Category Archives: Feature

Happy Birthday to “Invisible Man” Author Ralph Ellison

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of those Hollywood-movie ectoplasms.”

American writer, essayist, and musician Ralph Ellison was born March 1, 1914.

One of my favorite books of all time is Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: a complex, sprawling, and uncompromising rumination on race, class, and identity in Mid-Century America:

Invisible Man, First Edition, 1952.

” I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids–and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

It is a book that reveals deeper levels and new revelations with each reading:

“Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass.”

Invisible Man, 2012 cover designed by Cardon Webb.

Considered to be a seminal novel of the 20th century, it is a nightmarish journey of psychological angst and societal madness as told through the narrative of a nameless protagonist.

CODA: If you haven’t read the novel (or if you haven’t cracked it open since high school or college), I would highly recommend the experience:

“When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination–indeed, everything and anything except me.”

 

Emily McDowell’s New Book Expands Upon Her Honest Design About Serious Illness

The book “There Is Not a Good Card For This” expands upon Emily McDowell’s line of cards to address serious illness.

Two years ago, I wrote a feature for TLS about Emily McDowell’s straightforward and often humorous line of empathy cards borne out of her own battle at age 24 with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

This small, personal project has evolved into a larger, collaborative book, There is No Good Card for This (the title, inspired by the name of one of Emily’s cards) with Kelsey Crowe, Ph.D. to help individuals chart a meaningful course of action “when life is scary, awful, and unfair to people you love”.

 

Divided into three parts, the book’s practical,  conversational prose perfectly mirrors Emily’s spare and insightful illustration style—she is masterful at distilling complex subjects and concepts into warm and meaningful forms.

Congratulations Emily and Kelsey on the new book. And thank you for transforming illness, struggle, and pain into meaning, purpose, and beauty that benefits us all.

Todd.

CODA: Listen to Emily discuss the new book on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Celebrating the Immortality of David Bowie

Gifted with the benefit of hindsight, we are aware of Bowie’s terminal illness during the conceptualization and execution of his final album Blackstar with the Donny McCaslin Quartet so it is surprising that hours before what would have been David Bowie’s 70th birthday (and several days before the anniversary of his passing) a Tom Hingston-directed video for the ironically titled “No Plan” has been released online.

Even from beyond, Bowie remains a beautifully enigmatic and otherworldly creative presence with the ability the stimulate our intellect and touch our hearts.

We are all the richer for his efforts: Peace, Blessings, and Godspeed David.

CODA: Explore the world of the album’s title track:

A Decade on One Design? Lost Art Describes Working with the Avalanches

Design is hard.

Working on a singular project for a decade is commitment:

“it is more important for us to be creating beautiful, progressive, rewarding work with our partners than it is to take on every new client we can.” —Lost Art

The design firm Lost Art collaborated with the music outfit The Avalanches more than ten years as their second album Wildflower was in development.

As reviewed in this blog in September, Wildflower is an exceptional album—a sonic collision of genres transcending time and space and one of my favorite releases of 2016.

CODA: Check out “The Was”, a video piece created by the art collective Soda_Jerk and the Avalanches:

 

 

 

Google Cardboard Provides A Taste of Virtual Reality for $15 USD

Google Cardboard transforms your smartphone into a Virtual Reality (VR) viewer in seconds!
Google Cardboard transforms your smartphone into a Virtual Reality (VR) viewer in seconds!

During a summer playdate with my best friend and our kids, he exposed me to Google Cardboard via a player received in the post from the New York Times VR (a recently launched content provider for Cardboard).  After slipping on a pair of headphones and staring deeply into headpiece (which conspicuously resembles the old, static View Master), I was blown away by the seemingly effortless experience of swimming underwater with dolphins, climbing the spire of the new World Trade Center, and exploring the history of Cuban Dance.

Despite the fact that Cardboard is 360-degree video and isn’t true virtual reality it is an astounding, immersive experience for only $15 and the content being created for the player (many of them free) is equally impressive!

But, don’t take my word for it, explore it yourself:

“Bring virtual reality to life with Google Cardboard. Using your smartphone and VR apps, this quality viewer puts the world of VR right in your hands, affordably.”

Everything Old is New Again: The Avalanches Release Their First Album in 16 Years

The Avalanches' storm back to relevance with the release of "Wildflower".
The Avalanches’ storm back to relevance with the release of “Wildflower”.

16 years ago, a group of Australian proto-punk, alternative artists turned deejays unleashed Since I Left You : a sprawling, sumptuous fin de siecle album upon an unsuspecting world.

As the 90’s drew to a close, we were witnessing the swift transformation of the music industry from guitars to turntables, record stores to Napster, analog recording to digital assembly; and the Avalanches threw themselves headlong into this brave new postmodern world inhabited by likes of Massive Attack, Portishead, Moby, Air, Thievery Corporation, and DJ Shadow.

Like DJ Shadow’s 1997 magnum opus Endtroducing, the album Since I Left You painstakingly constructed a digital valentine to the quickly vanishing analog era.  A lot has happened in since the early aughts and Wildflower quickly picks up and expands upon where the previous album left off. Assisted by a stellar roster of cameos, Wildflower is a collision of hard, urban beats and soft, psychedelic melodies expertly sequenced as only a collective of seasoned DJs can.

This was my album of the summer, but may be one of the most pleasurable listens of the year.

CODA: Listen to members of the band discuss the album with Beats Radio host, Zane Lowe.

Why Prince Matters: A Belated Appreciation

Prince's ambiguity created a legion of diverse fans.
Prince’s ambiguity created a legion of diverse fans.

Ever since music avatar and popular culture icon Prince Rogers Nelson died on April 21, 2016 there have been many tributes and testaments to his staggering talent but I think his most lasting legacy may be his comfort with non-conformity.

Prince KNEW he was different and that was his strength. He didn’t look, sing, play, or write like anyone else. Make no mistake, he had internalized the personas of Little Richard, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly Stone but through the prism of his own contradictory and ambiguous worldview.

Blurring the likes between black and white, straight and gay, sinner or saint, rock and R&B, was an anathema to the culturally rigid society of the 80’s. A world of cold-war paranoia, apartheid, and homophobia. Through his music and performances, he pushed the boundaries of what was considered to be socially acceptable.

As a Generation X black kid  growing up in Milwaukee I knew my experience wasn’t much different from Prince’s Minneapolis and I saw him as a hero. Championing the underground and the counterculture and not allowing himself to be defined by his environment. The rebel, the hippie, the punk, the freak, and the queer were all equally attracted to his persona.

I never imagined that his vision would become the mainstream and that he would be embraced as an elder statesman by the cultural elite.

But, then again I never saw him dying at middle age either. Rest in peace, Prince there will never be another one like you.

Coda: 5 of Todd’s Favorite Prince Songs (in no particular order)

  1. “Dirty Mind”—Beautifully stark in its new-wave minimalism and some of Prince’s finest drum and synth programming.
  2. “I Wanna Be Your Lover”(Album Version)—At first blush this 1979 single sounds very much like post-disco Sylvester, but at 2:28 mark the track transforms into a hypnotic, proto-house electrojam.
  3. “Controversy”—This is Prince’s Declaration of Independence as he fully embraces his bad boy persona and his mastery of the recording studio.
  4. “Lady Cab Driver”—A magnum opus in storytelling and cinematic in production, Prince seamlessly merges his funk, rock, and pop influences into ONE song.
  5. “She Always in My Hair”—The greatest of his impressive body of B-Sides, Prince lays down one of his most infectious guitar riffs to great effect.

Marvel’s Black Panther Gets a High-Octane Update from Author Ta-Nehisi Coates

MacArthur Genius Grant Awardee and National Book Award Winning Author (Between the World and Me), Essayist, and Social Critic Ta-Nehisi Coates reinvigorates the Wakandan warrior Black Panther for a new generation of readers.

Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze's update of Black Panther for the modern era.
Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze’s update of Black Panther for the modern era.

Infused with a social and political urgency uncommonly present in comics, the most advanced society on Earth (Wakanda) is in the midst of revolution and unrest and the warrior/prince T’Challa must deftly balance the duties of superhero and monarch. Brian Stelfreeze’s artwork is cinematic in its scope and movement.

Black Panther will have a major role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as Director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) helms the upcoming film starring Chadwick Boseman (42, Captain America Civil War).

If this comic series is any indication, Black Panther will be the prototypical hero for the new millennium.

Black Panther Marvel Online Update #1
Watch the video recap of Black Panther issue #1 paired with the music of Run the Jewels.

The response to this series (now in its third issue) has been overwhelming and Coates is providing a video update of each issue paired with exciting new music from artists such as Run the Jewels, Mobb Deep, and Prodigy.

 

Five Lessons Learned from the Greatest: Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali, an athlete whose accomplishments in and outside of the boxing ring transcends the world of sport and makes him one of the most recognizable and influential figures of the past century.

Here are five lessons to be gleaned from “The Greatest”:

Muhammad Ali 2016

  1. Believe in Yourself—Muhammad Ali called himself the Greatest long before anyone else did; so believe in your abilities and banish the negative self-talk.
  2. Believe in Something Greater Than Yourself—Mr. Ali’s strong spiritual faith was a source of both humility and strength during a time of great social and political upheaval. Find your center and it will ground you in times of adversity.
  3. Believe in the Greatness of Others—We can’t do it all alone and we must rely on a team to reach our goals. Choose your friends, partners, and confidents wisely and in turn help them achieve their goals.
  4. Believe That You Can Change Your World—If not you then, who?!
  5. Believe the Change You Affect Will Be Remembered—Execute tasks and complete work with your legacy in mind.

Explore the Universe of Miles Davis on His 90th Birthday

90 years since his birth on this day and almost 25 years since his passing into immortality; the shadow of Miles Dewey Davis still looms large on the cultural horizon.

Polygraph’s The Universe of Miles Davis quantifies the jazz avatar’s wide ranging influence through his 2,452 Wikipedia mentions (English).

Miles-Davis_Universe_1
It’s Miles’ World and we’re just living in it.

Through this visually striking interactive site we descend down a digital rabbit hole of recordings, people, and places that traces a through line of Miles’ relevance from the early twentieth-century to today.

“Knowledge is freedom and ignorance is slavery”
—Miles Davis

Miles-Davis_Universe_2

If Mr. Davis were alive today we are certain he would approve. Happy Birthday Miles!