French Power Pop – What is the magic?

The first French band that grabbed my attention was Les Rita Mitsouko in the ’80s.

Upon listening to my random YouTube mix today, a French band that I had never heard before called Manceau popped up in the mix and I was instantly transported away:

This reminded me and sounded like another unheralded and brilliant French pop band a have always loved: Tahiti 80:

Both bands share a love of highly-compressed, radio-friendly tunes driven by jangly guitars, punchy bass, dance grooves and tuneful hooks.

I think these French bands love disco as much as they love British guitar bands of the 60s. You get the tunes, and you get the beat. You can sing along, and you can dance.

The apotheosis of this type of music outside of France has been the music of Phoenix.

Why did Phoenix make it when Tahiti 80 or Manceau are relatively unknown?

Better marketing or management? More extensive touring? All I know is all of these bands are unmistakably French and they all sound great.

Some other French bands to explore:




Russian Ark – a film review

Russian Ark is a stunning film released in 2002 and directed by Alexander Sokurov.

The film was shot is one continuous 96-minute Steadicam camera shot in the Winter Palace of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

Russian Ark is meticulous in its details, taking us on a two-kilometer trek over three centuries of Russian history.

The film is narrated by two narrators – one visible and one invisible. The invisible narrator implies he may have died and been transported here (via a time machine?) for reasons unknown to him.

The interactions between the two and their insights and observations drive the story – for example they both agree that Russians are lacking in originality but great at copying Italian style – they agree this palace is a better St. Peter’s than St. Peter’s in Rome.


The visible narrator (I will call him “the Guide”) who the camera follows, is a real eccentric and aesthete – he appears to be a 19-century French traveler who also arrived here for reasons unknown even to himself and is suddenly fluent in Russian.

This guy is funny, cultured, artistic and charming. He acknowledges a comment about his great hair but telling us that, of course – artists always have fantastic hair.

The visible narrator

The Guide has been here before, so he recognizes some of the works of art from his era, but he also needs to make sense of all the changes in the rooms and what he has been told happened up to the present time, e.g. all the Russians who died in WW II, which he finds inconceivable.
So we discover each new person and work of art through his eyes.

The Guide is sometimes, and sometimes not, seen by people pursuing various activities in the museum (setting up a banquet, viewing art, etc.)

ciega russian ark

Throughout Russian Ark, the camera and narrators guide us through the various rooms of the museum – each room contains various characters from different periods of Russian history – from Tsar Nicholas to Catherine the Great to modern-day tourists appreciating the paintings.

The cinematography and the story-boarding has been meticulously planned, each room has a distinct lens filter/hue which captures its mood.

This must have taken ages to coordinate and navigate all the aspects of making this epic: the government approvals/bureaucracy, the actors, costumes – and again this is all one one take – no edits.

The film concludes in grand Tolstoy-esque style with a luxurious and prolonged ball with lots of dancing, drink and food.

Russian Ark is much more than one continuous camera shot – perceptive commentary on the Russian soul, hundreds of actors who never strike a false note, stunning art, and thousands of period-authentic costumes.

And a compelling reason to visit The Hermitage in St. Petersburg for yourself.

The best Wim Wenders films

The films of German director Wim Wenders are infused by his love of people, music, photography and travel.

Wim has made numerous landmark films (way more than I am listing here).

These are my favorites:

Pina (Documentary)


Pina is a film from the heart from one artist to another.
Pina is a available in 3-D – and the dynamic dancing thrives in this format. Wenders started working on Pina because of his friendship and love of Pina Bausch’s choreography. He did not expect her death as he was in the process of filming.
However, Wim decides to keep filming as Pina’s dancers cope with and express their loss – and this becomes movingly integrated into the film.
Pina turns a tragic event into a celebration of a life well lived, spent in pursuit of creative excellence. Highly recommended.

Don’t Come Knocking


Starring Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard as a funny, drifting cowboy. A continuation of the screenwriting collaboration between Wenders and Shepard that started with Paris, Texas.
The colors captured in the cinematography are spellbinding and Fairuza Balk turns in a hilarious performance.

Buena Vista Social Club (Documentary)

Buena Vista Social Club La HabanaIf you have not seen this film about Cuban music and musicians that thrived in Havana during the pre-Castro era and their reunion 40 years later, go see it now.

Wings of Desire

iurIn my top five of the greatest films ever made.
Captures the soul of Berlin just before the wall came down. Perhaps Peter Falk’s greatest role outside of Columbo. Also captures an archetypal moody, musical performance by Nick Cave.
Makes a compelling case for why angels should join the ranks of the humans. Wings of Desire captures internal dialogue in a way that I have never seen before or since.

Paris, Texas

iu-3Another one of the greatest films ever made. Three main reasons:
  1. The desert cinematography
  2. The archetypal loner role that Harry Dean Stanton was made for
  3. The sparse, haunting slide guitar work of Ry Cooder

Alice in the Cities


The first half of this film shows us the soul of America with its open spaces and wanderlust – which infuses the second half in Germany.

Stars the impossibly charming and cute Yella Rottländer as Alice who is trying to get to her grandmother’s home in Wuppertal.

Also contains a classic scene featuring a little German kid, a jukebox and the music of Canned Heat:

Wenders mainstay Rüdiger Vogler brilliantly takes the lead role as a wandering Ulysses-type character with a wry smile. Alice in the Cities was the first of a trilogy of road movies for Wenders – all of which are worth checking out of you like this one.

Filmography and additional information

For a full list of films and additional information about the constantly evolving creations of Wim Wenders:

Londinium – Croft Way – a poem


Take the Finchley Road to Croft Way

Ramble through Kidderpore Avenue

Westfield – live in the seasons

full cycle

Welcome to the Garden of Eden my friends

Frognal Way, Church Row, see the leaning headstones

note your mortality

A nod to Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson on the way

Holly Walk

to the High Street

The Wells Tavern in the sun, 30 Well Walk , 1849

Post to Elm Row


Highest point
in London
Hampsead Observatory – Cooke refracting lenses
see the stars
Notable member:  Heinz ‘Great Egg Race’ Wolff

Did my ancestors get to Lower Terrace, Whitestone Pond?

in 1066 AD with Willam the Conqueror

Did they go to Hampstead Heath?

How was The Battle of Hastings?

Can you hear me DI Alex Drake?

Looking for

Elevator Up

Hampstead tube

King’s Cross


Platform 9 3/4

find The Tune


next to The Water Rats

Globe Thames audio for audience

Her Majesty’s Keys at the Tower

Parliament Hill – scan the town


silver rain was falling down upon the morphing ground of London Town

Abbey Road studio 2

The red chairs of the fabs are still used

St. John’s Wood

In ancient times . . .

London: you cost too much what happened to you?

Are you still

a conglomeration

millions of tiny neighborhoods on a medieval grid?

1003px-Baku-London_flightAre you still

a small village

a giant swarm

A hive

A nurturing or a spitting out

Did you welcome Freud to Swiss Cottage in 1938 before The Blitz?

Listen for your greats – David Jones

Blake, Turner

Sherlock Holmes

Shakespeare, Declan MacManus, Richard Thompson

Ashes to Ashes – laced with clues to your past

Are your secrets lurking in my DNA?


Tap rooms and art crawls – things you did not know about minneapolis

  1. There are tons of craft and micro breweries and more popping up everyday (more on this later).
  2. It is mostly sunny in the winter.
  3. Sauna culture is thriving, thanks Scandinavia!
  4. You can play tennis and swim year round thanks to numerous indoor athletic facilities.
  5. Art A Whirl – Over the last 20 years, it has become the largest open studio tour in the country, taking place annually throughout Northeast Minneapolis, the third weekend of May.
  6. Indeed Brewing – World-class beer in modern, spacious, comfortable tap room. In the heart of Northeast Minneapolis – which has grown from immigrant stomping grounds to hipster haven. I recommend the Midnight Ryder Black IPA.canLabelsMidnightRyder
  7. Mill City Market – Next to the Guthrie Theater and the stone arch bridge. Great atmosphere and local food. IMG_0271
  8. Pho – We have a huge Vietnamese immigrant community and the competition for the best Pho noodle soup is fierce and prices are reasonable. The Pho Ga (chicken Pho) is the perfect antidote to the common cold.
  9. Open microphones – You can play music every night of the week.
  10. Day Block Brewing Company – In addition to the beer, one of the best pizzas I have ever had.
  11. Surly Brewing Beer Hall and Restaurant – Unique, high-quality beers infused with smoke, chocolate, coffee, etc. One of the best burgers, period. Giant, brand-new, supercool modern facility. iu-1
  12. Brits Pub – In addition to its anglo atmosphere, there is lawn bowling on the roof!images.duckduckgo
  13. Spyhouse Coffee. The coolest cafes in Minneapolis, bar none.
  14. Al’s Breakfast Place – In the heart of Dinkytown near the University of Minnesota. Reportedly the narrowest restaurant in the city of Minneapolis, at a width of ten feet (three meters). Al’s is crammed into a former alleyway, between two much larger buildings…. The restaurant’s 14 stools have seated generations of local students, along with yours truly and local luminaries like Garrison Keillor.
  15. The Local – Built on the traditional Victorian Dublin pub style with tons of ornate wood, high walls, etc. The craic (look it up) is always beyond good. The place I always meet old friends.iu
  16. Did I mention the music?
  17. The people are beautiful inside and out.

The internal life of San Francisco

beep beep bop let me connect you….

pine street traffic always up and up


hills and mountains and hayes street alamo square

music through the night

tascam 4-tracking the city with morale

jumping pubs of the lower haight – toronado and mad dog in the fog

golden gate havana 3am and mr robyn lunchtime concerts in the park and

the through the panhandle to green apple books we go

on a mission to peralta music with flam and lavoie

to an isreali percussion soundtrack

raves and transworld teachers, teaching russians english on russian hill

learning chinese in the kitchen

hyde street studios (there’s sandy pearlman) interning cataloging microphones and saw the masters for robyn’s eye

tai chi with sifu wong

loma prieta earthquake shake

warehouse artist oakland space

music in the air

sf state

when you said to me, i am not so old . . .

and flying kung fu films and fangs

and babes in toyland at the i-beam

jazz legend don cherry lives in my hood he’s waiting patiently next to his bike for the atm

and he played a toy trumpet in a club on divisidero

as did robyn hitchcock sing and play guitar on his birthday

van the man leading the band valiantly at the masonic auditorium

scale it down at cafe du nord

dna lounge and tom verlaine and julian cope at boz’s slim’s

and clouds and rain and fog and mist


and lion dancing chow fun chinatown.

no car and take the bus and tram no problem

now i go back try to remember some things

and reinvent others

cafes and streets and people moving through


the Warfield last waltz and new waltzes by The The and The Mats

waiting for liftoff by dreaming harder

north beach and city lights the beating heart of the city.


new memories uber the hills

and hardly strictly music and greeeeeeeen


acres of space to where i am now and

union square’s heart beats on and on and on


Why I love Taiwan


Dan bing (egg pancake) – It’s a mixture of crepe and egg, then chopped up and mixed with red chili peppers, green onions and soy sauce. Toss it in a baggie and dig in with chopsticks, Breakfast on the go. Made fresh while you wait on a steaming hot skillet. The best breakfast you will ever have.

iu-1The people – For the most part, people in Taiwan (or the Republic of China as it it also called) are totally chilled out and friendly. I think the tropical climate contributes to the laid-back atmosphere.


Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Center – You can stay overnight, have some vegetarian food, and observe the monks in nuns in their daily routines of study and worship. Must make a reservation to stay.

iu-2Ghost month – Kinda like Halloween but it lasts a whole month. People burn miniature paper versions of things on the sidewalk that they want to send to their dearly departed.


Beef noodle soup – The best versions of this soup are spoken of in hushed tones just like you might seek out the perfect bowl of ramen. Get it at your favorite corner noodle stand.


Papaya milkshakes – Almost like liquid heaven when it is 100% humid and a million degrees outside. Milk, ice, sugar and fresh papayas in a blender. Done.


Liouhe Night Market (Kaohsiung) – So full of life, electricity, great food and something called “ren nao” in Chinese which roughly translates into the exciting bustle of human activity. Some tasty food items of note are the grilled teriyaki corn on the cob and the giant grilled squid, splayed out flat and coated with a kind of soy sauce.



National Palace Museum – Rivals any museum in China for the amount and quality of items.

dsc_20782.jpgBubble tea – Bubble tea was invented in Taiwan and sold at little roadside carts. Typical version is black tea, milk and sugar. Bubbles are made from tapioca.


Oyster omelettes – Sounds weird, but totally delicious. The magic is in the sauce.

iurTai chi – See it in the parks in the morning, as well as other forms of exercise and even karaoke. A big thank you to Mr. Chen who took the time to teach me the Yang Short form during my year teaching English in Kaohsiung!

iu-3.jpegKenting National Park – A protected, tropical, park that covers the entire southern tip of Taiwan. Untouched green areas and beaches.

iu-4.jpegThe mountains – Yes, there are mountains that go all the way down the central spine of Taiwan and you can drive through them. They are as beautiful as the alps and unless you live there, you probably have no idea these mountains exist. More than 240 above 3,000 feet. Fun places to camp.