Gifted with the benefit of hindsight, we are aware of Bowie’s terminal illness during the conceptualization and execution of his final album Blackstarwith 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:
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)
“Dirty Mind”—Beautifully stark in its new-wave minimalism and some of Prince’s finest drum and synth programming.
“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.
“Controversy”—This is Prince’s Declaration of Independence as he fully embraces his bad boy persona and his mastery of the recording studio.
“Lady Cab Driver”—A magnum opus in storytelling and cinematic in production, Prince seamlessly merges his funk, rock, and pop influences into ONE song.
“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.
Electronic music production and DJ training facility Dubspot has been instrumental educating the public on the history and technique of the DJ and two-time DMC (Disco Music Club) turntable champion and instructor Shiftee’s examination on the craft is an arresting blend of historical lecture and performance art.
This is an excellent primer on one of the pillars of Hip-Hop culture (Break Dancing, Emceeing, DJing, Graffiti Art, and Beatboxing) and for those who wish to explore the subject in detail I recommend the following:
Wild Style (Film), Hip-Hop is exposed to the World in Charlie Ahern’s seminal 1983 film
Scratch (Film), Doug Pray’s fascinating documentary on the history of Turntablism and the cult of the DJ
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop (Book), Jeff Chang explores the economic, political, and social forces that create and shape what we now know as Hip-Hop Culture
Academy Award winning filmmaker Liz Garbus has directed a long overdue documentary on Nina Simone using unseen archival music, photos, and film footage tell the story of a fiercely creative, complex, and socially conscious artist.
Nina Simone is personally inspiring because of her singular commitment to her craft, her art, and her message. During the height of the civil rights struggle, she put it all on the line—her fame, her reputation, and her career—to reflect the times in which she lived.
I, for one, am excited to see this film and not the fictional movie on Ms. Simone, as portrayed by Zoe Saldana(!).
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is best known as drummer, writer, and producer for the hip-hop supergroup The Roots, but just as important he is a globe-trotting DJ and avid record collector.
Quest For Cubais a thirteen-minute documentary by Okay Player Films chronicling Questlove’s funky, street-level cultural exchange tour of Cuba: spinning tracks, crate digging for classic vinyl (I spotted a classic Los Zafiros album in the stack!), and visiting the legendary EGREM Studios in Old Havana.
Ten years ago, The Roots played in Cuba and Questlove vows to return again soon. I can’t speak for the American or Cuban governments, but I trust that “Questo” speaks the truth and we will all be the richer for the effort!
George Orson Welles would’ve been 100 years old this week and many authors and critics are writing about the breadth and depth of his creative output.
How can a man write, direct and produce for theater, radio, and film in seemingly the same space of time? Answer: He didn’t sleep.
Here at TLS, we are not advocating insomnia or being a workaholic, but we do respect Mr. Welles’ relentless drive and intense focus. The takeaway: whatever you are currently working on—be it for five minutes or two hours—give it your undivided attention.
For those select human beings who are determined, humble, and fortunate enough to do what they love—truly love—and contribute to making this world a better place deserve our recognition and our respect.
Carroll Spinney is one such person. For more than 40 years Mr. Spinney has been man in the yellow suit as Big Bird and the man in the garbage can as Oscar the Grouch.
As a child who grew up in the first generation of the show, it holds a special place in my heart (and my early development). It is the first place where I learned the expanse of creativity, music, imagination, and learning.
I loved the movie Whiplash and I think the kinetic energy and jazz subject matter makes it a great springboard to launch into a new illustrative poster project using Adobe Draw CC mobile application (in conjunction with Adobe Illustrator and InDesign). My goal of the poster is to use modern technology to create an homage to classic cinema posters and record albums of the 1940’s and 1950’s.
Despite learning the functions of Adobe Draw CC, using a digital stylus as opposed to pen and ink, and grappling with capturing the detail, color, and movement of BOTH the subject and style; Version 2.2 is progressing well.
First person accounts by underground music luminaries (such as DJ Marley Marl, Kool DJ Red Alert, Tony Humphries, and Stretch Armstrong) interspersed with vintage audio, photos, and video drops you in the moment when the underground broke above ground via New York radio and germinated throughout the world by cassette tape (I fondly have college recollections of students collecting,trading, and dubbing tapes from New York to Baltimore to Philly to Detroit to Chicago to Oakland to LA).
Being both a design and film enthusiast, the book Criterion Designs is a 10″ x 13″, 306-page collection of cinema history as well as a fascinating insight into the creative process of some of the finest commercial artists and illustrators working today.
This is inspiring and challenging work that will enhance any studio, office, or coffee table. Check out the book teaser below:
A Site Devoted to Design, Popular Culture, and the Creative Process