From Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury (with permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing)
Garry Trudeau – author of the landmark comic strip Doonesbury – stopped by the studio recently to talk with Kurt about 40 years of penning the ever-expanding Doonesbury universe. He offered some great insight into the history of the Doonesbury characters, including B.D.’s service in Vietnam and Iraq, and on his own, real-life relationship with military veterans, as well.
It’s a challenge to cover comics (or really anything visual) on the radio, so Studio 360’s Eric Molinsky made dramatized versions of a few key strips. And when it came to the website, we thought “Why not sync up the sound with the original strips on which they were based?” With a little cropping and some video-editing software, we were able to give voices to some of Trudeau’s amazing characters.
What do Lucille Ball and Malcolm X have in common?
They’re both part of Studio 360 American Icons series. This fall, we’ve traced the impact of The Autobiography of Malcolm X on race relations and glimpsed the dawn of the American sitcom with I Love Lucy. Last week we visited Monticello – Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia – and in wandering the building and the grounds, confronted some lingering questions about the country and its founding.
Monticello (photo by Geoff Kilmer / Monticello)
Now we’re turning to you for a little “listener support.” No, it’s not a pledge drive (though we encourage you to support your local station…).
Tell us what we’ve missed. We’ve produced nine new Icons — we want you to decide the tenth. If your pick is selected, we’ll make a radio story about it — and you could be a guest on an episode of Studio 360.
We put out the call a few weeks ago, and our listeners have already come up with some surprising and impressive ideas. They range wide across America’s cultural landscape: from My Antonia and The Sound and the Fury to Bugs Bunny, from the Airstream Trailer to Apollo 11. Daniel Leathersich, of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, suggested Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” because it’s a “quintessential song of the dreams of youth, the wonder of escape, and what people become from their memories.”
We need to hear from you. Tell us your ideas…and listen for our tenth American Icon!
Girl in a Coma‘s creation story reads like a fairy tale: teen girls plaster bedroom walls with posters of dreamy pop star; start a band named after pop star’s song; play hard in that band for 10 years. Until one day… the phone rings. It’s the man from the posters. Morrissey. He invites them to open for him on tour.
The young San Antonio trio — sisters Nina and Phanie Diaz and their close friend Jenn Alva — are now paying tribute to the music that shaped them on their new album, Adventures in Coverland (out tomorrow). While no Morrissey tunes show up on this record, songs by artists who contributed to his rockabilly bent (and pompadour) are there, like Ritchie Valens — alongside fellow new wavers Joy Division. Coverland showcases Girl in a Coma’s unexpected mix of influences — they grew up listening to Selena alongside moody Britpop.
They somehow manage to blend it all beautifully: Nina’s Patsy Cline-ish croon crossed with crunchy post-punk guitars and a touch of Tex-Mex twang just works. Check out their new video (directed by drummer Jenn) of “Walking After Midnight.”
I spoke to the band in 2009 about their musical roots and their unlikely Morrissey story. “I loved him so much it hurt,” said Nina. But once the band met him, said Jenn, “everything just switched and the whole fan just shredded off, and it was time to work.”
This summer, Luke Geissbuhler, the cinematographer behind the mokumentary-style movie Bruno and the upcoming film The Virginity Hit, masterminded a very different kind of movie. With nothing more than a weather balloon, an HD camera and a GPS device, Gessbuhler and his 9-year old son created a homemade spacecraft and set out to capture its journey on video. The duo encased the camera, GPS and a parachute in a foam container, tied it to the end of the balloon and released it near their home in Newburgh, New York. Hoping to view the video once the balloon fell back to earth, Geissbuhler tucked a note inside the foam container promising a reward to anyone who returned the spacecraft to its rightful creators.
Turns out, the spacecraft was found in a tree later that night, not far from where it was released. But when Geissbuhler and his son watched the video they were amazed to find out that their experiment was a tremendous success. Their makeshift spacecraft had spent the afternoon in space!
To me, the video is a testament to the adage that anything is possible. With a bit of tenacity, research, and a few “flight tests,” the duo engineered a device that overcame huge odds. Their tiny balloon made it through 100mph winds, reached the upper stratosphere of Earth in only an hour, and managed to land only 30 miles from where it was released! Oh yeah and the resulting film is pretty fantastic too. Geissbuhler managed to tailor the spacecraft to keep it from spinning and the result is a steady and watchable short film. When the balloon first breaks past the white clouds and reaches the blackness of space, the view is truly breathtaking. For all of you who wondered as a kid what happened to those birthday balloons that got away, you now have your answer.
The music industry is dying, and the smart money says the key to success is giving music away for free. Scott Blaszak has a better idea: he’ll pay you $10 to download his album. “Free is not enough!” Blaszak says. He has a name for his revolutionary business model: “PremiFree.” You saw it here first.
The next time you hit the club, you may find yourself rocking out to a song sung by a nine-year old.
I’m amazed at the buzz swirling around Willow Smith‘s first single “Whip My Hair.” The song is sassy, confident, and already receiving comparisons to Rihanna. Of course, it’s no secret that Willow comes from an entertainment dynasty: she is the daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith and at the tender age of nine, she’s inked a record deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.
One thing that impresses me about Willow’s song is how mature she sounds. Her vocals are already a pretty convincing alto. And her chosen wardrobe is much more avant-garde than her famous parents or brother. When you take a break from bobbing your head and finally listen to the lyrics, you’ll realize they’re actually pretty age-appropriate. This young star-in-the-making has already created a successful pop product, with a style that’s all her own.
But will she be a one hit wonder? She has many years ahead of her for that to be determined.
The vinyl grooves of the Beatles's "Eleanor Rigby" (Photographed by Felice C. Frankel)
Ready for an extreme close-up?
Felice C. Frankel has spent 20 years photographing objects outside the range of conventional microscopes — bits of matter 1/100,000th the size of a baby’s eyelashes. Nanoscience is one of the frontiers of technology, and with her book No Small Matter (co-written by Harvard chemist George Whitesides), Frankel hopes to inspire exploration and understanding of the nanoscale.
HTML5 is here, and if you’re like me you have no idea what that means. Thankfully, (and in a sentence I never thought I’d write), Arcade Fire and Google are here to help. The indie band and the internet behemoth teamed up to make a music video called “The Wilderness Downtown” with HTML5, showing just what the internet of the future looks like.
The latest version of the standard markup language used for building websites, HTML5 allows designers to choreograph extra content to pop up in moving windows, sync that content to a user’s actions, and personalize the overall browsing experience. But Google didn’t settle for explaining what HTML5 does or how it works via boring press releases and guided demos. Rather, they had writer/director Chris Milk showcase the kind of thing we can expect ambitious developers to create with it. The result is the most comprehensive audiovisual experience since Purple Rain.
Download the Google Chrome browser — the animation will run on other browsers, but not as cleanly — then go to The Wilderness Downtown, where you’ll be prompted to enter the address of the house in which you grew up. The website then embeds images of your childhood home taken from Google Maps and Street View. Sure enough, that’s your street and your house being pixilated and set to the music of Arcade Fire. It’s an effective way of evoking nostalgia for the simpler days of youth, while reminding you that you’re not in Kansas anymore.
The video reminds me with a kick to the face just how quickly technology is accelerating, and how many doors that opens for artists. Choreographed pop-ups, augmented reality animation, personalized content: This will be standard fare in no time, and not just for websites, but for movies, live concerts, and even print. The possibilities are absolutely staggering — a little scary, but amazing to think it’s just the beginning.
Sure, YouTube is great for kitten videos, but one of its most consistent sweet spots is fake movie trailers. Viral video fans take note — the western epic The Oregon Trail is “coming soon” to a theater near you:
To the delight of millions of American twenty- and thirty-somethings, this trailer parodies the computer game of the same name created by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium. The object of the game? Getting your virtual 19th-century frontier family successfully settled in the West. In just two and a half minutes, the trailer (produced by Half Day Today!) touches on the game’s most memorable elements. Characters get ridiculous names like “Poop Face” or “Mac’n'Cheese”? Check. Shooting 1400 pounds of buffalo but only being able to carry 100 pounds back to the wagon? Check. And someone coming down with dysentery? Check, of course. Miraculously, the family in the “movie” makes it to Oregon entirely intact, an ending I could never achieve — somebody was almost certain to die of the measles or getting swept away by a river after inadvisably choosing “caulk the wagon and float.”
The Oregon Trail‘s ubiquity in elementary schools in the 1980s and ’90s has resulted in dozens of nostalgic references to the game in today’s pop culture: t-shirts, comics, music, and you can even buy an Oregon Trail iPhone app. But this trailer — complete with an arrangement of the theme music from The Oregon Trail II — certainly tops them all.
Which gets me thinking: what are the chances that an awesome educational computer game from our childhoods could actually be converted into a (likely terrible) movie? Some (I’m looking at you, Number Munchers) might be a bit of a stretch, but it seems to me that the world of floppy disk games is ripe for Hollywood’s picking. Could we be seeing a film adaptation of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? If Tron Legacy is any indication, Hollywood knows how to cash in on the pop culture nostalgia of Gen X and Y — so there’s still hope a film adaptation of The Oregon Trail might actually materialize. But for now, we’ll have to get our elementary school computer time fix by playing the game online (8-bit sound effects included!).
Spiritualized seldom plays songs off the album in concert, because they require more than 30 musicians in a live setting. (The band usually tours in a six-piece rock set-up, plus three backup singers). That’s why Friday was such a treat, with string and brass sections and a full gospel choir filling out Radio City’s stage. Ranging in style from psychedelic meditation to blues explosion, Ladies and Gentleman drips with symphonic ambition. Themes recur throughout the album, with a bass line in one section becoming the melody in another voice later. These aren’t tracks; they’re movements. But executing that orchestral concept live is so difficult that the band has announced they will not attempt it again.
Which is fitting, because Ladies and Gentlemen is about saying goodbye – singer and principal composer Jason Pierce wrote it after his girlfriend left him for that guy from The Verve. Now it’s my turn to say goodbye to this record. After that performance, with the enormous sound cascading off Radio City’s 84-foot ceiling, and the hall feeling more like a cathedral than a venue, I’ll never be satisfied listening to Ladies and Gentlemen on my little white earbuds.
There’s not any good video of the performance just yet, but decent audio of the entire show has been uploaded to YouTube. Here’s the titular opener, which unexpectedly broke into Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”