The 10 Commandments of Chindōgu, the Japanese Art of Creating Unusually Useless Inventions

Back in the 1990s I'd often run across volumes of the Unuseless Japanese Inventions series at bookstores. Each one features about a hundred ostensibly real Japanese devices, photographed and described with a disarming straightforwardness, that mash up other consumer products in outwardly bizarre ways: chopsticks whose attached miniature electric fan cools ramen noodles en route to the mouth; a plastic zebra crossing to unroll and lay across a street at the walker's convenience; an inverted umbrella attached to a portable tank for rainwater collection on the go. Such things, at once plausible and implausible, turn out to have their own word in the Japanese language: chindōgu (珍道具), or "curious tool."

"There's an essence to chindōgu that can't be ignored," writes Michael Richey at Tofugu, where you can view an extensive gallery of examples. "They need to be useful, but only just so. Something people could use, but probably won't because of shame," a famously powerful force in Japanese society.

They also adhere to a set of principles laid down by Kenji Kawakami, former editor of the country housewife-targeted magazine Mail Order Life, who first revealed chindōgu to Japan by showing off his prototypes in the back pages. These ten commandments of chindōgu are as follows:

  1. A Chindōgu Cannot be for Real Use — They must be, from a practical point of view, useless.
  2. A Chindōgu Must Exist — A Chindōgu must be something that you can actually hold, even if you aren’t going to use it.
  3. There must be the Spirit of Anarchy in Every Chindōgu — Chindōgu inventions represent the freedom to be (almost) useless and challenge the historical need for usefulness.
  4. Chindōgu Tools are for Everyday Life — Chindōgu must be useful (or useless) to everyone around the world for everyday life.
  5. Chindōgu are Not for Sale — Chindōgu cannot be sold, as this would go against the spirit of the art form.
  6. Humor is Not the Sole Reason for Creating a Chindōgu — Even if Chindōgu are inherently quirky and hilarious, the main reason they are created is for problem solving.
  7. Chindōgu are Not Propaganda — Chindōgu are, however, innocent and made with good intentions. They should only be created to be used (or not used).
  8. Chindōgu are Never Taboo — Chindōgu must adhere to society’s basic standards.
  9.  Chindōgu Cannot be Patented — Chindōgu cannot be copyrighted or patented, and are made to be shared with the rest of the world.
  10. Chindōgu Are Without Prejudice — Everyone should have an equal chance to enjoy every Chindōgu.

These principles resulted in the kind of inventions that drew great fascination and amusement in their home country — you can watch a short Japanese television broadcast showing Kawakami demonstrate a few chindōgu above — but not only there. The Unuseless Japanese Inventions books came out in the West at just the right time, a historical moment that saw Japan's image shift from that of a fearsome innovator and economic powerhouse to that of an inward-looking but often charming nation of obsessives and eccentrics. Of course such people, so Western thinking went, would come up with fashionable earrings that double as earplugs, a cup holder that slots into a jacket pocket, and shoes with toe-mounted brooms and dustpans.

Kawakami has continued to invent and exhibit chindōgu in recent years, and even now his work remains as analog as ever. "There’s always some process in analog products, and these processes themselves can be their purpose,” he told the Japan Times in a 2001 interview. "If you look at digital products, they all isolate people and leave them in their own small world, depriving them of the joy of communicating with others... I can’t deny that they make life more exciting and convenient, but they also make human relationships more shallow and superficial." Those wise words look wiser all the time — but then, you'd expect that degree of insight into 21st-century life from the man who may well have invented the selfie stick.

via Messy Nessy

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Banksy Shreds His $1.4 Million Painting at Auction, Taking a Tradition of Artists Destroying Art to New Heights

The first time vandals defaced his sculpture, Dirty Corner, at Versailles, artist Anish Kapoor wrote an essay in which he considered his options:

Should the paint that has been thrown all over the sculpture be removed? Or should it remain and be part of the work? Does the political violence of the vandalism make Dirty Corner “dirtier”? Does this dirty political act reflect the dirty politics of exclusion, marginalisation, elitism, racism, Islamophobia?

The question I ask of myself is: can I, the artist, transform this crass act of political vandalism and violence into a creative act? Would this not be the best revenge?

Sometimes artists are the ones behind the vandalism.

Ai Weiwei starred in a 1995 black-and-white photo triptych that documents his intentional destruction of a Han Dynasty urn from his private collection.

Brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman purchased a mint condition set of Goya’s The Disasters of War, painstakingly re-rendered the victims' heads as grotesquely cute, colorful cartoons, and exhibited the altered etchings under the title Insult to Injury.

Robert Rauschenberg sought and received permission to erase a drawing that his fellow Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning had given him, at his request.

Certainly, artists of all stripes have been known to eradicate their own work in fits of pique, passion, and self-reproach.

But until last week, no artist had ever vandalized their own work with such a dispassionate, pre-meditated sense of fun as Banksy, the anonymous clown prince of street art and massive scale pranks.

As you’ve likely heard by now, within seconds of his iconic Girl With Balloon (2006) selling at Sotheby’s for £1,042,000—$1.4 million—the painting began to self-destruct, thanks to a custom-built shredder the artist had pre-loaded into its frame.

No one seemed particularly distressed about it.

Auction attendees quickly scrambled to capture the moment with their cell phones.

Auctioneer Oliver Barker looks on in admirably mild confusion.

No self-appointed hero rushed forward to jam the works with an umbrella or broom handle.

The as-yet-unidentified buyer was not in the room, no doubt to their ever-lasting regret. Imagine losing out on those bragging rights!

While Sotheby’s and the buyer hammer out their unprecedented next steps, some art experts have stated that it would be possible, given the clean geometry of the cuts, to restore the canvas.

Though who would want to, given the speculation that this stunt immediately increased the value of the work, anywhere from 50% to near double the purchase price?

Perhaps the buyer will choose to finish the job and sell it off strip-by-strip.

Office supply stores will see an uptick in shredder sales to vendors selling Banksy knock-offs stencilled on subway maps.

Sotheby’s senior director, Alex Branczik, insisted that no one there was in on the joke, but The New York Times smells a rat:

The frame would presumably have been rather heavy and thick for its size, something an auction house specialist or art handler might have noticed. Detailed condition reports are routinely requested by the would-be buyers of high-value artworks. Unusually, this relatively small Banksy had been hung on a wall, rather than placed by porters on a podium for the moment of sale. 

The fact that Girl with Balloon was the final item on the block is either a great piece of luck, or a bit of canny stage management on the auction house’s part. Recapturing the attendees’ attention after that stunt would be an uphill battle.

It’s doubtful that buyers will shy away from Sotheby’s as a place where highly valued artwork starts to devour itself the moment the gavel comes down. That kind of lightning strikes but once.

What may circle back to bite the venerable firm in its well padded rear is the ease with which someone in the crowd was able to activate the mayhem, using a device concealed in his bag. What’s worse, lax security or maybe lying about foreknowledge of the prank? It's hard not to raise those as possibilities.

The man with the bag was escorted out. Not even the conspiracy theorists are pegging him as Banksy.

As for the steady-handed fellow another attendee caught calmly zooming in on his phone from the perfect angle… well, let’s just say the tabloids have picked up on his resemblance to Robin Gunningham, oft thought to be Clark Kent to Banksy’s Superman.

Banksy’s post-mortem, unlike Kapoor's, does not suggest a man tortured by unresolved questions.

“A few years ago I secretly built a shredder into a painting, in case it was ever put up for auction,” he wrote on his Instagram. “Going, going, gone.”

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, October 15 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Joy of Experiencing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody for the Very First Time: Watch Three Reaction Videos

Remember when you first encountered Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody"?

I suspect many of us don’t. It’s not the Kennedy assassination. Nor does it take long for Freddy Mercury’s soaring vocals and monumental lyrics to leach into the blood stream, creating the impression that we were born knowing every note, every word, every staggering transition…

(Note to those unfamiliar with this impossible to categorize 1975 masterpiece: Go give it a listen RIGHT NOW, while the rest of us wait for you here. Here’s the official video. But first, set up whatever equipment you need to film your reaction in real time, as Pennsylvania based YouTuber AFRO REACT, does above.)

He’ll definitely remember where he was when he first heard this wonderful, seminal song, as will over 1000 viewers, most of whom gave him an encouraging thumbs up.

So what if he mispronounces both “bohemian” and “rhapsody”?  That he’s unclear whether Queen is the name of the singer or the band? He can cringe later…or not. Such documented boo boos may be a generational hazard, the way crimped and moussed 80s hair was for mine.

(I was surprised, and grateful, that neither he, nor any of the video reaction masters featured today, sniped at the ridiculous coiffures of the artists they were watching.)

Perhaps AFRO REACT’s appreciation will lead him to investigate those unfamiliar words and more: Scaramouche, Bismillah, fandango (No, not the popular movie time site…)

I appreciated how he consulted his mom prior to listening, to see if she thought he’d enjoy the full song as much as he liked the snippet he’d heard in a movie trailer.

My son never asks my opinion like that.

Hold up a sec there, AFRO REACT. Why not leave Mom out of it and just give it a spin (as we used to say)?

I suspect what he was really eager to find out was whether she thought this track would be worthy of a reaction video.

The answer, resoundingly, is yes.

I confess that his habit of pausing the video to interject his own thoughts was driving me out of my gourd. My son does the same thing.

I have since learned this is more than just a symptom of being born into a world where pretty much everything can be paused and restarted at will, at least as far as practitioners of the reaction video arts are concerned.

Taking frequent breaks like that is a solid way to get around copyright claim when including the official videos alongside the reaction. (Other techniques include lowering the volume while offering one’s response or fast forwarding 5 seconds a couple of times per minute.)

I suspect many older fans will feel a lump at the 4:15 mark, as the appreciative first-timer muses, “This man has a beautiful voice. Like, what happened to him?”

Ask your mother, kid.

The real treat comes at 6:15. Scaramouche, scaramouche, whatever our young listener was expecting, it surely wasn’t that!

Thusly another Queen fan is forged. Just a few days ago, he shared his virgin response to "Under Pressure (Live at Wembley)"

Tuscaloosa-based musician Joey Da Prince takes a more understated approach to reaction videos. Watching him bob from side to side, brow furrowed, appreciative involuntary smiles blooming now and again, reminds me of coming home, stripping the cellophane from a just-purchased album (or CD) and giving it a good hard listen, eyeballs glued to the liner notes.

He only hits pause once, shocked by the opening line of the famous first verse:

Mama just killed a man…

Oh, wait a minute. In a just posted 25-minute lyric breakdown, Joey reveals that he misheard that line, and was, understandably, taken aback by the idea of the singer’s mother murdering someone.

(Mercury’s technique was impeccable, so let’s take this as proof that commas are easier to see than hear…)

Like AFRO REACT, Joey quickly queued up the live version of "Under Pressure"…and "Somebody to Love," "Fat Bottomed Girls," "We Will Rock You," the list goes on…

He’s obsessed to such a degree that he’s even filmed his reaction to pop culture essayist Polyphonic’s The Secrets Behind Freddie Mercury's Legendary Voice, below. This is what lifelong learners do.

It’s worth noting that Joey Da Prince tried "Bohemian Rhapsody" on a commenter’s suggestion.

At the rate he’s going, he’s going to burn through Queen’s sizable catalogue pretty quickly, so toss him some suggestions, people!

I’m gonna go out on a limb and nominate Kate Bush’s "Wuthering Heights."

Gamer Quamax, aka Qua, did not come to "Bohemian Rhapsody" as a total Queen newbie. By his own admission, he was somewhat familiar with "We Will Rock You," "We Are the Champions," "Another One Bites the Dust," and "Under Pressure" from their appearances in movies and “other pop culture” (which presumably does not cover someone else’s reaction videos.)

As he listens in an intent forward-facing hunch, he seems the most keyed-in to the humor that is a definite part of this song’s listening experience (and possibly performance). He laughs merrily at the phrase “Mama Mia, Mama Mia” and avails himself of some truly delightful after effects in the editing process. (Those in a rush may fast forward to 4:32.)

Final pronouncement? It’s “dope and funny” and he really liked the transitions from one musical style to another.

Welcome to the Queen Army, Quamax! You should try listening to "Under…" oh, you already did.

Readers, if these young men's open-mindedness and open ears have inspired you to shoot a reaction video of your own, you’ll find a good primer here.

What haven’t you heard?

And what do you wish you could hear again for the very first time?

via Metafilter

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, October 15 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Jurassic Park Without Dinosaurs: Watch Humans Stare in Amazement at a World Stripped of CGI Creations

How many times have you encountered an otherwise perfect view spoiled by a newly erected high rise, a construction crane, or a CGI brachiosaurus?

Constantly, right?

Video editor William Hirsch makes light work of Jurassic Park’s primary attractions’ first appearance, literally erasing them from the scene.

Hirsch estimated that it took him about a week to get rid of those pesky ‘saurs using nothing fancier than After Effects’s built in tools, which include the motion tracking software Mocha.

It's equal parts ridiculous and lovely to see humans suddenly thunderstruck by the unspoiled landscape they’ve been driving through.

These days, of course, Laura Dern would have to glance up from her phone, not a paper map.

Though it's not such a stretch to imagine Jurassic Park's author's successor, the late Michael Crichton's literary heir, hard at work on a dystopian novel titled Park.

At the time of its release, Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs were a special effects game changer. Their numbers were supplemented by some non-computer-generated animatronic models, though no doubt Spielberg was apprehensive given the way his robotic sharks acted up on the set of Jaws. The human players may have had more screen time, but the dinosaurs’ 15 minutes of footage has resulted in a lasting fame, extending decades beyond the expected 15 minutes.

Unexpectedly, Hirsch’s dinosaurs, or rather, lack thereof, have generated the most excitement with regard to his project. But his attention to detail is also laudable. Above, he reveals how he tweaked the access badge dangling from the rear view mirror of the park's all-terrain vehicle.

Are we wrong to think that John Williams’ swelling original score feels more organic in this dinosaur-free context? Rivers, trees, and vast amounts of skies have been known to spur composers to such heights.

The potentially lethal prehistoric beasts are out of the way, but that line “We’re gonna make a fortune with this place” retains an air of ominous foreshadowing, given the plentiful natural resources on display. Sometimes humans can do more damage than dinosaurs.

If that feels too intense, you can also retreat to the escapist pleasures of the original, below.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, October 15 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Hieronymus Bosch Demon Bird Was Spotted Riding the New York City Subway the Other Day…

To me, the great promise of homeschooling is that one day your child might, on their own initiative, ride the New York City subways dressed in a homemade, needlefelted costume modeled on the ice-skating bird messenger from Hieronymus Bosch’s The Temptation of St. Anthony.

Rae Stimson, aka Rae Swon, a Brooklyn-based artist who did just that a little over a week ago, describes her upbringing thusly:

Growing up I was home schooled in the countryside by my mom who is a sculptor and my dad who is an oil painter, carpenter, and many other things. Most of my days were spent drawing and observing nature rather than doing normal school work. Learning traditional art techniques had always been very important to me so that I can play a role in keeping these beautiful methods alive during this contemporary trend of digital, nonrepresentational, and conceptual art. I make traditional artwork in a wide variety of mediums, including woodcarving, oil painting, etching, needle felting, and alternative process photography.

Not every homeschooler, or, for that matter, Waldorf student, is into needle felting. It only seems that way when you compare the numbers to their counterparts in more traditional school settings…

Even the tiniest creature produced by this method is a labor intensive proposition, wherein loose woolen fibers are soaked, soaped, and jabbed with a needle until they come together in a rough mat, suitable for shaping into the whimsical—or demonic—figure of its creator’s choosing.

Stimson matched her full-head bird mask to the one in the painting by equipping it with gloves, a blanket cloak, long velvet ears, and a leafless twig emerging from the spout of its hand-painted funnel hat.

An accomplished milliner, Stimson was drawn to her subject’s unusual headgear, telling HuffPo’s Priscilla Frank how she wished she could ask Bosch about the various elements of his “beautiful demon-bird” and “what, if any, symbolic significance they hold.”

The answer lies in art history writer Stanley Meisler’s Smithsonian magazine article, "The World of Bosch":

…a monster on ice skates approaches three fiends who are hiding under a bridge across which pious men are helping an unconscious Saint Anthony. The monster, wearing a badge that Bax says can be recognized as the emblem of a messenger, bears a letter that is supposedly a protest of Saint Anthony's treatment. But the letter, according to (Bosch scholar and author Dirk) Bax, is in mirror writing, a sure sign that the monster and the fiends are mocking the saint. The monster wears a funnel that symbolizes intemperance and wastefulness, sports a dry twig and a ball that signify licentious merrymaking, and has lopping ears that show its foolishness. All this might have been obvious to the artist's contemporaries when the work was created, but the average modern viewer can only hope to understand the overall intent of a Bosch painting, while regarding the scores of bizarre monsters and demons as a kind of dark and cruel comic relief.

A field guide to Bosch’s bizarre images in the same article gives viewers leave to interpret any and all funnels in his work as a coded reference to deceit and intemperance... perhaps at the hands of a false doctor or alchemist!

Not every subway rider caught the arty reference. Unsurprisingly, some even refused to acknowledge the strange being in their midst. Those folks must not share Stimson’s dedication to examining “that which is unfamiliar, seeking out all that is yet unknown to you in both art and life.”

Within 24 hours of its Metropolitan Transit Authority adventure, the one-of-a-kind demon-bird costume was sold on Etsy.

(Holler if you wish Stimson had kept it around long enough to take a spin on the ice at Rockefeller Center or Bryant Park, where the majority of patrons would no doubt be gliding around in ignorance that, as per Meisler, Bosch equated skates with folly.)

See more of Rae Stimson’s needle-felted creations, including a full-body alien robot costume and a sculpture of author Joyce Carol Oates with her pet chicken in her Etsy shop.

via Hyperallergic

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Ayun Halliday is a New York City-based homeschooler, author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her at The Tank NYC on Monday, September 24 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Classic Songs by Bob Dylan Re-Imagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers: “Like a Rolling Stone,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” & More

Screenwriter Todd Alcott has been very busy since we introduced you to his hilarious Mid-Century Pulp Fiction Cover project last month.

To restate what should be obvious from the second, if not first glance, none of Alcott’s titles are real. His aesthetically convincing mock-ups pay tribute to favorite songs by favorite artists: David Bowie, Talking Heads, Joy Division, Elvis Costello…

The start of the school year finds him in a Dylan mood, rendering some of his best known hits in a variety of pulp genre formats:

Bob Dylan is the perfect subject for this project, because his work has always been all about quotation and repurposing. From the very beginning, he took old songs, changed the lyrics and called them his own…. And it's not just the melodies, he's also not shy about lifting phrases and whole lines from other sources. One of the fun things about being a Bob Dylan fan is being able to spot the influences. It's not just lifting lines from classic blues songs, where we don't really know who "wrote" the originals, it's real, identifiable, copyright-protected material. And you never know where it's going to come from, a book about the Yakuza from Japan, a cookbook, an old Time Magazine article, or 1940s noir pictures.

I was watching a classic Robert Mitchum noir, Out of the Past, and Mitchum is talking to someone, and they mention San Francisco, and Mitchum says "I always liked San Francisco, I was there for a party once." 

And I was like "Wait, what?" Because that's a line from a really obscure Dylan song, "Maybe Someday," off his album Knocked-Out Loaded. 

I was like "Wait, why did that line stick in Dylan's mind? Why did he decide to quote that? Is it just the way Mitchum says it? What happened there?" And suddenly a song I hadn't thought about much became a lot more interesting.

So for my Dylan covers, I try to carry on that tradition of taking quotes and repurposing them. So "Just Like a Woman" becomes a story in a science-fiction pulp, and "Like a Rolling Stone" becomes an expose on juvenile delinquency, and "Rainy Day Women" becomes a post-apocalyptic adventure story. 

In a way, it's what this project is all about, taking discarded pieces of culture and sticking them back together with new references to make them breathe again.

"Just Like a Woman"’s lyrics have never sat particularly well with feminists. (“There’s no more complete catalogue of sexist slurs,” author Marion Meade wrote in The New York Times.)

I think it’s fair to say that Alcott’s buxom flame-haired cyborg leans in to that criticism. The cover of this faux science fiction mag also harkens back to a time when the depiction of sexy female robots left something to the imagination.

From a design standpoint, it’s a great illustration of the heavy lifting a single well-chosen punctuation change can do.

The magazine’s title is an extra gift to Dylan fans.

The Blonde-on-Blonde Chronicles continue with Rainy Day Women #12 & 35. Does it matter that the breast-plated, and for all practical purposes bottomless warriors are raven tressed?

Only if tongue's not firmly in cheek.

The nightmare vision of Dylan’s seven-minute protest song "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall” makes for a smooth transition to a disaster novel of the 1970s.

In a 1963 radio interview with author Studs Terkel, Dylan asserted that the song wasn’t directly related to the nuclear fears all-pervasive at the time:

It’s not the fallout rain. It isn’t that at all. The hard rain’s gonna fall is in the last verse...That means all the lies, you know, that people get told on their radios and in newspapers. All you have to think for a minute, you know. Trying to take people’s brains away, you know. Which maybe has been done already. I hate to think it’s been done. All the lies, which I consider poison.

This writer can think of another reason citizens might find themselves fighting for their lives in a rowboat level with the very tippy top of the Empire State Building. So, I suspect, can Alcott.

Or maybe we’re wrong and climate change is nothing but fake news.

Alcott gets some mileage out of another rain-based lyric on Maggie’s Farm, a steamy rural romp whose creased cover is also part and parcel of the genre.

Who’s that young punk on the cover of Like a Rolling Stone? Beats me, but the girl’s a dead ringer for Warhol superstar, Edie Sedgwick, the purported inspiration for the song that shares the novel’s name. Ms. Sedgwick’s real life figure was much less voluptuous, but if the genre covers that sparked this project demonstrate anything, it’s that sex sells.

Visions of Johanna is positively understated in comparison. While many pulp authors toiled in obscurity, let us pretend that Nobel Prize winner and (faux) pulp-novelist Dylan wouldn’t have. Especially if he had a series like the pseudonymous Brett Halliday’s popular Mike Shayne mysteries. At that level, the cover wouldn’t really need quotes.

Though what harm would there be? There’s plenty of negative space here. Readers, which line would you splash across the cover if you were this prankster, Alcott?

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin' to be so quiet?

We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it

And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it

Lights flicker from the opposite loft

In this room the heat pipes just cough

The country music station plays soft

But there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off

Just Louise and her lover so entwined

And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind

In the empty lot where the ladies play blindman’s bluff with the key chain

And the all-night girls they whisper of escapades out on the “D” train

We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight

Ask himself if it’s him or them that’s really insane

Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near

She’s delicate and seems like the mirror

But she just makes it all too concise and too clear

That Johanna’s not here

The ghost of ’lectricity howls in the bones of her face

Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place

Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously

He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously

And when bringing her name up

He speaks of a farewell kiss to me

He’s sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and all

Muttering small talk at the wall while I’m in the hall

How can I explain?

Oh, it’s so hard to get on

And these visions of Johanna, they kept me up past the dawn

Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial

Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while

But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues

You can tell by the way she smiles

See the primitive wallflower freeze

When the jelly-faced women all sneeze

Hear the one with the mustache say, “Jeeze

I can’t find my knees”

Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule

But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel

The peddler now speaks to the countess who’s pretending to care for him

Sayin’, “Name me someone that’s not a parasite and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him”

But like Louise always says

“Ya can’t look at much, can ya man?”

As she, herself, prepares for him

And Madonna, she still has not showed

We see this empty cage now corrode

Where her cape of the stage once had flowed

The fiddler, he now steps to the road

He writes ev’rything’s been returned which was owed

On the back of the fish truck that loads

While my conscience explodes

The harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain

And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain

You can see more of Todd Alcott’s Mid-Century Pulp Fiction Cover project, and pick up archival quality prints from his Etsy shop.

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Ayun Halliday - no relation to Brett - is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 24 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch 13 Comedians Take “The Bob Ross Challenge” & Help Raise Money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

The late Bob Ross, the almost laughably calm host of PBS’ popular how-to series, the Joy of Painting, was a boss of many things—business, branding, the 16th-century wet-on-wet ”Alla Prima” technique...

Also speed, as thirteen New York City comedians recently discovered firsthand.

Invited to participate in The Bob Ross Challenge, a web series-cum-fundraiser hatched by comedians Micah Sherman and Mark Stetson, they gamely plunged ahead, regardless of artistic talent or familiarity with the master.

Some like, Julia Duffy, are simply too young to have encountered Ross in his public television heyday.

(For the record, all 403 episodes of Ross' painting show are now viewable online for free.)

Others, like Aparna Nancherla, above, chanced upon reruns screened for ironic effect in dive bars...

Or, like Keisha Zollar, they’re in a romantic relationship with someone who uses The Joy of Painting to combat insomnia.

The majority seem to share a latch key kid’s fondness for the gentle Ross, whose show proved a chill pairing with afterschool snacks.

“We spent about $1000 on official Bob Ross supplies,” Sheman reports. From easel to the fan brush, everything was set up for the participating comedians’ success. Like Ross, who typically shot a season's worth of episodes over a single weekend, the first season's shoot transpired over a few days.

The ground rules were simple. Armed with an arsenal of officially sanctioned supplies, each comedian entered a studio where a Joy of Painting episode was screening, charged with recreating that canvas in real time. At the end of the episode, it was “brushes down” whether or not the canvas bore passing resemblance to Bob’s.

“Our original title was Bob Ross Fails, but people were actually succeeding,” Sherman confesses.

That said, there’s a definite edge. The participants may be trained in improv, but as performers, there's an imperative to get over, and, as stated, Ross moves fast. In the time it takes an average mortal to apply a sky wash, he’s likely fan brushed in a couple of happy little trees.

Tough nuts.

The rules of the game decree that the stopwatch abides.

As Ralf Jean-Pierre observes, it’s a race against time.

Though not everyone plays by the rules…

David Carl, above, creator of Trump Lear, declares (in character) that he not only defeated Bob Ross, but that “no one’s ever had a better tree than that” and that his clouds are “beautifully tremendous.”

Sherman and his co-creator Mark Stetson have conceived of The Bob Ross Challenge as a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Like Ross, Stetson’s father was prematurely claimed by lymphoma. Make a donation in their honor here.

Watch the first season of The Bob Ross Challenge here.


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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her recent trip to Mexico City is the inspiration for her latest short play at The Tank in New York City on August 23, Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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