Sunday, August 31, 2014


In the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, are two murals by Gottardo Piazzoni. They are on the ground floor, in their own, free to visit, room. These murals have a storied history. Initially they were commissioned for the San Francisco Public Library in 1932. When that building became the Asian Art Museum they seemed a little out of place. Lawsuits followed and they were installed in Golden Gate Park.

I love these murals as they perfectly depict the Bay Area. They are some of my favorite works of art, although for legal reasons (I believe) they are not available for purchase as posters or anything else.

San Francisco is fraught with murals from the 30s. 

In 1931 Diego Rivera completed one of my other favorites, and one of his best: The Making of a Frescoe Showing the Building of a City. I've enjoyed this mural since I was a kid. And yes, that is Diego's paunchy posterior front and center. The look of resignation on the workers face is an excellent tribute to the labor movement of the era. It is also a marvelous example of trompe l'oeil blending into the room of the San Francisco Art Institute.

Speaking of Diego Rivera... In Coit Tower a number of publicly financed artists, as part of the New Deal's WPA program, reacted against the destruction of Diego Rivera's Rockefeller Center mural Man at the Crossroads (notably dramatized in the film Cradle Will Rock). In their frescoes they depict a number of explicit socialist themes.

The WPA also commissioned a series of murals in 1936 at the far end of Golden Gate Park, in the Beach Chalet. These murals, which are very pastoral, were painted by Lucien Labuadt. While less explicit, one should note the prominent inclusion in one panel of labor leader Henry Bridges.

Pushing the cart

Still, since most of the scenes are of tourist destinations and the wealthy enjoying themselves, some speculate that the murals are a commentary on the inequity of the times. It was the last great mural set of the era. That said, in the mid-40s, there was one last look back at the cubist-influenced murals of the past decade.

The Rincon murals were far more controversial than even Coit Tower. Painted by a Russian immigrant, Anton Refregier (who had started as part of the WPA) they depict bitter memories and class struggles - painted when the burgeoning Cold War was not sympathetic to such depictions. Even Nixon tried to have them covered. But, then again, if Nixon doesn't like it, that probably means that it's a good thing.

The Rincon series is called The History of California and shortly after its completion another set of murals, by Jan Henryk de Rosen, also depicts the history of the area, this set in the aisles of Grace Cathedral. Originally painted between 1949-50, these murals have explicitly no political tone, albeit depicting the UN charter, and unlike Refregier's highly cubist works, the art deco and cubist influences are almost gone.

These bring us full circle, in a way, to the original Piazzoni murals. You can tackle California in many ways. You could, like the muralists of the 40s, depict the history of the area with images of the Great Fire, the Bear Republic, and Sir Francs Drake. You could, like the muralists of the 30s, show the political and social conditions - the important people who shaped the land. The tensions and shared culture. But I prefer Piazzoni. He captures, in two landscapes, the reality of California without politics, social commentary, or history, yet profoundly distilling what this place actually is.

Friday, August 22, 2014


I am getting real tired of packing.

Since age five I've moved six times. The first was as a teenager, when I went to boarding school in Colorado, taking my essentials with me from California. Now my belongings, besides being in two houses from divorced parents, were spread across two different states. After high school I went to college in Vermont, and now my stuff was on opposite sides of the continent. After my first year in college my mom moved to Massachusetts, so I started leaving stuff there. Three states. I went to England to study for six months - the first time my stuff was split between two countries. I graduated with a Masters and my stuff was split again between three states when I got my first job in Nevada. After which I was split between two states and where I was living for my second job, in Singapore. Upon my return I got a job in Connecticut, and my stuff was back to three states.

One thing I've noticed is a totem-like need to hold onto certain pieces of stuff. I have a box of thumbtacks I've had since high school - the thing is held together with a rubber band for goodness sake - that I make sure to bring wherever I go. Just comforting, I guess; along with a dozen other such items I could easily replace but ship out anyway.

Tomorrow I am moving back to California, where some of my stuff has been residing for 14 years now while I traveled the country and planet. Everything's out of Connecticut, and so I am back to two states. I sincerely hope, by Spring maybe, to have everything back in California - and nothing left in Massachusetts any longer.

Living the bi-coastal life has been good for me, but I'm excited to consolidate. I only want to pull out the tape gun and packing boxes maybe three more times (first house, Sacramento governor's mansion, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue). Nor do I want to consider living in another state - from now on I plan to visit only, and reside in the Bay Area for the foreseeable future. For now, I'm set. And settling.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Best Disney Songs

Of the Animated Classics series, here are the top Disney songs, with one song per movie allowed. Only original compositions were considered (sorry Chicken Little...)

47. Where the Dream Takes You – Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Atlantis is not the worst Disney film (see entry #39) but the lackluster score surely didn't help.

46. No Way Out – Brother Bear

Phil Collins can be great, but when he's bad, he's really, really, bad.

45. Tomorrow Is Another Day – The Rescuers

I'm generally not very fond of this film, but the soundtrack was the worst part.

44. Goodbye May Seem Forever – The Fox and the Hound

I used to consider this the worst-ever Disney song - not so much sad as saccharine.

43. The Tummy Song – Winnie the Pooh

Why they made this short little film, I don't know. The songs are pointless, matching a pointless plot.

42. I’m Still Here – Treasure Planet

Honestly I feel this should be lower. Then I relisten to the preceding tracks.

41. You’ll Be in My Heart – Tarzan

More Phil Collins!

40. Another Believer – Meet the Robinsons

I enjoyed Meet the Robinsons, but Rufus doesn't add much.

39. Will the Sun Ever Shine Again – Home on the Range

This terrible, unwatchable movie at least has a decent Bonnie Raitt song. And nothing else.

38. Bug Hunt – Wreck-It Ralph

The only instrumental on the list, and Skrillex to boot. Disney has come a long way.

37. My What a Happy Day – Fun and Fancy Free

This is a dumb song, but I find myself singing it when I walk down the road.

36. That’s What Makes the World Go Round – The Sword in the Stone

Of the admittedly dopey songs in Sword in the Stone, this is the best.

35. Barking at the Moon – Bolt

Sort of pointless, as movies go, but not a bad song.

34. Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride – Lilo and Stitch

One of my favorite Disney movies, the soundtrack is dominated by Elvis. But there's also this.

33. The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind – The Great Mouse Detective

The only reason this is so high is 'cause I sang it a lot as a kid.

32. Blue Shadows on the Trail – Melody Time

Roy Rogers - the country phenomenon wasn't just the early aughts.

31. Mother Knows Best – Tangled

Perhaps an unusual choice for Tangled, another villain's song.

30. Little April Shower – Bambi

Annoyingly, infectiously, catchy.

29. The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers – The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

From the better Pooh movie. It's...bouncy.

28. Sing Sweet Nightingale – Cinderella

Although a slow-paced film, this scene was the slowest. Which is unfortunate since it can take 'Bitbbity Boppity Blegch' any day.

27. Painting the Roses Red – Alice in Wonderland

This song is just so fun. It's quirky and upbeat, and, again, as a kid I loved it.

26. Saludos Amigos – Saludos Amigos

A Latin-tinged little number.

25. He’s a Tramp – Lady and the Tramp

Peggy Lee!

24. Perfect World – The Emperor’s New Groove

Really amusing, the best shot at groove the movie had.

23. Why Should I Worry – Oliver and Company

I don't like the movie, but I do like Billy Joel.

22. Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet – Make Mine Music

The Andrews Sisters did a lot of music for Disney in the 40s, but this is their best offering.

21. Down in New Orleans – The Princess and the Frog

It's hard not to like the New Orleans sound, after all.

20. Colors of the Wind – Pocahontas

I have not seen this movie. I don't want to see this movie. But, dammit, it's a good song.

19. Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat – The Aristocats

The opening is probably slower than you remember, but the rest is jazzy enough to make it up.

18. You Can Fly – Peter Pan

Who didn't want to try to fly after this song?

17. A Whole New World – Aladdin

Clearly a sex metaphor. But the rest of Aladdin's songs are pretty lame.

16. The Bells of Notre Dame – The Hunchback of Notre Dame

It's so freaking epic.

15. Cruella De Vil – 101 Dalmatians

If you don't like this song, I'm going to be slightly concerned.

14. Nowhere in Particular – The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

The sentiment of this song is what I like so much about it, as well as the upbeat acceptance of life's adventures.

13. When I See an Elephant Fly – Dumbo

Obviously a controversial choice. I can't change the times the movie was made in, but I stand by the song, not the circumstances that surround its creation.

12. Part of Your World – The Little Mermaid

The showpiece of my least favorite renaissance film is an admitted show-stopper.

11. Zero to Hero – Hercules

The best part of a good film.

10. Let It Go – Frozen

The top ten. Let It Go is sort of old now, but ten years from now people will still love it, with good reason.

09. Baia – Three Caballeros

For my money this wins the combo for most beautiful song and most beautiful animation combo.

08. I’m Wishing/One Song – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The one that started them all. One Song is very underrated - its the best prince's song.

07. I’ll Make a Man Out of You – Mulan

Increasingly of questionable PC content, I have had my students break out into this song so many times... probably 'cause its so good.

06. When You Wish Upon a Star – Pinocchio

Pinocchio has some winners, but none compare to this classic.

05. Oo De Lally – Robin Hood

Roger Miller! Tough call, with 'Whistle Stop', but Oo De Lally just barely takes it.

04. Be Our Guest – Beauty and the Beast

I defy you to dislike this song. It is the definition of happiness.

03. I Wanna Be Like You – The Jungle Book

Disney's best foray into jazz, aided immensely by Louis Prima. Read into the scene what you will.

02. The Circle of Life – The Lion King


01. Once Upon a Dream – Sleeping Beauty

The All-Time Greatest Disney song. Hands down.