Though known as the manager and political "theorist" behind the MC5, the '60s radical who founded the White Panther Party, and the germinating force in the anti-drug law movement, John Sinclair is first and foremost a poet and blues enthusiast. While still in college, he became the Detroit correspondent for Downbeat (a longtime relationship that would lead to an editorship, among other things); published his first book of poetry, called This Is Our Music; contributed live readings to trumpeter Charles Moore's Detroit Contemporary 5; and founded the radical Detroit Artists' Workshop. Still known internationally as a dissident, Sinclair might be happier being called a 21st-century American griot. Certainly, it is a griot's ambition that prompted Fattening Frogs for Snake, a collection of anecdotal poems set to a deep Louisiana grind that relates the history of the blues through myth, rhythm, fact, and impression. Sinclair has always considered it a political act for white guys to promote and defend black music; since moving to New Orleans in the early '90s, he has really settled down with the blues, channeling his barroom growl, encyclopedic knowledge, and natural gift for oratory into several wildly popular radio shows that elucidate and celebrate all the artists he loves. And while Fattening Frogs may not be terribly interesting as an album, it's absolutely riveting as a musicology lecture. John Sinclair & His Blues Scholars perform on Thursday, Jan. 30, at Slim's at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12; call 522-0333 or go to www.slims-sf.com.
Every once in a while I receive a postcard from Nik and Nancy Phelps, chronicling their most recent overseas adventure as self-appointed ambassadors from the American cartoon underground. This time around, news comes from Russia, where the pair recently presented their unique vision of "Contemporary American Animation" at the KROK International Film Festival. Drawing on nearly five years of "Ideas in Animation," a regular Bay Area film and music series that marries avant-garde clips with live musical scores by Nik Phelps & the Sprocket Ensemble, the curators garnered numerous accolades and grand memories of opening night at a historic theater in St. Petersburg, as well as a handful of European gems, which they will present to local audiences in two programs. On Saturday, four films by two celebrated European animators -- Britain's Paul Bush and Latvia's Rose Stiebra -- will be shown along with debuts by Finland's Sammi Abaijon, the United States' Jen Sachs, and the Bay Area's own Karen Lithgow. On Monday, a darker vein of new animation will be mined by Sweden's Eric Rosenlund, Hungary's Andrea Kiss, Australia's Kate Mathews, the Ukraine's Alex Zhukov, and the United States' Niki Yang. "Ideas in Animation" will be held on Feb. 1 at 21 Grand in Oakland at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $7-10; call (510) 444-7263. The second showing will take place on Feb. 3 at 111 Minna at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $7-10; call 974-1719.