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by Diane Leach

27 Oct 2008

University of Texas PressSeptember 2008, 152 pages, $45.00

University of Texas Press
September 2008, 152 pages, $45.00

Eugene Richards, a documentary photographer, joined forces with Mental Disability Rights International to create this disturbing book of photographs. Traveling to Mexico, Armenia, Paraguay, Hungary, Kosovo, and Argentina, Richards and the group wormed their way into mental hospitals, where Richards photographed the unremittingly grim conditions.

The black and white photos make less attempt at composition than at the documentarian action of seeking to capture the moment. The result makes Diane Arbus’ late work look like snaps from a child’s birthday party: a naked teenager huddled in a cage barely large enough for him to squat in, a Mexican girl who spends her waking hours straitjacketed: when unbound, she chews her hands, which are scarred and infected. An elderly woman huddled in a wheelchair, wild-eyed, and emaciated. A cold, bare room filled with men in various stages of undress, the concrete floor pooled with urine. Men shrieking in filthy showers as attendants wash them with buckets of icy water. Men, women, and children bound to beds, underweight and dirty.

Given the dearth of mental health services available in our (still) comparatively wealthy nation, the marginalized, even brutal treatment of the mentally impaired elsewhere in the world comes as no surprise. Yet I admit I looked at the photographs and watched the accompanying DVD (really, the book’s images set to Richards’ narration, which appears at the back of the text) with some frustration. Richards’ work is heartfelt and noble, but of limited appeal. At $45.00, A Procession of Them isn’t likely to find a wide readership. Rather, it will reach mental health professionals, academics, and aficionados of photography. 

I admit some of my frustration arises from compassion fatigue. Living as I do in the San Francisco Bay Area, I see a procession of mentally ill, homeless people daily. Until her unit went into foreclosure, I endured the screaming of a mentally ill upstairs neighbor who heard voices. I complained to my husband about A Procession. I said I felt it was a misguided attempt. No, he said. Just because there are problems here doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to suffering elsewhere. 

He’s right.

by Thomas Hauner

27 Oct 2008

I committed the jackass foul of cutting the around-the-block line to get into They Might Be Giants’ show. But the length of the line maxed out precisely when the rain was most dramatic, so I felt it was ok. Once inside I joined the also long queue of alt-rock nerds, eagerly awaiting the performance of the duo’s 1990 album Flood in its entirety. As the self-described “hardest working band in Brooklyn that still takes the L train” put it, the nights show would feature a bifurcated set, “that’s a fancy way of saying we’re playing two sets with a fifteen-minute break so the bar can sell drinks.” The duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell has developed a strong reputation for their live shows in their 26-year career. And they were chatty and hilarious throughout their two and half hour set, mocking weary CMJ photographers (“That ringing you hear when you finally lay down your head on a pillow is not going away”), their sometimes discombobulated endings (“Don’t let the song get in the way of your first place finish”), cheap weed (“I just got high from some terrible second-hand weed smoke”), and Flood’s original two-star rating in Rolling Stone (“They were right about Hendrix and they were right about us”). The second half of their set featured classic They Might Be Giants anthems, new and old alike, such as “Mink Car”, “Dinner Bell”, “Seven”, “Older”, and “James K. Polk”. That they played two encores by popular demand only cemented the night’s stellar vaudevillian-like set, closing with the educational “Alphabet of Nations” and crowd-favorite, “Fingertips.”

by PopMatters Staff

27 Oct 2008

As a New Zealand trio known for their wildly energetic shows chock full of crowd interaction, Die! Die! Die! seemed hopelessly discombobulated in the spacious three-quarters empty Blender Theatre. While I can’t blame this entirely on the band (the Blender Theater is a world away from most other CMJ venues), it certainly didn’t help them. Though they made an earnest effort to whip the crowd into a frenzy with their garage punk stylings—jumping into the crowd and rolling on the floor—it never seemed to adequately hit the mark they were aiming for. The band had a solid chemistry, but put forth a product that was far better suited for a venue half the size and twice as full. Instead, Die! Die! Die! played a set that resembled a high school musical being performed at Carnegie Hall.

by PopMatters Staff

27 Oct 2008

There’s something both incredibly organic and dramatic about The Octopus Project’s live sets. Watching the Austin foursome power through their energetic electronic sets, which sound something like trip-hop on speed, there’s a pervasive sense of manic chaos that still manages to seem planned at every step of the way. The group’s Saturday night set at Blender Theater wasn’t any different. Band members swerved past each other, passing off instruments or twirling knobs on synths—all of which were connected by sprawling tentacles out of a main hub front and center on the stage (and if that’s not where they get their name from, I’ll eat my hat). I can’t for the life of me listen to one of their studio albums, it just doesn’t translate. Their sprawling soundscapes seem dependent on the interplay between the band’s members during solitary moments which create an aura or an essence that can’t be tied down or bottled up—something that makes the experience of seeing them live that much more memorable and beautiful.

by PopMatters Staff

27 Oct 2008

They soldiered through sound problems. They played to a half-full house of tired CMJers at a venue off the festival’s beaten path. But Yo Majesty! still gave about 150 people a performance that will undoubtedly close out the CMJ Music Marathon with a lasting memory. It may not have been as uninhibited (their performances often end in topless bedlam) as fans are accustomed to, but Yo Majesty! still brought their brand of sex-laden hip-hop to the Blender Theater with confidence and gusto. Mugging for a line of cameras at every moment, MCs Shunda K and Jwl B powered through a quick set of caffeinated rap odes to sex, partying, and passion. Constantly arguing with the venue’s sound man, no volume dial could have turned their electro beats up loud enough. “This is a party, our name is up outside the building,” Shunda K barked during the early part of the set. “We’re not here to sing some karaoke, so let’s turn those tracks up.”

In a hip-hop performance, if you can’t work the crowd with your bravado and beats, you’ve got no business being on stage. Luckily for Yo Majesty!, the duo has the requisite braggadocio in spades. If you weren’t into it, they’d find you and get you there. A Yo Majesty! show partially hindered by unmitigable circumstances would still serve as a peak for most bands, and they proved to the crowd why their name and no others were on Blender’s marquee.

//Mixed media

A Chat with José González at Newport Folk Festival

// Notes from the Road

"José González's sets during Newport Folk Festival weren't on his birthday (that is today) but each looked to be a special intimate performance.

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