by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & e have this desire to define things, we humans. There's immense comfort for us in cutting the world into little pieces, giving those pieces names, then giving the names definitions. "Cloud." "Duck." "Mass Transit." "Post-Structuralism."

How to define ourselves, though, has proven an immense task, one that requires not just each person alive, but everyone who has ever lived. From cave paintings and "Ode on a Grecian Urn" to genome sequencing and "I Kissed a Girl," we're no closer today than we ever were. That's probably the point.

Socrates said the unexamined life isn't worth living. Now, 2,500 years later, we can be more succinct. The examination of life is life itself.

Fall Arts Preview is our guide to the next four months of humanity's self-definition.

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& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & here are tons of events contained in this section, from preview stories to the 16-week calendar (page 63). But for a constant reminder that, yes, you need to get off your butt and go out and appreciate some art, clip out this page and post it on your 'fridge or bulletin board.

Classical Music


The flash and drama may be in New York, but Ren & eacute;e Fleming and Thomas Hampson will fill the big screen on Sept. 22 at Regal NorthTown as the Met opens its 125th season of opera. (See story, page 42)


Each Casual Classics concert this season explores the work and the influences of one composer, starting with Beethoven on Oct. 17 at the Fox. Morihiko Nakahara conducts, and clarinetist Chip Phillips solos.


Celebrate the music of Vienna with three quartets -- from Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms -- at the Bing on Oct. 19.


Eckart Preu and the Spokane Symphony get the rock-star treatment on Oct. 24 in the Knitting Factory's nightclub setting, complete with video screens, special lighting and surprising programming.


The Coeur d'Alene Symphony celebrates the holidays at NIC on Dec. 13 with the sublime "Symphony No. 2" by Jean Sibelius and songs of the season from soprano Christina Kowalski.



Your kids can sing along with Disney's latest megahit phenomenon at the Arena, Nov. 19-23. While you're at it, support the Wildcats with a commemorative snow-cone.


Downtown Coeur d'Alene brightens up the day after Thanksgiving, with a parade, fireworks and the lighting of hundreds of thousands of lights. Lake cruises to Santa's workshop are available, too.


Everybody's favorite spunky orphan hits the stage at Lake City Playhouse. See friends and neighbors acting in all those beloved roles, running from Dec. 4 through Dec. 21.


The second Saturday of each month, the MAC has special activities and crafts in store, and all for just $15 per family. On Dec. 13, check out the timely "Toys, Toys, Toys!" exhibit. (See story, page 62)


The end-of-the-year blowout in downtown Spokane is all about kids in the earlier hours of New Year's Eve, with crafts, a parade and a special early edition of the fireworks show.

Pop Music


This Austin transplant has been cranking out nouveau country music since he first extolled the virtues of a "Small Town Saturday Night" in 1991. He's at Lewiston's Club 301 on Sept. 12.


Gonzaga has invited the Blue Scholars to campus on Sept. 25. The show will complement the fiery Seattle duo with Oakland's Hieroglyphics.


David Bazan might not actually rock the vote, but the folks at Empyrean hope his plaintive voice and insightful lyricism might lull you into a democratic mood on Sept. 29. Free coffee and admission for those who register to vote. State Sen. Lisa Brown (D) hosts.


Their hometown L.A. fans will get them for Halloween, but audiences at the Blvd on Oct. 3 will still get an eyeful of this gothy, glammy, Danish-born trio. (See story, page 52)


This Seattle quintet has been churning out moody, noodly rock since 2001. They'll bring their bizarro sense of humor to the Service Station on Oct. 8.

Visual Arts


Mel McCuddin's enigmatic figures fill the canvas while opening up an idea, a question or a scene. See his newest oil paintings through Sept. 27 at the Tinman Gallery.


Pullman artist Nancy Wriggle shares four decades of her work -- murals, sculptures and her newest project, birdhouses -- at the Bank Left Gallery in the tiny town of Palouse through Sept. 28.


If landscape painting brings to mind craggy scenic peaks or Luminist seascapes, be prepared for a surprise with this exhibition of work by three of the Northwest's best contemporary landscape artists at the MAC through Nov. 11. (See story, page 54)


Best known for his handmade brushes assembled from animal hair and found materials, Grishkoff also uses his brushes to create dynamic works on clay and paper. The show runs at the Jacklin Center in Post Falls from Oct. 13 through Nov. 7.


The 10th annual show will feature artwork smaller than 12 inches, as created by 30 different artists. Always a treat. Opening at the Art Spirit Gallery on Dec. 5.


Man on Wire

This documentary takes you back to Philippe Petit's dangerous, ultra-illegal 1974 wire walk between the World Trade Center's twin towers. Screening on Sept. 19 and 21 at the Panida in Sandpoint.

SpIFF Preview

The February festival kicks off early on Oct. 10 with a screening at the Bing of 'Round Midnight, a 1986 film about jazz, race and self-destruction. Followed by dinner at the Spokane Club and live jazz by Hot Club of Spokane.

Bond is Back

After being tortured by bad guys, James Bond bounds back in the Quantum of Solace, opening Friday, Nov. 14, on multiple screens everywhere.


Gus Van Sant's Milk, about the assassination of San Francisco's Harvey Milk -- America's first openly gay city official -- opens Dec. 5 (though we can't realistically expect it here until Dec. 12 or 19).

Meet Benjamin Button

A potentially wonderful Christmas present: David Fincher directs a metaphysical potboiler via F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt. Opens Christmas Day.


Sherman Alexie

The Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian author is the star of Spokane is Reading. Reading what? Alexie's latest, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. He'll discuss it on Oct. 16 at the Service Station at 1 pm, and later, at 7 pm, at the Spokane Masonic Center. (See story, page 47)

Jess Walter

Walter's book Citizen Vince (featuring a cameo from Dick's Hamburgers!) was loved by critics, and his 9/11 novel, The Zero, was a National Book Award finalist. He'll talk about those and others at Gonzaga on Oct. 21.

Auntie's Book Group Fandango

The annual gathering features local author Sarah Conover and Portland author Nicole Mones on Oct. 23 at Auntie's.

Scott Simon

The long-time National Public Radio reporter Simon will discuss the global issues that the next president will have to face at SCC on Oct. 28. (See story, page 48)

Pete Earley

The 2007 Pulitzer Prize nominee will be at the Panida on Oct. 30 to read from Crazy, a firsthand account of helping his son navigate America's tangled, dysfunctional mental health system.



The Civic Theater keeps up its tradition of fall crowd-pleasers with this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. Opens with a gala on Sept. 26 and runs through Oct. 26.

Phantom of the Opera

For just the second time, the epic tale of the blindness of love beneath the Paris Opera House moves into the INB Center for a three-week run, from Oct. 8-25.

Together Again for the First Time

Spokane playwright Reed McColm gets his play about an oddball family at Christmas produced -- for the first time -- at Interplayers, Nov. 20-Dec. 7. McColm also co-wrote the now-completed film, which will be released on DVD on Oct. 14.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Catch the musical that came out of nowhere to enchant Broadway audiences; two nights only at the INB Center, Nov. 29-30. (See story, page 38)

White Christmas

Some of your favorites from the Coeur d'Alene Summer Theater team up to present a concert version of the timeless Irving Berlin Christmas story at NIC's Schuler Auditorium, Dec. 19-21.

& & & lt;a href="#top" & ^ Back to Top ^ & lt;/a & & lt;/center & & r &

& lt;a name="theater" & THEATER & lt;/a &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen you come into the theater, you have to be willing to say, "We're all here to undergo a communion, to find out what the hell is going on in this world." If you're not willing to say that, what you get is entertainment instead of art, and poor entertainment at that.


Bound to Spell

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & hat the task of spotlighting the upcoming production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was given to me is, I suppose, in part an homage and in part a jab. The former, because I have a storied past as a champion speller -- winning my elementary school tournament in the fifth grade, the second adult bee at the B-Side in 2005 and the Spokane is Spelling adult contest in 2007, as part of Team Inlander. The latter, because I have refused to join the team's defense of the title this year, on the grounds that I'm not nearly as sharp as I used to be and that I'm just damn tired of spelling.

I realize, however, that I must be in the minority, as competitive spelling is in the midst of an unprecedented renaissance in pop culture. Three feature films (starting with Spellbound, a 2002 documentary on the national spelling bee) have treated the subject over the last six years. Adult bees have sprung up in bars across the country, garnering attention from major media outlets like the New York Times.

Now, orthography even has a Tony. Two of them, actually. The 2005 Broadway production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee -- a one-act musical comedy focusing on a middle school bee in New York state -- took home awards for best book and best featured actor in a musical. The winner of the latter was Dan Fogler, who played William Barf & eacute;e, a tubby allergic dweeb famous for spelling out words with his "magic foot." The show rolls into the INB Center for two nights, Nov. 29-30.

"I saw the original Broadway cast twice in New York City," says Christian Busath, who will play Barf & eacute;e in the production at the INB Center in November. "I said, 'I gotta get into that show, with that part.'" He adds, "It's a very fun show. Of course, there are some very serious underlyings there. ['The I Love You Song'] sheds a lot of light. It takes you to a very deep place. A very beautiful place as well."

The play also ups the silliness factor by breaking the fourth wall, with adult-oriented improvisation (though they won't be indulging in any of that in Spokane) and audience participation. At the 2005 Tonys, Rev. Al Sharpton was dragged on stage to compete in the bee. "You never know what's going to happen," says Busath. "It's pretty much always a new show."

I've retired from competitive spelling, but this could be your big chance.


Wry Stepping

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & R & lt;/span & ight now, hunkered down in some darkened back room just outside of Washington, D.C., there's a crack team of researchers digging up everything they can find on John McCain, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin. But these aren't a bunch of bloggers looking to knock these candidates off message; these are the Capitol Steps, looking to knock you off your chair with laughter.

And that is the effect of seeing a Capitol Steps show -- it's even more pronounced with a big election looming. You can see the Steps at the INB Center in Spokane on Sept. 20 or at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman on Sept. 23.

Armed with little more than a thesaurus and a well-stocked iPod, these soldiers of others' misfortune have been skewering our sitting-duck leaders going all the way back to the Reagan administration. And a quick look at their catalog offers a trip down memory lane: "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Yuppies" (1984); "Hartbreak Hotel" (1988); "The Tsounds of Tsongas" (1992); "Hang Down Your Head, Tom Foley" (1995); and "Don't Go Faking You're Smart" (2002). Ah, good times.

But it's the topical stuff the political junkies want -- stuff like "Huckabee" (to the tune of "Let It Be"), "Oh What a Beautiful Mormon" and "Tap Three Times" for Larry Craig. And while they've already gone nuts over "Obama Mia!," the Steps have struck perhaps their richest vein yet in Sarah Palin. "The Green, Green Grass of Nome," an ode to her global-warming-denying, is just the tip of the melting iceberg.


That Other Rip

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen here at Inlander HQ we heard Rip Torn was coming to town, things got a little nuts. We were all, "Cool! Rip Torn. He's totally famous, but I don't really know who he is!" E-mails regarding his impending arrival were forwarded. Stories were told about the knife Dennis Hopper drew on him and the ear Norman Mailer tried to bite off his head. One staffer even admitted he was a card-carrying member in the Rip Torn cult... but only because of Torn's genius, goatee-ed turn in Men in Black, he insisted. We were generally titillated.

Turns out, we had our Rips wrong. (How many Rips can there be?)

"Rip Taylor," said the lady at the box office, referring to the star of the long-running Las Vegas burlesque staple Bottoms Up, playing at the North Quest Casion through Sept. 12.

"You mean Rip Torn," I replied.

"No. Rip Taylor."

Oh. We were like, "Rip who?"

Turns out, not so bad. Rip Taylor, 74, first made his comedic name more than four decades ago, appearing on the Jackie Gleason Show and The Dating Game. Since then, he has appeared in television shows such as The Monkees, The Gong Show, Hollywood Squares, The Brady Bunch Hour and Super Robot Monkey Team Hyper Force Go!

Known for his wild hair and confetti-wielding ways, Taylor has entertained silver-screen audiences for generations with ridiculous antics and G-rated humor.

And there's that moustache, which is also kind of funny.

In Bottom's Up, a play written by Breck Wall in 1958 that debuted in Las Vegas in 1964, Taylor will hold forth before Inland Northwest audiences, his cheeky humor graciously updated to lampoon more recent phenomena, such as American Idol, Barack Obama and John McCain.

As a pop culture audience, we've all seen Taylor play the fool. There he was on Password, fanning himself with his toupee. And in the Jackass movie, he blasts a cartoon-ish gun, popping a "The End" sign out of the shaft.

It's hard to look at Rip Taylor and not see him in black and white or the washed-out colors of '70s television. After all, as his online bio states, he was "the coveted center square on Hollywood Squares."

But the hard reality is Taylor is still performing and he's here in Spokane, which means, if you pay the $40 to get in, he'll look as real as if he were on digital television.


Todd Times Two

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & f you missed Sweeney Todd on the big screen, you can give the musical another shot -- or two. This fall, Spokanites have two options for creating a new memory of the 19th-century London-based thriller.

Millions were exposed to work of Stephen Sondheim for the first time last Christmas when Johnny Depp starred on the big screen as the London barber who turns to throat-slitting to get revenge on the two men who wronged him years before. (Clearly, Sweeney Todd isn't your average lovey-dovey musical.) Todd returns to London, slits throats, and partners with a lovesick woman who turns to cannibalism for capitalism, making his victims into highly sought-after meat pies.

Sondheim's dark comedy about a London barber done wrong will be performed in concert on Halloween weekend at Spokane's Civic Theatre (Oct. 31-Nov. 1), and also at the Fox during the Broadway touring season, Dec. 14-15. If you're up for just one show, Spokane's own cast, featuring Max Mendez and Randel Wagner might actually trump the Broadway touring company.

The touring show, designed and directed by John Doyle (who won Tony Awards for the show in 2006), features a minimal set and modern costumes. The production is most notable, however, for its lack of an orchestra -- and that's because the actors all play their own instruments. The Civic's show, meanwhile, is directed by Yvonne A.K. Johnson and Carolyn Jess. Their set is also minimal with a "City of London" backdrop; the nine principal characters will be in period costumes. Both productions focus more on the music than the action.

Neither production is going to include buckets of blood. Most audience-goers get enough of a picture in their mind's eye from just two of the show's songs: "Little Priest" has audiences laughing at the madcap rhymes about serving up priests, lawyers, marines, grocers and more in steaming hot pies, while "My Friends" is a song that Sweeney sings about his romantic obsession with his razor. (Soon it shall drip precious rubies.) While musically charming and audibly pleasing, these two songs' lyrics can induce nausea without resorting to buckets of fake blood.

Audiences for the Civic performances are encouraged to come in costume, and the Civic's costume shop would be happy to rent you a nice get-up. The touring company, at the Fox, just asks that you bring yourself. Take your pick, Spokane, or choose both and get your fill of lyrical gore.


& & & lt;a href="#top" & ^ Back to Top ^ & lt;/a & & lt;/center & & r &

& lt;a name="classical" & CLASSICAL & lt;/a &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & usic is the effort we make to explain to ourselves how our brains work. We listen to Bach transfixed because this is listening to a human mind.


Allegro at 40

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & aroque music pioneers David Dutton and Beverly Biggs mark their 40th anniversary of bringing fine period music to the Spokane area this year with a look back and a look ahead for Allegro Baroque and Beyond. The details of this special anniversary season are still coming together, but the fall concerts are set to deliver the kind of events that Allegro has become known for.

"Because this is our 40th year, we're going to revisit a lot of things we like," says Dutton of the upcoming concerts.

The season begins at the end of this month with a pair of Historic Homes concerts -- but not exactly in a traditional home. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, Dutton's longtime collaborator, Beverly Biggs, returns to Spokane from North Carolina for a program of baroque music for harpsichord and oboe set in St. Joseph's Catholic Church in the West Central neighborhood. St. Joseph's is one of the oldest Catholic parishes in Spokane, founded in 1890, and the red-brick building features a soaring steeple and carved white altar.

On Nov. 19, vocalist Ann Fennessy joins Dutton and pianist Yi-chun Chen for a program revisiting the Spokane and Washington centennials, originally celebrated in concert back in the 1980's. One highlight of the program will be the song, "The San Juan Pig," all about the conflict known as the Pig War -- a standoff between Great Britain and the United States over the boundary separating Washington state from British Columbia in Canada. The incident began in 1859 with the shooting of an English pig by an American citizen, and it didn't end until 1872, when the 49th Parallel was recognized as the international boundary between the countries.

"The only casualty was the pig," Dutton notes dryly.

In December, the Historic Homes concert series comes to the Comstock-Shadle House in the Ninth Avenue Historic District on Spokane's lower South Hill. The Tudor Revival house was built in 1910, designed by architect Willis Ritchie (a competitor of Kirtland Cutter), and was home to James and Elizabeth Comstock (founders of the Crescent department store) and later Eugene and Josie (Comstock) Shadle, major philanthropists and park benefactors.

"We haven't fully decided the program yet," says Dutton, "but it will be Christmas music."


Big Screen Met

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he Metropolitan Opera showcases its artistry 3,000 miles away on the stage at Lincoln Center in New York City, but that doesn't mean we have to miss out on the spectacle. For the third year in a row, the Met will simulcast performances to movie theaters across the globe -- now more than 800 of them -- including the Regal NorthTown cinema.

For 2008-09, its 125th season, the Met will offer 11 events (tickets are $15-$22) from now through May, starting with the Opening Night Gala on Monday, Sept. 22, starring Ren & eacute;e Fleming. (The 6 pm gala is the only event broadcast on tape delay; the remaining events are all simulcast live on Saturday mornings.) The gala features three acts from individual operas -- La Traviata, Manon and Capriccio -- and will highlight Spokane's own Thomas Hampson alongside Ms. Fleming.

The first opera of the season is Salome, a one-act hour-and-a-half opera by Richard Strauss, with the title role sung by Finnish soprano Karita Mattila. When Mattila performed the role in 2004, New Yorker critic Alex Ross fell over himself praising her, saying that she left the audience "gobsmacked" by her virtuosity. (If that weren't enough, imagine the "Dance of the Seven Veils" on the big screen.) Salome, conducted by Mikko Franck (Mattila's 29-year-old countryman), will be shown on Saturday, Oct. 11, at 10 am.

American composer John Adams created Doctor Atomic, the story of physicist Robert Oppenheimer and the development of the first atomic bomb at Los Alamos, and the opera received its premiere in San Francisco in 2005. The broadcast on Nov. 8 will feature baritone Gerald Finley and director Penny Woolcock in the first Met production of this opera.

A new production of La Damnation de Faust by Berlioz hits the Met stage on Nov. 22, staged by theater director Robert Lepage and under the musical direction of James Levine. A depressed and desperate Faust hands his soul over to Mephistopheles in exchange for the promise of love -- but we all know the devil cannot be trusted.

The fall shows conclude on Dec. 20 with the broadcast of Tha & iuml;s by Jules Massenet, another new production for the Met, starring Ren & eacute;e Fleming as an Egyptian courtesan and Thomas Hampson as the monk whose love for her leads him to abandon his vows.

Titillation, annihilation, damnation and despair -- what could be more operatic than that?


Franz and Ludwig

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen a composer dies tragically young, as did Franz Schubert, he is bound to leave behind tantalizing fragments of uncompleted music. One group of such fragments was destined to be Schubert's 10th symphony. A contemporary Italian composer, Luciano Berio, has taken those fragments and connected them with musical tissue that he composed as reflections on the existing fragments, rather than trying to "finish" the music in the style of Schubert. He likened his compositional process in this piece to the reconstructions of ancient frescoes, in which the restorer does not try to paint new material to finish the fresco, but finds ways to blend the existing fragments with complementary colors and lines. This fascinating project, which he called "Renderings," will be part of a wonderful concert of music called "Two Worlds, Two Geniuses" presented Nov. 22-23 by the Spokane Symphony Orchestra.

Norman Krieger, who was a guest soloist a few years ago in Spokane playing Gershwin, will be the concerto soloist in the second piece on the program. Here he will tackle Beethoven's most fiery and exciting piano concerto, the 3rd, in C minor. A winner of several major competitions, an active performer soloing and recording with orchestras around the world, and now a member of the faculty of the University of Southern California, Kreiger has been praised for his sensitivity and technical control. The 3rd piano concerto is a transitional work in the output of Beethoven, bridging the classical world he inherited from Mozart and Haydn and the heroic works of struggle that characterized his middle compositional period. At its premiere, rehearsal time had been so scanty that Beethoven was unable to write out the final movement and played it by memory, looking occasionally at scribbles that he had made on the page, which made for a very frightening experience for the page turner. It remains one of the composer's most popular pieces.

The final piece on this concert will be the Schubert 9th Symphony in C major, sometimes called "The Great." It is a monumental piece, which many consider to be on the same artistic plane as the Beethoven symphonies. In its four movements, Schubert uses the development of thematic ideas, which has become familiar to us through Beethoven, but he also places great emphasis on melody and treats the orchestra in a fresh manner, particularly in the ways he uses the low brass instruments such as the trombone.


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& lt;a name="books" & BOOKS & amp; LITERATURE & lt;/a &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & iterature is the one place in any society where, within the secrecy of our own heads, we can hear voices talking about everything in every possible way.


War is Spell

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & R & lt;/span & evenge. R-E-V-E-N-G-E. Revenge.

It all began back at the Spokane Is Spelling competition in 2007. Spokane Library Foundation director of development Sandra Kernerman had launched the spelling bee as a fundraiser to bulk up the foundation's endowment (which is used to pay for books, equipment and educational services for Spokane city libraries).

(By the way, you can sign up three-person teams by Sept. 19 for this year's event at It's $100 to compete or $5 to watch and heckle.)

Anyway, last year, "word nerd" Judi Sposito -- known for searching newspaper pages for typos -- loved the prospect of a spelling bee so much that she invited fellow logophiles Matt Gibson and Stephanie Huff to join her crusade.

Among the three of them, they divided up the word list -- a massive booklet containing more than 8,000 words. Some words were as simple as "skirt," others as esoteric as "escharotic."

"A lot of those words, if you don't know the word, you're just not going to get it. There are homonyms that sound the same, but are spelled completely differently," Gibson says. "If you don't know the root of the definition, you're toast."

Sposito, for her part, wasn't satisfied to simply study her third. "I just sat there and made flashcards for the entire list," Sposito says. She says she "tortured" her family and friends, constantly asking them to quiz her, determined to lead her team to victory.

She almost did.

But in the end, "Let It Bee," Sposito's troupe of ragtag word-lovers, fell to the "Glottogonics," Inlander Editor Michael Bowen's horde of ruthless spellmongers.

At Spokane Is Spelling, the gulf between victory and defeat can be spanned by a single word -- last year it was "malloseismic." (That's malloseismic, with two l's, Gibson emphasizes.)

After Let It Bee spelled the word, alas, with only one l, the Glottogonics delivered the killing blow by spelling the next word, "pleuston," correctly.

Never again, Sposito and her team vowed. "If you're not first, you're last," Gibson jokes. "The whole point is to win this sucker." Gibson says his team is even more serious about winning this year. The day of reckoning will be Sunday, Oct. 26, with the hostilities, er, competition beginning at 4 pm at the Knitting Factory. (There's a spelling bee just for kids the day before, too, at River Park Square.)

"Bowen better bring his A-game," Gibson says.

And presumably, his game with the other 25 letters as well.

-- Daniel Walters

Sherman's Turn

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & his just in (doot-do-doo-doot, or make your own electronic news noises here): Hurricane season is extended to the greater Spokane area. The Gulf Coast has been hit by hurricanes Gustav, Hanna, Ike. Brace yourselves, Spokane, for Hurricane Junior.

Sherman Alexie's whirlwind of a young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, will buffet Spokane for the month of October. It's still about a month out, but the eye of the storm will appear Oct. 16, when Alexie is scheduled to give two free readings (at the Service Station at 1 pm and at the Masonic Center at 7 pm) to highlight the seventh annual series of events known as "Spokane Is Reading." (Local libraries will be hosting discussion groups on the book throughout September and October.)

The month-long Spokane Is Reading is breaking new ground by a) choosing Alexie, a writer with deep local roots (like last year's pick, Jess Walter), and b) choosing a young-adult novel.

"This will be interesting because we've never had a young-adult novel, and we wanted something to appeal to younger readers," says Chris O'Harra, owner of Auntie's Bookstore and a member of the Spokane Is Reading selection committee. "Part of the criteria for the book we choose is it should provoke discussion and not just be a fun read."

Alexie's National Book Award winner, she says, satisfies both criteria. And The Absolutely True Diary -- told in the voice of Junior, a Spokane Indian who transfers to a white high school off the rez -- has hit readers with hurricane force.

"The book is doing crazy," Alexie says from his home in Seattle. "It's been on the New York Times bestseller list for almost a year now. I mean, I've had a great career, but this book is crazy. It's the best-selling hardcover book I have ever had."

And it has created a surge in letters and e-mails from young readers, and from teachers, which has prompted Alexie to increase his visits to Seattle-area high schools.

"The book is finding a teen audience now," Alexie says. "My longstanding audience bought it immediately, but now people who have never read me before are reading it. To be 15 years into a career and find a new audience is great ... It makes a jaded old bastard like me feel good."

Alexie makes a couple of observations. First, the voice of the protagonist, Junior, rings true with kids. "It's random and crazy and obsessed with sex and with girls," he says. Second, the success of the book is akin to the success of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, he says: "It's about a guy being firmly of his race and yet transcending it... the notion of being able to do those two things at the same time.

"Choosing this book is not only a celebration of the book," Alexie adds, "but also a celebration of an indigenous person."

-- Kevin Taylor

What Simon Says

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & cott Simon's voice is only heard once a week on National Public Radio these days, but he's one of the network's most familiar and comfortable personalities. The host of Weekend Edition Saturday, who has covered wars, politics, cultural highlights and sports -- including his beloved Chicago Cubs -- for NPR for 31 years, visits Spokane Community College on Oct. 28 thanks to the joint efforts of Spokane Community College, Spokane Public Radio and The Inlander.

Simon has traveled the nation and the globe to report on major stories -- the Ethiopian civil war and famine in the 1980s, the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s, the war in Afghanistan in the 2000s -- and one of the highlights of his weekly broadcasts is his discussion and analysis of current political events with the network's 92-year-old senior analyst Daniel Schorr. With great ease, Simon sets up the questions for Schorr to answer, making the segment sound like a casual and comfortable conversation between friends. His interviews, whether with national leaders or everyday citizens, are conversational as well. But Simon is often at his best in his weekly essays, where he gives listeners his own thoughtful take on some facet of the week's news. Never bombastic, never maudlin, his commentaries range from playful to insightful to profound.

His playful side comes out as well during his periodic visits with children's book author Daniel Pinkwater, as the two take turns reading lines from featured books. He has written movingly of the adoption of his two daughters from China, and one of his most memorable pieces was an elegy for his beloved cat, who died in 1997 at the age of 22.

In addition to his duties as radio host and reporter, Simon is the author of four books: Home and Away, a memoir of growing up in Chicago, viewed through the lens of sports; the nonfiction account, Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball; and two novels, Pretty Birds (set in Sarajevo) and Windy City, his most recent, a fictional story of Chicago's raucous politics.

In this election season, expect Simon to delve into political topics during his visit to Spokane. But given his wide-ranging interests, expect plenty of side trips as well -- especially if the Cubbies make the playoffs.


Getting Slammed

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & P & lt;/span & oetry is Dead, experts proclaim. The Empyrean would beg to differ.

At the Empyrean, poetry is not only alive and kicking -- it's yelling, stamping and gesturing wildly.

On the second and fourth Thursday of every month, the Empyrean is packed with poets ready to thrust their work into the fires of competition. These aren't poetry readings. These are poetry slams.

"Part of slam poetry is building hype in the audience," Empyrean owner Chrisy Riddle says.

So it's not just about words, Riddle says. It's about rhythm, flow, gesture, timing, speed, expression, volume and style. Riddle says each poet harnesses their own idiosyncrasies. Last year's runner-up, Kirk Olson, tends to pull on his hair, Riddle says, while first-place winner, Zack Graham, has thrown breakdancing moves into his act.

Riddle says the poetry slam competition follows an Olympic style scoring system: Five judges rank the poems they hear on a 10 point scale, and the highest and lowest scores are dropped. There are, of course, a few catches.

First catch: Judges are chosen randomly from the audience. You might get a 50-year old English teacher who lives on a steady diet of William Blake and Allen Ginsburg, or you might get a 20-year old college kid who's never read a poem not set primarily in Nantucket. In fact, Olson says, that's sort of the point. "A poet friend of mine said, 'We want the racist and the bigot and the sexist and the ignorant to be judging'."

Poetry slams were started to take poetry out of the exclusive domain of dusty tomes, Olson adds: "Mark Smith, the guy who first created the poetry slam ... was looking for a way to get poetry out of the hands of the academic, and into the hands of everyone else."

Second catch: Let's say you have a one-hit wonder poem that wins every time. You can only use that poem but once during the regular competition. Once you've blown that poem, it's banned outside of semi-final or final rounds. Choosing each poem, Olson says, is like rolling dice.

So is it scary, baring your artistic soul in front of an onlooking throng? Oh, absolutely, says Olson.

"It's definitely pee-your-pants-frightening," Olson says. "Everyone has skeletons in their closets. You're opening a window for all those people in the audience ... to pull those [skeletons] out of the closet and hang them on the front door."

-- Daniel Walters

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& lt;a name="music" & POP MUSIC & lt;/a &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & usic is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn. They teach you there's a boundary line to music. But, man, there's no boundary line to art.


Reclaiming the Banjo

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & ike Charlie Parker with his saxophone, Yo Yo Ma with his cello and Jimi Hendrix with his guitar, B & eacute;la Fleck is one of those musicians who is not only a master of his instrument but has become the epitome of what that instrument can do -- to the point of becoming nearly synonymous with it. But unlike Parker, Ma and Hendrix, Fleck is the maestro of a somewhat strange and maligned instrument: the banjo.

Of course, the idea of devoting one's life to the twang and plunk of the banjo might seem like relegating oneself to the perfection of the piccolo or the zither, but Fleck has done more to liberate the banjo from its perceived parameters than any of those other players of "obscure" instruments. Just look at his awards shelf. The winner of eight Grammys and 20 nominations, this banjo player has been nominated across more categories than anyone in Grammy history. He has explored world music, jazz, classical and country, nearly destroying -- in the meantime -- the definitive boundaries of bluegrass. A schlubby white guy who often sports a mullet and performs in casual dress, he is nonetheless a musical chameleon.

Fleck and his band, the Flecktones, will join the Spokane Symphony on Saturday, Nov. 15. Fleck has been backed by the same band for the past 20 years, and it's as chameleonic as he is, made up of virtuosos like bassist Victor Wooten and his brother, "Future Man," who plays percussion on a vaguely guitar-shaped midi drum interface called the Drumitar. Performances often take on enormously complicated compositions that give way to extended improvisational solos. Fleck's solos are by far the most riveting, both in their speed and attendant financial value (Steve Martin argued that banjo records provided more notes per dollar than any other music), and in their ceaseless inventiveness. His virtuosity has also landed him collaborations with bassist Edgar Meyer and pianist and drummer Chick Corea.

Fleck's latest project takes the banjo out of its usual context by placing it back in its original one -- in Africa. "I thought it was important for people to realize where the banjo comes from," he says in a new documentary called Throw Down Your Heart. "Because it's been associated so much with the white Southern stereotype. A lot of people in the United States don't realize the banjo is an African instrument." In the film, Fleck travels across the continent looking for the banjo's precursor and jamming with musicians from Tanzania to Mali.


A Dark Formation

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he Black Angels are that moment in every Vietnam film when the helicopter crests the horizon, morning sun blazing bright and ominous just behind them. Slowly, through a heat mirage (and an acid-tinged haze), the chopper rises while somewhere the Doors kick in and Robert Duvall sniffs and snorts and carries on about napalm and victory. This image is the Austin, Texas, band's milieu, the intersection of droning chopper blades and deadly flaming pitch, a helter-skelter of psychedelia and stoner-rock. Somewhere in the middle you can make out about 15 drunken covers of Velvet Underground songs, but only if you're really set on calling out singer Alex Maas' vocal similarities to Nico. Though the Angels named themselves after a song penned by Lou Reed, they are to the Velvet Underground what the Black Keys are to Robert Johnson (though all four are pretty damn chummy; see: the Angels song "Bloodhounds on my Trail"). Though ostensibly in the same genre, the only similarity that bears mentioning is that you had to sell your immortal soul to learn to play.

That's not to say that the Black Angels ain't got soul: They've got it just fine, with a heavy blues influence surging beneath the skin of every track. But drummer Stephanie Bailey doesn't seem quite natural. Some infernal force is driving those arms, slowly and steadily pounding out the drumbeat to the apocalypse. Their first album, Passover, burns languorously rather than feverishly, making it a perfect candidate for lazy half-baked listening. While this is where the Velvet Underground accusations start, the Angels have inclinations of a different kind -- Reed loved heroin and sexual absurdity; the Angels seem obsessed with violence and conflict, writing songs about snipers, corpses, Vietnam and explosions in Birmingham. Their second effort, Directions to See a Ghost, is amped up significantly, letting guitarist Christian Bland be even louder, while losing the lyrical foci (somewhat disappointingly) of the previous effort.

At the Big Dipper on October 26, you'll see that the Black Angels don't aim to be a new or groundbreaking band. Still, despite all the nods and homages, this is their own music. They're content to be simply one of the best psychedelic bands on the circuit today (and trust us, they're good), to cast themselves in a hierarchy with their heroes, icons of a tumultuous age. And they blow stuff up. Mostly your mind.


Good Times Roll

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & atch the video for Jason Mraz's newest single, "I'm Yours," and you'll understand everything you need to about the man's art. As the 31-year-old sits in his darkened apartment staring longingly into his tropical fish tank, a ukulele beats out a bouncy reggae rhythm. He packs his bags, singing "I tried to be chill, but you're so hot that I melted," boards a plane and ends up in some Hawaiian paradise, where he hitchhikes in flip flops, cool-guy shades and a porkpie hat and catches a ride in the bed of a bearded bohemian's pickup truck.

Ah, the Jason Mraz lifestyle.

He goes to a skate park, where boarders fly over his head as he sings, "Listen to the music of the moment, people dance and sing / We're just one big family." Next thing you know, he and a bevy of hippies and beautiful, unpretentious girls in bikinis hike to a remote waterfall in the jungle and dive in and just generally have such a good time. (Mraz grinning coyly. Mraz staring cinematically on the beach.) He scats a bit, and the whole thing culminates in a chill, nighttime tiki party, strumming guitar with friends and loved ones. You can bask in his glow on Friday, Nov. 7, at the INB Center.

The image of the handsome, laid-back hipster is one Mraz has been pushing since his 2002 debut, Waiting For My Rocket to Come. The Virginia native has since moved on to San Diego, where he has an avocado farm and eats only raw foods. Fans eat all of this up. On forums and comment boards, they praise him for being a nice guy and a real person, a phenomenal singer and a kind of fashion icon. But nearly every thread comes back to the same subject ultimately: his boyish good looks. His eyes, his hair, even his feet receive lavish attention.

Not to say any of this is a bad thing. True, Mraz's laid-back acoustic music doesn't particularly challenge listeners, and his songwriting isn't ever going to land him among the likes of Dylan, Springsteen or McCartney. But there's something very soothing in his style. The songs are solid pop constructions. The melodies get jammed in your ear for hours. Bjoros0430 sums it up particularly well, in a comment on one of his videos on YouTube: "when uve had a tough day this is the best medicine!"

Mraz's music doesn't win him much critical acclaim. But who needs critics when you're drinking on the beach with all your best buds, bra?


Think Swing!

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & usician Garrin Hertel created the Think Swing Jazz and Blues Festival for two reasons: First to help rebuild New Orleans, then to help rebuild Spokane.

For Think Swing's inaugural year, Hertel invited several New Orleans jazz musicians to play for Spokane, providing them with work as their city was being rebuilt.

But Hertel also hopes to spark something in Spokane -- to recapture the cultural magic from when Spokane was the "shining gem of the West," back when Nat King Cole, Benny Goodman and Harry James played the Marie Antoinette Ballroom.

With 60 local musicians scheduled to play, this year marks a major lunge in that direction.

"One of the mission elements was giving local musicians a chance to shine [while] participating with regional, national and international stars," Hertel says. "I feel there's an incredible level of jazz talent that lives in Spokane that is underappreciated."

Spokane artists like singer Julia Keefe and pianist Brent Edstrom will be joined by 30 musicians from out of town, including several from New Orleans. In particular, Hertel touts songwriter/guitarist Matt Ministiri (No. 2 on the jazz charts on Amazon) and John Rodli, the guy who inspired Hertel to learn how to play jazz guitar. The 90 musicians will wind their way through dozens of venues (Nov. 7-9).

On the Friday night, attendees can float through the "River of Music," a nightclub circuit stretching from Brooklyn Nights to Zola, from the Peacock Room to the Casbah, from the Alterknit Lounge to Caterina Winery and on to the Zombie Room.

Think Swing features a smorgasbord of jazz and blues styles: folk jazz, Gypsy jazz, hot jazz, modern jazz, cowboy jazz, jazz fusion. jump blues and even a little psychobilly.

"I'm trying to paint with a very broad brush. It's not swing-era jazz alone," Hertel says. The festival is tied together, though, by the concept of swing. Swing is more verb than genre -- it's an attitude that pervades the performance. Hertel says it's a kind of synergy, where the band members perform as if inside one other's heads.

Think Swing is also unique, Hertel says, for its level of interactivity. Many of the venues feature open dance floors.

"If you want to get out on the dance floor and get sweaty and dissolve into a puddle on the floor, you can do that," Hertel says. It's a festival, not a series of concerts, Hertel stresses. It's festive.

"This is 'do' music," Hertel says. "This festival is a 'do' festival."


Sex, Death and Monogamy

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & MG! Couples are soooo cute! They're always like, "I love you more," and "No, I love you more." It's that way everywhere, even in Copenhagen, Denmark's psychobilly underground. When Kim Nekroman and his eventual wife Patricia Day wanted to play around in a sandbox of musical styles that diverged from either of their solo projects (Nekroman helms Nekromantix and plays bass; Day formerly handled guitar for Peanut Pump Gun), they were all like, "You should play bass," and "No, you should play bass."

The result was a totally cute instrument swap. Day taught Nekroman guitar and Nekroman taught Day to play the upright, even building her custom basses with thinner necks and lighter bodies to ease the strain on her dainty little fingers.

Together as the Horrorpops, they play pop that sits at the confluence of a lot of weird countervailing elements of American culture. Their sex-meets-death aesthetic -- Day is a total Betty Page type who sings about murder and female repression while go-go dancers frolic -- and punk-meets-pop-meets-surf-meets-rockabilly sound could be the soundtrack to a zombie film based on the Wild Bunch. Or just the soundtrack to an off-the-rails night at the Blvd. on Oct. 3.


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& lt;a name="visual" & VISUAL ARTS & lt;/a &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & hese arts open great gates of a future, promising to make the world plastic and to lift human life out of its beggary to a god-like ease and power.


Film Doesn't Lie

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & ocumentary photography has a remarkable history, from the late 19th-century tenement shots of Jacob Riis, through the New Deal icons of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, and on up to present-day photojournalists, all of whom strive to tell "truth" with gritty realism. "Telford Chronicles," a collection of 25 black-and-white prints by Norvel Trosst on display at the Lorinda Knight Gallery through Sept. 27, uses gritty realism to document a narrative that may not be factual but that holds plenty of truths.

The photos reveal the travels of Adrian Telford, a character in goggles and camo pants who explores and photographs bleak, harsh landscapes and the ruins of an industrial world. A short, silent film shot with a Super 8 camera tells the story of the recovery of Telford's surviving work -- two damaged prints, negatives, statements to go with each photo -- and the ever-present goggles.

Trosst's voice and name will be familiar to listeners of Spokane Public Radio, where he's a longtime board operator and host of "Soundspace," but it's been many years since his photography was exhibited locally. He spent 10 years shooting the images for this show and says he sought out the locations in a purely intuitive manner, driving to remote locations, then seeing what happened.

"I'll see a place and say, 'That looks interesting,'" he says. "Then I'll get out and walk around, and maybe sit and relax ... If there's not something that goes on inside me, then I know it's not the right place."

The enigmatic story of the mysterious Adrian Telford unfolds through the photographs and accompanying statements, but so does a more general story of alienation, isolation and bleak humor.

"One thing that appeals to me about photography is that it combines exploration -- physically, psychologically, mentally and spiritually," Trosst says. "In photography, I like to be able to raise the level of the apparently average photograph to the extraordinary."

The photos directly confront the question of "truth" in photography. Every one of these images is true, in the sense that none of the subjects were manipulated -- Trosst shot the scenes as he found them. That's a real person and real places in the photos. And yet the character of Telford is a fiction -- a composite, an amalgam, a projection, an invention. So is Telford a lie? Or is he merely a conceptual device, a tool devised to express some deeper truths? And what does his story mean for us and our world?

Only the viewer can decide.


New Landscapes

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & andscapes can be both familiar and far-reaching, and the MAC's new show, "Meditations on the Landscape," will give audiences an opportunity for some quiet reflection on landscapes and expectations. Featuring the work of three accomplished Northwest painters, "Meditations" (through Nov. 11) is part two of an exhibition series that began with "Contested Ground: The Landscape Redrawn" earlier this year. It's a reflection of museum art curator Ben Mitchell and his team's desire to showcase contemporary art -- particularly regional work like that of featured artists Susan Skilling, Stephen Hayes and Joseph Goldberg.

Of the three, Hayes' work is most accessible to an audience now conditioned to "impressionist" brushwork, reminiscent of such culturally ingrained images as Monet's "Water Lilies." With their window-like black frames, Hayes' "Inlet" and "Remorse Disappears" are rooted in the tradition of painting as a window upon a scene. While his color work may invoke the spirit of the Hudson River School, amongst other painters, his brushwork harkens to a more contemporary, even expressionist or intuitive approach to rendering a sense of place both geographic and psychological.

In striking contrast to Hayes' work, Skilling captures time and place through understated color, shape and repetition. While "Watery Deep" emulates the play of light and motion on the water, "Sun and Moon" captures the push/pull of waxing and waning day, a threshold of time and energy when beginning and ending are uniquely balanced. Her pieces are both calming and energizing.

Both Skilling and Goldberg incorporate Eastern motifs, unlike their New York City-based counterparts more rooted in European traditions. Northwestern themes prevail, such as in Goldberg's navigation of terrain ranging from western seaports in "Fishing Lanes" to the unique Washington region around Harrington known as the Channeled Scablands. A mostly dark canvas punctuated by distinct, white almost-diamond shapes, "Stars Through Branches" gives you the cosmic experience of simultaneously looking up at the stars and looking down at a vast, nighttime landscape. It's as if Goldberg is recreating an out-of-body feeling that one gets when one is truly connected to the land.

And that's no accident. "In our busy times," says Mitchell, "it is hard for many of us to find a place for quiet, focus and contemplation in our day-to-day lives. 'Meditations' celebrates three of our region's best painters and makes a place for quiet, introspection and self-reflection in our increasingly fragmented lives."


Art and Style

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & pened at the end of June, ArtStyle Northwest in Spokane's Garland District is a combination art gallery and design center owned and operated by five local artists with a desire to not just sell their upscale art and craft pieces, but to teach people how to use original art to enrich their living environments.

"A lot of people are afraid of art," says Jan Moulder, one of the owner-artists. "They're afraid of making a mistake, I think. They're afraid of buying something and going, 'What did I do? It doesn't work.' So they can come in here and we can ensure that [a piece] is going to work in their homes and they're going to love it. We're going to educate people."

ArtStyle's working artists serve as a welcome resource for one-of-a-kind art pieces, and work as adjuncts to interior decorators and designers. And like the art they create, the artists are a diverse mix. Mike Neiman is a self-taught fine furniture maker with more than 20 years of experience. Pete Jagoda has a Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture from Arizona State University and specializes in metalwork. Jill Smith creates raku-fired pottery, and she and her son Sean together have a line of metal furniture, mirrors and more. Gay Waldman focuses on creating unique photography-based art through digital manipulation. And Moulder creates paper lamps and other works of art that begin in nature.

Part of the education process means helping customers understand the quality of original art, Moulder says. "People will look at something and they'll go, 'I can get that at Wal-Mart cheaper.' Well, what they can get at Wal-Mart is something that's mass-produced. It's static; it has no energy in it. Original artwork keeps giving to you because it's got the soul of the artist in it."

Clients are encouraged to bring in paint samples or photos of existing pieces to discover what would look and feel best. Vignettes, where abstract and contemporary pieces come together collectively, are staged to show how very different styles and colors can work together. Pointing to a grouping of art created by four different artists, Moulder explains, "It creates more energy when you mix pieces together and don't have the same style. It doesn't have to match the couch."

Ultimately, says Moulder, "If you buy artwork that you like, just pieces that speak to you, and you love them ... it's going to go in your house, [and] it's going to fit, because it's all coming from your heart, from you."

-- M.C. PAUL

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Reclaiming Culture: The Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska Repatriation @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through May 2
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