Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bowie in 2003

I was listening to an NPR interview with Bowie from September 2003, and I decided to would write down some thoughts here.

In an interview with Terry Gross from sometime in 2002, aired on the WHYY Philadelphia radio programme "Fresh Air" on 19 September 2003 (distributed by National Public Radio in the United States), Bowie claims that he has not manufactured any personae since 1975 (except for the characters which he portrays in 1. Outside). When he portrayed Ziggy Stardust in the early 1970s, he did so for only 18 months, though he is known among the general public particularly for that persona. He claims that he gets quite bored of performance: "I don't live for the stage. I don't live for an audience."

This is a particularly curious statement for Bowie to make, but sheds light on much of his later career. How can a celebrity be bored of performance or be unconcerned for an audience? Bowie seems to exist in a tension between these forces: he requires an audience to be a celebrity but has a level of disregard for it. Once the mid-1990s arrives, Bowie shows a disdain for the audience (whether it is genuine or not is difficult to ascertain, though his comments in the interview with Gross might suggest that it is).

This tension, though, is part of what makes Bowie such a compelling figure. Consider the following visual metaphor for Bowie's actions: while using his hands to shield himself from the light of the audience, Bowie makes sure that his fingers are slightly apart so that the audience can see him just a little bit. But I argue that even what they see is then hidden.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

David Bowie in "Ricochet"

"Ricochet" is a 1984 documentary that follows David Bowie on the Asian leg of his "Serious Moonlight" tour, in support of Let's Dance. It is a strange film in many ways, showing what the viewer might expect, but containing also within it a strange thread. The film follows Bowie as he arrives, explores and performs in Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok. Throughout his journey, there are moments when another figure, a man invariably wearing dark glasses (even at night) is shown, and usually in the vicinity of Bowie himself. Each time this figure is shown, often expressionless and somewhat sinister, the image becomes still on the bespectacled face and is transformed to a video still, as if the image is being shown on a tube-style television, along with a harsh clicking sound. These brief interruptions to the narrative of the film add an sense that something will happen to the protagonist of the film; there is some suspense injected into what is otherwise a shallow look at a segment of a tour.

Bowie himself appears, in some sense, to appreciate the people with whom he engages: not long after the start of the film, a reporter asks the singer if he always had a fascination with the East, to which he replies that he has. The film shows this fascination. The singer asks a taxi driver in Singapore about local laws and ways of carrying oneself. Bowie asks an interviewer in Bangkok how people there might manifest rebellion. He wants to know how a resident in Hong Kong is anticipating the handover of the British Colony to the Chinese in 1997 (the resident seems to be somewhat negative regarding the handover, suggesting that professionals who have the means are planning to emigrate, while those in the lower classes are not--this will destroy what she calls the "infrastructure" of the area). But with this concern comes a strange side to the singer as well: immediately after asking the question regarding the handover of Hong Kong, there is a sighting of the sinister figure, and Bowie then asks about an asian pop song from the 1950s, and wonders if the Hong Kong group knows anything about it. They all begin to sing, and Bowie is smiling. Political and economic discussions are over for now.

There is an accompanying narrative in the Hong Kong segment, where a trio of young people, who make up a sort of Bowie cover band, are trying to save up enough money with which to buy tickets to the concert. One of the musicians is having a lot of trouble getting enough money for a ticket, first attempting to sell some of his vinyl records and finally asking his friend's boss for a loan. Interspersed with this story is a moment with Bowie and one of his handlers discussing ticket prices for the concert there, mentioning that they need to balance the price of tickets with a full house of ten thousand attendees at both nights of concerts in the city. They do not lower ticket prices.

In Singapore, Bowie wishes to visit an older part of the city, and a taxi driver brings him to a hotel which appears to be colonial in its architecture and style; Bowie is seemingly not interested in "true" or "traditional" remnants of these areas. It is in the hotel that he encounters another of these sinister figures. In what appears as a humourous staging of a scene, Bowie wishes to enter a rehearsal of traditional Chinese Opera, but his entry is barred, forcing him to attend the performance in the evening, a feat which, for him, is "difficult." In Bangkok, he sees another figure at the airport, who seems to take the car for which Bowie and his entourage were thought to be destined.

The climax of the film seems to come when Bowie enters what appears to be a strip club in Bangkok, in which he encounters the sinister figure again. The singer seems to make the connection that all of these men, with their dark glasses, are versions of himself. Immediately before the live performance, presumably in Bangkok, the video still of the sinister figure is shown again, as Bowie begins to sing his song, "Fame." The lyrics to "Fame" suggest a kind of love/hate relationship to the lifestyle that Bowie is living throughout the documentary film. In the song, the singer asks why one might question his rejection of this fame in the first place, while immediately confirming that "fame," a sort of embodied figure, is in fact unfazed; Bowie cannot "shake," or get rid of, "fame." The sinister figure in the sunglasses is Bowie's fame, now at one with him and unable to be left behind. It follows him unmercifully.

The most interesting notion, in a somewhat uninteresting film, is Bowie's epiphany (if one calls it such) in the club, when he realizes that these fragments of figures that have been following him, are actually himself. This is a crack, a break, in the celebrity that we see throughout the film. He shows a weakness here, a sort of panic in realizing that there is no escape from the fame that has engulfed him. His performance of "Fame" ends with him aggressively shouting the title just before the credits of the film roll on the screen.

"Ricochet" was directed by Gerry Troyna. For more, see Ben Slater's very informative blog entry here.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Edwin Jagger!

This morning I did a terrible thing. I shaved using shaving cream that came out of a canister. Some have suggested that this is a truly terrible thing, as the propellant (the thing that makes the cream come out of the canister) disperses water, and water is a necessary ingredient in wet shaving. Well, nonetheless, I used it today, and everything, dear reader, is okay.

I shaved with an Edwin Jagger De89lbl razor, a very nice, reasonably-priced modern razor (under $40 and available at Amazon). It is solid, comfortable and good-looking razor (for those looking for that sort of thing).

(ignore that fleshy thing in the bottom left of the photo, which might be my hand)

But the bad thing is the shaving cream: I used Barbasol for sensitive skin. Why, you ask? Why would I allow such an abominable product to touch my precious face? Because of the ingredients. While it has all sorts of chemicals in it, it also contains the following: THYMUS VULGARIS (THYME) EXTRACT, CARICA PAPAYA (PAPAYA) FRUIT EXTRACT, SALIX ALBA (WILLOW) BARK EXTRACT, ALOE BARBADENSIS (ALOE). Apparently it also contains all sorts of poison. But that's another matter all together.

Next post, I get back to old-style razors for a week or so (and finally a new blade). Such fun shall be had!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Shaving with a Tech!

Today I decided to shave with the next razor that I acquired; some of the ritual used the same stuff as yesterday, though today was a little thinner on the ritual (no incense, for instance).

I began by using a shaving oil. You put a few drops in your hand and put a bit of water with it, then "massage" it into your beard. It works surprisingly well. The only problem is that one doesn't always know where one has shaved before (if one is not paying attention, which I am wont to do). Plus, I'm not sure if it was that I was using an old Astra blade, the razor below or carelessness (or a bit of all three), but I cut myself this morning. A small cut is nothing that an alum bar can't handle (rest easy, dear reader). I'm not sure I enjoy shaving with oil, but it does seem to work even when the shaver might think it isn't.

This Canadian Gillette Tech three-piece razor is from around 1938 to 1945. It is a solid little razor and cost around $15 at the antique store. It's nice, and goes to show that a DE razor can be obtained quite cheaply. It isn't really my "go-to" razor, though, especially now that I've cut myself with it (it might not be the first time; I generally don't document such things, as they are usually my fault).

Finally, I used the last of my Proraso line, "White" aftershave balm. It is wonderful stuff, with a light smell. It works well to comfort my face after a rather thoughtless shave.

Tomorrow, I will return to a modern razor, before returning (after that) to a slew of antiques. I'm sure you are shivering with anticipation!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Shaving with an Aristocrat Jr.

This morning, I decided to use a pre-shave cream, something which, until very recently, was a regular part of my routine. Those who are new to DE shaving can skip this also, I think, though those who are more expert than I am will probably tell the newcomer that using a pre-shave cream is essential. Even so, I find that the smell of the Proraso "White" pre-shave cream is really nice: I take just a little bit and rub it in to my wet beard.

I'm not sure that this is an essential step, but it does add to the ritual. A small tub can be obtained from a drug store like Shoppers Drug Mart for around $10.

I used a hard soap today, also from the "White" line of Proraso, made especially for those with sensitive skin. It smells nice and works well.

Here is a Gillette Rocket Aristocrat Jr. (also called a #49?), perhaps from 1949 (certain from some time between 1948 and into the 1960’s). I found this razor at an antique store for around $15; it is not an aggressive razor, but it works well. It was my first twist-to-open, or TTO, razor. It's made in England, though I'm not sure of the exact date of manufacture. It can be as old as 1949, but its exact date is difficult to nail down. It's a great razor, though.

This may look like any old Old Spice container, but it isn't. Firstly, it is made of glass (the domestic, "cooler" stuff is housed in plastic containers). No, my dear reader, this bottle is from India and uses the old recipe. That's right, there is a new recipe which smells differently from the old, but the Indians still make the old one in glass bottles. I was able to procure my bottle for less than $10 on ebay. It burns when applied, though. From what I've read, that's not unusual nor harmful. Like any alcohol-based aftershave, it does what it does. I'm not sure that I would have this as a go-to post-shave balm, but I don't want to be wasteful. Plus, it's fun to tell the story.

More next time!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Shaving (again)

I thought that I would return to the subject of shaving, and do a bit more of an inventory of what I have collected over the last year. Please take a look at blog posts from last summer if you are interested to see what I was up to, as I began my trek into what has been called "wet shaving." As a very quick primer, wet shaving is the term used for (primarily) male face shaving, using either a "safety razor" (or DE, that is, double-edged, razor) or straight razor (a jump that I have not yet made). Some suggest that the multi-blade cartridge razors which are very popular in contemporary Western society are very expensive, and provide a more irritating shave. Also, such modern conveniences remove the ritual and pleasure associated with male grooming.

There are a few reasons for the popularity of DE shaving, I think. One is a sense of nostalgia, that by participating in the activity of shaving using a safety or straight razor, one is entering into a sort of community, not only one that transgresses space, but also time. In a way, this mode of shaving allows one to enter a ritual akin to one of religion: these rituals are performed by others in an "imagined community" at the same time, in the present space and in the past. Another reason is the breakdown of traditional modes of masculinity, and the rise of effeminate masculinities (consider "metrosexual," or a term that I recently came across--and I'm unsure of all of its complexities--"retrosexual").

In any case, I approached the activity of wet shaving because I was not satisfied with the prices of multi-blade cartridges. I have now found a bit of a ritual that I enjoy partaking in on most mornings. So, without any further commentary (except for whatever commentary I might inject below), here are the tools that went into this morning's ritual.

I began by using Proraso "green" shaving cream from the tube and applying it to a wet brush that had been sitting in hot water in the cup for a couple of minutes. I then proceeded to make a lather in the cup (which is always fun).

The shaving cream is easily purchased at the drug store (I bought this tube at Shoppers Drug Mart for about $10). The same cream can be purchased at Bath & Body Works, but under a different name (Bigelow, perhaps). It smells really nice, though some have suggested that it is too "cool," that is, menthol-y.

The brush is a boar-bristle brush that my wife bought me for Father's Day in 2013 from Anointment Skin Care, a Canadian company that makes soaps and so forth. The brush is not branded, and the handle is plastic. I know there are better brushes available, but this one has been functional from the start. The little blue thread around the handle is a loop so that I can hang the brush on a small bottle that I have, as I do not yet have a proper brush/razor stand. I used to use a gin bottle, but now I use a (very small) Italian bitter bottle, which is much more rare, though shorter. I'll showcase that later on, perhaps.

The scuttle, as these things are called, is hand-made by Right Off the Bat Pottery in Prince Edward Island. It was part of a kit that included the brush and some home-made shaving soaps. I didn't find that the soaps worked well for me. The Proraso cream is excellent at making it easy to make a lather.

I then used the first DE razor I ever bought, the Merkur Futur adjustable razor, set on 3, with an Astra blade.

I bought the Futur online, with 200, or 4 years worth, of Feather blades. The initial investment, around $160 or so, was a bit steep, and I would suggest anyone considering getting in to DE shaving to NOT spend that much initially. It is not hard at all to get a cheap razor (for well under $10 on ebay, for instance) and go forward that way.

These were the second set of blades that I bought, 100 for about $16 or so online, because I thought the Feathers were too aggressive for me. I'm not sure how I feel now (as I'm more used to using Feathers now), but I don't mind these blades.

After 2 passes with the razor, I was pretty much done. I cleaned my face with hot water using a nice new towel I got through Bespoke Post, applied some Alum, wiped my face again with cold water, and then put on some cheap aftershave.

Really, this is nothing more than a cotton washcloth or hand towel, easily obtainable wherever washcloths or hand towels are sold. There is nothing special about it; it is 100% cotton and made in India.

This Alum bar is used to help heal any nicks or cuts, and lessen any irritation that might have happened. I'm generally not that careful when I shave, so I have returned to using this on my face regularly. These sorts of things can last years; I've dropped mine a few times and it is clear that it has been damaged. I have a brand new one ready to use should this one fail me.

I bought Aqua Velva at the local drug store here in the village where I live. It isn't the smell that I thought it was, but it works and it fades quickly. I'm using it now because I don't have to go into the office regularly, and I don't want to be wasteful. There are so many options available for aftershave (including Proraso, which I like quite a bit).

Finally, I rinsed and/or wiped all of my gear and cleaned up my "work space" using a little towel that I bought at Walt Disney World back in 2001.

I will continue this series which fewer photos (as I use some of this equipment all the time). As I mentioned, I would like this to be a bit of a catalogue of what I've got, rather than simply a rehashing of the exciting events of my daily shave. But I'll also provide a few words of comment throughout. Watch for a different razor in the next post!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Where is he now? A bit on Bowie and a "review" in Time Magazine

Matt McAllester wrote a sort of review of Bowie's The Next Day in the March 13, 2013, issue of Time Magazine, in which he remarks that Bowie mostly disappeared from performing--and in fact appearing in public at all--in 2006, a couple of years after suffering a heart attack on stage. But McAllester makes an interesting observation: "This was a rock star who, perhaps more than any other, had hidden behind bizarre, intimidating invented personas." (52)

This is a strange remark in light of what McAllester has to say next. He suggests that Bowie in the 1990s did not "make up" for the commercial success--and thus the critical and artistic failure--of Bowie in the 1980s. To illustrate the 1980s downfall of Bowie, a graphic accompanies the piece in which Bowie's "Quality of Work" is plotted along with his "Level of Exposure" along a y-axis of chronological time. In the early- to mid-1970s, Bowie's quality of work and level of exposure are both high; the late 1970s (what many commentators call Bowie's "Berlin" period) show a very low level of exposure but a high quality of work, a relationship which becomes completely inverted as the 1980s continue. And with the release of The Next Day, the relationship between the two elements inverts again: low level of exposure but high quality of work.

And, strangely, Bowie's middle period of artistic dread is mapped out quite neatly when one visits the "David Bowie Is" exhibition, as 1983 marks the strong emergence of new fashion for Bowie: he begins wearing the suit, a sort of garish revival of the zoot suit of the 1930s (McAllester calls "a kind of neocolonialist take"). (55)

I find McAllester's reading alright to a point, especially his comment regarding Bowie's personae (though I never thought of Ziggy Stardust as intimidating). I'm just not sure why he would make such a close equation between quality of work and low level of exposure. I agree that Bowie is deliberately keeping his exposure level low, but I'm not sure that this has anything to do with quality of work. My idea is not to judge the work from the 1980s as somehow less artistic, but that work (with its high level of exposure) sets the stage for everything that happens after.

Bowie walks the tightrope of needing exposure as a celebrity, and shunning that exposure at every turn, post-1988. That's my idea, anyway.

- from Matt McAllester, "The Culture: Where is He Now? David Bowie is Back to his Mysterious Best," Time 181:10 (18 March 2013), 52-55.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

"Who Could That Be at This Hour?" by Lemony Snicket

This is a beautiful-looking book. The paper is thick, the typography is compelling and the drawings by Seth seem to fit the tone of the book. Under the dustcover, the hardback is simply but elegant, with a nice, somewhat "retro" silhouette gracing the front, and a wonderful font in rusty orange announcing the title (but only in initials) on the spine.

The problem, though (probably my problem, rather than a problem inherent in the book), is that I couldn't follow the story. It was either because of the style of the writing (that I would enigmatically describe as "stylistic") or the fact that I read the book over a rather long period of time. In any case, I had trouble with the plot and the characters: I couldn't keep them straight. Being that the book is for a younger audience does not make my self-esteem any higher.

All of this being said, I look forward to reading this book again, and I look forward to reading the next instalment. If anything, the book is a pleasure to physically read: the pages are thick, the type is large and well-placed on the page. The book feels good in one's hand and every page turn is a pleasurable experience. I look forward to having that pleasure translate to the narrative on the page.

I find it strange that I couldn't follow what was going on. This is somewhat unusual for someone like me. Obviously, I'll need to try this particular book again. I look forward to it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

New razors!

Thanks to a good friend, I received 5 new razors this week. I received a 1962 Gillette "Slim" adjustable (the same kind that James Bond uses in Goldfinger). I also received a Q3 1956 Red Tip "Super Speed," and a 1955 Flare Tip "Super Speed." Also, there was an English Tech in there (unknown year). Finally, there was a Open Comb Tech that I've decided to keep even though it has quite a bit of damage on the handle and "cap." But I am most fortunate to have doubled my "collection" in one go. I've used most of these razors so far and have enjoyed them very much thus far!

Friday, May 02, 2014

Paradises by Iosi Havilio

Paradises is a sequel to Havilio's book, Open Door. You may recall that I didn't particularly enjoy that earlier book, though it did keep my attention as I was reading it. The sequel came up on Noisetrade (unfortunately, it seems to be no longer available there), and so I thought I would take the opportunity to read it. Like the first book, it is a "page turner": it kept my attention throughout. But I maintain that the reason why I continued to read the book was for some sort of resolution. I was hoping that something would happen. I suppose I should commend Havilio for keeping my attention, because as I read the book, I became more invested in the protagonist and her son. I hoped for her happiness, and knew that the various steps she was going to take would probably not provide for that need.

This book seemed to feature less instances of fantastical imagery: it takes place in an urban environment for the most part. The protagonist now lives with her son in a sort of squatter's apartment block, an apartment which she is able to occupy in return for daily injections for another woman living in the building. This is one constant throughout the book - she gives injections, and the woman complains.

I think I'm happy that I've read this (these) book(s), but I'm not so sure. Funnily enough, I'm not sure I can think of myself as not reading them. In other words, they have, in a strange way, become a part of my thoughts. And I suppose Havilio needs to be commended for that.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products by Leander Kahney

I am an Apple enthusiast, and I look forward to books about the company. I was not that impressed, though, with this particular book on Jony Ive. This book was immensely readable, but I found that I knew most of the information already. While I appreciated the (seemingly brief) presentation of Ive's biographical details—such as his link to evangelical Christianity in his younger days—I was seduced by the promise of a revelatory look into Ive's design studio, where all would be revealed.

Ive seems a kind person in public, and the book suggests that this is a genuine personality trait on his part. But he comes across a bit like Jobs in the Isaacson biography: arrogant and somewhat narcissistic. But I don't doubt Ive's altruistic motives in designing at Apple (though I suspect many might), and I don't doubt his genius. I am a very big fan of Apple design, and it was the Bondi Blue iMac—and an early version of OSX—that really captured me way back in 1998 or so. I suppose I wanted to read a book about the design language that Ive developed at Apple. Instead, I got a dissatisfying glimpse behind the scenes of one of my most compelling worlds.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Generation A by Douglas Coupland

What can I say about this book? I have always been a big fan of Douglas Coupland's work, but I fear that I might have grown out of it. That seems strange to say: I've written a paper on Coupland, used his work in classes and presentations, I've heard him speak and met him a number if times. I own pretty much all of his writing; most of my Coupland books are signed by him. At one point, I had a binder of all of the Coupland writing I could find, be it online or in magazines. I say all of this to say that I was not very impressed with Generation A.

The book explores some compelling, albeit fictional, ideas regarding semiotics and the decoding of written communication, as well as physiological effects of narrative creation and the development of new forms of, say, cognitive life. But I do feel that Coupland repeats himself, and I almost feel personally slighted by him. Does he care about his readers? I cannot speak for him as a person (when I have met him, he has always seemed to be a generous and kind fellow, spending extra moments to speak to me at our last meeting in Winnipeg), but I feel he doesn't.

Or maybe Coupland is no longer appealing to me: he is part of my past, and feeds that more melancholy (for the sake of melancholy) me of years ago. In any case, I didn't feel satisfied by this book, and it doesn't make me want to read his newest novel, though I will.

I feel bad about this. Douglas Coupland is one of these defining authors for me. I can't bear to say he was.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Open Door by Iosi Havilio

I've just finished reading Open Door. I'm not sure why I started reading it, though I suspect the description of the book caught my eye. I like to think of myself as a bit of a Romantic, and irrational (in a good way), but I'm not sure that this book was worth my time. I should say, though, that I kept reading it, which points to something; the book was able to hold my attention, doing what few books seem to be able to do. There is a scene that seems to stick with me, though: the protagonist goes to the local library in order to find historical information regarding the local insane asylum. She spies, then, the librarian crying in the bathroom with cuts on her ears. The scene ends with no explanation, nor is any given throughout the book.

I'm all for powerful and fantastical images, but I would have liked a bit more context to moments like this. The book carried me on, and encouraged me to turn the page, but perhaps it was only my desire for resolution of the enigmas presented therein. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

In any case, if anyone is interested in reading the book, it is freely available in electronic format from Noisetrade.