Oscar the Green

27 02 2007

By Jill Ettinger

Life is like a movie. The longer I live, the more I feel this to be true. Perhaps it’s because I watch more and more movies as time goes on, or perhaps my own story just continues to unfold with suspenseful, dramatic and comedic plots. Whichever way it happened – life imitating art or art imitating life – we are all inseparable from our personal movies. The nascent overlap reshapes the diaspora of our human culture, snapping us into a diverse collective of progressive artists and dreamers. Art itself is a fractal formation of inspired exploration, the very expression of our layers and limits as we continue to reach and move past them. As we go deeper into our possibilities, we touch others, and where we meet, projects and collaborations are born that indeed change the world. Though the polished entertainment industry imparts a craft of glamour and glitz, all of our output, in one way or another, is art. Everything we’ve conceived and designed in order to move civilization forward sparks from a creative seed. From the new kitchen sink all the way to banks that finance it.

One of the greatest modern examples of incorporating art (natural and man-made) with utility is architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water. Wright’s use of the organic landscape, not only as structure but also design, was revolutionary. A strong nod to working with our environment (rather than against it), boulders serve as walls, trees as centerpieces and the view opens to the remarkable world we have inherited. Falling Water is an astonishing achievement to behold. It’s majesty and simplicity makes it all too apparent to visitors just over 75 years since its construction that everything, like John Muir suggested, is connected to everything else.

A big night on Sunday for Hollywood’s finest as the 79th Academy Awards took place. One of the greatest directors of all time, Martin Scorsese, won his first Oscar (if it weren’t for the inspiration of his outstanding 1997 flick Kundun, I’d probably not be writing this), proving that time tested theory that slow and steady wins the race. Like Scorsese’s prolific career, the Academy recognized another deserving artist: you. For the first time, this year the Oscars went green. What that means for this and the many generations ahead is that we need to collaborate on more than just output. What we take in is just as critical. The air we breathe, foods we eat and water we drink are inhospitable in some regions. Jerry Seinfeld poked fun at the movie theater food we know is not good for us to eat just moments after the announcement about the “greening” of the gala. Hopefully some CEO in the theater business will make the connection. Maybe soon enough we’ll go to see a film in a theater that serves organic, healthy food, using recycled papers while cooling the building with solar power.

Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, took the award for best documentary, and as Melissa Etheridge accepted an Oscar for her song contribution to the film stated, “We can be the generation that woke up and did something.” Considering that most of the millions of viewers have probably no idea what “going green” or the environmental crisis meant before the show aired, I’d say it looks like we are well on are way. Do we really have a choice?


Paying the Price of Dancing

24 02 2007

By Derek Beres

I remember the first time I even heard of a cabaret license, in the mid-’90s while at a club on Bleecker that my friend was performing at. I had just started making the commute from Rutgers to Manhattan for music shows, introduced to NYC nightlife in some rather incredible ways: Tool and Nirvana, two separate nights. This was a much more low-key event, and as my friend’s band was taking stage I looked over the bar and saw a sign that said “No Dancing.” I thought that was odd, but given it was a rock show, I let it slide. I did, however, ask someone what it meant, and then found out that in order to dance in New York you needed a license.

I’ll admit I’m not the best at discerning the validity of law. To me, a true law is instinctual: you inherently know whether something is right or not by an inner feeling, not what someone somewhere tells you has to be the case. This is not to say instincts are always the best avenue, but when it comes to something as primitive and tribal as dancing – an act as instinctual as the ability to create language through sound or put food into our mouths – this seems a no-brainer. Or so I thought.

Many years ago as an entertainment writer in Princeton, I remember a law being passed in town that banned hackey sacks from public areas. When I heard about it I had the same sinking feeling in my gut as the cabaret law. My editor at the time put it into perspective. He said “Some councilman’s wife was probably walking on Nassau St and some kids were hacking and it flew from the circle and hit her. So she made sure it was outlawed." I laughed when he said that, but part of me cried. To think a three-inch ball made of cloth and beads could cause a serious social disruption, even in a pristine village like Princeton, irked me.

Reading this NY Post article yesterday irked me as well.  A recent lawsuit and request to overturn city statute regarding the need for a license (an expensive one at that) to allow clubs to allow dancers was ruled out. This line sums it: "Recreational dancing is not a form of expression protected by the federal or state constitutions," the state Appellate Division ruled. The funny thing is, I didn't know dancers need protection by any governing body. In fact, I would think dancing is the antithesis to such stringency, which may well be the reason for the law in the first place.

This is another example of a law that had no place in our culture in the first place, and yet it persists. If a plant grows with or without our intervention, we can imprison people for harvesting it. Yet if that same person is ill with a serious disease and is a law-abiding citizen that pays taxes, our government will allow pharmaceutical companies to charge absurd amounts of money for their drug. They suddenly take a hands-off policy, when the reality is that that form of business serves their interests. Letting people move their bodies in rhythm to the music around them, apparently, does not serve them.  Which only once again shows why these forces are out of touch with the rhythms of their culture and the world around them, and how their stubborness reveals a rigidity that no longer serves our interests.

And Then There Was One

23 02 2007

By Jill Ettinger

In Charles Fishman’s The Wal-Mart Effect, one thing proves itself to be incredibly obvious. America loves competition. The inquisitive children we start out as, playing with siblings and friends, turns into cut-throat rivalry. Blood boils with the anticipation of finding victory by crushing our enemies. We fight to the death in every exploration, no matter if it is love, sports, success or religion. In the name of the American dream, we even perpetuate devastating wars on other countries, to boost our economic gain while innocent people die.

It’s no secret that Wal-Mart has devastating effects on its local community and the larger world market. Their hefty buying power drives down prices by forcing suppliers into the impossible mathematics they demand. Uncomfortable situations and ambitious profit margins have moved factories overseas and diminished quality, not by the work of the laborers, but by the continued need to shave off penny after penny. It seems as much as Americans love a good fight, they also like to get cheap tickets to the viewing.

Our economy has turned itself into an uncreative coliseum contest of “me too” marketing intent on forcing competitors into bankruptcy and unpleasant mergers. TV shows mimic each other, as do musicians, politicians, and of course, our holy suppliers of the most sacred: things.  It’s interesting to watch items like the Googlezon video as imagery of our Orwellian future is happening now, though most of us hardly even notice.

When Wednesday’s news came of Whole Foods buying out its largest competitor, Wild Oats , while shocking it really wasn’t a surprise. They’ve consumed smaller chains, and the stores seemed eager to surrender.  I find it incredibly difficult to compare this merger to anything Wal-Mart has done, or probably ever will do, for one very simple reason: quality.

Whole Foods and Wild Oats stand for something beyond the penny savings that Wal-Mart has made billions on. They tell the story of the farmers, the good manufacturing practices, the local community. Shoppers often drive past their local supermarkets, Targets and Wal-Marts to their closest Whole Foods. And while budgets play a role in most shopping excursions, it is that larger, undefined feeling that drives these businesses. Whole Foods is paying out close to $700 million in this deal, and unlike the Wal-Mart effect, the purchase of these 100 + stores will hopefully bring our communities closer together, our quality of goods and services to an even higher level. The gargantuan Wal-Mart giant may “fee fi fo fum” its competitors all the way back to the beanstalk, but, in the end, it’s that very beanstalk that topples the giant.


21 02 2007

By Jill Ettinger

Technically both of my parents are Jewish. Or as I like to call it, 7-11 Jews (sorry Mom!). Tradition and celebrations had to be convenient to be up for consideration. And even then doing them quickly was an absolute. But looking back I realize the real religion in my house was actually Bob Dylan. My father would preach his gospel daily, teaching us poetic lyric after lyric, unraveling the deep meanings too complex for a child’s mind, schooling us on the phases of the legend’s career from early folk to  Country Bob to his born-again days and of course, everything in between. Every five year-old girl’s favorite song is “Tangled up in Blue,” right?

Then, as to be expected, pop music fell into my lap. MTV had birthed itself into my consciousness, and from the moment I first laid eyes on the boys of Duran Duran, Zimmy’s charm began to wane. I remember my father’s disappointment. He had raised me better. And when I fell in love with David Lee Roth (I believe my father insisted he was a no-talent piece of trash….ah, the foresight), all bets were off. It was full on war.

In one of our “other” religious outings (to a holiday festival at the Jewish Community Center) I won some carnival game of sorts. The prize booth displayed the usual suspects: stuffed creatures, plastic toys, puzzles, and up on the top shelf, a stack of vinyl records. Oooh…My dad had quite a record collection and I had a few of my own: Free to be You and Me, the Cinderella soundtrack, Kermit’s Greatest Hits, The Commodores.  But the new wave of pop music was always unattainable. My allowance fed my Tropical Punch Now & Later addiction, leaving little else affordable, save more inexpensive candy. I remember looking around to make sure no parent could veto my choice, and pointed to Ghost in the Machine. I don’t even think I knew who The Police were, but the cover was an intriguing, almost frightening, taboo. I had to have it.

Something in the simplicity of the trio’s sound was undeniable for me, the familiarity to my rock upbringing echoed through the experience. Lost in the sound of Sting’s crisp and chilling voice, I began to contemplate the possibility of many different beliefs finding a way to work – if not in this big old world, at least in my family.

The New Wave inflammation subsided and I began to appreciate many styles of music. It took me years to come back to Dylan though, to find my own understanding and appreciation for the artist. Sting and company however have never left my side. Since the first time I heard them, they’ve been part of the soundtrack in ways I could never have imagined. When Synchronicity dropped, I think I was in the 5th grade. I had the vinyl and cassette so not to miss a listening opportunity. At that point in my life, there just simply hadn’t been a better record made. Ever.

Over the years, I’ve noticed the similarities in my life to Sting’s. Yoga, for one; organic another. World music yet one more. A clear demonstration of the power of conscious music transforming not only the musician, but listener as well. Last May I was invited to a party at the new Jivamukti Yoga Studio in Union Square. Only a few hundred people were there, and among them, Sting. He performed with Krishna Das, chanting mantras just 10 feet from me.  As I stood there, totally star struck,  feeling very much like the moment when his record called to me from the top shelf of the prize booth. It had come full circle.

It’s been a long time coming, and well worth the wait as The Police have finally reunited. Here’s their performance at the Grammy’s earlier this month. “Roxanne” was always one of my favorites, and here the boys sound better than ever. It shows all that’s great about taking time to integrate an experience and come back to it with renewed enthusiasm.

Happily Ever After?

19 02 2007

By Jill Ettinger

One of the best parts of the modern world  is the abundance of accessible information.  Want to know what someone is up to, just pop over to their myspace page. Even this blog, intended for your frequent viewing, peers into both Derek’s and my own thoughts du jour. I had a hankering for old episodes of Solid Gold the other day and well, all I can say is YouTube was worth every penny Google paid for it. At the click of a mouse I can convert liters to gallons and check the latest exchange rate of dollars to Euros while listening to The Dalai Lama’s podcasts. Technology has provided us the magic, the stuff of fairy tales – like spinning flax into gold.

So though the workload on my desk is a self-generating pile of more piles, I take some time each day to stay up to (high)speed on the rest of the world, or at least, the rest of this industry.  If my life is like a fairy tale (and it is folks, trust me) the evil villain may just be Monsanto. I know there is a corrupt war-addicted government in power and atrocious factory farms torturing innocent little chickens, but come on!  Monsanto is  feeding  the chickens and our soldiers. They’re so massively into this genetic modification gene-splicing that they appear way too out of their minds for any sort of trust. It’s frightening to think that soy still bears health claims when technically, it’s a pesticide…so, if it’s not organic soy,  chances are it resembles something like the Round Up ready beans. Everything they do is so quietly understated, much like the way evil villains lurk in disguise for the first half of the story, before he takes over the place and starts a killing spree. Don’t trust it and definitely don’t eat it. Simple solution: eat more hemp.

Speaking of hemp, DuPont (who actually helped make hemp illegal back in the early days of plastic) is making an effort to eliminate perfluorooctanoic acid. Sure it’s under pressure from the EPA but still, it’s one small step for humankind, and we’ll take it. Maybe DuPont (and others) will turn out to be like that old loner that lives out past the edge of the village. Once upon a time he was tight with the King, plundering corrupt taxation until some tragic episode instilled him with a sense of decency. Now, as he can’t help but notice the increased need for a coup to bring power back to the people, he’s ready for his last battle. He knows he won’t survive, but all that’s good and decent must.

Ok, maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but there is hope. When this type of retrofitting happens to big industry, it’s not just about profits. People do have hearts. Even if it takes FDA flag waving, there is progress, and that creates awareness. Maybe they’ll discover that they actually want more for themselves and for their children. They want to die knowing they lived for something.  They want to feel better and be healthier.  It’s true.

And just maybe with all the fair trade, organic eco-food available and make-you-feel-amazing heart-centered global music swirling through us, we’ll not only restore honesty to our kingdom, but like every great story, fall in love. Truly, madly, deeply, ride away on horses into the sunset type of love. Because once evil and corruption are defeated, well, let’s face it, there’s really not much else to do. Couldn’t be better timing of course, cuz now, the green wedding every crunchy granola loving evolution revolution overthrow the overlords mantra spewing hippy girl dreamed of has finally arrived.

A Monk’s Song

14 02 2007

Tibetan Monks

By Jill Ettinger
Somewhere between ancient history and the future lies now. We move quickly through our lives, often without a second thought, without considering our connection to  ancestors, or grandchildren. Like slow motion as the days creep up on us, we question where the time went, what our life has amounted to. It’s this lesson I keep learning when I let the race with time get the best of me. I’m reminded that there is no place to go but here, this long inhale, eternal. Regret can only survive in wasted breaths. Yet still so many questions on this journey exist. Like this timely one a curious friend raised last Sunday evening: What are the obstacles to peace? Pondering this after experiencing the graceful Tibetan Gyuto Monks at NYC’s Town Hall, one answer kept surfacing.

Our external environment is a mirror to the one inside. This world of complications the result of a struggle we define simply as “the human condition.” Like Gandhi suggested, we must be the change we wish to see in the world – though it is surely easier said than done. As our nature is curious, seeking to explore the limitless possibilities of what it means to be human, we so often fall into distractions. Each day can become more or less challenging than the next to be the best we can be. On one hand the world is full of grim tragedies, crumbling communities, terrified people filled with intolerance and hatred; on the other incredible availability, beauty, wisdom and opportunity. Like the Gyuto monks, who harmonize in their unique meditative multiphonic technique, the practice is what vivifies the journey, both together as community and alone as consciousness explorers. Though most of us face a much different environment than one of solitude, their simple lesson of applied focusing remains relevant. When we tune into ourselves and move towards that deep, yet often elusive, place of peace, we inevitably harmonize with those around us. Hard it may be – for going deep within is a journey one can only ever take alone – but the simple wisdom of Mick Jagger comes to mind: “If you try, sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.” Difficulty is only a state of mind.

Taking in prayers like a voyeur, few words describe the experience of sitting with the monks. The sounds that came through them was somewhere between a dijeridoo and a dolphin’s cry, but not quite either. Surely one of the intended effects of the meditation perfected over millennia, their subtle sonic gestures resonated in every cell of my body. I wasn’t just listening; I was becoming one with the sound currents, like a final destination of each note.

As I sat with eyes closed, heart open, I drifted into the library of Tibetan images in my head. Though I’ve yet to breathe its majesty, the culture fills me with a beautiful familiarity. In the distance, snow covered Everest (Chomolungma to Tibetans, meaning Mother Goddess of the Universe), vast expansive landscapes, rich, rolling hills, quiet, docile animals, aromatic incense and teas brewing – monastic institutions of compassion and dedication. With their nation focused on spiritual development since 779 CE, the throat churning shows clearly its function as a simple, yet highly advanced technique for tuning in. A gentle reminder of the important role nature plays in our understanding and acceptance of the world around and within us.

One of the rituals shared by the monks during their performance is in praise of Mahakala (pictured above), who represents the transcendence of all form. The superhuman powers he possesses enable the ability to demolish inner and outer obstacles to meditation. Of such great significance, he is often considered the embodiment of compassion of the Buddha. The monks tune in to this panoply singing the peaceful praise of compassion, reminding us that we become that which we invoke – a simple truth best hidden in plain sight. This age-old message highly regarded by our ancestors and of course a significant gift to pass on to our grandchildren, but the most consequential contemplation belongs to the ones living in between.

Rooting Out

12 02 2007

by Derek Beres

While listening non-stop to the upcoming Antibalas record, Security (ANTI, March 6), this past weekend, we take a moment to reflect on the roots of this Brookyn-based Orchestra: Fela Kuti. Filmed at his long-time home, The Shrine, in Lagos, this clips of one of my favorite Fela cuts, “Authority Stealing,” is a mere taste of the 15+ minute version on the LP of the same name. To dive further into the Black President’s life, the excellent Music is a Weapon documentary is essential viewing.