art

Art That Changed My Life: The Counterfeiters

NOTE: This post was originally published Sep. 11, 2012. I’m reposting it for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Counterfeiters – directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky (2007)

The Counterfeiters
My dad’s Catholic; my mom’s Jewish. So by the rules of Judaism, I’m Jewish. I certainly have the typical family for it, with the sheer size and volume of my mom’s side 1Her father was the youngest of 11 children. drowning out my dad’s small, quiet side. If I called my maternal grandmother, all I had to do was ask her one question and sit back and listen for an hour. If I called my dad’s mother, I needed a ream of material to keep her on the phone for five minutes.

But I never had the belief for Judaism. My sister and I were raised with samples from both religions: a Christmas tree with a star of David on top, Dukes of Hazzard action figures for Hanukkah. Between birth and high school I’d been to temple maybe twice. It took me a few years to realize that the illustrated book of stories that my maternal grandmother gave me, full of cities being destroyed and big dudes getting killed by rocks, were all tales from the Old Testament. I was allowed to make up my own mind about religion, and that combined with a steady dose of ontological science fiction put me on a slow but reasonably steady path toward atheism and a general lack of interest in religion.

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1. Her father was the youngest of 11 children.

Here is Orson Welles’s “The War of the Worlds” and the Reasons Why You Should Listen to It

Orson Welles on the air with the Mercury Theatre

Update, May 7, 2015: Yesterday would’ve been Orson Welles’s 100th birthday. I originally wrote the piece below in 2012 when raising money for the pilot episode of my radio comedy Special Relativity. That show came to fruition last month, starring Alex Borstein, and you can listen to the first episode at SpecialRelativityRadio.com or on iTunes.

As today’s incentive to get you to donate to Special Relativity’s sprint to raise $125 a day for the next 20 18 days, I’m giving you a gift of my favorite radio show ever, which also happens to be one of the most important works of art of the 20th century. (I know that the way these pledge drives usually work is that I give you the gift after you donate, but we’re all family here, and if I had any business acumen I wouldn’t have driven six miles yesterday to save $1 on a box of Fruity Pebbles.)

The show isn’t comedy, but it is science fiction. It’s the Mercury Theatre’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, first broadcast on CBS Radio October 30, 1938, produced/directed by and starring Orson Welles. You can stream or download the entire hour-long broadcast after the jump, though you’re obligated to read through my explanation of why you should think it’s great. 1I should mention that the reason I’ve decided that it’s okay for me to distribute this recording is that the question of who, if anyone, owns the copyright to old broadcasts like this one is very unsettled. That’s partly because at this point nobody really gives a shit. And while the estate of the show’s writer Howard Koch unquestionably holds the rights to the script, those don’t extend to the actual broadcast. Lots of folks with no claim to the material at all make money by selling CDs and MP3s of the broadcast, so I figure I can give it to the world for free.

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1. I should mention that the reason I’ve decided that it’s okay for me to distribute this recording is that the question of who, if anyone, owns the copyright to old broadcasts like this one is very unsettled. That’s partly because at this point nobody really gives a shit. And while the estate of the show’s writer Howard Koch unquestionably holds the rights to the script, those don’t extend to the actual broadcast. Lots of folks with no claim to the material at all make money by selling CDs and MP3s of the broadcast, so I figure I can give it to the world for free.

A Bunch of Good Songs About Being a Good Person

Update, 11/10/2014: I’m reposting this today because, for some reason or another, it continues to be one of the most popular posts on this site three years after I wrote it. More importantly, I’ve modified it to replace the Kirsty MacColl track at #5 with a much more appropriate song that I should’ve included originally. You can also now listen to this playlist without leaving the page.

Mr. Ted LeoJanuary 18, 2012 – Maybe it’s just been my spending a couple of years unemployed, but I’ve noticed a subtle, glacial shift in the assholism of our culture. It feels like sometime not too long ago we crossed an invisible line on this side of which it’s ever so slightly more probable that people will act like assholes than not.

We choose to just be a tiny bit lazier and not return that email. We decide to spend just a little bit more time on our own stuff instead of doing that thing we promised to do for someone else. We quickly jump on Twitter to badmouth other people instead of spending just one moment to stop and think about whether or not we should, let alone an additional moment to judge ourselves. And we all seem to have finally agreed that it’s probably okay to screw someone else over a little bit if it’s not personal, just business.

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Stuff I Like: “Drunk” by Silkworm

Last night I skulked like Gollum out from under the mountain to go hear the only band with the clout to motivate me to attend a show since  the Schwarzenegger administration. That band is Bottomless Pit, whose latest album Shade Perennial I deemed the best of 2013 and who are one of the great true rock bands playing today.

Gearing up for the show I went back and delved into the music of the band from which Bottomless Pit arose, Silkworm. Silkworm were Nineties indie rock greats who, despite being on the now legendary label Matador, never managed to pull together the following of their contemporaries (all of whom will proclaim their love for the band). My favorite album of theirs is 1996’s Firewater. “Drunk,” its second track, is a tirade against an asshole drunk on an album full of songs about asshole drunks, but listening to it this time — and I listen to it pretty regularly, because I love Firewater — I suddenly and vividly remembered the first time I heard it, and I realized that for me it’s one of the most formative songs of my most formative decade.

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It’s National Poetry Month, So I Might as Well Post a Poem

It’s National Poetry Month, so I might as well post a poem. Here’s one I wrote 12 years ago called “Naked Jesus Women.”

“Naked Jesus Women”

Public money, our money, should not be given to a museum so that they can display photographs of naked women portraying Jesus. No!

Instead, naked Jesus women should fall from the sky, on parachutes knitted from our tax dollars, the actual bills. Clasping Metrocards between their thighs, the naked Jesus women should land on roofs and in trees and on the FDR. Their Naired legs should clog the chimneys at Gracie Mansion.

Naked Jesus women should touch down into Madison Square Park and entwine their limbs around the statue of William Seward. Their bodies should fill the shallow swimming lanes of the Asser Levy pool and stain the water with cocoa-butter.

The Jesus women should set up booths on the promenade and write Haiku for a dollar. They should swipe racks of clothing in the garment district and ride them through Chelsea, fragrant and whooping and popping wheelies.

Of course, we don’t get much of that out here in Brooklyn. See, this is a family town.

While you’re here, you might as well read my Taco Bell haiku.

Funny or Die Must Die

Last week I inexplicably fired an unprovoked Twitter attack straight into the massively successful web portal for comedy videos, Funny or Die. It read:

My proclamation smashed down the impact of a monkey ball landing in a Sears parking lot. So I am here today to bolster my tweet, to shout a call to arms to my fellow comedy writers to wield your laptops like the katanas they are and, with a shriek to shatter the irons of thrall, put your computers back down before you break them, then stop visiting or using Funny or Die.

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Batty Señora Goes to Town on Historic Fresco

The fresco, before and after "restoration"

Oh boy do I enjoy this story about an 80-year-old woman in Borja, Spain who loves her church’s 19th century fresco of Christ. Cecilia Giménez loves it so much, in fact, that she couldn’t stand to see it ravaged by time and decided to restore it herself. Except she’s a terrible painter and left Jesus looking like one of the Herculoids if they’d been designed by Paul Klee. Continue Reading →