be a theater, in case you couldn't tell...

Sam and Jeannie

It All Comes Down To You

"Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music - the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself. "
--Henry Miller

“If you're really listening, if you're awake to the poignant beauty of the world, your heart breaks regularly. In fact, your heart is made to break; its purpose is to burst open again and again so that it can hold evermore wonders.”
--Andrew Harvey

“In oneself lies the whole world and if you know how to look and learn, the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself.”

I Had That Dream Again

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Masterpieces of Pop: "Dance This Mess Around"

As we have discovered in past installments of “Masterpieces of Pop,” there was a revolution going on in music in the late 70s and early 80s. The new genres of Punk and “New Wave” (a term invented to describe musical acts that defied being pigeon-holed into a specific niche) were confusing, scaring, inspiring, and provoking young and old alike.

One of the more fun and odd groups to break out of this scene were The B-52s, from Athens, GA. There was a burgeoning alternative music scene in Athens at that time that also gave birth to the band R.E.M.

Formed in 1976, Cindy Wilson and her brother Ricky joined with Kate Pierson, Keith Strickland, and Fred Schneider. They shared a love of surf music, lounge lizard kitsch, and general late 50s/ early 60s pop culture. They named themselves after a popular early 1960s beehive hair style whose bouffant shape resembles the nose cone of a B-52 Stratofortress bomber. And of course this hair style has been sported at various times by Wilson and Pierson.

The B-52s released their eponymously titled debut album in 1979. With its bright yellow cover, period catchpenny font, and tongue-in-cheek “High Fidelity” logo in the upper left hand corner (in imitation of “Hi-Fi” vinyl records from the late 50s/ early 60s) the record was a stunning and fresh homage to the twangy lo-fi guitars of surf music, teen dance culture, go-go boots, teased hair, the Space Age, Flaming Volcano cocktails, and cheap B-movies of that period (this pop culture milieu was simultaneously being explored on film by John Waters). Their dedication to the period even led them to record an impromptu-sounding version of a classic from the era, Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” which closes the record.

The entire album seems to be chock full of memorable moments yet clocks in at a shockingly short thirty-nine minutes. “Rock Lobster” was the breakout hit, but that was the easy choice for frat parties. “Planet Claire” with its sci-fi B-movie take on the “Peter Gunn” theme, or “52 Girls” with its phenomenal pairing of Kate and Cindy’s vocal harmonies both come close to being the standout songs from the collection, but it is “Dance This Mess Around” that captures the essence of what The B-52s were all about. Playing like some demented episode of the television show “Shin Dig,” the song is an angst-ridden rant about rejection and popularity. Cindy Wilson wonders why a certain someone will not dance with her, prompting her to cry out that she is “not no Limburger.” Her astonishing vocals, breaking and shrieking, make her sound as if she might lose it any moment, while she and Fred Schneider roll call obscure dances that one assumes the “popular kids” who are in-the-know do at the “popular dance parties” of the time. Among the tooting and bipping Farfisa organ, the ominous bass, and the deranged-asylum-sound of the toy piano, there are references to “Stop! In the Name of Love” by The Supremes and “The Hippy Hippy Shake” by Chan Romero. But the innocence of the source music is wonderfully tinged with the ferocity and viciousness of punk. It was a groundbreaking and startling combination. Like so much music happening at that time, the B-52s were vital, immediate, and intriguingly off-kilter.

“Remember when you held my hand
Say, remember when you were my man
Walk, talk in the name of love
Before you break my heart
Dance on over, yeah,
Roll it over in your mind
Why don't you dance with me
I'm not no Limburger
Just a Limburger

Dance this mess around
Dance this mess around, 'round, 'round

Everybody goes to parties
They dance this mess around
They do all 16 dances
They do the Shu-ga-loo
Do the Shy Tuna
Do the Camel Walk
Do the Hip-o-crit

Ah-Hippy Hippy forward Hippy Hippy
Hippy Hippy Hippy Shake

Oh-it's time to do 'em right
Hey, said doesn't that make you feel a lot better, huh?
I said, doesn't that make you feel a lot better?

What you say?
I'm just askin'
Come on!

Everybody goes to parties
They dance this mess around
They do all 16 dances
Do the Coo-ca-choo
Do the Aqua-velva
Do the Dirty Dog
Do the Escalator

Ah-Hippy Hippy forward Hippy Hippy
Hippy Hippy Hippy Shake

It's time to do 'em right
Hey! So Fred, doesn't that make you feel a lot better?
Said, doesn't that make you feel a lot better?

What you say?
I'm just askin'

Yeah, yeah, yeah...
Dance on over
Yeah, yeah

Dance this mess around

Shake, shake-a-bake shake
Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
Dance this mess around
Yeah, yeah, yeah........”

This is the eighth installment of my original, ongoing "Masterpieces of Pop" series. You can read the other essays here:

Masterpieces of Pop: "Ode To Billie Joe"
Masterpieces of Pop: "Rikki Don't Lose That Number"
Masterpieces of Pop: "I Only Have Eyes For You"
Masterpieces of Pop: "I'm Not In Love"
Masterpieces of Pop: "Warm Leatherette" and "Cars"
Masterpieces of Pop: “Family Affair”
Masterpieces of Pop: "Dreams"