Friday, September 24, 2021

Baby Advent II Speaker Repair


Nikki's vintage 70s hi-fi system. 

Back in college I never ceased to be astonished at the crappy stereos my female friends owned: no-name garbage like Kraco, Soundesign, Yorx or whatever. Sometimes that was borne of economic factors but generally even the silver spoon crowd either had something lackluster or just a clock radio. I don't know why this divide existed between the genders and in retrospect it seems that having a high fidelity stereo is considered a "guy thing". Then there were the exceptions, the women who loved their music and wanted to hear it properly. They were a vanishingly small percent and very intriguing for me - and still are for that matter. A good example is Susi, a cherished friend whose home audio consists of a beautiful pair of matched Conrad Johnson components with some Magnepan SMGa speakers that stopped me in my tracks when I first spied them and are a point of pride for her.

Recently another dear friend lost some of her possessions for ... reasons ... and I felt compelled to step in and assist. Nikki is a collector of vinyl and has far more LPs than most of the guys I know who claim to collect but her turntable was awol. What she still had was her dad's very lovely vintage Marantz 2235B receiver that she'd had serviced and re-capped. This demanded a period correct player to replace the Marantz turntable that had been its mate. I had a vintage 1972 Pioneer PL50 that would make a nice companion to her 1975 receiver so I set to sprucing it up: I installed a new needle on the stock cartridge, replaced the belt, oiled the bearing and adjusted the speed. A bit of oil on the plinth and then a blob of rubbing compound with the buffer on the dust cover and it looked nearly mint. 

But her speakers, oh my. Let's not mention them. Something had to be done. I trawled Craigslist and Facebutt Markethole and didn't see anything in the cheap and cheerful range. Then Nikki's pal Jonathan stepped in with his high school pair of Baby Advent II speakers which needed a bit of work. My pair of speakers for many years in college and afterwards were Advent Tower Prodigy and I had nothing but fond recollections of them. They punched well above their weight and made me happy for many years so their baby brothers were welcome. One of Jonathan's Advents appeared to have a burned out woofer, literally stuck at the bottom of its excursion and silent. I began looking for 6.5" replacements that had the same five ohm resistance, wattage and efficiency. My first foray was a no-name "5 Core" India manufactured woofer:

5 Core? What is this, a CPU?

Here's the replacement on the right. Despite mostly matching the OEM unit in specs, its got a small magnet and a similarly weak bass response. It was really unimpressive compared to the working speaker, missing what I'd guess to be an entire octave of bass compared to the stock Advent woofer. Back to the drawing board and time for another speaker.

A Sumo wrestler vs a bantam weight boxer.

Seen on the left, a Pyle PDMW6. It's 8 ohm and a good efficiency rating with a conspicuously large magnet. The higher ohm rating should yield more sound per watt. In theory. In reality it sounded just as thin in the Advent box as the tiny 5-Core speaker. My theory is that both had very stiff surrounds that needed breaking in. Who knows? What I did know was that the engineers at Advent had magically synergistic woofers for their speakers and I needed another stock one before I'd be satisfied.

The Pyle woofer arrived very bent and only worked after some brutal prying on my bench vice.

I reappraised the "burned out" Advent woofer: fully jammed at the bottom of its excursion, I'd nearly chucked it in the garbage. Closer scrutiny however revealed that the speaker cone didn't seem centered in the frame and the foam surround was distorted. I ohm'ed it and it measured normally. Jonathan told me someone had refoamed the cones in the past and I was suspicious that it was so off center that it got jammed. Maybe if I refoamed the cone? Not wanting to throw more time and money at it I bought literally the cheapest speaker surrounds anywhere: all the way from China, a pair for $3. 

Aliexpress is crazy cheap and sometimes has good quality too.

What I got was some of the most desirable woofer surrounds one could ask for: butyl rubber, chemically stable and tougher yet more pliable than any foam. Score!

Off with the very well adhered old surround ...

Now it was time to remove the old surrounds, not easy as they were fresh, not the crumbly decaying ones I usually scrape off. The cardboard trim ring disintegrated and the foam surround only came off after 45 minutes of rubbing with acetone, carburetor cleaner and Q-tips. Then with all surfaces clean it was time to attach the new surround.

Barge: not just for shoes!

There's no end of discussion online as to the best glue for this job. Ideally you use a glue that takes a few minutes before setting firm so that any needed adjustments can be made. The glue should be for whatever best suits your needs: woofers can be paper or polypropylene or aluminum and so on and the surrounds can be either foam or butyl rubber.  I used rubber contact cement as it's the gold standard, but there's no room for screw ups. If things aren't centered, they're instantly adhered. A more forgiving glue is Aleene's Gel Glue, 8-Ounce, clear on Amazon but I didn't have any and was confident I could get it on the first try. There's two tricks to centering the woofer, the lazy route is to use a D-cell 1.5v battery and energize the coil so that it's centered, hopefully. The other is to carefully cut the dust cap off with an Xacto razor leaving a tiny bit connected and fold the cap back and put shims in between the voice coil and the magnet. I started with the battery but wasn't confident it would work so I used shims too. Some 3x5 cards were the needed thickness.

Beefy butyl rubber surround.

The cone does look a bit distressed after the acetone bath. In retrospect I could've colored it in with a big Sharpie? I used the battery to keep the cone fully retracted and I applied the shims. I then painted the contact cement on all surfaces and waited for it to dry tacky. I'd marked on the speaker basket exactly where the surround edge went and slowly applied it. 

When you cut the cap, don't sever the speaker wires.

It's real easy to screw this up as any deviation will compound. Once the surround was on the basket I removed the battery and slid the cone back up towards the surround until the edges touched then helped them along with a light touch until all surfaces were fully adhered. I glued the dust cap back down with Uhu model glue and cut a new trim ring out of black foam core and glued it over the surround edge. Success: the woofer now made a full excursion from top to bottom without touching.

Voila: the finished setup! This is a temporary placement as there's no room anywhere else. Yes, the turntable is slightly impeding convective cooling from the amp and might pick up some hum - and yes the speakers shouldn't share a surface that acoustically interacts with the turntable but despite all this it sounds great. The walnut Advents look appropriate even if they are from a later decade and Nikki can get back to jamming to her Syd Barrett and Donna Summers records.

Thanks to Jonathan for donating the speakers and thanks to Nikki for being a cool friend. This system is a great example of a true entry level audiophile system and it looks sharp too. I'd be proud to own it. Mazel tov!

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Corvette Summer 2021! (SOLD)

Our Corvette's spirit animal

(Apologies to everyone who dithered on this deal. Congrats to Dylan for being a man of action!)
We've owned her for four years, long enough to check off "own a C4 Corvette" from our auto bucket list. Now it's your turn. We bought an Abarth for schlepping four people around so she doesn't get used as much as she should. I'd honestly not hesitate to get in this Corvette and drive across the country. She leaves us in better shape than we acquired her so our investment is your gain, esp. considering this is the lowest price you'll see for a very nice 6-speed convertible now appreciating in value. She's rattle free, drives smooth and the fresh suspension feels both taut and somehow ... comfortable.

Just The Facts, Ma'am:
  • 1990 Corvette with 6-speed manual transmission as the gods intended
  • Convertible for ruining your date's pompadour or bouffant
  • 110,000 miles on the odometer, just enough to correct all the mistakes the factory made
  • Kenwood DDX6904S state-of-the-art headunit & stock Bose speakers
  • Headunit incorporates both a crash dash camera and backup camera
  • Cold air conditioning because we're not savages
  • Cruise control that works and has a user UI that still makes no sense to me
  • At least 50% tread on Cooper 275/40R17 tires
  • New aluminized complete exhaust system and new catalytic converter
  • New KYB Gas-a-Just shocks front & rear, aligned, tires rebalanced
  • New knock sensors, new oil pressure sending unit, new valve cover gaskets
  • Adjustable temperature cooling fans: this car never overheats
  • A great mechanic services this car in St. Pete and conveys with her ...
  • A whole bunch more
  • $8500 or a very, very interesting trade on a Datsun or RX7
Minor Details I Chose To Live With:
  • Tachometer reads 50% too high 
  • Should be driven once a week or left on battery tender. Has battery disconnect switch
  • Brakes work awesome but one rotor is slightly warped thus a minor wiggle at quick stops
  • The price reflects the small demerits on this list 😀
Seminole Heights is a mural neighborhood

The left side (not shown) is also excellent

Dash warning lights lit only when engine is off

Nice cockpit with no overt blemishes

Clean engine bay

Mmmm, glossy paint ...

A surprisingly useful feature. The headunit also runs the dashcam

Cold start!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

In Russia, Vostok Watch Wears You!

Vostok Komanderskie watches, broken & new

Some people deal with their deep insecurities about aging by attempting to manipulate their slightly older friends into feeling paranoid about their age, all while casting themselves as a paragon of youth. To wit: my pal Scott who perceives wearing a watch as synonymous with sending telegrams, mail order catalogs, rotary phones and perhaps banging rocks together to make fire. "Just look at your phone for the time," he says then adds "older people sure like their watches". I had this conversation with him just before the Apple Watch came out so I guess the joke's on him now that everyone has a glowing screen on their wrist. The rest of the joke was that I was 46 at the time and Scott was taciturn to admit his age: thirtymumblemumble he'd say. I had an earned schadenfreude when I later discovered he'd turned forty and I could then call him fortysomething for the next decade of his life. But I digress.

Phones don't scratch the itch of having a nice timepiece on your arm and don't allow the subtlety of a sidelong glance at your wrist when you want to be covert about checking the time. More than that is the appreciation of excellent mechanical engineering that is embodied in a bespoke watch, especially if the timepiece has a mechanical automatic movement. The idea of the artistry and engineering that goes into microscopic gears, cogs and jewels for fulcrums to pivot on inspires in a way that quartz controlled battery powered watch cannot. 

To that end, the variation on this theme is nearly infinite. Picking what inspires you can be difficult. I've pushed some friends into watch ownership by gifting them one. The idea that this manifestation of my respect for them then becomes a daily article of appreciation brings me joy. I've given mechanical watches to more than a few friends over the years ... but I've never had the favor returned. 

Until now.

Ivan is a cool fellow from REDACTED, Russia who stayed in our Airbnb a couple times over the years with his wife and daughter. He and his family are a good natured, progressive group who Jennifer and I got along with surprisingly well. It was an opportunity for me to show the section in my library on Russian history, their space program, dissertations on communism, collectives and Soviet era armaments. Similarly he was interested in American aerospace, music and our insane politics. It was a fortuitous meeting. We sent them home with our NASA flag to be discreetly flown in private quarters. Maybe Russians neighbors might not react well to this display of fandom but I could be wrong. 

We've been discussing visiting Russia and I expressed my desire to replace my broken KGB Vostok Komandirskie watch I've owned since shortly after the wall fell. Looking online at the Vostok website a number of great replacements called out to me and I fully intended to stuff my bags while there with a dozen of them considering how insanely inexpensive they'd be after the dollar to ruble conversion. Then the pandemic struck and we all know what happened after that.

Cut forward in time a number of months and an unannounced package arrived from Russia with no fanfare at all. Here's what I got:

Vostok Watch
Vostok Komandirskie "Amphibia" TU 25-07.1347-77, GOST 10733-98

A very tidy standard KGB issue Vostok watch, the most representative of the genre that one could find on the Vostok site! Honestly, many of the modern Vostok watches are styled awkwardly, are ungainly or have unfortunate or cliched graphics on their watch face. But this one was already in my fantasy cart when the day came that we visited. For the record, I'm very anti-fascist and don't celebrate the brutal foreign intelligence and domestic security agency of the Soviet Union, but I do find it fascinating and hew to the dictum that those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. There's elements of Russian workmanship I admire, from their very reliable Soyuz capsules to their Ural motorcycles based on an ancient BMW design to the Lada Niva VAZ-2121 to the Mig-15. A Vostok watch is a collectible example of their heritage for making work-a-day mechanical items for the common man.

Snobbery is rampant in the world of watches and keeps me from desiring a new watch from marquees like Tag Heuer, Cartier or Tissot. They make good timepieces but I'm not a fan of the ostentatious crowd who wear them. I'm conflicted about Rolex and would probably buy their Milgauss in a moment of weakness. I especially loathe branded pieces of junk from Versace, Gucci, Bruno Magli, Kate Spade, Calvin Klein etc. as you're buying a name slapped on garbage. My collection focuses on 70s era Seikos, especially Bell-Matics and Bulova Accutrons, some of the most honest watches ever made. A Vostok slots in well to this aesthetic: effete watch snobs wouldn't wear them or know of their existence but any watch collector who appreciates simple mechanical designs and heritage will have a positive word for one of these.

Sizing my Komandirskie

I needed to size my watch and keep tools on hand for sizing and most watch repairs. For this I needed the blue press with the rotating collar for driving out the pins that hold the links on the watch band. I did help one out with the hammer and push-pin, removing a total of four links as five was too tight. There's also four notches on the clasp that allows for finer adjustment of size. It's important to injure yourself at least once when removing or reinstalling the link pins.

No task is too small for an injury

The watch now fits perfectly and I'll be wearing it to secret informant meetings, during prisoner exchanges, using it to time interrogations and as a token of my rank within in the Soviet apparatus. I'd bet Putin still wears his from the days when he was an ambitious and murderous young GRU officer. Thanks Ivan!

Damn good lume - second hand included

The following section is Google photo translations of the manual which came with the watch. I made no real effort to correct translation errors so be warned.

ACCELERATED FLOOR ADJUSTMENT  1 CALENDAR.  Floor.  3 Position 3. Move the crown Move the hour hand from the number “12” to the number “8” in the direction opposite to the arrows, and then along the direction of the arrows to the number “12” (until the new date of the calendar appears).  Repeat the cycle "12-8-12" until the required number appears, After Paul 2 to finish the calendar adjustment, turn the crown to position 1. MAINTENANCE INSTRUCTIONS the watch must be protected from shock, exposure to chemical products and the effects of magnetic fields;  - to prevent fogging of the glass on the inside, it's necessary to control that the threaded cap is well screwed in; - to avoid getting dust and dirt into the mechanism, do not open the watch case.

MANUAL FACTORY There's no need to wind the watch for everyday wear.  If the watch has not been used on the wrist for more than a day, wind it by making 20-25 turns of the crown.  To wind the watch, unscrew the crown from the sleeve - position 2 and wind it, slightly pulling the crown away from the case.  Don't immerse the watch in water if the crown is not in position 1. (Position 1 - crown is completely screwed onto the sleeve). TIME SETTING Move the head to position 2 and pulling it until it clicks - position 3 set the arrows by rotating the head. After setting the arrows, turn the head - position 1. CALENDAR ADJUSTMENT Move the crown to position 3 and turn the arrows in the direction of their movement to set the date. Screw the head back in and fix it in position 1.

Specifications for mechanical wrist watches "Amphibia", TU 25-07.1347-77, GOST 10733-98.  Watch with a central second hand and an instant calendar.  Automatic movement "Vostok" 24165. АЯ54 The number of ruby stones-31.  Anti-shock device of the balance assembly.  The case is stainless steel.  Water resistant up to 20 ATM.  Organic glass.  Stainless steel bracelet.  The daily rate at a temperature of 20 + 5 ° C within -20 .. + 60sec. / Day.  The power reserve from one spring winding is not less than 31 hours.  Average service life of the watch is 10 years.

WARRANTY OBLIGATIONS.  The warranty period of the watch from the date of its sale through the retail network. The shelf life of the watch is 1.5 years.  12 months.  In the event of any defects found during the warranty period, we recommend contacting the workshop at the address indicated in the appendix, the company that sold the watch, or the manufacturer.  Disadvantages of watches are eliminated free of charge within a period of not more than 20 working days from the date of their receipt at the factory or another organization authorized by the Manufacturer for repair or sale.  Warranty repair of watches, replacement or refund of money is carried out in accordance with the Law of the Russian Federation "On Protection of Consumer Rights".  For the addresses of the warranty workshops, see the Appendix "Service and Warranties".  OTK EXTERNAL NUMBER CODE RELEASE DATE REGISTRATION 420457-22 03.09.20

Mechanical wrist watch "Amphibia" date of sale stamp of the store CJSC CHISTOPOLSKY WATCH FACTORY "VOSTOK" 

Closed Joint Stock Company Chistopol Watch Factory "VOSTOK" Russian Federation, Republic of Tatarstan 422981, Chistopol, st.  Engels, 129T, bldg.  Н-2 Phone / fax: (84342) 9-00-00 Sales department: (84342) 9-00-05 Warranty workshop (84342) 9-00-15 e-mail:; B rch5 @ mail  .ru Vostok Russian watch since 1942

Petersburg, st.  Odoevsky, 29, Primorsky shopping center, section 2, tel .: 8-812-904-5 / -01.  St. Petersburg, Komendantsky pr-t, 9 bldg.  2 lit.  A. TRK "Promenade" pom.  five;  tel .: 8-812-965-98-43.  St. Petersburg, Aurum Service Center "Lentrapny", Nevsky pr., 48, tel. :: +7 (812) 385-58-44.  St. Petersburg, Aurum Service Center "Severny".  Engels ave., 154, tel .: +7 (812) 385-58-33.  Degerurg, Service Center Aurum "Yuzhny", Kosmonavtov Ave., 14, tel .: +7 (812) 385-58-11.  tseterburg, Aurum Service Center "Zapadny", Komendantskiy pr., 9, building 2, tel .: +7 (812) 385-59-22- St. Petersburg, Aurum Service Center "Vostochny", Kollontai street, 3  , tel .: +7 (812) 385-56-95.  St. Petersburg, Clock House "Anker +", Ligovsky prospect, 111, tel .: +7 (812) 764-99-63 Ufa, Timeservice LLC, Prospect Oktyabrya, 62, tel .: 8 (347)  257-99-07.  Chelyabinsk, "Watch repair", st.  Engels, 34, tel .: 8-951-792-17-71.  Chelyabinsk, mn "Prospect", 2nd floor, st.  Kuznetsova, 12, tel .: 8-900-069-12-14.  Yaroslavl, shopping center "Frunzensky", Moskovsky prospect, 97, tel .: 8-901-994-23-61. - Thilo Muth, Neue Str: 3, DE-06311 Helbra, Germany Phone +49 178 1972073, e-mail

Astrakhan, O00 Timesservice.  st.  N. Ostrovsky, 21, tel .: (8512) 62-63-03.  Balakovo, "Watch repair", st.  Lenin, 94/1, TC "Garant", tel .: 927-100-82-38.  Barnaul.  "Watch repair", st.  Yurina, 203 (2nd floor) 8 (3852) 40-20-37.  Barnaul, "Watch repair", st.  Pushkin, 76, tel .: 8-903-992-21-25.  Volgograd, OOO "Timesservice", st.  Naumova, 10, tel .: (8442) 98-03-33.  Volzhsky, Lenin Avenue, 84, Central Department Store, 1st floor, left wing, tel .: 8 (8443) 45-90-10.  Vinnitsa, LLC "Aviatekhservice LTD", per.  K. Marx, 56, apt.  3, tel .: 38 (067) 7970088, 26-13-16.  Yekaterinburg, IP Chinkova, TC "Moskovsky", pr-t.  Lenin, 5, 2nd floor, tel .: 8 (343) 2-68-52-26.  Yekaterinburg, LLC "Mokosh", TC "Kit", st.  Amundsen 65, tel .: 8 (343) 290-92-42.  Yekaterinburg, LLC "Mokosh", SEC "Megapolis", st.  March 8 149, tel.: 8 (343) 290-59-50.  Irkutsk, mn "Russian Watch", st.  Litvinova, 2, tel .: (3952) 488-262.  Kazan, "Workshop for repairing watches", Bauman st., 51, 2nd floor, TC "GUM", tel. +7 (987) 290-32-08.  Kazan, TC "Dolphin", IP Minizanova, st.  Zorge, d. 68, 1st floor, tel .: 898728945 39; B 8987 284 00 25. Kirov, LLC "Caliber-Plus", Khlebozavodskaya pr., Industrial complex No. 3, "MAYAK", tel .: (8332)  40-54-39.  Kiselevsk, Trade House Oksinite, st.  B-Dachnaya, 69 A, tel .: 8-960-915-69-09.  Krasiodar, O0 Timeservice, st.  Krasnaya, 174, tel .: (861) 242-46-88.  Lviv, FLP Khomenko, st.  B. Khmelnitsky, 212, bldg.  2, office, 212, tel .: (+38032) 232-97-67.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Parappa & His RAV4 2-Door

Fun fact: this Rav4 debuted in 1996, the same year as Sony’s Parappa The Rapper and is very likely the car Parappa learned to drive in.

I'm not saying that a two door 1st gen RAV4 is gangsta cool or even modern rap cool. But it's definitely hip-hop cool: I can't imagine Parappa learning to drive in any other car. Here's our rare and sought after 2-door Rav4, perhaps the nicest in the country hanging out with our new-to-us 1990 Nissan Pao.

The Rav4 coupe is an extraordinarily uncommon and cute vehicle with the driving dynamics of a tall Honda CRX. Two door coupes demand a premium, which reflects the rarity of these quirky, fun cars.
Ours has super glossy paint and a fresh set of Lexus ES 300h hybrid wheels.  Original stamped steel wheels included in sale. Spare tire on hatch replaced with a much lighter temp spare.

Required equipment for any aspirational hip hop mutt, the Kenwood kdc-bt360u bluetooth stereo sounds great & matches dash lighting + the original cassette unit is included. 

Entire windshield Llumar tinted to reject heat and UV with dark band added at top. Cold AC, keyless entry and an alarm. USB charger on dashboard. Five speed manual, like god intended. Shifts well. Front wheel drive. 150k miles on odometer. The only nonfunctional part on this car: the tachometer.

Fun fact: all seats can be folded flat providing space for two people to catch a nap on a long trip. 
Fun fact: there’s two enormous, removable sunroofs for a near-convertible experience.

NEW within the last two years:

  • Timing belt, water pump and tensioner
  • Distributor assembly including cap, wires and spark plugs
  • Alternator
  • Kenwood kdc-bt360u with bluetooth and USB inputs
  • Brake master cylinder and brake fluids
  • Fresh transmission gear oil
  • Front main seal and valve cover gaskets replaced: no oil drips
  • Alignment
  • Infinity Kappa 621x Two-Way door speakers and Pioneer in rear
  • Llumar highest spec ceramic nanoparticle tint 

  • Fresh marker lights & all bulbs LED including brake lights that strobe for a split second
  • And probably many more things I'm spacing on...

Cruising around to Parappa's driving test music.

Lots and lots of space for a tiny car. It's insanely well engineered for being practical. The rear seats flip and fold forward presenting a very tall space for big stuff.

There's a lot of thoughtful touches to the 1st gen RAV4 two door like glass headlights that never turn yellow or fade and upholstery that's borderline insane by today's standards. Also these Lexus wheels were meant for this car - as after all, a Lexus is a Toyota.

If you're interested in buying this minty RAV4, drop us a line! Others have sold for much more than this one at $4900 so hurry before it's gone ...

Note: this RAV4 sold in Arizona for far more. I'm not that patient and feel that I'd rather break even on mine than reap a giant profit:

NOT my RAV4 - but indicative of the coupe 2 door values

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

RIP Florian Schneider: 26 Days Of Silence?

Florian’s Beetle fahren auf der 3d Autobahn

Strolling a narrow Düsseldorf street close to the Altstadt district adjacent the Berliner Allee you may have stumbled upon a cultural and metaphorical Easter egg parked on the street. The more astute among any Kraftwerk fans would’ve felt a frisson as I did, a tingling sense of discovery and wonder that someone you’ve spent your entire life idolizing might be close at hand. Such were the thoughts that overwhelmed me upon encountering this particular grey on grey split window Volkswagen Beetle humbly awaiting its owner late one night a couple years ago.

Glorious Grey!

And upon further nearby investigation, confirmation. Briefly I felt like the human incarnation of the Television Personalities song I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives.

Sometimes I feel like Columbo.

And that was that. I didn’t ring the bell because I’m not an asshole and I didn’t meet him and never will and frankly would’ve made a mess of it if I had. There’s an old aphorism about not meeting your heroes and I’m generally a believer. I’m not naming names but I’ve crossed paths with a few artists I admire only to later find myself selling their albums on Discogs and I’m okay with preserving Florian’s dignity in this regard. Yes, I can recount a life-affirming encounter with Florian’s bandmate Wolfgang Flür (see the interview here on Medium), I once had crepes with Philip Glass and his son Zach and discussed Daniel Johnston with Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan & Georgia Hubley but then there’s the time that I stood outside Elizabeth Fraser’s hotel door and realized it would be madness to knock. There’s a time and a place. Elizabeth: you’re welcome.

Wolfgang, my amazing wife Jennifer and Electri_City author Rudi Esch

But that’s not why you’re here. You’re here because Florian is now relegated to history and you’re grieving. He meant the world to you, you own all the Kraftwerk albums and posted in usenet groups back in the day lamenting the dearth of new material. 2008 found you grieving in a different way when Florian said Auf Wiedersehen to Kraftwerk, adjusted his jaunty wool alpine hat and departed to his favorite Westphalian Altbier pub forever leaving behind the band he’d founded 39 years previously. That’s who you are, we are one and the same, you and I. Therefore I won’t regale you with facts lifted from his Wiki and I won’t rehash the monumental significance of his achievements. You know them. 

That said, I must weigh in on the discrepancy of time between when the world felt a disturbance in the Force and today when news broke of Florian Schneider’s departure. In a statement, Kraftwerk co-founder Ralf Hütter confirms “the very sad news that his friend and companion over many decades Florian Schneider has passed away from a short cancer disease just a few days after his 73rd birthday.” As I write this it’s May 6th 2020. Florian’s birthday is April 7th and so “a few days” generally means three, so we’ll assume we lost him April 10th.

What, exactly transpired in those 26 days? Can Ralf Hütter perhaps, set me straight on this? What about you Sony Berlin? Hello “one of his musical collaborators, who said Schneider had died a week ago and had a private burial”, what do you know about this Manhattan Project level of secrecy that has surrounded the death of one of the most influential musicians who has ever existed?

Had the same level of secrecy existed around Prince’s death Minneapolis would have burned. Had David Bowie’s transition to the aether been similarly smothered? Riots I assure you. Did Laurie Anderson sit on the news that her beloved husband Lou Reed no longer was waiting for the man? No. 

Unlike those examples, Florian never had a dreadful Christian phase like Prince and never stooped to working with hacks like Gwen Stefani or Sheryl Crow. Florian never birthed anything as bad as the Glass Spider tour and never bought songs from other artists to rebrand as his own. He never contractually phoned one in like Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. In fact Florian never composed so much as a mediocre song. There’s literally nothing be apologetic about, legendarily inspiring countless electronic bands from Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark to Daft Punk. Apologies to fans of Prince, David Bowie and Lou Reed, I’m a fan too but I’m just belaboring the point that Florian had a perfect, unspoiled record of awesomeness. And yet, unlike those artists I just dunked on, twenty six days elapsed before we knew the supernova that was Florian shines no more.

I understand that there’s decorum and protocol regarding our fallen heroes and I’m glad that I could pay my homage to Falco at Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof cemetery. Similarly I once spent an hour with William S. Burroughs at St. Louis’ Bellefontaine Cemetery and remember the cold, grey day well. These were public figures and in death they still contribute to their fans. So then, what does the future hold for Florian? A memorial? A statue on the beautiful Königsallee? I ask out of fear that the memorial will have to exist in our hearts and minds. I ask for all the fans.

I'm NOT equating Falco to Florian but his glass obelisk memorial is truly astonishing!

Would someone please give us a clue? Throw the smallest bone? I'm the antenna, catching vibrations here and feeling very receptive.

David Sanborn is a rabid fan of Kraftwerk who once went to the DMV and changed his name to Kraftwerk. Feeling that wasn’t sufficient, he then proposed to his fellow Kraftwerk fan girlfriend that they get married as Kraftwerk. Since then they’ve had a blast and made some great friends.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

1988's 8mm Concerts: Butthole Surfers, Half Japanese & Alex Chilton

Somewhere in the back of your closet buried among cassette mix tapes and the Frankie Say shirt you're embarrassed to have ever worn but secretly love might be 8mm film footage that you should've digitized decades ago. It's the kind of millstone you'll never divest yourself of, but which will take an act of god before you put the pieces in motion to do something about. In my case it's an astonishing trifecta of my childhood home burning down, a global pandemic and surgery on a broken toe that opened up vast swaths of unlimited time for sit-down projects. That and winning the high bid on a Wolverine Pro 8mm film scanner.

Presented here for you to poke with a stick is the product of that trifecta: vintage digitized 8mm film footage of the Butthole Surfers, Half Japanese and Alex Chilton all filmed over the waning months of 1988.

Butthole Surfers at Numbers, Houston April 27th 1988

Looking at this from the perspective of 2020s technology it seems absurd that one can now hold aloft a Hershey bar sized 4k / 60 frames per second low-light video camera that's also a phone and think nothing of it. Back then I borrowed a camera from the university A/V department and spent money I definitely didn't have on Super8 Kodak film and captured these shows on two 50ft reels. The limitations of the film are enormous: slow ISO speed, hard to focus in the dim viewfinder, can't set proper apertures in strobe lights, etc. Yet here it is.

Half Japanese at Tipitina's, New Orleans Dec 9th 1988

Chances are the film does have sound - but the Wolverine Pro film scanner doesn't do sound, so I'll link to someone's fantastic recording of the Butthole Surfers concert for full effect. Some lovely savant also enshrined the Half Japanese setlist here - obviously a giant among men. Another lovely act of generosity tells us that Alex Chilton played at Hal and Mal's, Jackson, Mississippi May 19th, 1989 but alas there's no setlist. Happily there's now a grainy 8mm film commemorating a night on Earth.

I'm an alumni of Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, a tiny oasis of culture in a vast cultural wasteland of churches, pastures and soy farms. If I wanted to see a good show that meant up to a 600+ mile roundtrip to New Orleans, Houston or Dallas. Being broke meant carpooling. The Butthole Surfers show in Houston was a road trip with Michael Donaldson, Les Jordan myself and others. The venue was DIY punk ethos personified, Houston's Numbers club, a dilapidated warehouse in an apocalyptic industrial district straight out of Repo Man. (I could be wrong on the venue and would love comments from anyone in the know.)

Cameras were not welcome but I'd prepared a laughably unlikely ruse to bring my 8mm film and still cameras in: a laminated card that simply stated "PRESS" which I tucked into the front band of a very cliche felt fedora I found at Goodwill ... which worked. Once inside it was mayhem and insanity as the show had started. Some was filmed from the pit where being moshed upon was a risk so I decided to try my luck carting my gear backstage to film from the side. A bouncer guarding the stairs glanced at my dumb hat and unbelievably waved me up but took great exception to the guy behind me emboldened at my success who tried to follow but instead got a brutal shove well back into the crowd.

What cultural gems are lurking in your closet?

Thursday, April 16, 2020

10 Sublime Movies + Film Critics I Loathe and Love

Before I indulge myself with this polemic on movies that have most informed or entertained me in my half century of existing, let me be clear: I'm not "qualified" to review cinema nor am I a "film critic". Despite that, a lack of talent in this realm doesn't stop some film critics from achieving that very thing as a paid vocation. I have strong opinions on cinema but might lack the industry lingo to adequately elucidate why I believe what I believe. A good reviewer could conjure up the minutia of Federico Fellini's entire oeuvre with a smattering of references to Ingmar Bergman, Dogme-95 and concepts more obscure in a simple review of an Adam Sandler movie. Me? I can barely smash the buttons on my laptop to form cohesive sentences. Yet here we are: I'm about to make my opinion on a difficult subject concrete.

But before I do that, let me discuss arguably untalented film reviewers, guys who somehow were anointed by respectable newspapers with the aegis of smearing their opinion upon the cinematic crafts. There's two with whom I've had the misfortune of crossing paths, one a miserable Disney flack and mediocre grifter and the other a man who'd buy your girlfriend an unwanted drink at the bar while you're off putting money in the parking meter: respectively former Orlando Sentinel writer Jay Boyar and The Austin Chronicle's Marc Savlov.

I 'lived' in Orlando from 1989-91 and used cinema as an avenue of escape from the dreary reality of attending the painfully mediocre University of Central Florida, a school I accidentally transferred to from a far superior university. The only easily acquired film reviews to determine if a movie merited my pauper's patronage was The Orlando Sentinel. If the director was someone familiar like Hal Hartley or Wim Wenders I could skip the research, otherwise I'd scan my local paper and count the stars next to the film's name. Their primary critic Jay Boyar in particular earned my ire for his blatant sycophancy of Disney and to a lesser degree Universal Studios, understandable given that they own Orlando and their payola must've been legendary. I'd literally look for the movies Boyar panned and regard it as an endorsement.

Cool As Ice: so astonishingly bad that it circles back around to being good?

One turkey film I purposely attended out of an incomprehensible depth of loathing and disgust for the lead man was Vanilla Ice's fall from grace: Cool as Ice. It was as beautifully horrifying as I'd hoped it to be, a cinematic catastrophe. I recall that after seeing it Jay Boyar gave it 2.5 stars out of four. 2.5! That it could even move the meter was a staggering admission, but 2.5 out of four? Inconceivable! If before I'd considered Jay to be a flack, now I regarded him as the enemy.

And so it was that I found myself in a financially strapped, stunningly cold budget theater and sat upon hard and unergonomic seats awaiting the latest from Peter Greenaway: Prospero's Books. Provisionally I'm a Greenaway fan and loved all his films so my expectations were high. As the lights dimmed I noticed a man a few rows ahead of us sitting solo and scribbling in a notebook with a penlight which continued apace and it dawned on me "the balding head, the notebook ... it's my nemesis Jay Boyar"! This is the point where my girlfriend and I began discreetly tossing popcorn at the back of his head. He'd whirl around hoping to identify his antagonist but there were too many potential culprits. In retrospect that was the best part of Prospero's Books, my Waterloo for Greenaway. I read just now that it's 109 minutes long but my recollection was a film that staunchly refused to end, mocking our attention spans, our discomfited butts and leaving us nearly frost bitten, but even the worst Greenaway film has to be better than the crap Boyar lavished praise upon. Somehow Jay persevered to the end and glared at everyone on his way up the aisle. His review a few days later in the Sentinel perhaps reflected his popcorn pelting: 1.5 stars. He ranked a Peter Greenaway film below a Vanilla Ice film. Am I to blame? Nope. That was classic Boyar.

Jump forward seven-ish years and I'm now an Austinite and The Austin Chronicle is my go-to newspaper for both urbane op-eds and movie criticism and again I have found a nemesis and allies in the fight for honest film criticism. I, like many of you count The Blues Brothers among the finest films made, it's a sublime rollick and the prospect of a good sequel from John Landis was at that moment in time a believable proposition. And so it was that I read Marc Savlov's 3.5 of 5 stars review of Blues Brothers 2000 and cast doubts aside and spent my dosh and time on an unmitigated, despicable turkey of a film. Life being short and time being valuable, I took his misdirection personally and was quite motivated to pen an angry missive to the paper that found its way into print the following week:
Dear Editor:
Landis and his cronies should be stood up against a wall for desecrating the memory of the original film [Blues Brothers 2000]. I haven't been so appalled by a film since I saw Vanilla Ice in Cool as Ice at the dollar cinema years ago - and I went to that just so I could celebrate awfulness in full bloom. And damned if I didn't enjoy Cool as Ice just for that very reason. But Blues Brothers 2000 is undeserving of the barely restrained accolades your reviewer gave it. The 10-year-old Buster Blues was worse than I could have imagined, the musical numbers were arbitrarily thrown in and lacked all relevance to the movie, and the audience sat mute through the movie hoping something/anything funny would happen.
Your reviewer wrote, "...its heart and soul and sense of unbridled fun is so on-target that it doesn't matter..." Heart and soul? Unbridled fun? Did that reviewer accidentally sit in John Turturro's Brain Donors or the Cohen Brother's Raising Arizona? Then the description might apply. Otherwise the film is dreck, pimping the good name of the original for undeserved pocket change. Your reviewer should hang his or her head in shame for misleading me into throwing my money away. I haven't been so upset with a film reviewer since I lived in Orlando and regularly read Jay Boyar's movie reviews in the Orlando Sentinel, but only because he's the most idiotic person ever to put words on paper and is always consistently wrong. If you'd like a primer on how not to write film reviews, go to this site and read some of his reviews (URL), you'll reel backwards in horror in much the same way that I did at the execrable BB2000.
So please, print a retraction, and give BB2000 the La Bomba it earned. Or else bring me the head of that anonymous reviewer.
David Sanborn
[Ed. note: Mark Savlov wrote the review. His initials are signed at the end of the review.]

Savlov did make the smallest effort replying to my vitriol, noting in a later missive (that I sadly now cannot find despite my best efforts) that he was very much stoned when he watched BB2000 which accounted for his ... optimistic 3.5 star rating.

Maybe don't get stoned while doing your "job"?

Later that year our pal Michael Donaldson aka Q-Burns Abstract Message was in town for a gig at a SXSW venue and gave a couple artist passes to me and my girlfriend. We went to a swanky downtown bar hosting an industry event and hobnobbed with local celebrities and saw the mayor there. At some point I realized I had to go pay our parking attendant and left for a few minutes. When I returned I found my girlfriend uncharacteristically sipping a flamboyant cocktail at the bar. She smiled and said "you'll never guess who tried to pick me up" and pointed at a guy across the bar. Yep: Savlov. She really appreciated it too. Thanks!

So that I'm on record as being capable of praise, let me affirm that AusChron film critics Kimberley Jones and Marjorie Baumgarten were my touchstones back then: if they gave a movie more than three stars then I'd like it, guaranteed. If they rated a film four or higher then clear a path motherfuckers I'm going to the movies. But Marc Savlov was a wildcard unlike Jay Boyar. Sometimes he liked good films (unlike Jay who reliably disliked anything good). Savlov gave 3.5 stars to Chicken Run, a film that extremely underwhelmed me and pushed my buttons for its egregious, cliched portrayal of Americans as loudmouthed blowhards with that character being played by an Australian no less. The horror! I penned a perhaps unnecessarily vitriolic reply and for the most part, I still stand by it, though in retrospect I might've been channeling some disdain from the bar incident. Who knows?

Anyway! On to my protracted 10 Best Films According To Me segment that this has been leading up to, hey ho! So here they are in no particular order other than Withnail & I being first and Henry Fool a very, very close second depending on my mood:

  1. Withnail & I (1987): a film I randomly saw on a rainy Seal Beach California day in 1987. We ducked into an arts cinema to escape the deluge and I saw a film destined to change my life and the way I look at cinema. This film is sublime and beautiful and tragic and darkly hilarious. I have a signed Richard Griffiths casting photo on my coffee table to prove it. It put dialog like "I mean to have you even if it must be burglary!" into my repertoire forever. 
  2. Henry Fool (1997): Hal Hartley was godlike before I saw this film. It's the perfect story of broken egos, fallibility, hope, insecurity and everything that makes us flawed.
  3. Rubin & Ed (1991): My wife Jennifer and I once had the immense pleasure of sitting down with Crispin Glover and chatting. Literally ALL I wanted to talk about was his appearance on Letterman to promote Rubin & Ed. Trust me, this cat can eat an entire watermelon. That writer & director Trent Harris could corral his stars into making this unlikely comedy boggles my mind.
  4. Barfly (1987): Gritty and uncompromising look at what motivates an artist. This is what made me hate "obviousness" and what it represents for the rest of my life. 
  5. Dr Strangelove (1964): I grew up convinced that at any moment I could be incinerated in a blinding atomic blast. This film illustrates everything wrong with how the military and governments work.
  6. Cross of Iron (1977): It's a Sam Peckinpah film starring James Coburn so I have to love it. Criminally overlooked too. Again, this is a film that exposes our military as being the crass, nepotistic ass-kissing fraud you suspected it was. Never mind that it's the German military here, they're all bad.
  7. Betty Blue (1986): Quintessentially French, the French-est film ever made. A fiery love affair destined to implode, mental illness, an amazing score and featuring a relationship I swear I was once trapped in.
  8. Hanabi (1997): It's astonishing that Kitano "Beat" Takeshi got his start as a stand up comedian, but then again only a master of the darkest humor could write, direct and star in a film this nuanced. I genuinely love this film. The ending chokes me up. 
  9. Dark Star (1974): This is the 1st 'art' film that I saw. I was reeling from the pain of freshly installed braces and was 13 years old. This film just happened to be on Tampa Bay's channel 44 and I sat transfixed by it, all pain temporarily forgotten. Honestly, I can't watch this without wondering what I've done with my life. This was John Carpenter's film school project for Chrissakes. 
  10. Kelly's Heroes (1971): I could note the very famous stars or the director or the premise or the amazing score by Lalo Schifrin but I'll dispense with that. This is the best war film ever made if your yardstick is based on dark humor. 

Honorable mentions: 
  1. The Waitress (2007): Adrienne Shelly's only film before being stolen from us by an act of unspeakable evil. Hal Hartley cast her in his early movies and I like to think she was channeling him when she wrote, directed and played a bit role in this amazingly beautiful polemic on struggle and attaining happiness.
  2. Winter's Bone (2010): directed by Debra Granik and starred Jennifer Lawrence, no film better illustrates the quiet desperation of rural America. I've been in many communities like the one depicted here and I'll attest it's dire and murderous. 
  3. Repo Man (1984): Possibly the most quotable film ever made. Alex Cox at his finest. I lived in Los Angeles in the mid 80's and yep, that's what it looked like. I'd buy punk rock at Zed's Records in Long Beach and skate and work shitty jobs there just like the protagonists in the movie. I'm astonished that Alex then filmed the horrible Straight To Hell. As it stands, anyone making a film that bad can't be entirely trusted. 
  4. Space Station 76 (2014): This is sci-fi done right. It's campy yet somehow gripping and poignant. Fans of Todd Rundgren won't believe their fortune. 
  5. Catch-22 (1970): The Joseph Heller book was as good as a book can be. Somehow the movie is better. Similar to Kelly's Heroes, the all star cast of this dark comedy will amaze you. If you still want to enlist in the military after watching this farce then god bless your tiny heart.
A sad and happy footnote: after penning this polemic on films and their critics I realized that Jay Boyar passed away in mid-2019. I would be doing him a disservice to edit my criticism of his writings as either way, dead or alive, that's the legacy he left. I do sense a sad vacuum where he once existed and I'm sure that he brought joy to people's lives, especially those who enjoy the most mediocre of Hollywood's commercial offerings. He'll be missed.

Happily, I just Bing'ed Kimberley Jones, a film critic I revered and noted to my happiness that she's the goddamned Editor in Chief of the Austin Chronicle now. Mazel Tov Kimberley! Marjorie Baumgarten meanwhile still plies her trade as a wordsmith and critic of immense talent: huzzah Marjorie: you two mean the world to me, carry on!