KQED, Uncategorized

San Jose’s Egyptian Museum Vibes off its Secret Society Roots

In sixth grade, students in the California public school system study ancient Egypt. And every year, thousands of these students visit the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in western North America.

Where? In San Jose at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, of course.

If you didn’t grow up in the South Bay or spend your preteen years searching for meaning in the Metaphysical section of a bookstore like I did, then this particular Egyptian museum and the Rosicrucian Order may be uncharted territory.

Sekhmet figurine: the first ancient artifact in the AMORC collection. (Photo by Adrienne Blaine)
Sekhmet figurine: the first ancient artifact in the AMORC collection. (Photo by Adrienne Blaine)

It all began with an ancient figurine of the lion goddess Sekhmet, which stood on the desk of H. Spencer Lewis one hundred years ago. Lewis, an American occultist, founded the Rosicrucian Order, Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC) in 1915.

AMORC is a secret organization, and as such can only be described by outsiders as “elusive.” AMORC defines itself on the Egyptian museum website as, “a philosophical and educational public benefit (501c3) organization.” Others call it a mystical fraternity.

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San Jose’s Egyptian Museum Vibes off its Secret Society Roots

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KQED, Uncategorized

Is George Harrison at a Concert Near You?

George Harrison died nearly 15 years ago, but you may have spotted him at a show in recent months. From the ethereal glow of illuminated smartphones raised overhead, Harrison’s visage has recently graced concerts from Oakland to Santa Cruz.

I first saw Harrison’s beaming face in April at the Cocoanut Grove in Santa Cruz. While I waited for electronic musician Panda Bear to take the stage, two young men held up the same close-up candid of Harrison flashing a toothy smile. Before I could process this poor man’s Tupac hologram, four other phones joined with the same image, a legion of Harrisons aloft.

The album cover for Let it Be by The Beatles, courtesy thebeatles.com
The Beatles, Let It Be.

Normally, illuminated screens at a concert invoke nothing but contempt from me, but Harrison’s guileless face seemed to be teleported from a simpler, analog time. And while attempts to replace the lighter of yesteryear with a lit-up phone are largely unsuccessful, this Harrison synchronicity brought the crowd closer to a shared experience.

I soon learned from 23-year-old San Francisco resident Ernie Houk that he had witnessed the same phenomenon at a Tame Impala concert at Oakland’s Fox Theater in November of 2014. “People do a lot of dumb things at concerts to get attention,” explained Houk, but he, too, felt this was different.

Not sure whether it was a meme dug up from “the bowels of Reddit,” Houk was initially confused, and then amused, by the 20 Harrisons popping up around him at the Fox Theater. At the Cocoanut Grove, I was similarly curious, so after the show I made a beeline for the stage to track down the initiator: 19-year-old Russell Cowick.

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Is George Harrison at a Concert Near You?

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San Jose Musicians Advocate for Safer LGBTQ Spaces

Over the last six months, a movement has been underway in the South Bay to generate acceptance and provide safe spaces for LGBTQ musicians and fans.

San Jose’s Think and Die Thinking Collective, which was founded in 2012, has organized to help marginalized musicians advocate for themselves. Bean Kaloni Tupou, a founding member of Think and Die Thinking, explains that the typical bar show in San Jose can be a hostile environment for LGBTQ communities.

Screen shot of Back Bar's facebook post, 2015. (Courtesy: Richard Gutierrez)
Screen shot of Back Bar’s Facebook post, 2015. (Courtesy: Richard Gutierrez)

In February of this year, members of the Collective met with the owner of the all-ages club at San Jose Rock Shop and neighboring Back Bar to discuss a controversial sign posted outside of the bar. In a picture posted on the bar’s Facebook page, a handwritten message on a Back Bar sign reads, “Ladies… If you want a man to leave you alone at a bar, don’t tell him you have a boyfriend. They don’t care. Tell him you have a penis. Your [sic] welcome.”

This prompted San Jose musician Richard Gutierrez to write an open letter to San Jose Rock Shop and Back Bar on Facebook. Acknowledging the “trans / non gender-conforming folks who contribute to the San Jose music scene and have supported the Rock Shop since its inception,” Gutierrez stated, “what you are implying with that ‘joke’ is something very transphobic, hurtful and creating a dangerous space.”

Gutierrez continued, “I realize not everyone is well-versed in these issues and a lot of information about these topics have been suppressed throughout the years and allowed for stigmas to grow. I myself was never taught about these issues until much later.”

Gutierrez ended the letter with a call to action: “I hope you take this opportunity to learn and maybe step up as a great example to the community of making a mistake and truly owning it and attempting to better yourself and bring some light to this […] subject.”

Owner David Nevin quickly apologized, and wrote on Back Bar’s Facebook page

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San Jose Musicians Advocate for Safer LGBTQ Spaces

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‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ and his White Friend

If you were at the San Francisco International Film Festival last week, you may have seen the teaser trailer for The Last Black Man in San Francisco. As a part of the festival’s Boomtown: Remaking San Francisco program, this film-in-the-making highlights issues of gentrification through the “fantastical retelling of Jimmie H. Fails’ true-life story.” The narrative focuses on Jimmie’s dream of buying back his childhood home in the Fillmore. While the film is an accurate depiction of Fails’ relationship to a booming San Francisco, it is his real-life friendship with the director, Joe Talbot, that may seem stranger than fiction to some.

“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” from Joe Talbot on Vimeo.

“When people see us walking down the street together they think we’re an odd pair,” said Talbot of himself and Fails. Fails interjects, “Just because I’m a tall black guy and Joe’s white. Why would that be weird? If you know us, then you know it’s not weird.”

Talbot first recognized Fails’ “natural presence” on film when he was just a kid documenting Bernal Heights goings on with a Hi8 camcorder. Fast-forward 12 years and the duo are still at it with a bigger vision and a deeper friendship.

It was the long walks Talbot and Fails took through “the roller-coaster hills of Bernal Heights” that inspired this project. As Talbot came to know Fails’ life story — shaped by upheaval throughout San Francisco — the more strongly he felt it needed to be told.

Talbot believes it is precisely because Fails grew up in so many “different worlds” within San Francisco that he is able to have a distinct personality in this film while also speaking to the universal feeling of being an outcast.

A close up the "Where's Jimmie" t-shirt The Last Black Man in San Francisco made for the film's Kickstarter campaign. (Courtesy of Joe Talbot)
A close up the “Where’s Jimmie” t-shirt The Last Black Man in San Francisco made for the film’s Kickstarter campaign. (Courtesy of Joe Talbot)

 

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‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ and his White Friend

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My Year-Long Nicolas ‘Cage Rage’

If you’ve watched any movies in the past thirty years, chances are you’ve seen at least one featuring Nicolas Cage. In 2014, I watched more movies featuring Nicolas Cage than movies not featuring Nicolas Cage . . . on purpose. After “Cage Raging” for 12 months, I have still only glimpsed a small portion of the nearly eighty movies Nicolas Cage has acted in since 1981.

Around this time last year, my friends and I opened a package at a holiday party sent to us from Afghanistan by a mutual friend stationed there with the U.S. Army. Under an array of colorful pashmina scarves, we discovered Nicolas Cage’s face staring up at us from the bottom of the box.

Tal Kamran, Nicolas Cage Fan Art, 2014.
Tal Kamran, Nicolas Cage Fan Art, 2014. (Adrienne Blaine)

Our initial shock was followed by confusion and glee as we realized our friend had sent us a “Nicoalse (sic) Cage All Movies Collection” box set. The exact provenance of this particular box is indeterminate, however, it contains twenty-five plain DVDs with handwritten numbers, which you can draw your own conclusions about.

Although there is a long list of titles on the outside of the box, we never knew which movies to expect on each disc. Most marathoners opt for the Cage cult classics, such as The Wicker Man, Con Air or Face/Off, which feature Cage at his rage-y-ist. But we diligently sat through blockbuster movies (National Treasure), kids’ movies (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) and movies that didn’t even appear to have Cage in them (Grindhouse).

It wasn’t until we encountered Captain Corelli’s Mandolin that we finally broke down and watched the majority of the film on fast-forward. For this slow-moving period film, watching Cage move and speak at double speed was not so different from the Cage we had come to know and love in other films. See the video below for supercut of Cage’s notable freak-outs (warning: contains explicit language).

 

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My Year-Long Nicolas ‘Cage Rage’

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Jeffrey Blankfort Celebrates 80th Birthday by Putting His Historic Bay Area Photos Online

“Look at this guy wearing white bucks! He’s got white bucks on and the cops are dragging him away by the leg” exclaims Stephen Ehret, chuckling to himself as he clicks on a photograph of a 1964 San Francisco sit-in. “That’s a great picture. We need to get that up on the website,” Ehret observes.

Jeffrey Blankfort, whose photograph we have been discussing, turns to me and says, “See? This is what happens; there are too many photographs to choose from.”

1964 sit-in at a Cadillac dealer in San Francisco; Photo by Jeffrey Blankfort
1964 sit-in at a Cadillac dealer in San Francisco; Photo by Jeffrey Blankfort

We’re sitting in Ehret’s Sausalito art studio among large-scale paintings of California landscapes. Ehret uploads scanned images to his friend’s online portfolio, which went live for the first time this year in honor of Blankfort’s 80th birthday.

As Ehret clicks, Blankfort regales me with stories of his photographic adventures, “You’ve got to tell me when to stop, I could go on forever,” Blankfort laughs.

In the early 1960s, “before anybody had long hair,” Blankfort got his start as a photojournalist by documenting San Francisco sit-ins. These NAACP demonstrations, like the one the buck-clad protester attended at the former Cadillac Agency on Van Ness, were a part of a critical effort to end racist hiring practices in the city, not only at car dealerships but also at hotels and restaurants.

“There are kids that go to school in the city and don’t know anything about the sit-ins. It’s a crime,” says Blankfort. This outrage drives Blankfort to share his photographs with the next generation to fill in the gaps in what he calls “sanitized history.”

Since the beginning of his career, Blankfort’s photographs have been shown in galleries and published in periodicals, books and retrospectives around the world. After getting his teaching credential later in life, Blankfort discovered his photographs could take on new significance in the classroom.

At Richmond High School, Blankfort’s pictures of the Black Panthers and the Brown Berets bridged the gap between history and modern struggles for many of his African-American and Latino students.

Brown Berets and Black Panthers in Oakland, 1968; Photo by Jeffrey Blankfort
Brown Berets and Black Panthers in Oakland, 1968; Photo by Jeffrey Blankfort

Blankfort says, “The black students did not want to hear about Martin Luther King, but when I talked to them about the Black Panthers, some of them had family in the Panthers, and suddenly they wanted to listen. And the attitude of the class changed so much when I would bring my photographs in. They didn’t relate to the South, they related to what went on in the Bay Area.”

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Jeffrey Blankfort Celebrates 80th Birthday by Putting His Historic Bay Area Photos Online

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Finnish Art Icons: Tove Jansson and her Moomins

“Moomin” is a word Walt Disney wanted exclusive rights to in the 1950s. The significance of this word may puzzle Americans, but for millions of children around the world, it needs no translation.

Technically Moomin is a nonsensical word, but it’s also the name of a hippopotamus-like creature who lives in a place called Moominvalley with his family of Moomintrolls.

“Moomin is probably the most known and adored Finnish icon, if not before, then right after Santa Claus,” according to the Official Travel Site of Finland.

In fact, Moomins pop up in the most unexpected places: Finnair’s airplanes, Japanese catalogues, even in Björk’s music video. Once you start seeing Moomins, you can’t stop seeing them everywhere.

Moomin began as a caricature of Immanuel Kant, drawn on a bathroom wall by the Finnish visual artist, illustrator and author Tove Jansson during an argument with her brother. In the 1940s, the caricature evolved into the cuddly, and not entirely un-philosophical Moomintroll family.

Moomin is the main character of Jansson’s comic strip, which follows the whimsical Moomintroll family on various adventures as they subvert their “very ordinary middle-class life.” The family is made up of practical Moominmamma and eccentric Moominpappa, their romantic son Moomin, and his flighty girlfriend Snorkmaiden.

Tove Jansson, Self Portrait; courtesy Tove 100
Tove Jansson, Self Portrait ( courtesy Tove 100)

 

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Finnish Art Icons: Tove Jansson and her Moomins

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