Chad Comello

Librarian, cinephile, et al

Tag: John Mayer

The People’s Machine: On ‘California Typewriter’

As was the case with Tom Hanks’s new typewriter-inspired short story collection, I was the easiest mark in the world for the new Doug Nichol documentary California Typewriter, which profiles the titular typewriter repair shop in Berkeley and the wider place of the typewriter in modern culture.

Though I’ve been anticipating the film for a while, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It turned out to be partially an adaptation of Richard Polt’s seminal The Typewriter Revolution and partially a meditation by figures famous and otherwise on the machine’s enduring value in the midst of its obsolescence. All together a collection of vignettes revolving around their common theme, the film works as a primer for the uninitiated as well as an adoring homage for the converted.

There are three main stories weaving throughout the film: the collector Martin Howard on a pilgrimage to snag an original 19th-century Sholes and Glidden, the California Typewriter shop struggling to survive in a defunct industry, and the artist Jeremy Mayer reusing parts from decommissioned typers to create some pretty incredible sculptures:

Together they neatly represent the past, present, and future of typewriters, but the shop narrative is the lynchpin. Owned by an African-American family for over 35 years, it’s now the most prominent representative of a dying breed. Even with the recent resurgence of interest, the decades of experience repairman Ken Alexander and his cohort have is a finite supply. And without high-quality typewriters being manufactured, that supply will only dwindle from here.

Still, notable typists have their reasons for sticking with typewriters. Tom Hanks has over 200 of them, many of which he gives away. (He names his favorites, two of which I own and share his opinion on.) David McCullough has been using the same hulking Royal Standard for over 50 years now in his drool-worthy writing cabin. (Against the conventional wisdom of modern gadgets, he says, “I don’t want to faster. I want to go slower.”) John Mayer got one in a bid for more permanence with his work and started writing lyrics with it. The late great Sam Shepard waxes eloquent about his Hermes 3000 and speaks to the benefits of its rituals, like how rolling in a new page is akin to saddling a horse for a job or journey.

The film is beautifully shot and edited by Nichol, whose eye as a commercial and music video cinematographer finds lots of lovingly framed images and scenes. A junkyard pile of cars that mirror the piles of discarded typers in Mayer’s studio. A reading of the Typewriter Insurgency Manifesto contrasted with footage of Apple fanatics lining up for the latest iDevice. But Nichol’s best decision was picking a subject that is already damn photogenic.

One collector mentions the typewriter subculture is almost exclusively men. Though technically inaccurate (for starters, typewriter poet-for-hire Silvi Alcivar is featured in the film, and there are the good people of Poems While You Wait) the film does insinuate a majority male enterprise given the people represented. This is a shame because many women are involved in the online community and at type-ins; and more broadly, the beautiful thing about the Revolution is that it’s a fully inclusive movement.

Typewriters are for everyone. Anyone can take up typing and for so many purposes, free from abstruse Terms & Conditions and free from the surveillance and proprietary influence that are built into digital technology. It’s a machine that is subservient to human will and not the other way around, whose sole function is to imprint letters on paper at the creative direction of the user.

In that way the typewriter truly is the People’s Machine. It’s your birthright, and it’s waiting for you. All you need is paper and ink—both of which are cheap and abundant—and desire to get started.

Music of the Moment, ctd

It’s been almost 10 years since I last did a “music of the moment” post (then called “soundtrack of the moment”), so I figured it was time for another. There’s no use trying to summarize a whole decade of musical discoveries and interests, so I’ll just try for the last few weeks.

“Hole in Your Soul” by ABBA, ABBA: The Album
Last weekend I was going through our LP collection initially just to clean the vinyls, but I realized there were several albums I hadn’t listened to in a while or at all. It’s so easy to jump to what I have on my phone when I want to hear something, but if I’m gonna have LPs around then I ought to use them, right? So I decided I’d listen to at least one a week, if only to weed out the ones that weren’t worth taking up our limited space. This mission paid off immediately when I pulled out ABBA’s self-titled album, which has some classics like “Take a Chance on Me” and “Thank You for the Music” but also this new-to-me gem:

What an electrifying mix of arena rock and typical ABBA-esque quirkiness. I’d love to play drums on that one. After hearing that I of course set off on an ABBA kick, which led me to “Bang-A-Boomerang”, off of ABBA. (Get more creative album titles, Swedes!) These tracks are why I try to seek out full studio albums, especially from artists I’m just getting into. I still end up with many Greatest Hits albums, but it’s easy to miss these great deep cuts when just sticking with compilations.

“Bye Bye Love” by Ray Charles, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music
A bookstore by my place was going out of business 😢 and everything was $1 😁. I didn’t end up getting books but I did spot this album on vinyl in their small collection. I’d never heard of it, but its price, striking cover, and renowned reputation made it an easy buy. Just listen to the cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” that kicks off the album:

“You’re Gonna Live Forever In Me” by John Mayer, The Search for Everything
Perhaps because I knew someone with a strong John Mayer aversion, I’ve always felt the need to apologize for liking him. No more: the dude’s been an incredible songwriter going all the way back to his debut album. I find I prefer when he leans toward melancholic pop or country rather than blues. His latest album isn’t my favorite of his, but its final track shows off Mayer’s talent for delicate melodies and apt arrangements:

“I Just Want to Celebrate” by Rare Earth, One World
Once I found out Rare Earth was the first all-white Motown band, curiosity compelled me to check them out. It’s a scattershot discography, but I love this this groovy sunny-day song and its fist-pounding chorus hook. Sounds very 1971.

“You’re a Special Part of Me” by Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye, Diana & Marvin
Speaking of Motown, this was one of a few discoveries from reading Adam White’s Motown: The Sound of Young America. Obviously I knew of Gaye and Ross, but not of their duet album recorded at the peak of their musical prowess:

“Sugar Dumpling” by Sam Cooke, Twistin’ the Night Away
I had The Best of Sam Cooke for a little while before I realized, Oh right, Sam Cooke is incredible. Maybe I should get more of his music. Having done so, I’m thinking he might be the best singer ever?

“Honey and Smoke” by case/lang/veirs, case/lang/veirs
One of the few modern albums I have on vinyl because of how much I love it. “Honey and Smoke” precisely describes the sound of this Neko Case, K.D. Lang, and Laura Veirs supergroup together trading tracks: a smooth, sexy, smoky blend of alt-rock and pop and lounge music. I don’t listen to any of them individually, but with their musical powers combined I am hooked:

“Big Iron” by Marty Robbins, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs
Though I’d heard Robbins before (most notably “El Paso” in the Breaking Bad series finale), it wasn’t until seeing this album on someone’s favorite music list a few years ago that I pursued his oeuvre. Perfect for road trips and daydreaming about the Wild West:

Soundtrack of the moment, part II

These are some songs I’m listening to. I think you should too.

“Lost in Space” – Aimee Mann – Lost In Space
Such a hauntingly beautiful song. Imagine driving through the desert at night with this whole album on repeat and you have an awesome musical experience.

“Seize the Day” – Alan Menken – Newsies soundtrack
Man, I love this movie. If you haven’t seen it and loved it, I will fight you.

“Hoodwink” – Anathallo – Floating World
What a mind-blowing album. These dudes mold music into forms never seen before.

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” – The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
Their later stuff is way better than the surf rock stuff they started out with. Check out the entire album.

“Come Together” – The Beatles – Abbey Road
One of the coolest and most memorable openers I’ve ever heard.

“Jesusland” – Ben Folds – Songs for Silverman
What can I say? The dude knows how to make good music.

“Trolley Song” – Dave Brubeck – Greatest Hits
Sounds exactly as the title suggests. This guy is a piano player if I’ve ever heard one.

“Break on Through” – The Doors – The Doors
This song always reminds me of Forrest Gump.

“Tiny Dancer” – Elton John – Madman Across the Water
Of Almost Famous fame. A really catchy song from a gifted musician, however odd he may be.

“Belle” – Jack Johnson – In Between Dreams
This just puts you in a street cafe in Paris. It’s almost too good a song.

“Mother” – John Lennon – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
You can tell that it’s a cathartic song for John. I highly recommend all of his solo work, especially Imagine and Mind Games.

“Waiting on the World to Change” – John Mayer – Continuum
Am I a sell out if I like John Mayer and his ridiculously catchy tunes? Oh well, it’s a good song with an honest message.

“God’s Gonna Cut You Down” – Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways
The man’s a straight-up badass. This is his last album and a damn good one at that. You can hear the pain in his voice and feel the ache in his fingers.

“Money” – Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
In an album that’s basically half instrumental, this song shines through as one of the best.

“When She Loved Me” – Sarah McLachlan – Toy Story 2 soundtrack
Man, this song just killed me. An incredible addition to a near-perfect film. If you aren’t in tears by the end, you have no soul.

“Deathbed” – Relient K – Five Score and Seven Years Ago
I’m in the minority that think that this album is not their best, in fact, a far weaker effort than mmHmm. But this epic masterpiece stands out amongst the other forgettable songs.

“Cecilia” – Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water
One of the many infectious folk-rock tunes they created. Get all the albums.

“Zoo Station” – U2 – Achtung Baby
I’ve never been a gigantic U2 fan, but I really liked this album.

“Roundabout” – Yes – Fragile
A great mix of classical, 70s rock, and psychedelia.

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