(Top Shelf Productions)
Alienation is a very personal experience, and yet such a universal one. Those who feel the emotion have their own reasons for it, their own circumstances for leading to it and yet it is such a common emotion. It's always surprising to find out the people who thought they were outcasts in high school I've heard cheerleaders and football players claimed that they felt apart and distant from the rest of their school. Who knew? Who would ever guess?
In cartoonist Andy Hartzell's wordless graphic novel "Fox Bunny Funny," that nether realm of personal alienation that links to a larger picture is examined through an absurdist lense. In this case, the disaffected soul is a fox a fox with a secret. In this funny animal universe, it's a fox's world, regardless of the bunnies that also inhabit it. It is natural and accepted for foxes to want to be with foxes it never even crosses anyone's mind that foxes might want to be with bunnies.
It gets worse. If togetherness with bunnies is an absurd thought to the foxes, imagine how far out there the idea that a fox might actually want to be a bunny. That's not the way normal foxes think, obviously but it's the way one fox, our fox, looks at life.
Hartzell's book follows the young fox as he dips his toes in the well of the forbidden and is forced to succumb to societal pressures of what it means to be a fox. In Hartzell's world, foxes play video games in which bunnies are hurt and scouts are trained to prey on bunnies but our fox begins with a suspicion, a fetish, that turns into an acknowledgement that the bunnies are not all that the fox norm has painted them as but is it decent fox behavior to be so interested in bunnies? Will the fox father approve of such feelings, or will he go full force in showing the young fox the proper face of modern foxhood? And what path will our fox take? Will he stay true to himself or will he cave into the pressures of society to conform to a viewpoint he thinks is wrong?
The beauty of Hartzell's book is that it manages to address the general tone of repression and alienation that infects so much of American culture, but still manages to be amazingly funny. It's a profound work to anyone who has ever found it impossible to fit in, heart-wrenching in its way, but it's also about cartoon foxes and bunnies, which has two great effects. One is that it lightens a pretty heavy load the other is that it makes the examination of a very personal emotion and situation to be an entirely universal one. It might even serve the wider picture well in opening a few eyes for people who have never, ever been our fox.
In the bodies of foxes and bunnies, Hartzell's characters are free of stereotypes this is not a book about being gay or being weird or being foreign or having a different skin color or making personal choices that are not the normal way of doing things, but it could also be any of those.
Alienation is all things to all people but, of course, to foxes and bunnies, it's mostly one thing or another. Thank goodness Hartzell is out there, ready to portray both.
Various Artists - "The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru" (Barbes Records)
New sounds are hard to come by in this world, so many cultures have been gone over carefully, their styles and instruments happily borrowed to spice up popular music that's why it's so exciting when those rare occasions arise that something unfamiliar actually hits your ears. It's doubly exciting when you find out these sounds have been going strong for about 40 years without being messed with.
On the new compilation "The Roots of Chicha," 17 tracks by six bands are collected as a presentation of the Peruvian music known as Chicha, a variation on the cumbia form.
The CD was compiled by Olivier Conan, who is quite a musical explorer himself. Conan is the cuarto player for the band Las Rubias del Norte and owner of the acclaimed Brooklyn music club Barbes. Conan discovered the sound of Chicha on a music-buying trip to Peru. He had very specific ideas of what types of music he was seeking out, but the street vendors in Lima introduced him to a sound he hadn't heard before part Latin lounge, part surf music, part psychedelic. Conan was hooked.
Chicha stands as the Peruvian response to American and British pop music of the 1960s. Local bands took rock and roll instruments as their arrangement to create new versions of their traditional music, throwing in the twang of surf music, as well as, eventually, Moog synthesizers and Farfisa organs to add a whole other far out flavor to the sounds. The form was quite popular among Peruvians, but it was considered lower class music and the musicians never stepped out of Peruvian borders to pass it along to the world.
Olivier's collection is a lively one most of the songs would be considered mid-tempo, but the bands are clearly excited by what they are doing, with the tinny treble of the guitars dancing around the Latin dance rhythms and often excited vocals mostly chanting guys with their party on, but at least one enraptured girl makes her presence known in Juaneco y Su Combo's spy theme flavored song "Valcilando con Ayahuesca."
Meanwhile, "El Guapo" by Los Diablos Rojos may well answer the unasked question of what music would have ensued if James Brown had somehow been born in Lima. "La Danza del Los Mirios" may well convince you that the Ventures were hiding out in South America in the 1970s.
As the cold winter months approach, you can find no better solution to keeping warm than this collection of Chicha. Olivier's next goal is to offer full recordings by the bands featured on this collection, a move that promises warm and lively winters to come.
The collection can be ordered online at www.barbesrecords. com.