Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Rammer Jammer Yellowhammer (Book Review)

Mississippians love their books. They have to, what with being the state known for Faulkner, Welty, Tennessee Williams, John Grisham, and others. Planet readers were astonishingly literate and one of our constants was our book section. We did small book reviews and had lists of regular book signings, and every now and then I'd do a book review (we had an editor and several freelancers who loved to do them). This was just one of my favorites.

I’m sitting on the couch, watching Olympic event after Olympic event and nearly drooling at the opportunity to watch my Chiefs smack around the Rams on preseason Monday Night Football (by the time this sees print, I’ll find out if I was right). I’ve made no secret of my love of sports, or of the fact that Kansas City football and baseball are imprinted on my soul. I’m also a New England Patriots fan – many moons in Maine caused me to adopt them, but they are a distant second compared to my beloved Arrowhead Stadium roughnecks. I’m a half-assed Ole Miss fan, simply because I went to a cow college in a neighboring state, one in which the football team found mediocrity something to strive for. I once screamed so loud and so long – at a high school football game – that I broke my voice.

Put simply, I’m a sports fan.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Rebekah Potter Interview (Multi-Media Artist)

This was unquestionably my most informal interview - and it seemed perfect for the subject. We met in her kitchen while she made pizza dough, and I questioned her with off-hand comments. I considered it an interview version of her work - "not a rectangle." Sometime later, she gave me a 5' x 4' piece of art that I had admired in her studio. It's vaguely rectangular, has no real corners, is folded in places, stitched, battered, taped (and all this the way she made it), and goes everywhere with me. Like all great art, wherever I hang it, it's perfect.

Rebekah Potter does not believe in rectangles. Instead, she prefers to let the borders of her art become part of the art itself. Using scrap wood – complete with gashes, tears, and protrusions – she creates pieces that purposefully reach beyond the boundaries our minds impose. Many of her paper and cardboard collage pieces have no shape, reaching out and folding back in on themselves, helping turn the medium into the message. She sews stitches into many of her pieces, adding texture and drawing your eyes to places they would not necessarily go. And yes, she does have some rectangular pieces, but only because it suits her to do so.

Potter has been called an intrepid wanderer, living alone around the world, yet always touching base in Jackson, where she lived for six years. Perhaps because of her infrequent visits home, she has remained near the edges of Jackson’s vibrant art scene, yet she has many devotees and numerous individuals collect her work. She often reaches inside herself to find her subject matter, which vividly reflects her state of mind at the time.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The American Astronaut (Movie Cover Story)

This is one of the strangest indie movies ever made - and one of my favorites. I was sent a copy to watch before calling and speaking to the filmmaker. It was one of my favorite pieces. He was astonished at how warmly Jackson reacted to his very bizarre movie.

“I wanted to create a movie that people would like more and more every time they watched it,” says Cory McAbee, about The American Astronaut, the full-length movie he wrote and directed.

Six years from script to screen, released and distributed by McAbee and the film’s producers, Bobby Lurie and Joshua Taylor, The American Astronaut is a combination low budget science fiction movie, punk musical, snarky comedy, and a literate commentary on mankind’s base desires. Filmed on lush 35 mm black-and-white film, it looks like a blend of old “Flash Gordon” serials, Joss Whedon’s Firefly, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, and an indie graphic novel. In The American Astronaut, the look and feel of the film itself is more important than the look of the effects, an almost incomprehensible notion for a film that is, basically, science fiction.

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Metal Finishing Services -- Metro Business Chronicle

I did some work for a business paper run by a pretty well-known Libertarian, Jack Criss. Though politically we didn't agree, I liked the way he had writers shine a light on the various businesses and businessmen of central Mississippi. I found that it's easy to write about anyone who is passionate about what they do. Everyone I interviewed for MBC was passionate about their work. I picked this piece, because the field in which he works seems dull to those of us who don't understand it, but so necessary and worthy for those who do.

David Church isn’t afraid to spread himself a little bit thin. Unlike some businessmen whose ‘eyes on the prize’ philosophy forces them to focus on one particular role in business – one hat to wear – and whose single-minded determination causes harm to their home life and health, Church is perfectly comfortable wearing those different hats. Husband, father, antique car hobbyist, and avid bicyclist who laments the lack of places to ride a bicycle inside the city of Jackson – he is all of these things. He is also president of Metal Finishing Services, office principal for Criterium Engineers, president of 750 Boling Street Partners, an officer of the Hawkins Field Industrial Park, and a working electrical engineer. Given his choice on what he would rather do, he responds:

“I prefer to be working on my own cars or riding my bicycle. Those are my vices.” In fact, it was one of his interests that led him to opening the doors to Metal Finishing Services.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

New Life for Women (Feature Cover Story)

I won't say much about this one, except that New Life for Women is one of the worthiest causes I've ever seen. It was brought to my attention by my friend and neighbor, Debbie Parks, who introduced me to the people who run it. Debbie graduated from New Life several years ago, but not before the damage was done. She had cirrhosis, which turned to cancer, which killed her a few years ago. But she was clean and sober from the time she left New Life until the end. They're not just good people; they're the best.

Planet Weekly originally published this with all the women's real names, but enough time has passed, and I think it likely that some of them may not want their names bandied about on the Interwebs. As such, I've changed their names - out of respect for who they are, and where they may be at this time in their lives.

New Life for Women was founded in 1988 as a secondary treatment program for homeless, chemically dependent women. According to co-founder and current executive director Melanie Parks, women who complete primary treatment for chemical dependency – which consists of detoxification and about 30-45 days of treatment in places like Harbor House – typically return to their same places, people, and situations that caused the dependency, and are successful in maintaining long-term sobriety only about one time out of ten. Secondary treatment helps the women maintain sobriety at a much greater rate. Parks estimates that after 90 days’ treatment at her facility, or one like it, their chances rise to six out of ten, but she does admit:

“I don’t think there’s been any empirical data put together about that, but it would be interesting to know what the numbers are with the support systems established through an agency like this one.”

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

"Geek Flag Ideologies" (Column)

This one turned out to be one of my most popular columns online - and nobody made fun. It turns out that lots of our readers were geeks. Big surprise. It turns out that lots of people nowadays are geeks. And why not? Geeks really do make the world go 'round. We actually had a love-fest online for about three weeks as people shared the stories and admitted which Doctor they loved best. It died out eventually, as all good threads do, but this throwaway column became one of my favorites because I found out how many of these tough, mean-spirited Jacksonians proudly flew their geek flags.

Keep in mind that this was written before the tremendous Matt Smith/David Tennant/Christopher Eccleston "Doctor Who" revival, before J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" reboot, and before George Lucas sold the "Star Wars" franchise to Disney -- with promises of new movies to come.

I might as well get this on record first: I’m a bit of a geek. I read science fiction and fantasy. I have a full run of Babylon 5 on tape. I swap Dr. Who references with a few fellow (possibly mentally ill) fans. I have pretty much every Batman and Justice League collection DC Comics has printed in the past ten years or so. I played Dungeons and Dragons for years (actually, I played 2nd Edition AD&D, mostly in the “Forgotten Realms” setting, for those fellow geeks in the know), and I enjoy dabbling in both the Star Wars and the Star Trek aspects of fandom.

I love the brilliance of Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, yet I can still put up with the overly purple prose of Roddenberry’s Trek, the derivative technobabble of Next Generation, and the insipid dialog of Lucas’ Star Wars.

Around the survivors a perimeter create, indeed.

"The Healing Power of Violence" (Column)

This one led to a message online that read, "I guess all liberals aren't alike. I suppose I'd better leave that big stroller at home." I responded that I didn't mind the big strollers, so long as he left them in the street with the other SUV's. A few months later, at an art event, I met the woman who wrote the message. She was geniunely funny - and had a ginormous all-terrain stroller.

As much as I would like to see the idea of death handled with a bit more finesse, I have to admit that I have a warm place in my heart for a spot of fisticuffs. I believe in the healing power of violence, the soothing joy of a butt kicking; I buy my cans of Whoop-Ass® 24 at a time at Big Lots. I believe that planting a fist six inches deep through a person’s face really does solve certain situations best.

As I grow older the criteria I use to determine who deserves a box on the ears has gotten looser. Times past, I’d believe in giving a drubbing only to a select few, but now I’m getting older and crankier.

Cell phone shouters – those people who feel that they have to raise their voice in the most public places to be heard at the other end of the line – well, simply put, each of them deserves a quick smack to the back of the head. Winn-Dixie managers who keep four lines open during the day when there is no one inside except the four cashiers staring at other, and then close all but two lines at five o’clock when the crowds roll in? The tried and true swift kick in the ass seems apropos for this situation. Those yahoos who cut you off in traffic and then immediately slow down? I believe every citizen has the right to act as a police officer in this case: pull them over, tap on the glass, and bang them in the head with a Maglite.