What’s in a Name?

A reader recently forwarded a link from YeahBaby.com, “home of the Internet’s Number One Baby Names Search Engine” wherein “Daedalus” is an “Official YeahBaby.com Baby Name.” Not terribly interesting in and of itself, but dig this, “Daedalus Howell,” that is to say the name of your humble author, is listed as the moniker’s “Celebrity Namesake.” A weird Google-related phenomenon methinks, but momentarily entertaining nonetheless. http://www.google.com/url?sa=U&start=5&q=http://baby-names.yeahbaby.com/baby.php%3Fname%3DDaedalus&e=8092. Thanks, Sandy.

While I’m dropping names, check out this stellar piece by my friend and colleague Hiya Swanhuyser in which she tracks the experience of those in our generation raised with unconventional appellations for the SF Weekly. Hiya namechecks a number of Lumavillians, including Orion, Trane and Silver. Scroll to “Name That Name” at http://sfweekly.com/issues/2005-01-05/news/dogbites.html

Also, for kicks, check out the official website of Alfred J. Parker’s Kabalarian Philosophy (mind you, this is not an endorsement, just a link http://www.kabalarians.com/Index.cfm ) which offers a “free brief Name Analysis using the Mathematical Principle as taught in the Kabalarian Philosophy to demonstrate that your name creates your thinking!” I entered “Dickhead” and learned that the name “causes an emotional intensity that is hard to control.” I also learned that the name Dickhead “can frustrate happiness, contentment, and success, as well as cause health weaknesses in the nervous system, worry, and mental tension.” Indeed, if your name was Dickhead, I’d imagine this would very likely be true, especially in grammar school.

Remember ye olde “porn name” game in which you match your middle name with that of your first pet? Done it. Now get your “pirate name.” Go here: http://www.fidius.org/quiz/pirate/

The Arms & Legs Will Get You To Second Base

Three for the road.Rock troika The Arms & Legs produce that rarified strain of rock ‘n’ roll scientifically designed to get you to second base. Guaranteed. Their other super powers include:

– Each has nearly completed a six week course in holistic (hetero) sex therapy. They can find your whipple.

– By taking the California High School Equivalency Exam, drummer Abraham Levy and bassist Daedalus Howell “graduated” early.

– Since 1993, frontman Orion Letizi has been solving the Bernshaw Equation ? in his head. The answer is?(see reverse).

– The Arms & Legs have nearly perfected Tunology.

– Vocalist and guitarist Orion Letizi grew up in a geodesic dome.

The threesome celebrates the new year with an EP release that puts the EP in epic. Also known as a Double EP, each of the eight cuts leads that much closer to second base.

A classic rock quartet (without you know who), The Arms & Legs draw inspiration from bands such as The Trogs, Television, and The Cars. Their tunes are both hook-laden and danceable and will leave you whistling in the parking lot. In the dark. In your older brother’s car. Alone. With his girlfriend?

The Arms & Legs have honed their live act in such Bay Area venues as Cafe du Nord, The Edinburgh Castle, and the venerable Phoenix Theater. Other appearances include repeat performances at The Gig in Los Angeles and the Mama Buzz Cafe.

Throughout 2005, The Arms & Legs will be appearing at a venue near you. Where’s your whipple? It’s at http://thearmsandlegs.com.

Apocalypse Now Reduction Sauce

nullYesterday’s rant brought to mind an ill-fated short film project I was developing around the time Apocalypse Now Redux was released.

The Chron’s Datebook couldn’t get a peg on anyone from the production willing to talk, but I had an in with the film’s Oscar-winning editor and sound designer Walter Murch, having hosted a radio show for his wife Aggie’s West Marin Coastal Radio project. The interview and subsequent article went well (read it here), which lead to additional interviews with some principle cast members including those who played the ship of fools going up Shit Creek to Col. Kurtz’ compound (sans Martin Sheen who was busy playing Mr. President and Lawrence Fishburne who was getting reloaded for a Matrix sequel).

Regrettably, my word count wouldn’t permit spending the ink on Fred Forest, Sam Bottoms and Albert Hall, who portrayed Chef, Lance the Surfer and the doleful Chief Phillips respectively. However, I did pawn some journalistic credibility for the chance to pitch them all a project that would serve as a reunion of sorts.

In the film , the trio awakes in a Napa Valley bed and breakfast, present day, to find that their pal Marty has broken the room’s full-length mirror like he did in the Saigon hotel room (Marty is never seen, his character is behind the lens of the camcorder which serves to document their exploits). Recriminations ensue and exposition about their ultimate plan comes to the fore: they’re traveling up Highway 29, through the dark heart of the wine country, eventually arriving at the Niebaum-Coppola winery compound. There they would meet Coppola a la Kurtz and improvise some shenanigans seeing as I didn’t have an end in mind yet. I did know, however, that at some point the crew would be pulled over by a Robert Duvall-esque highway patrolman who would croak “I love the smell of Napa in the morning.”

When I positioned the actual production of the film as “really just a weekend in the wine country with a digital video camera,” the actors’ interest was piqued. However, Bottoms insisted that I get Coppola’s blessing before he would completely commit. After working the phones for a few hours, I ended up in a conversation with Kim Aubrey, a longtime executive at Zoetrope who also happened to have a producer credit on the Redux.

If memory serves, I pitched my flick, waited out the uncomfortable silence on the other end and got into the following:

Aubrey: “Hmm. Cute, but it’s sort of like Apocalypse Now Two, isn’t it?”
Howell: “Same actors, different characters.”
Aubrey: “Uh-huh.”
Howell: “And, you know, funny.”
Aubrey: “Uh-huh.”
Howell: “What do you say, Kim, can we do it?”
Aubrey: “Sure, you can do it. But we might have to sue you.”

Seeing as I didn’t want to disrespect the godfather and wake up with the head of a pantomime horse in my bed (how the film mob deals with satirists), I put the kibosh on the project.

This is just as well. The same territory was expertly trod back in 1980 in Ernie Fosselius’ deliciously titled Pork Lips Now! Best known for the seminal Star Wars parody Hardware Wars, Fosselius managed to make his redux of Apocalypse Now more an ode to Coppola’s original than a takedown. In it, Capt. Dullard (a the funhouse reflection of Sheen’s Capt. Williard) hunts down a certain Colonel Mertz to a Chinatown barbershop in San Francisco. There’s some hullabaloo about nefarious meat processing that underpins the narrative structure, but it is the dark atmosphere of Fosselius’ flick that is it’s triumph — it simply feels like Apocalypse Now, perhaps even more than the original, for like any distillation it is more potent, like cognac from wine.

Now, whenever I cork one o’ dem fine Coppola clarets, I toast “Terminate with extreme prejudice.”

Our Revels Now Are Ended

This is the end.Friend and filmmaker Abe Levy recently forwarded a New York Times article regarding Bay Area film impresarios Saul Zaentz and Francis Ford Coppola folding the production wings of their individual companies. To keep accounts square, Coppola’s American Zoetrope is morphing into a DVD production house. Likewise, cutbacks at The Saul Zaentz Film Center, precipitated by the sale of Zaentz’ Fantasy Records label, is laying-off staffers. Pithily referring to the Fantasy sale, the subject of Levy’s e-mail read something to the effect of “the fantasy is dead.”

The fantasy, of course, was that the San Francisco Bay Area could sustain a viable film industry where indie filmmakers could flourish outside of Hollywood. If anything, this was an “island fantasy,” one that imagined the independent studios as oases from the mainland of commercial filmmaking ? not marooned but autonomous. To extend the metaphor, any bottled messages tossed toward the littered shores of Los Angeles would be withdrawal slips from, as Philip Kaufman calls the industry, “the bank.”

Written by Sharon Waxman, the Times piece (published 12/27/04 and syndicated to the San Francisco Chronicle where it is archived free online here http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/12/27/DDGG7AHC8B1.DTL ) focuses on the advent of better, cheaper and faster technologies in the form of digital video and laptops loaded with editing software as hastening the companies’ recent staff edits.

Coppola himself all but predicted this inevitability when in the Apocalypse Now making-of doc, Hearts of Darkness, he said “Some little fat girl in Ohio is going to make a beautiful movie with her father’s camcorder.” But did he expect the same little girl to edit and mix the sound of her masterpiece on a PowerBook thus fossilizing a big part of his business? Indeed, using off-the-shelf technology, my pal Levy can make a quality feature film with fewer zeroes in his budget than the sticker price of an average sedan. What indie filmmakers really need is that goddamn sedan money.

None of this is a heartbreaker for Coppola, for as the Times article reminds, the man is now a successful winemaker with a sprawling Napa vineyard and a popular trattoria in San Francisco’s North Beach (the only Italian eatery at which one can purchase a copy of Dementia 13 with the penne all’ arrabbiata).

Inside of a week of the Times article’s publication, Carla Meyer, a San Francisco Chronicle “Movie Writer” shared her more optimistic take on the downscaling of the Northern California film trade ( http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2005/01/03/DDG7VAJN291.DTL ). In the piece, Meyer cites a couple of confident politicos and the usual suspects of Bay Area filmmaking — Kaufman, George Lucas, Chris Colombus and Sean Penn among them — seemingly in agreement that the fantasy may be over, but the dream is made of different stuff.

Yeah, ones and zeroes, baby.

Interview with a Lumaville Vampire

This bites.Petaluma theater, dance and music impresario Stephan Buchanan is going to hell and wants to take you with him.

Buchanan’s band, Damnatorum Liberi (Children of the Damned, in Latin), performs “Fallen Angels,” a “gothic rock opera” in which musicians emerge from coffins, and dancers of the undead variety cavort with chiaroscuro shadows, in two North Bay appearances this month.

The 2 1/2-hour production comprises 13 original musical montages, all of which underscore a visual landscape that borrows from everything from Dante’s “Inferno” to German Expressionist films. Accompanying front man and singer Buchanan are band mates Jeff “Purple” Piccinini, Jeff Robbins, Ernie Brady and Aliza Brady.

“It’s very Luddite, in the sense that it’s very basic. I’m not trying to go for the super-duper flashy blinky-blink crap that all the other bands do,” says Buchanan, a veteran of the 1970s punk scene. Among his arsenal of theatrical visuals is using reflected light provided by a garrison of mirrors and fan blades to create eerie strobe effects.

Buchanan works on his productions at Theatre Vampier, a shadowy garret built from a warehouse still surrounded by the dilapidated machinery of an erstwhile agribusiness on Petaluma’s west side. The studio’s decor is a cross between Andy Warhol’s Factory art space and a Tim Burton film and is apportioned to suit Buchanan’s various artistic needs. There is a sprung dance floor, a place for band rehearsal and a library among other accoutrements that make the place surprisingly homey, particularly for an artist with a yen for unusual live-work spaces (everything from a converted gas station to a fortune cookie factory).

At Theatre Vampier, Buchanan gives free range to his imagination as he shapes his dark spectacles. He has mounted similar productions throughout the Bay Area for 15 years.

“I don’t like to have people set artistic parameters on things,” says Buchanan. “I never restrict myself. It should be an open canvas that you can do whatever you want on. If I want to have people hanging upside down with weights on their nipples, I would do it. I don’t care. It’s not my thing, but I would do it.”

If the painted silhouette of actor Max Schreck as Nosferatu on the studio’s door is any indication, Buchanan’s “thing” is vampirism. It is the premise that unifies his various artistic pursuits and, for that matter, much of his personal life.

“For a long time, I looked for a theme that all the kind of art I do could fall under. Then I struck upon the vampire thing,” says Buchanan, who credits the work of author Anne Rice as an inspiration.

“I read ‘Interview With the Vampire’ about six times and thought, ‘This is pretty cool,’ ” he recalls. “Every ancient culture has a vampire myth, and it all has to do with blood. Blood is the life, ritual sacrifice, all that kind of stuff. It’s really interesting — it’s timeless, it’s erotic and it’s very dark, which I like. I thought, ‘This is perfect, I’m going to do this.’ ”

A self-professed pagan, Buchanan says the vampire imagery and lore dovetailed nicely with his spiritual interests and have come to inform every aspect of his artistic output.

“A lot of people ask, ‘When are you going to get out of the vampire thing?’ Never. It works for me. All the paintings I do, all the sculptures, the writing, everything — it’s all vampiric,” says Buchanan . “It’s universal. You don’t even have to understand the language.”

Buchanan points to the slew of vampire films and books churned out every year as an indicator that the public’s fascination with the genre has not waned, but flourished.

“People say it’s going to wear out, but it never does. It grabs people. Like the blood thing, for some people it’s a horrible fascination — they love it, but they hate it.”

Likewise, Buchanan’s relationship with the public can be love-hate. Though his performances draw a loyal, if necessarily niche audience (he boasts an e-mail list 10,000-people strong), his work is not immune to controversy. A show staged in San Francisco drew protesters from a Christian group, which, in Buchanan’s recollection, were nonplussed by the inclusion of a 9-year-old cast member costumed as a vampire.

“People were horrified. They said I was a pedophile, or worse than a pedophile — a vampiric pedophile! And with no respect for the church,” he recalls wryly.

Buchanan has become relatively inured to such outcries and maintains a very visible presence in Petaluma, where his vampire mien and black attire blend rather seamlessly into the customer base of at least one downtown cafe. He also remains sanguine in the face of the death threats he says he has received over the Internet.

“Every time I get a death threat, they say, ‘I’m going to find out where you are. I’m going to come and get you!’ I give them my phone number and address and I say, ‘If you have trouble finding me ask for me at Deaf Dog Coffee, they will tell you where I’m at,’ ” he says, then adds with a laugh, “I tell them, ‘I need another head for my altar,’ then I never hear from them.”

Buchanan elaborates by quoting a lyric from “Fallen Angels”: “People fear what they cannot understand, and they hate what they fear.”

“I was a black sheep where I grew up,” says Buchanan, who was raised on the Nebraska-Wyoming border before his studies and professional stints in music, dance and video production took him through the East Coast, Canada, Europe, Australia, Dallas and several Bay Area locales. “I was raised with a bunch of cowboys. That wasn’t my scene. I have a lot of confidence in what I am and what I do.”

That said, Buchanan admits that his chosen aesthetic appeals to him in part because it contextualizes his staunch individualism.

“I can identity to that kind of imagery because it’s like Frankenstein —

he’s not really the monster, he’s the victim. If you’re a little bit different, you’re perceived to be a monster. Anybody who does their own thing is perceived to be a monster by somebody. That’s what a lot of people think I am. It’s actually quite laughable,” he says. “I hear the most funny things. One story leads to another, to another, to another.”

Consequently, Buchanan sees parallels between his life as an artist and classical notions of vampirism.

“Vampires can’t help being what they are. Frankenstein can’t help being what he is. If you’re an artist, you can’t help being an artist,” says Buchanan. “For me, I have no choice, because that’s what I am. In order to live, I have to create. In order to create, I have to do what I do.”

To that end, Buchanan makes no apologies for either his work or his lifestyle. Moreover, he’s happy to live in a relatively tolerant era. Were he alive during another point in history, Buchanan suggests, it would perhaps be more rough-going.

“I’m glad that we are enlightened to the point where I don’t have to worry about being staked. I mean, look how many witches got burnt. It could go really bad for you really quickly. This country is good in the sense that I don’t have to worry about that — I don’t think,” he says with a laugh. “Every night, when I look out and don’t see the local hicks marching on me with pitchforks and torches, I say, ‘It’s a good night.’ ”

“Fallen Angels” plays at 7 p.m. Jan. 22 at Club Fab, 16135 Main St., Guerneville. $20. For more information, call (707)763-0129. Audiences are encouraged to take photos and videotape, and attend in gothic or vampire attire. 18 and older.

Published in the San Francisco Chronicle.