2013 - %3, April

Awesome Reactions to Jason Collins' Coming Out (Updated)

| Mon Apr. 29, 2013 12:03 PM EDT
Left to right: Nets teammates Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, and Jason Collins in 2006

In the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, the NBA's Jason Collins became the first active player in any of the big four sports (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey) to announce he was gay. His opening paragraph: "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay."

Toward the end of his must-read story, Collins, a 7-foot, 255-pounder who has played for six teams in his 12-year pro career, ponders the fallout from his announcement:

I've been asked how other players will respond to my announcement. The simple answer is, I have no idea. I'm a pragmatist. I hope for the best, but plan for the worst. The biggest concern seems to be that gay players will behave unprofessionally in the locker room. Believe me, I've taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons. My behavior wasn't an issue before, and it won't be one now. My conduct won't change. I still abide by the adage, "What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room." I'm still a model of discretion.

Here's what President Obama had to say about Collins when asked at his Tuesday press conference:

And here's a look at what some people—some NBA players, some not—tweeted on Monday:

NBA response to Collins announcement

This story has been revised.

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Watch: Ghosts of the Asylums

| Mon Apr. 29, 2013 5:00 AM EDT

Mother Jones' cover story for May/June 2013, "Schizophrenic. Killer. My Cousin.", features a collection of eerie, yet beautiful photographs of abandoned mental hospitals. They're the work of Jeremy Harris, a Brooklyn photographer who began sneaking into these buildings in 2005. In this video Jeremy explains the project and shows off some of the hospital artifacts he's collected along the way.

Note: the video production was originally a co-production between Mother Jones and Tumblr's Storyboard. But following the interview, Tumblr announced it was closing Storyboard.

Ooh La La: Sarkozy Gave the Obamas $42,000 Worth of Swag

| Fri Apr. 26, 2013 5:00 PM EDT

Friday, the Federal Register released a list of all the gifts that foreign leaders gave President Obama in 2011. His haul included a basketball signed by the Toronto Raptors (from the Canadian prime minister), more than a dozen Brazilian soccer jerseys (from the governor of Rio de Janeiro), a pretty sweet-looking eco-friendly bamboo bike (from the ambassador of the Philippines), and an array of rugs, paintings, and statues.

Presumably the president smiled and said thank you to all these presents, because, as the Register dexplains, "Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and US Government." Even if Obama liked any of the gifts, he'll never get to use them: They all go to the National Archives and eventually, to his library and musuem.

French president Nicholas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, made the rest look like cheapskates. They gave the first family more than $42,000 worth of French luxury goods including purses, perfumes, goblets, a Lacoste polo shirt, bath robes, and a Hermès golf bag worth $7,750. Some of the more insane gifts the Sarkozys gave the Obamas:

His and hers bathrobes
From the official description: "His and hers white, belted Dior bathrobes with 'Dior' embroidered on the breast pocket."

Hermès...everything
From the official description: "Large, black Hermes golf accessory bag including set of lock and key, and extra strap in bottom compartment, presented in cream colored drawstring bag."

The Sarkozys are partial to the French luxury brand. Other Hermès gifts: A $7,500 golf bag, a golf "travel bag" (there's a difference? Apparently there's a difference.), a travel case, a scarf for Michelle, and a cotton beach towel, which retails for around $600.

A $400 lighter and pen
From the official description: "Limited-edition 'HOPE' fountain pen and Ligne 8 lighter from S.T. Dupont, each in a cherry blossom design, and contained in a 6.5" x 6.5" black box with 'G8 France 2011' on the top." A nod to POTUS's cigarette habit, perhaps?

lighter

AZ Fine Time

Baccarat crystal lamps
From the official description: "Baccarat 'Our Fire' clear full-headed crystal table lamps on silver pedestals with silver and crystal lampshades in red presentation box." Estimated value: $5,500.

lamps

Baccarat

Grooming products
More than $800 worth of goodies from the Paris perfumeries Frédéric Malle and Bonpoint.

The kicker? Despite its first couple's lavish taste, France actually spent less on its gifts than Brazil or Gabon president Ali Bongo Ondimba, who gave the president a 14-inch blue mask sculpture worth more than $50,000.
(h/t National Journal)

Richie Havens' Passion for Peace, Justice, and Damn Fine Music

| Tue Apr. 23, 2013 12:51 PM EDT

Richie Havens, 1941-2013.

On Monday, celebrated folk singer Richie Havens died of a heart attack at his Jersey City home at the age of 72. The Brooklyn-born musician was famous for his distinctive, husky baritone, and was a skilled and tough guitar player who could turn strummed rhythms into rhapsodies. He recorded and performed some of the best acoustic covers of the '60s and '70s, including renditions of Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman" and (my personal favorite) George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun."

Havens dabbled in cinema, including acting alongside comic giant Richard Pryor in 1977's Greased Lightning, a film about Wendell Scott, the first African-American to get a NASCAR racing license. Quentin Tarantino used his signature song "Freedom" in a pivotal shootout sequence in Django Unchained. Havens toured tirelessly for nearly five decades. But since history has a nasty habit of reducing notable lives into single episodes, Havens will forever be remembered as the man who opened Woodstock '69 with a mesmerizing three-hour set.

Through all this, he maintained his passion for liberal politics, environmental action, and education. Though he wasn't the most fiercely political or ideological of his generation of entertainers, his dedication and interest were impressive nonetheless. In 1976, Havens cofounded the North Wind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic children's museum in the Bronx that reportedly "has a history of rescuing marine animals." He also formed the Natural Guard, an international organization created to promote hands-on activities that teach children about ecology and the environment. Here he is talking about it in the early '90s:

"I'm not in show business; I'm in the communications business," Havens told the Denver Post. "That's what it's about for me." You could feel this in virtually everything he recorded or sang on stage, most evidently in "Handsome Johnny," a song he cowrote that became a civil rights and anti-Vietnam War anthem. In 1978, his song "Shalom, Salam Alaikum," written after watching Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, was a huge hit in Israel. And on a lesser note, Havens performed at Bill Clinton's presidential inauguration in 1993.

To the very end, he was a gentle soul pushing for peace, justice, and damn fine music.

I'll leave you with footage of the Transcendent Nation Foundation interviewing Havens in 2008 about "how to save the world":

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's Banjo Magic

| Mon Apr. 22, 2013 4:30 AM EDT

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell
Love Has Come For You
Rounder Records

When Steve Martin played singer Edie Brickell a banjo tune he'd been working on, lyrics flooded into her mind as if she were recalling a preexisting song. She recorded the melody and sent it back to Martin, who began emailing her file after file of his banjo compositions, sometimes two a week, over which she'd quickly layer stories. "I'd just hear the tune and there were all these images and pictures," says Brickell of Martin's picking. "All you had to do was pull the lyrics out of the air."

From the alchemy of Martin's inventive five-string banjo strumming and Brickell's breezy and timeless twang emerged Love Has Come For You, out Tuesday, an intimate and stripped down album that centers on family lore, small-town gossip, and scorned love.

"I'd just hear the tune and there were all these images and pictures," Brickell says. "All you had to do was pull the lyrics out of the air."

Actor and comedian Steve Martin likely needs no introduction—he's starred in classic comedies like Roxane, Three Amigos, Parenthood, and Father of the Bride—but his musical accomplishments still might catch you by surprise. He's played banjo since age 17, won Grammys in 2001 and 2009 for his instrumentals, and began touring with the bluegrass band the Steep Canyon Rangers in 2009. Edie Brickell shot to fame in the late 1980s as the frontwoman for the New Bohemians, with hits like the indignant "What I Am" and "Circle of Friends," followed by a marriage to Paul Simon and successful solo career (though she never repeated such a genius album name as Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars).

Brickell, who says she and Martin met at a dinner party in 1992, told me a little more via email about Love Has Come For You:

About two years ago, as we were exiting a restaurant, he asked me if I had ever considered singing in a group without drums. Our conversation was interrupted by the bustle of everyone leaving and saying their goodbyes, but it got me thinking. I saw him at a birthday party months later and felt brave enough to tell him how much I loved his music and if he ever wanted to make up a song together, it was my favorite thing to do.

Excited to work on a country album for the first time, Brickell tapped into her family history:

A War Photographer Who Was More Than Just an Adrenaline Junkie

| Tue Apr. 16, 2013 5:00 AM EDT

A lot of photographers covering war pay lip service to the idea of making a difference with their photos or bearing witness or some noble sounding line of horseshit. Sure, for some of them it's true; they really believe. Yet most are just adrenaline junkies. Even if they go in with lofty ambitions, they come out addicted. It's rare to run across a journalist like Tim Hetherington, the British photographer who was killed in Misrata, Libya, in April 2011 while covering the revolution that overthrew Moammar Qaddafi. He was an exceptionally talented photographer with true aspirations of not just making a difference with his photos, but trying to understand the people he was photographing and the reason he was there.

Less a biography than an intimate tribute, the new film Which Way Is the Front Line From Here addresses head-on the reasons Hetherington went to shoot war and kept going back. Directed by Sebastian Junger, with whom Hetherington made the Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo, it not only offers personal insights into who Hetherington was but addresses the larger issues of covering war, the issues that drove Hetherington.

For anyone who has ever entertained the idea of going into a war zone with a camera, or known someone who has, "Why?" is a hard question to answer truthfully. For Hetherington, the answer evolved from a need to find out who viciously blinded the children he photographed at a school for the blind in Liberia, to addressing how young men see themselves in war, to telling the story of combat as the ultimate bonding experience.

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Quick Reads: "You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack"

| Mon Apr. 15, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
Courtesy Drawn & Quarterly

You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack
By Tom Gauld
Drawn & Quarterly

Readers of the Guardian and the New York Times Magazine may recognize the poignant and often dark humor of Tom Gauld, whose new collection of mostly unpublished cartoons pokes fun at literature and media of all stripes—a Beckett spin on Tintin, a Bronte sisters video game!—not to mention futurism, religion, modern art, and the hubris and frivolity of humankind in general. In one strip, a pretentious worm reproaches his unseen inquisitor for asking, "Are you happy?" So the questioner instead turns to a bird that has just swooped in to devour the worm. Answer: "Yes." Ideal for your coffee table—or that rack by the shitter.

Review: Bruce Molsky's "If It Ain't Here When I Get Back"

| Mon Apr. 15, 2013 4:20 AM EDT
Bruce Molsky is a master of three instruments.

Bruce Molsky
If It Ain't Here When I Get Back
Tree Frog Music

I owe Bruce Molsky 15 bucks.

That's for the time a Mother Jones intern ripped me an illicit copy of Soon Be Time, his sixth solo CD, which I've pretty much listened to death. But I figure I actually owe Molsky, a master of old-time Appalachian music, way more than that, because it was his playing that inspired me to pick up a fiddle and attempt to play the damn thing to the point where it no longer sounded like a wounded cat.

I believe I have succeeded in this. You'll have to ask my cat.

Plus, I figure that if Molsky could ditch a stable career as a mechanical engineer and become a professional musician at age 40, there was hope for me yet. (Hey, a man can dream.)

Molsky is easily one of the nation's most talented fiddlers, and he plays a mean claw-hammer banjo and blues guitar to boot. He's also been known to break out the occasional a cappella tune or harrowing ballad consisting of naught but vocals and sparse fiddle. He puts all of these skills to use on his latest solo album, If It Ain’t Here When I Get Back. "It's meant to be kind of an honor to people who I learned with and people who I hung out with years ago," Molsky told me recently. "Not in a sad, totally nostalgic kind of way, but it's kind of a look backwards and a look forwards for me." (Read the interview: "Bruce Molsky Is Not Fiddling Around.")

A One-Word Review Of "Scary Movie 5"

| Fri Apr. 12, 2013 9:46 AM EDT

 

No.

 

Music Review: "The Desert Babbler" by Iron and Wine

| Fri Apr. 12, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
album cover

TRACK 2

"The Desert Babbler"

From Iron and Wine's Ghost on Ghost

NONESUCH

Liner notes: Never mind the knotty lyrics. Instead, bask in the radiant warmth of Sam Beam's gorgeous melodies, and if the summery vocal harmonies and mellow horns don't bring a tear to your eye, check those vital signs.

Behind the music: Raised in South Carolina, Beam took his stage name from a throwback dietary supplement called Beef, Iron and Wine. In addition to cutting five studio albums, he's collaborated with sagebrush rockers Calexico on an EP.

Check it out if you like: Thoughtful types like Bon Iver, Bright Eyes, and Elliott Smith.