Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Coffee Evangelist



















I first experienced Philz Coffee in 2007.  My wife and I were visiting San Francisco when we saw a sign that read: BEST HANDMADE COFFEE IN THE CITY.  "What the hell is handmade coffee," I asked.  "We have to check this out."

We entered a medium-sized coffee house with comfy sofas, old wooden chairs and vintage photographs of trolleys on the wall.  Every seat was filled with hipster types immersed in their laptops and iPads.  A large chalkboard over the front counter boasted names of coffee blends like "Silken Splendor," "Jacob's Wonderbar" and "Anesthesia to the Upside."

After fifteen minutes in line, we were summoned by a smiling barista.  I ordered something called "Tantalizing Turkish" while my wife opted for "Philharmonic."  We watched as the barista ground a fresh batch of beans, put them in a coffee cone, poured hot water over the cone, poured the brew into a second cone, then added some kind of powdered spice and a sprig of mint. The process took about five minutes. The barista slid the cup forward and said, "Try that and make sure it's perfect."

I took a sip.  I was greeted by a taste I've never encountered before.  The coffee was smooth and aromatic and imbued with the middle-eastern flavor of cardamom and mint.  The taste was like chai tea but it had the unmistakable bite of coffee and chocolate.  "Holy crap," I said to my wife.  "This is the best coffee I've ever had."  My wife sipped her coffee.  She immediately started laughing.  "This is goooood."

The founder of Philz Coffee is Phil Jaber.  Born in Palestine prior to the 1967 exodus, Jaber fell in love with coffee as a child when he secretly sipped the dark brew at family parties.  As an 8-year old, he set up a coffee stand outside the family's front yard and sold to passersby.  His family moved to Northern California when he was twelve.  Jaber's father bought a grocery store in San Francisco and put his son to work.  After high school, Jaber and his older brother bought their own grocery store in the San Francisco Mission District.

Jaber did well selling cigarettes and beer, but his first love remained coffee. He saw the business potential of coffee and began conducting his own market research.  "I used to go to coffee shops and park my car and watch people go in.  I used to time them.  For example, the guy with a brown suit walked in at 10:15 am and 10:30 he's out with a cup of coffee.  I said to myself, 'That's not what I'm looking for.'  I want people to go in and sit, for community, like going to your grandma's house, full of love."

Around 1990, Jaber began experimenting with his own coffee blends searching for the perfect combination of beans.  He started selling coffee from his grocery store and attracted a loyal clientele.  In 2002, Jaber sold his liquor license and converted the store into the first Philz Coffee.  Located at the corner of Folsom and 24th Street, Philz Coffee quickly attained a cult status. "It took off like a rocket," Jaber says.  "There was no hiccup."

Unlike Starbucks, Philz brews coffee one cup at a time.  They use a hand-pour method that requires 3 1/2 times more grounds per cup than standard machine-brewed coffee.  Coffee is brewed at somewhere between 190-200 degrees (just below boiling) and the resulting drink is less bitter and more mellow than standard coffee.  Philz does not sell espresso drinks like lattes or cappuccinos and they have no sugar or cream bar.  The baristas add all the extras for you.

Jaber always believed coffee created community.  He likes it when customers stay for hours at a time.  His goal is to create a home away from home, a place where people can socialize and laugh and feel relaxed.  "Coffee is making friends.  Coffee is social.  Coffee teaches you to be patient.  You can't drink it all at once.  Coffee is to settle, to calm down."

"We use holy water," Jaber says.  "My clientele are like flowers.  I steal them from other coffee shops.  My coffee is so subtle, so clean, that it makes you calm.  It makes you sociable.  It stimulates you from the back of the brain forward.  It's medicine."

Philz Coffee has benefited from the "Slow Coffee" Movement that has swept its way across Northern California.  Peter Giuliano of the Specialty Coffee Association of America theorizes that the movement is a return to a pre-20th Century ethos when coffee was a luxury to be consumed with others.  "Coffee has a long history of not being something that is cheap fuel for you on your way to work," Giuliano says.  "It has a history of being something that has conversation involved with it.  When you slow down and appreciate coffee, it has a ritual aspect to it, not only around consumption but in its preparation."

During the early 20th Century, coffee became a cheap drink for the masses as a way to increase worker productivity.  The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 allowed access to Columbia's previously unreachable Pacific Coast. Americans fell in love with South American coffee and the abundant supply made the drink cheap and easily accessible.  By 1919, American coffee consumption tripled.

The era of Folger's gave way to the age of Starbucks.  Today, artisanal roasters like Four Barrel, Blue Bottle and Sightglass have sprouted across San Francisco. With prices at four to five dollars a cup, coffee has become an expensive luxury. But people keep lining up.

These days, Phil Jaber's son Jacob runs the company.  They now have 15 locations in Northern California.  They have become the darling of  the tech community and they have coffee bars at both Facebook and Google Headquarters. They're also the coffee of choice for the offices of Twitter and Linked In and their coffee is offered on Virgin American flights.

Jaber credits his success to trust, faith and a unique way of doing business. "You must love what you do.  You must have faith in what you do.  Be generous.  Treat people like you want to be treated...with love, respect and hospitality.  We are all from under the canopy of heaven."

"I cry sometimes thinking about what happened to us," Phil Jaber says. "Thank you, God.  That's all I can say." (6" x 7", black ink print)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Phil Jackson

The year was 1982 and Phil Jackson was out of work. He'd retired from the NBA after a 12-year basketball career and he had no post-athletic job prospects.  He took a junior college aptitude test and was told he was best suited for a career as a teacher or a minister.  He and his wife June opened a sports fitness club in Flathead Lake, Montana.  Jackson pondered enrolling in law school or obtaining a degree in psychology.

Out of the blue, a call came from the owner of the Albany Patroons, a minor league team from the Continental Basketball Association.  Would Phil like to coach the team?  Jackson agreed.  From these humble origins a legendary coaching career began.

Phil Jackson was born in 1945 in Deer Lodge, Montana.  His parents were both Pentecostal ministers.  Growing up, Jackson assumed he would be a minister as well.  His mom's daily message was "Listen to no one but Christ." They preached that Armageddon was at hand and they encouraged the practice of speaking in tongues.  Jackson earnestly attempted to speak in tongues but nothing came.  A preacher friend of the family suggested that Jackson undergo a childhood exorcism. Jackson's father refused.

Jackson's home environment was austere.  Dancing and television were prohibited and the only reading allowed was the Bible, the Encyclopedia and Reader's Digest.  He did not see his first movie until high school.  Jackson had a curious mind and a craving for knowledge.  He excelled in sports, starring on his high school basketball team.  With his gangly arms and sharp elbows, he developed a reputation as a ferocious rebounder and a scrappy defensive player.

Jackson attended the University of North Dakota where he played basketball for future NBA coach Bill Fitch.  His college teams did well, coming in third and fourth place in the 1965 and 1966 NCAA Division II Tournaments. Both years his team lost to Southern Illinois and their star Walt Frazier (Jackson's future teammate on the New York Knicks).

During college, Jackson studied philosophy, psychology and religion.  He read the writings of Ouspensky, Gurdjieff and the Sufi mystic Vilayat Inayat Khan. He began exploring faiths beyond his own, reading William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience.  His first exposure to meditation came in a college class on eastern religion.  He also started drinking beer and dating girls, something he'd not done in high school.

After college, Jackson married his girlfriend Maxine and they had a daughter, Elizabeth.  He considered joining the ministry but was drafted in the second round by the New York Knicks.  He felt pro basketball was something he could play for awhile before going on with his "normal life."  He was a limited offensive player but his intelligence and hustle earned the respect of Knick coach Red Holzman.  Holzman said of Jackson, "He may play lousy at times but he won't ever play scared."

Living in a big city was foreign and Jackson felt out of place on a Knicks team that was packed with stars like Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley and Dick Barnett.  In his first two years, he struggled.  He earned a reputation as a dirty player and was often sent into the game to disrupt opposing teams with elbows, knees and physicality.

In the 1968-69 season, Jackson injured his leg.  He began drinking, smoking pot and taking psychedelic drugs to numb the pain.  He struggled to move efficiently on the court.  Fans booed him.  He posted two angry fan letters on his locker.  1) "You're the worst player ever."  2) "Last year I hoped you'd get hurt and sprain your ankle.  This year I hope you die."

Jackson had his first surgery after the 1969 season.  A piece of his hipbone was grafted against his lower vertebrae.  After the surgery, his body was permanently injured.  His marriage was in shambles as well.  (He would divorce Maxine in 1972.)  He watched from the bench as the 1970 Knicks won the NBA championship.

Jackson's injuries derailed a more promising playing career.  But they began his coaching apprenticeship.  Holzman had Jackson break down opponent tendencies and he questioned Jackson about strategy and substitution patterns.  The Knicks ran an early version of the triangle offense emphasizing constant movement and a strong-side focus on guards.  Every player on the Knicks knew their role.  After the Knicks traded Walt Bellamy and Howard Komives to the Detroit Pistons for Dave Debusschere, Jackson learned an important lesson.  "The Knicks had to become less talented to become a better team."

Jackson returned to the court in 1971 and recommitted himself to basketball. He became a spark plug off the bench and his constant hustle made him a fan favorite.  He was a key reserve on the Knicks team that won the 1973 Championship.  He celebrated in Los Angeles by dropping acid with a young woman and spending the next day "tripping on the beach."  He later wrote that the experience gave him a sense of "the awe of God."

Jackson's favorite book was Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and his favorite off-season activity was taking cross-country road trips on his prized BMW motorcycle.  On a 1971 road trip, Jackson camped in Flathead Lake, Montana.  He fell in love with the area, bought land and built a house. The spot would come to serve as his spiritual retreat.

Though his grandfather had taught him that Native Americans "were shiftless drunks and weren't to be trusted," Jackson empathized with the plight of Native Americans.  He cherished the teachings of Lakota Sioux medicine man Black Elk and he gravitated to customs like smoking tobacco in peace pipes and attending sweat lodges to purify his soul.  In 1973, Jackson began giving off-season clinics for Native Americans in Montana.

That same year he met June Perry.  The two were married and would spend the next thirty years together.  Jackson bought a loft in New York's Chelsea neighborhood from an ex-drug dealer named Hakim who'd recently turned to Islam.  Hakim advised Jackson to stop smoking pot.  "You can refine things by fire but nothing is refined by smoke.  Marijuana only clouds your head."

Jackson's playing career lasted 13 years.  After retiring as a player, he turned to Buddhism and Zen meditation as a way to calm his restlessness and anxiety.  Unsure of his next career move, he embraced the Buddhist concept "if you have a clear mind and an open heart, you won't have to search for direction.  Direction will come to you."  The 1982 phone call from the owner of the Albany Patroons provided this direction.

In the Continental Basketball Association, Jackson coached in arenas that had no heat, roofs that leaked water onto the court and crowds that numbered in the hundreds.  The Patroons played games in the decrepit Albany Armory, a building designed by Isaac Perry who'd also designed the New York State Inebriate Asylum.  Public bathrooms were located next to the team's locker room so fans using the bathroom could see players showering.

The team played in towns like Oshkosh, Casper and Rapid City.  Jackson drove the team bus, a crossword puzzle poised atop the steering wheel as he navigated snowstorms and dirt roads.  As coach, Jackson developed a player-friendly style emphasizing ball movement, motion and strong defense.  His mantra was "keep it simple."  He believed in allowing players to make their own decisions on the court.  He didn't over coach, abiding by the Taoist message that "the Master does nothing yet he leaves nothing undone."

His most problematic player was Frankie "Jumpshot" Sanders.  Sanders was a prolific scorer with an attitude.  He refused to run Jackson's offense and challenged his leadership.  Jackson simply sat him on the bench.  After several games, Jackson walked to the end of the bench and asked, "Are you ready to play?"  Sanders said "yes" then came in and scored like crazy.  Years later, Jackson used the same technique with Dennis Rodman on the Chicago Bulls.

During Patroon practices, Jackson ended each session with a meditation and prayer circle inspired by a passage from the book Black Elk Speaks.  "The sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle."  The concept of the circle became a theme of Jackson's coaching method.  The circle unites the group, is fluid, begins and ends at the same point and is the shape of the basketball and the hoop itself.

As Patroon coach, Jackson began his practice of giving books to his players to read.  Each book was inspired by the player's unique personality.  Patroon player Rudy Macklin said, "He made a point of trying to know what was going on inside of us, psychologically."  Jackson continued this practice as an NBA coach.  He gave Michael Jordan Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, he gave Shaquille O'Neal  Siddartha by Herman Hesse and he gave Kobe Bryant The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

Though his methods were unorthodox, Jackson quickly achieved coaching success.  After a slow start, the Albany Patroons came together and won the 1984 CBA Championship.  Jackson went on to coach in the Puerto Rican league where fans tossed fruit, batteries and dead chickens on the court.  His inability to speak Spanish taught him to rely on silence and body language.

Jackson sought a job in the NBA.  Invariably he was turned down.  His counterculture reputation scared away potential employers.  In 1987, he was given a chance. Jerry Krause, general manager of the Chicago Bulls, hired Jackson as an assistant under head coach Doug Collins.  Jackson befriended fellow Bulls assistant Tex Winter who taught Jackson his vaunted Triangle Offense.  When Collins was fired in 1989, Jackson was promoted to head coach.

Jackson became the most successful coach in NBA history winning eleven rings.  His list of all-star players included Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.  None won a championship until Jackson was their coach.  Jackson retired from coaching in 2011 due to health reasons and sought a position as an NBA team executive.  Though he was engaged to Jeannie Buss, part-owner of the Lakers, the Lakers let him slip away.  This past year, he was hired as President of the New York Knicks.  Like the concept of the circle, Jackson had returned to where his NBA career began.  The Knicks are hoping his presence will result in their first championship since 1973.  (5" x 6", black ink print)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf was born into a life of privilege and high-society connections.  Her father, Sir Leslie Stephen, founded the Dictionary of National Biography.  Her mother, Julia Stephen, was a model who posed for pre-Raphaelite painters and early photographers. Her great aunt was Julia Margaret Cameron, a noted photographer.

Woolf's childhood was influenced by Victorian literary society.  Visitors to her home included Henry James, William Thackeray and her Godfather, James Russell Lowell.  Woolf had two brothers, a sister and multiple step siblings.  Her parents taught her at home while her brothers were sent away to be formally educated.  Woolf later came to resent this.

Woolf determined at an early age to become a writer.  Her most vivid memories were of summer holidays in St. Ives in Cornwall.  These experiences later informed her novel To The Lighthouse.

In 1891, Woolf's mentally disturbed half-sister Laura was institutionalized. Four years later, when Woolf was 13, her mother died of rheumatic fever. Woolf said the loss was "the greatest disaster that could happen."  The family fell into deep mourning and Woolf had the first of many mental breakdowns.  Her father's grief was intense and all-consuming forcing Woolf's half-sister Stella to care for the family.  Stella died of peritonitis in 1897.

Woolf took study courses in Greek, Latin and history at the Ladies Department of Kings College in London.  This brought her into contact with early reformers of women's higher education known as the "Steamboat Ladies."  Her studies were interrupted in 1904 when her father died of stomach cancer.  Woolf experienced a second mental breakdown during which she attempted to commit suicide by jumping out a window.  She was briefly institutionalized at Burley House, "a nursing home for women with nervous disorder."

Woolf's sisters sold the family house and bought a house in the hip Bloomsbury neighborhood of London.  Woolf came to know the writers and intellectuals who formed the Bloomsbury Group.  They included E.M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey and Woolf's future husband Leonard Wolff.  The group deeply influenced literature, art and economics and held modern attitudes toward feminism and sexuality.

Woolf began her writing career in 1905 at the age of 23 by contributing to the Times Literary Supplement.  A year later, her favorite brother Thoby died of typhoid fever.  Virginia and Leonard Woolf married in 1912.  They would remain together until Virginia's death.

Woolf's first novel The Voyage Out was published in 1915.  The story was about an Englishwoman's emotional and sexual awakening as she traveled abroad.  The book was an indictment of the political and sexual mores of modern England.  Woolf's writing style experimented with a stream of consciousness lyricism focusing on the psychological underpinnings of the characters.  She created visual impressions comparable to the writing of James Joyce and Joseph Conrad.

In 1917, Woolf and husband Leonard purchased a printing press and founded Hogarth Press in the basement their London home.  Hogarth became a respectable printing house that published Wolff's novels as well as work by T.S. Eliot and Sigmund Freud.  After the end of World War I, the Wolff's moved to Monk's House, a cottage in the English village of Rodmell.  Here, Woolf wrote all of her remaining novels including Night And Day (1919), Mrs. Dalloway (1925), Orlando (1928) and The Waves (1931).

In 1922, Woolf met Vita Sackville-West, a married writer.  The two women began a love affair (with Leonard's knowledge and permission) that lasted nearly ten years.  The relationship inspired Woolf's novel Orlando, a fantastical biography in which the gender-switching hero's life spans three centuries.

In 1929, Woolf gave a series of lectures on the difficulties that female writers encounter because men hold disproportionate economic and legal power in society.  She published A Room Of One's Own writing "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."  The essay was seen as a feminist tract and became an inspiration to female writers everywhere. Woolf later published Three Guineas, an essay arguing that if women occupied positions of power there would be less war.

Woolf's two half brothers Gerald and George died in the mid 1930's.  Woolf revealed in a memoir that George and Gerald molested her and half-sister Vanessa when they were children.  Some Woolf biographers have suggested Woolf's breakdowns were influenced by this sexual abuse.

Woolf was criticized for her anti-Semitic views.  Early in life she wrote about Jewish characters as being dirty and physically repulsive.  A passage in her diary read, "I do not like the Jewish voice; I do not like the Jewish laugh."  After marrying the proudly Jewish Leonard Wolff, Virginia's outlook changed.  She acknowledged the mistakes of her early ignorance and wrote, "What a snob I was for they [Jews] have immense vitality."  Woolf and husband Leonard feared the rise of 1930's fascism.  After Britain's entry into World War II in 1939, the Woolfs appeared on Hitler's blacklist.  They made plans to commit suicide if England was invaded.

During the Blitz of 1940, German bombs destroyed the Woolf's London home and the offices of Hogarth Press.  The couple took refuge in Monk's House. Woolf completed her final novel Between The Acts in 1941.  Stressed by her work and the war, she fell into a deep depression.  She was unable to write and feared she would not recover from her mental illness.

On March 28, 1941, Woolf donned an overcoat, filled her pockets with stones and walked into the River Ouse behind her home.  She left behind a suicide note for Leonard.

"Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again.  I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times.  And I shan't recover this time.  So I'm doing what seems the best thing to do.  You have given me the greatest possible happiness.  I don't think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came.  I can't fight any longer.  What I want to say is I owe the happiness of my life to you."

Woolf's body was discovered three weeks later.  Leonard had Woolf cremated and the remains buried under one of two oak trees in their backyard that they named "Virginia and Leonard."  He placed a stone tablet on the spot engraved with the final lines from Woolf's novel The Waves.

"Against you I fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death!  The Waves broke on the shore."  (6" x 7", black ink print)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Other Kevin Smith

Kevin Stofer Smith began his career in Hollywood one month after graduating high school.  He followed his older brother Albert to the now defunct Producer's Studio in 1976 where his first production job required him to shatter twenty large mirrors and sweep up the shards for a Boz Scaggs music video.  Thirty-eight years later, Kevin hopes any bad luck has been left behind him.

Kevin joined the commercial production company Paisley Productions in 1977. The Paisley gang included director David Farrow, producer Christine Kitch, executive producer Steve Brodie, Cinematographer and future Academy Award nominee Caleb Deschanel (father of Zooey & Emily), Music Video Director Kevin Kerslake (director of "Nirvana Live! Tonight! Sold Out!") and Ruth McCartney (of Macca Rock and Roll Legend and present day Digital Diva).  Paisley would be Kevin's production home for the next 12 years.  He worked his way from Stage Manager to PA to Production Coordinator to First Assistant Director.  In 1980, the Director's Guild opened their doors to commercial directors.  At age 21, Kevin became the second youngest person to obtain a 1st A.D. DGA Card.  (The youngest was 7-year old Justin Henry, the child actor from Kramer vs. Kramer, who was given a DGA card as a birthday present joke by Dustin Hoffman.)

Kevin traveled to more than 30 states and worked on hundreds of television commercials for Paisley with his mentor David Farrow.  Notable shoots included Hertz Rental Car with O.J. Simpson, Billy Carter Beer, the infamous Yugo Automobile and the popular "Don't Squeeze the Charmin" spots with Mr. Whipple.  Mr. Whipple, played by veteran actor Dick Wilson, was known for being a prankster on set.  During one Charmin shoot, Kevin watched as Mr. Whipple grabbed his chest and fell to the floor.  The crew laughed, believing this was another practical joke.  Turns out Wilson was having an actual heart attack.  Fortunately he survived to make many more awful commercials.

While working on a Ford commercial in Central California, Kevin was tasked with cueing thirty wild horses to run in the surf of Pismo Beach alongside a Ford Mustang convertible.  While setting up the master shot, the trainer, hearing a helicopter test cue of "Release the Horses," mistakenly released the animals prematurely.  The horses ran 3 miles up the beach and onto Highway 101 forcing police to shut down the freeway.  A dozen animals made it to the nearby town of Grover Beach where a local 12-year old girl began corralling horses and tethering them to parking meters.  Nobody was hurt and the next day's local headline read "Filming of Ford Loses Horsepower."

During a spot for Right Guard Deodorant, nobody knew the prop man was freebasing cocaine.  Just after lunch, Kevin heard a loud explosion.  The prop man had lit his crack pipe while labeling hero deodorant cans which caused the aerosol cans to explode.  The blast destroyed the prop truck and incinerated the entire stash of Right Guard hero product.  The prop man luckily escaped unhurt.

A commercial for Ford Trucks in the desert called for several pickup trucks to be dropped from an overhead cargo plane and parachute gently to earth. One of the parachutes did not open.  The 4,000-pound truck hit the ground at 200 miles an hour.  The impact left a massive crater and sandwiched the truck into a 4-inch metal pancake.

Kevin worked with many celebrities over the years.  He shot Princess Cruise commercials with Gavin "Captain Stubing" MacLeod, Lemon Pledge with Florence Henderson, Ford with Telly Savalas and Mazda commercials with James Garner.  On one Mazda shoot in Goat Rock Beach, California, Garner insisted on doing his own stunt driving.  Garner took a tight turn too fast and slid off a cliff.  The car flipped and rolled and came to rest upside down against a grip van.  Fifteen feet in either direction was a 500-foot drop to the Pacific Ocean below.  Garner claimed he was okay but was flown by helicopter to a Sebastopol hospital where he was given full body X-Rays.  Kevin and David Farrow looked on as the doctor recounted Garner's injuries.

"You've damaged your L2 and L3 vertebrae," the doctor said.  "No, no," Garner said.  "That was from Maverick."

"Well it looks like you have a crushed C3 cervical neck injury."  "Rockford Files, Season 2," Garner said.

"And your cracked left knee?"  "That was 1969, Support Your Local Sheriff," Garner replied.

Garner told Kevin, "Son, when you fall off your horse, you have to get back on it."  Two hours later Garner and the crew were back on set to grab the ultimate helicopter sunset shot.

Kevin's favorite actor to work with was Jonathan Winters.  After wrapping a Cheetos commercial, Kevin joined Winters in the actor's motorhome where they smoked weed together.  Winters shared a bit of trivia about Cheetos. He told Kevin, "If you're ever stuck in a cave without a source of light, all you need is a pack of matches and a bag of Cheetos."  Winters proceeded to light a Cheetos puff and the trailer was illuminated with an astonishingly strong flame.

After Paisley closed their doors in 1989, Kevin continued making commercials as a First AD and Producer.  He also directed music videos and HDTV promos for Two And a Half Men, Everybody Loves Raymond and King of Queens. Kevin also began producing spots for Norms Restaurants, something he does every fall with Black Lab Productions.  In the 90's, Kevin bolstered a relationship with Cinematographer and Executive Producer Bob Eberlein, founder of the production company Image Streams. Along with Production Supervisor Jan Skorstad, Image Streams began producing live action sequences and test shoots for major studio productions. Some of Image Streams recent VFX and Green Screen credits include the films Gravity, Gatsby, I Am Legend and the new Tom Cruise film Edge Of Tomorrow.  Kevin and Eberlein also produced the Oscar Opening for the 2008 Academy Awards.

In his spare time, Kevin considers himself one of the world's greatest Rolling Stones fans.  He has attended somewhere north of 75 Stones concerts in his life (he lost count long ago).  In 1999, he flew to London to see the Stones play at Wembley Stadium.  His first show was a 1973 "Benefit for Nicaragua" at the Los Angeles Forum.  His most recent show was this past year in San Jose.

I worked with Kevin in the early 90's.  He was hired to produce and direct a television show about the legendary Route 66 for Sat1 German Television.  The Los Angeles shoot lasted several days culminating in a celebratory lunch in Malibu.  As the German producer Hans prepared to pay the tab, he discovered his wallet was missing.  The wallet contained $25,000 cash needed to pay the crew and the remaining production expenses.  Hans fell into a panic at which point Kevin took over.  We all hopped into a production van with Kevin at the wheel.  We retraced our steps from the day and found ourselves stuck in a Santa Monica Freeway traffic jam.

It had been raining and Hans suddenly remembered leaning out the passenger side window to snap a photo of a rainbow.  He theorized that's when the wallet must have fallen out of his back pocket.  Kevin weaved through traffic and spotted a thick brown wallet in the second lane.  He stopped the van, ran onto the freeway, dodged passing cars, retrieved the wallet and gave it to the grateful producer.  All the money was still there.  Kevin shrugged off the "needle in a haystack" miracle as just another day in the world of Film and TV.  (5" x 7", black ink print)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Liberty

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to the United States in 1886.  It has come to symbolize freedom and unlimited possibility for immigrants coming to America to start a new life.  The statue was inspired by French politician Edouard de Laboulaye's proposal that a great monument be made to celebrate America's independence and the abolition of slavery.  Laboulaye suggested that France finance the statue while the United States pick the location and pay for the building of the pedestal.

The Statue was designed by French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. The robed female figure represents Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom.  She holds a torch symbolizing progress.  The seven rays on the diadem (the crown) form a halo representing the sun, the seven oceans and the seven continents.  The left hand holds a tabula ansata (a tablet evoking law) upon which is inscribed the date of the Declaration of Independence.  The statue rises over a broken chain, half hidden by the robes.  Bartholdi modeled the face of the statue after his own mother.

In 1875, Laboulaye announced plans for the statue revealing its formal name "Liberty Enlightening the World."  France reacted positively, raising funds among the wealthy, the working class and school children.  Support in the United States was less favorable.  "The Panic of 1873" caused an economic depression in America that would delay construction of the statue and the Washington Monument.  The New York Times wrote, "No true patriot can countenance any such expenditures for bronze females in the present state of our finances."

Bartholdi moved ahead with fabrication of the torch-bearing arm and the head. The arm was shipped from France to Philadelphia for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition.  It proved popular as visitors climbed to the torch balcony to view the fair grounds.  The arm was returned to Paris where it was exhibited with the head for the 1878 World's Fair.

Original architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc died in 1879 and was replaced by famed designer Gustave Eiffel.  Eiffel contributed an iron truss tower to hold the statue. He also built a metal armature allowing the copper skin to expand on hot summer days without cracking.  Eiffel included two interior spiral staircases providing access to the observation point in the crown.  He also added an observation platform around the torch.

Laboulaye died in 1883.  He was replaced by Ferdinand de Lesseps, designer of the Suez Canal.  The statue was completed in 1884.  US President Rutherford B. Hayes chose Bedloe's Island in New York Harbor as the site for the statue.  Poet Emma Lazarus contributed the sonnet The New Colossus which included the lines, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

American fundraising efforts for the pedestal remained dismal.  Newly elected President Grover Cleveland vetoed a bill to provide $50,000 for the project. Newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer stepped in to save the day.  He announced a drive in his paper The World to raise $100,000.  This caught the imagination of New Yorkers, especially school children, who donated as little as five cents apiece.  The drive ultimately raised $102,000 from more than 120,000 donors.

On June 17, 1885, the French ship Isere arrived in New York Harbor carrying the disassembled statue in crates.  200,000 people lined the docks to greet the steamer.  The pedestal was completed in 1886 and reassembly of the statue began.  Due to the size of the pedestal, scaffolding could not be erected. Workers dangled from the armature by ropes as they installed the copper skin. Thankfully, no one died during construction.

The statue was formally dedicated on October 28, 1886.  Only dignitaries were allowed on the island for the ceremony though several hundred thousand people attended a morning parade.  Not everyone was happy. Suffragists were offended that only two women attended the dedication ceremony, Bartholdi's wife and de Lessep's granddaughter.  The Cleveland Gazette, an African American newspaper, opined: "Until the 'Liberty' of this country makes it possible for a colored man to earn a respectable living for himself and family without being Ku-Kluxed…the idea of 'Liberty Enlightening The World'…is ridiculous in the extreme."

The statue was initially designed as a lighthouse.  Lights were placed inside the torch and a power plant was installed on the island.  Unfortunately the torch only produced a faint gleam and was nearly invisible at night.  In 1901, the statue was transferred from the US Lighthouse Board to the War Department.

In 1916, during World War I, German saboteurs ignited a massive explosion in a weapons armory on nearby Black Tom Island.  The blast caused damage to the torch-bearing arm of the statue.  The ascent to the torch was closed and has remained closed ever since.  Artist Gutzon Borglum (who later sculpted Mount Rushmore) redesigned the torch, replacing much of the original copper with stained glass.

In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge declared the statue a national monument. It was transferred to the National Park Service in 1933.  During World War II, the statue was not illuminated at night due to wartime blackouts.  On D-Day, the statue lights flashed "dot-dot-dot-dash," Morse Code for V, "for Victory."  Bedloe's Island was renamed "Liberty Island" in 1956 by an Act of Congress.

In 1982, it was discovered that the right arm was improperly attached to the main structure and was at risk of collapsing.  In addition, the head had been installed two feet off center and one of the halo rays was wearing a hole in the right arm when the statue moved in the wind.  President Reagan formed a commission led by ex-Chrysler CEO Lee Iacoccoa to raise funds for repairs. Eiffel's iron armature was replaced by corrosion-resistant stainless steel.  The torch was replaced with an exact replica while the halo ray was realigned by several degrees to prevent contact with the arm.  The restoration took four years.

Following the September 11 attacks, the statue was closed to the public.  The pedestal reopened in 2004 but the statue was not reopened until 2009.  Since then only 240 people per day are allowed to ascend the statue.  Reservations must be acquired up to a year in advance and visitors are subject to a security screening.

The statue has been prominent in numerous movies over the years.  The torch is the setting for the climax of Alfred Hitchock's 1942 film Saboteur. In Splash, mermaid Daryl Hannah first appears at the statue's feet.  The statue is knocked over in Independence Day and the head is ripped off in Cloverfield.  It's most famous movie appearance comes at the end of Planet of the Apes when the statue is seen half-buried in the sand.

From its foundation to the top of the torch, the statue stands 305 feet high.  It weighs 204 tons.  Visitors must climb 354 stairs to reach the crown.  In high winds the statue can sway up to 3 inches while the torch can move 5 inches. The green patina is caused by copper oxidation called verdigris.  The statue is struck by up to 600 bolts of lightning each year.  Two people have committed suicide by jumping off the statue, one in 1929 and the other in 1932.  (7" x 7", black ink print)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Cat Stevens

On September 21, 2004, a United Airlines flight traveling from London to Washington D.C. was diverted to Bangor, Maine. Six federal agents came aboard and took into custody a 57-year old British man traveling with his 21-year old daughter.  "Are you Yusuf Islam," the agents demanded.  The man confirmed he was.  "Do you spell your name Y-O-U-S-U-F?"  "It's Y-U-S-U-F," the man answered.  His daughter was allowed to continue traveling but the man was denied entry to the United States.  He was flown back to England the next day. Homeland Security officials explained the man had associations with potential terrorists.

Yusuf Islam was not always treated this way.  Thirty years earlier he was one of the biggest rock stars in the world.  He played to 40,000 seat arenas and hung out with the likes of Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan.

He was born Steven Georgiou in London in 1948.  His father was a Greek Cypriot and his mom was Swedish.  They owned and lived above a restaurant called Moulin Rouge where he was put to work washing dishes at a young age.  When he was 15, his father bought him a guitar.  He escaped to the Soho rooftops, a quiet refuge he called "the Upper World."  He began writing and playing his own songs influenced by the Beatles, the Kinks and Nina Simone.

By 18, he was performing in London coffee houses and pubs.  He changed his name to "Cat" because a girlfriend said he had "cat eyes."  He was signed to a record deal and his 1966 song "I Love My Dog" reached #2 on the British charts. Cat Stevens became a teen idol touring the country with Jimi Hendrix and Engelbert Humperdinck.  Hendrix introduced him to psychedelics and Stevens spent the next few years overindulging in drugs and alcohol.

In 1968, Stevens contracted tuberculosis and nearly died.  While in the hospital, he began to question his life.  He took up meditation and yoga and became a vegetarian.  He immersed himself in spiritual and religious texts.  He covered the mirrors in his hospital room "to get away from the external and to start digging deep" into himself.

After a year of convalescence, Stevens returned to music with a new beard and a new sound.  His songs embraced a folk-rock style with introspective lyrics about everyday problems and spiritual questions.  Stevens signed with A&M Records and released Mona Bone Jakon (1970), Tea For The Tillerman (1971) and Teaser and the Firecat (1972), all Gold Records.  They included the hit songs "Trouble," "Where Do the Children Play," "Wild World," "Moonshadow" and "Peace Train."  Film Director Hal Ashby used nine Stevens' songs for the dark comedy Harold And Maude, introducing his music to a wider audience.

Though he'd become one of the biggest rock stars in the world, he still lived with his parents.  Fans made pilgrimages to the Stevens' home and were often invited in for tea by his father.

Stevens was becoming disillusioned with the music industry.  He despised the competition and greed, feeling like a pawn subject to the whims of managers and record executives.  In 1973, he moved to Rio de Janeiro and became a British tax exile.  He continued touring, donating his profits to UNESCO.

During a 1976 trip to Los Angeles, Stevens visited the Malibu home of Jerry Moss, co-founder of A&M.  He decided to take a swim in the ocean.  He was caught in a riptide and taken far from shore.  He struggled for several minutes losing all his strength.  Certain he was about to drown, he shouted, "God!  If you save me I will work for you."  A large wave appeared and carried him back to shore.  The near-death experience rekindled his yearning for a spiritual life. "What arose within me was a deep conviction that ultimately there is a higher control over one's life."

His brother David gave him a copy of the Qur'an.  Stevens took to the book immediately.  "I couldn't put it down," he said.  "No matter what I tried to say in my songs, they were all part of the shadow.  In the Qur'an I found a light."

Stevens identified with the Biblical story of Joseph, a man who was bought and sold in the marketplace.  He felt the same way about himself and his place in the music industry.  He realized he didn't want to be Cat Stevens anymore.  In 1977, he formally converted to Islam.  He took the name "Yusuf," Arabic for Joseph.

He kept his conversion out of the public eye and gave his final concert as Cat Stevens at Wembley Arena in 1979.  At the end of the concert, he told the audience, "We've only got one life and you have to do the best with it.  You have to find the right path and when you do, you know it."  Cat Stevens walked off stage as Yusuf Islam never intending to perform again.

He sold his guitars and gold records and gave the money to charity.  While the Qur'an did not prohibit music he felt he had to give up music to become a true Muslim.  He later said, "The music business was filled with things like vanity, fornication and drug use.  If I was going to make the change, I had to get away from that."

Yusuf's life changed completely.  He married Fauzia Ali in a religious ceremony and the couple had five children.  He dedicated himself to the study of the Qur'an and his new passion became education.  He used his music royalties to establish several Muslim schools in England.  The curriculum balanced spiritual teaching with a material focus on math, science and writing. He also founded the Small Kindness charity assisting orphans in Africa and famine victims in the Balkans.

In 1989, he became embroiled in the fatwa against Salman Rushdie.  Asked for his opinion by a reporter, Yusuf replied that the "legal Islamic punishment for blasphemy was death."  The next day, newspaper headlines reported: "Cat Says Kill Rushdie."  Yusuf denied supporting the fatwa but the damage was done. American radio stations refused to play Cat Stevens songs.  The band 10,000 Maniacs was forced to remove the song "Moonshadow" from their new album. Cat Stevens became a pariah.

Yusuf continued his work for charity and education.  During the Bosnian conflict, he became heavily involved in relief efforts for Muslim war victims.  A survey of British Muslims named him the most highly regarded Muslim figure, more influential than imams and scholars.

In 1994, while vacationing in Dubai with his family, his son brought a guitar into the house.  One morning after prayers, Yusuf picked up the guitar from the couch.  He hadn't played in 25 years but he still remembered the chords.  He started playing his old songs including "The Road To Find Out" which included the lyrics:

I left my happy home to see what I could find out.
I left my folk and friends with the aim to clear my mind out.
The answer lies within, so why not take a look now?
Kick out the devil's sin, pick up a good book now.

When Yusuf learned that Muslims had introduced the guitar to Europe he changed his mind about the role of music in Islam.  Slowly, he resumed his musical career.  He appeared at a 1997 benefit concert in Sarajevo and released a children's album in 2000.  After the September 11 attacks, he publicly denounced the attacks saying, "No right-thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action."  He appeared on a VH-1 Concert for New York and sang "Peace Train" for the first time in public in more than 20 years.

At the time he was denied entry to the United States in 2004, he'd been traveling to Nashville to meet Dolly Parton for a new music project.  Parton was one of the few celebrities to come to the defense of Yusuf.  She told the press, "The government made a mistake.  I can't imagine there's an evil bone in that man's body.  Those are the people you're supposed to cherish.  You don't walk on the hearts of angels."

In 2006, Yusuf released his first new pop album in 28 years.  He began touring again and included Cat Stevens songs on his playlist.  He will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later this year.  (6" x 7", black ink print)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Torah

My paternal grandfather was a Torah scribe.  He spent his days carefully drawing the Hebrew letters that made up the Torah, the most sacred of Jewish texts. Writing on thin parchment paper made from the skin of a kosher animal, he began by marking thin pencil lines that served as a guide.  He then dipped a feather quill into an inkwell and scrawled each Hebrew letter abiding by the calligraphic guidelines of Ktav Ashurit (Ashurite Script).

Each Torah contained exactly 304,805 letters scribed on about 80 sheets of parchment.  Only black ink made from gall-nut juice and gum was acceptable. The height and width of each letter had to be perfect.  Small mistakes could be scraped away and redrawn unless a mistake was made writing the name of God in which case he'd have to start over since God's name could not be erased.  If one letter was missing or appeared smudged then the Torah was considered invalid or not kosher.

The scribing of a Torah took up to one year.  Once scribed, each sheet of parchment was sewn together to form a continuous scroll.  The Torah was then sewn onto wooden rollers called Eitzei Chayim (trees of life).  The Torah was dressed and shipped to a designated synagogue where it was blessed and dedicated in a sacred ceremony.

As you can imagine, my grandfather was a serious man.  Scribes were supposed to be devoted and pure.  He started each day with a Mikvah, a ritual bath in a sacred pool found in a temple.  The immersion in water was a purification ritual to cleanse the scribe before he channeled sacred text.  After praying that his holy work would be imbued with sanctity, he began each day of writing.

My grandfather was a survivor.  He'd escaped the Nazis by moving his wife and son (my father) from Austria to Portugal in 1933.  After the war, he gathered his savings and sent my father to America.  My father settled in Los Angeles and brought over my grandparents in 1954.  They lived in the Fairfax District, the hub of the Los Angeles Orthodox Jewish community.

Growing up, I spent many weekends at my grandparent's home with my brother and sister.  We were allowed to play in the backyard or run around the house. The only area off limits was my grandfather's study.  He was doing "important work" we were told and he needed his privacy.

My brother and I were curious about my grandfather's secret work.  We were always sneaking behind him, trying to scare him, to divert his attention.  He did not take kindly to these interruptions.  He would scream in a mixture of German and Yiddish and threaten to throw a paperweight or a heavy book at us.  On one occasion he threw a chair.

Presumably this nullified his purity for the day.

At the end of his workday, he finally relaxed.  He'd make himself a cup of tea and watch cartoons with my brother, sister and me.  Often he'd read comic books, laughing at his beloved Katzenjammer Kids and their juvenile hijinks.

Once I asked my grandfather what it was he did in his study.  "I work for God," he said.

"What do you mean?"

"I write God's story so we don't forget who He is."

He could tell by the look on my face that I didn't understand.

"You know the Hebrew letters, Aleph, Bet, Gimel?  They are living things. They are the building blocks of creation.  Like oxygen and hydrogen, God formed the world through combinations of the Hebrew letters." He reached for a sheet of paper and scrawled the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  "This is Aleph," he said.  "It tells us that God is one, that He is the Master.  It is silent, it is never spoken because the true name of God is never spoken.  Aleph stands for Adam the first man, for Abraham who taught us there is only One God and for Abba the Hebrew word for Father."

"Look at Aleph," he said.  "It stands strong and upright.  It is perfectly balanced, it cannot be knocked over.  Hebrew is read right to left.  Aleph is looking at Bet, the second letter.  And Bet, it is looking at Gimmel, the third letter.  What does this tell us?  It says God is looking after us and it is our job to look after our neighbor.  We do not see God but He is always present, right next to us.  You understand?"

"Yes," I told him though I didn't.

"You learn your Hebrew," he told me. "And you will learn the secrets of God.  It's all in there.  In the letters."

As I grew older, my grandfather and I grew apart.  He only conversed with my father in German or Yiddish.  Often I'd hear my name sprinkled accusingly as if I'd done something wrong.  When I stopped watching cartoons and reading comics he no longer knew how to relate to me.  I couldn't relate to him either. He seemed weird and antiquated, a relic from another time and place.

He died in 1986.  In his lifetime, he scribed more than two dozen Torahs. While our family sat Shiva, the week-long mourning period after his death, a stream of rabbis stopped by the home to pay their respects.  They patted me on the head and spoke glowingly about my grandfather.  I smiled and nodded but I couldn't wait to get out of there and be back with my friends.

I never formally learned Hebrew.  But when I turned 30, I developed a fascination with the letters.  I began drawing them and studying their lines and curves and perfect harmony.  These days I carve woodcuts of the Hebrew letters.  I haven't learned the secrets of God.  But like my grandfather said, it's all in there.  In the letters.  (6" x 8", black ink print) (inspired by a 1930 book plate by Roman Radvany)