Posts Tagged ‘Pelican Dreams’

Progress Report #113

February 16, 2018

I’m currently working on the final chapter of Street Song, which is presenting me with some expected difficulties. The previous 41 chapters, “the story,” were told in a voice where the narrator (me) never knows much beyond what he is experiencing at the time. This was not a plan. Something inside me resisted using the voice of the omniscient narrator. So this final chapter, which I’m calling “The Afterword,” is told by me as I am today looking back at what I’ve been through, explaining certain things, and drawing conclusions. I need thoroughness and concision at the same time. Difficult to do. I hope to be finished by the end of April. We’ll see.

For the last year, I’ve been working on a collection of songs (called Street Songs) to go with the book. The book is fairly saturated with descriptions of and stories about music, and it occurred to me that you can’t really describe music with words. So I approached one of my readers of the work-in-progress, Bruce Kaphan, an outstanding musician, composer (he did the music for Judy’s latest film Pelican Dreams), and recording engineer, and worked out an agreement with him to do some songs in his studio, Niagara Falls. The original intention was to keep things fairly simple— more than just me and my guitar, but not much more. But things have gotten more elaborate. Two songs in particular have a somewhat large sound. I’ve always been curious about how recording works, and I’m getting some good lessons in that regard.

In my late teens and early twenties, I wanted to be a musician (or a rock star, whichever came first), but never got beyond singing in the streets and in bars during band breaks. It’s difficult to explain here how it happened, but I ended up on the street at the same time my musical ambitions ended. But even after I quit playing seriously, I used to go down to City Lights Bookstore and stand in front of the doorway and sing for spare change. One of the songs I used to do was the Bob Dylan song “I Pity the Poor Immigrant.” At the time I was quite bereft—even afraid for my life. To me, I was the immigrant in the song—someone who’d left his old life behind but was having grave difficulties finding a new one. I sang it as if I were praying. It’s in the book, and it’s an easy one to play, so it was one of the first songs I recorded over a year ago. It was just me and my guitar, played simply and starkly. At the time, Bruce suggested he add a harmonium (harmonium is a small organ-like keyboard) and a tambourine. I thought it was a perfect idea, but we moved on to other songs and the track was neglected—until yesterday. We finally dusted it off and resumed work. I was expecting the harmonium simply to add a little instrumental texture—sound. But Bruce knows a good deal about harmony and he added extensions to the chords that gave the song colors and feelings it didn’t have before. I was so incredibly moved—laughing sometimes because I was so happy with what he was doing, at the edge of tears sometimes because it was so solemnly beautiful. Very simple, but just right.

Advertisements

Pelican Dreams and the Importance of Nature

April 15, 2015

Judy Irving’s new film, Pelican Dreams, is available now as a DVD, a streaming video, and a download. It’s in all the usual places—Amazon, iTunes, and, as far as we know, Netflix, although I think only as a DVD. (Other people are in charge of distribution and neither one of us has enough business sense to remember all the details.) Judy’s nonprofit company, Pelican Media, has an online store that sells the DVD, and this is, of course, how she would prefer that people view it. The store is at pelicanmedia.org. To go to the store, you can click here. I can’t pretend to be an unbiased observer, but it is a very good film. Surprisingly good. Moving, humorous, intelligent. There is one moment that never fails to choke me up. I’ve seen it 30 times or so, and it gets me every time.

DVD cover for Pelican Dreams

DVD cover for Pelican Dreams

Circumstances have made me less of a hermit lately (you have to be a hermit to write a book) and I’ve been having more frequent encounters with strangers than I usually do. The usual questions come up—where do you live? what do you do? have any kids? what does your wife do? and so on. When I tell people my wife is a filmmaker they usually perk up. “Oh, yeah? What kind of films?” “Documentaries.” “What about?” “Nature mostly.” And then I often see the interest fade. A lot of people see nature as an inferior subject, not worthy of the attention of a serious artist. Nature is nice and all, but all critters do is eat, sleep, and breed. They’re not as fascinating as we human beings. This is the ignorance of an almost entirely urbanized population that is obsessed with money, technology, and celebrity, and fascinated by its own neuroses and addictions. But all life, all the plants and the animals, have a deeper reality than the one we habitually see. There is a poetry to everything that lives, and just as love is not nonsense simply because some people make bad movies or write bad songs about it, neither is nature shallow and boring just because people make shallow and boring films about it. (It’s so pitiful to feel any need to say this!) The beautiful thing about Pelican Dreams is that it captures some of the poetry of the pelican’s existence. And that existence is absorbing in a way that the neuroses of human beings are not.

Cannery Row

April 5, 2015

I’m currently reading an Italian translation of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row (Vicolo Cannery). For anybody who hasn’t read it, it’s a romantic, sentimental depiction of a real place and based on real people, a community of outsiders in old town Monterey, California during the depression. Cannery Row was the popular name for Ocean View Avenue. It’s in an industrial part of town at the waterfront and was home to the old sardine fleet. The fish were abundant then, and Ocean View Avenue was lined with canneries. The main characters in the story are a man who owns a biology laboratory and warehouse, a bunch of bums and winos who spend their days in a vacant lot drinking, a Chinese grocer, and a madam with a heart of gold. The book sympathizes with these outsiders. In the mid-1940s, the sardine population began to crash, eventually putting the canneries completely out of business. The book Cannery Row was so popular that the town renamed Ocean View Avenue after it and turned it into a tourist destination.

Last week, Judy did a special screening of Pelican Dreams at the aquarium in Monterey, and they put us up in one of the Cannery Row hotels. Because I’m reading the book, I was interested in checking out the locations. Today the old canneries have been turned into restaurants, hotels, and upscale boutiques. It’s extraordinarily expensive and quite tacky, like Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. The morning we left I was walking along a bike path/pedestrian thoroughfare that used to be train tracks when I happened upon two homeless people guzzling a bottle of beer. It amused me highly because I was certain that if they’d been noticed by the police, they would have been run out of the neighborhood. Yet they were the only true part of the book that was left.

Pelican Dreams Opens in San Francisco

October 26, 2014
Opening Night

Opening night for Pelican Dreams at the Balboa Theater

Judy had her opening night party for Pelican Dreams Friday night at the Balboa Theater here in San Francisco. The film has been getting some excellent reviews, which is a relief. There was some concern that the general theme of the reviewers might be, “well, it’s not The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, but…” In fact, there has been little comparing. The new film is being taken on its own merits, which are considerable. The party was a lot of fun—and I say that as one who usually doesn’t do well at parties. I saw a lot of people I’ve met over the years all in one place. I met some new people, too. The party had a good feeling, which carried over to the screening.

The central location for all things pelican is http://www.pelicandreams.com. Theater dates, links to reviews, and so on. There will be more theaters added in the coming months. If you get the chance, check out the movie. It’s warm, smart, funny, and moving. It’s not really a nature documentary—not in the traditional sense. It’s a movie that stars pelicans and people. And it’s about real life.

I’m leaving tomorrow morning for Olympia, Washington, where I’m giving some talks at Evergreen College. I’m looking forward to it. Then back here to help Judy with more openings and back to work on Street Song.

Good News

June 4, 2014

It’s been very difficult to post anything here lately. There are several reasons: busy with the book, busy with Judy’s movie, busy with Judy’s Kickstarter campaign, have a lousy cold. Mostly though it’s because I’ve been quite pessimistic lately and haven’t wanted to unload that yet again on this blog. I wanted some good news first.

Well, there is some. First of all, Judy’s Kickstarter campaign succeeded. She made her goal of $50,000, so the project will be funded. Thank you to everyone who gave. And there is other good news: Yesterday, San Francisco voters passed Proposition B by a margin of 59 to 40 percent. Prop B requires that any building project on city-owned waterfront property that would exceed height limits already in place will require a vote of the people to proceed. There have been a lot of complaints that Prop B becomes city planning by the ballot box, that it’s inefficient, slow, open to corruption by politics and scares away developers (I hope). The reason the proposition became necessary is that the San Francisco city government is currently in the hands of developers. The city rubber stamps every development proposal no matter how massive, ugly and inappropriate. They want San Francisco to be a playground for the rich—the global rich. Local development organizations such as SPUR peddle the idea of the “New Urbanism,” which is really just the old urbanism with delusions of grandeur attached. SPUR seems to be made up of liberals who have lost their ideals but like to think that that they’re still forward-thinking. They push the idea that density makes a city vibrant. But it’s still just rats packed tight in a cage. I used to ask a friend who closely follows city politics what the ideology of organizations like SPUR was. He always looked at me with irritation—irritation at how slow and dull I was. “Money,” he would tell me. And I’ve come to see that he’s absolutely right. There is no ideology. Just the desire to get rich.

Proposition B is probably just a holding action. San Francisco has severely deteriorated in the past few years. It has become everything I came here to get away from. The cost of living here continues to drive out the people who see life as being about something more than making money. The developers and their allies are going to keep pushing. They are ruthless and see San Francisco as a goldmine that they are determined to exploit. I used to know a guy who believed that San Francisco was the New Jerusalem. It’s not. It’s just a plain old, garden-variety Babylon.

An Unashamed Pitch

May 3, 2014

My wife and wonderful filmmaker, Judy Irving, has started a Kickstarter campaign. For those of you unfamiliar with this, it’s a “crowd sourcing” means of funding creative projects. People make donations within a set period of time and if you meet your goal you get to keep the money. If you don’t meet it, you don’t get anything. Judy has a goal of $50,000 by May 31st. There are little (and big) perks that come with each level of donation, which ranges from $10 to $10,000. The new film is called Pelican Dreams. I’ve seen it several times now and it never fails to move me. Might I be a biased observer? Possibly. But I can never fake a lump in my throat, especially one I assume I’m not going to get this time around. All the information is right here. There’s a trailer, too. Please check it out.

At the moment, I’m in my old hometown of Vancouver, Washington working on my book. I call it “writing in place.” This is where the story begins. I’m staying in an apartment  in the block between old Highway 99 and Interstate 5. It’s a strip mall. Perfect place to begin a story of despair and longing.

Venturing into the Future

April 19, 2014

A couple of days ago, Judy and I drove north to Eureka to screen her new film Pelican Dreams for some wildlife rehabilitators who helped with the project. (The film isn’t ready for release yet. She still has a lot of color correction and sound work to do. But she has achieved what’s called “picture lock,” meaning there won’t be any more changes to the visuals.) The screening was an interesting experience. It was held in a creative performance space—actually an old warehouse at the edge of town. When we got there the entrance was surrounded by homeless people who were either sleeping or just hanging out. We carried our gear inside (projector, screen, laptop, speakers) and  discovered that the power had been shut off by the utility company for nonpayment. Someone had forgotten to send in the check. The warehouse is divided into two spaces, and on the other side of the wall an industrial punk band was rehearsing. We got their attention during a break, and they let us run an extension cord over to their side. We were able to draw enough juice to power the projector and our small speakers. So that audience members could find their way to their seats, we lit the winding hallway into the theater with candles. The band had paid to rent the space where they were rehearsing, so they weren’t willing to call it a night. We had to run the first half of the film over the sound of their pounding drums, howling vocals, and buzz-sawing guitars, which were just on the other side of the wall. Somehow it worked. Everybody accepted the situation for what it was. I was most amused by two women in their seventies who ran the gauntlet of homeless people outside the warehouse, picked their way through the candle-lined hallway, and watched the show with the punk band playing behind the wall. They could have been old hippies, but they didn’t look it. Whatever they were, they were unruffled by it all.

I was thinking later that this is how the future is going to be. We’re going to live through a time where the availability of energy is unreliable. In this particular case, it brought people together. Everyone had a good time.

Progress Report #83

September 14, 2012

I’m still on my break from Street Song. Besides allowing me some much needed rest, the long hiatus has allowed for the broader perspective to reemerge from underneath the flattening mass of details. I had imagined that I’d be posting here more often, but I haven’t felt like writing. I’ve mostly been reading (books! real books!) and helping Judy with her work-in-progress, Pelican Dreams. I’ve been transcribing interviews for her and trying to figure out how to contact the various copyright holders whose photographic stills she’s using. I have not been looking at her edits, so it was a pleasure to see finally what she’s been doing. A couple of nights ago Judy showed a rough cut of the film as a benefit for the Green Film Festival here in San Francisco. I figured it would be exactly that, rough, and probably a bit slow in spots. But from beginning to end I was awake and I was often moved. More than once I felt a twinge of jealousy or envy. I want my book to be that good. While I certainly won’t be regarded as an objective observer, it appeared that the audience of around sixty souls felt much the same as I did. She still has a ways to go. I’d say the film is around 75% complete.

It looks like I’ll be resuming work on Street Song during the last week of September. And then it’s going to be one disciplined romp through to the end. Once I’ve started I won’t be making a lot of these progress reports. The work on the last draft is going to be exacting and, as I’ve said before, it would make me feel too self-conscious, as though I were writing the book in a department store showroom. I’m looking forward to getting back to work. I feel good about what’s to come.

A Different Kind of Progress Report

March 16, 2012

Last night my wife Judy Irving screened a 34 minute rough cut of her work-in-progress, Pelican Dreams, for the local chapter of the Audubon Society. She also showed 15 minutes of assemblies (rough sequences) that she threw together in the four days just prior to the screening. So many people showed up that they had to put out more chairs. The film is not being made for “birders,” per se. And it’s not a scientific-type documentary. Pelican Dreams attempts to capture the wonder of these birds. It’s really being made for any human being who loves the natural world. The audience understood that and responded warmly. There was a good feeling in the room.

Judy expects to be finished in around two years—around the same time that I foresee my book being finished. After completion there will be distribution issues—we hope! So yes; both projects still have a long road ahead of them. But eventually the wait will be over and they’ll be ready to go.

My Escort out of Town

March 10, 2012

I had a vivid experience last Monday that has yet to leave my mind. Last weekend a sudden opportunity came up for Judy to do a film shoot for Pelican Dreams, her new documentary. She had to go to Ventura in Southern California, and I offered to  share the driving. I dropped her off at the dock (she was to spend two days on a boat) and then I drove to Sierra Madre, which is the town just east of Pasadena. A friend had kindly offered to let me use her cabin for the two days I was to spend waiting for Judy to return to shore.

Sierra Madre is right up against the San Gabriel Mountains, and in the San Gabriel Valley there is an enormous parrot flock. There are thousands of them, mostly red-fronted Amazons. It has to be the largest wild parrot flock in the United States. I was told that I would probably see some of them in Sierra Madre, and I did, very early the first morning. Typically, I heard them first, then saw them in the distance in silhouette. Fifteen minutes later I saw three or four about a block away. They were in the sun, which lit up their beautiful green backs and wings as they flew from tree to tree. Throughout my two-day stay in Sierra Madre I would occasionally hear them, but I didn’t seek them out. As much as I love wild parrots, my main concern right now is my new book. I was focused on my work.

Monday morning, I got in the car and headed back to Ventura to pick up Judy. I was driving down 210 in the right lane when I looked to my right and saw at car-top level a red-fronted amazon flying in tandem with me. I watched him for a few seconds, and just before I reached the Pasadena city limits sign, he flew up and over the freeway and disappeared.