Pop lyric diagrams

Coming to Shadowshop soon (early next week, I guesstimate): grammatical sentence diagrams of pop lyrics!

Long-time readers of this blog may recall me as Dr. Diagram, diagramming lyrics to order at the Art Health Fair at the Oakland Museum in 2003, or Roadside Elixir at the Headlands in 2004. Well, if you missed those opportunities, you can still truck on down to SFMOMA & get yer rock & roll mitts on a hand-drawn diagram—for just $12! Choose from classics like “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd (pictured above), “Last Dance” by Donna Summer or “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin!

I couldn’t resist sneaking a Dead tune in there too…

Following is the little blurb that’s tucked in with each diagram, except here, you get links with that:

Mere days into 6th grade, I found myself sitting on the gym floor in a circle of girls, who began passing around a David Cassidy LP so that each of us could kiss his picture on the cover. I was the new girl in this school; no way could I afford not to kiss it with as much enthusiasm as I could fake (not much at all—I was soon relegated to the nerd clique, if you could call it that). So began my adolescent crash-course in pop music, which gave me my generational & cultural identity (just as it has done & continues to do for decades of 6th-grade girls). Around the same time I also learned how to diagram sentences; this methodical, visual organization of language so elegantly revealed grammar’s structure that I loved it even then. (How’s that for nerd cred?!)

As an artist, I’m always looking at the under-the-radar stuff of culture, the things that we know without knowing that we know them—what is given, hidden in plain sight. The grammatical structure of our language is of course all-pervasive, yet usually invisible. Pop music can function similarly, as a library of cultural fragments that we accumulate, consciously or subconsciously, throughout our lives. I started diagramming lyrics around 2000; later I diagrammed collaboratively in public, asking participants to recall lyrics from songs that were formative or meaningful to them. Sometimes people misremembered lyrics, so these diagrams may reflect the inaccuracy of pop memory. I also can’t guarantee grammatical correctness, although I tried my best with much help from A Workbook of Sentence Diagramming, self-published by Eugene R. Moutoux, 2002; & my brother’s old copy of Prentice-Hall Grammar and Composition: Level 6, 1982.

Thanks also to: Donna Ozawa, for inviting me to diagram at the Oakland Museum Art Health Fair (2003); Claudia Tennyson, for inviting me to diagram at the Headlands open house (2004); Becky Pringle, my 6th grade English teacher; & Janice Kleeman, for teaching me the history of rock & roll & the aesthetics of pop.

sold out pencils

I am laughing more than bragging, but yeah, I’m bragging too: 360 pencils imprinted with the simple sentiment “MY FAMILY IS DRIVING ME CRAZY” have sold out in the first 6 weeks of Shadowshop.

A bunch more are on the way, so if you want any, they should be there in a week or two. Not just for the holidays!


Bargain hunters of the Bay Area, mark your calendars for Shadowshop at SFMOMA! Cheap art galore from over 200 local artists, beginning on the 2nd of December. If you’ve always wanted a real Indigo Som Chinese restaurant photo on your wall but had neither budget nor space for the 40-incher, you can go scoop up Southern mini-prints (approx. 7.5”) for a mere $50! If that’s still too rich for you, I’ll have other good stuff there starting at 50¢—yes, fifty cents!

Shadowshop goes all the way until May 2011 so wares & services (hmm, services!?) will come & go. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for Stephanie Syjuco for conceiving, organizing(!) & implementing this fun project.

Correction: sorry, I got dates mixed up. The shop is already open now!

Chinese Culture Center

From the opening, jam-packed especially for a rainy Friday night:

Between all that Censusing, Chicago, & the CCC, this is about where I’m at right now:

If you’re one of my many neglected friends… you will see me, I promise, just as soon as I catch up on some sleep & wash at least the first layer of those dirty dishes piled in the sink.

Present Tense

In progress…

This especially goes out to anyone who has ever asked me: What are you going to do with all those Chinese takeout menus?! Well… at least some of them are going up on the walls of the Chinese Culture Center for this show:

WHAT: Present Tense Biennial: Chinese Character – an exhibition of

contemporary artwork by 31 artists that reflect and reinterpret China

WHEN: May 1 – August 23, 2009

OPENING: Friday May 1, 2009, 6:30 to 8:30pm

GALLERY HOURS: Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10am to 4pm; Sundays, 12 to 4pm

WHERE: Chinese Culture Center, 750 Kearny Street, 3rd Floor (inside the Hilton Hotel), between Clay & Washington Streets in San Francisco CA



Tamara Albaitis, Nancy Chan, Anita Wen-Shin Chang, Julie Chang, Thomas Chang, Sergio de la Torre, Cui Fei, Khiang H. Hei, Justin Hoover, Bu Hua, Arthur Huang, Suzanne Husky, Larry Lee, Sean Marc Lee, Liting Liang, Lucy Kalyani Lin, Ken Lo, Fang Lu, Maleonn, Elizabeth Moy, Ming Mur-Ray, Tucker Nichols, Nadim Sabella, Zachary Royer Scholz, Indigo Som, Charlene Tan, Patrick Tsai, Imin Yeh, Xudong Yu, David and Michelle Yun.

TRANSIT: 10 minute walk up Kearny Street from Montgomery BART station; parking at Portsmouth Square Garage directly across the Hilton Hotel

INFORMATION: 415-986-1822 or Present Tense website

Special thanks to curator Kevin Chen, who instigated, nudged, & encouraged me to find out what the menus wanted to do (besides hibernate in my studio closet). Kevin also stayed up till the wee hours last night, finishing the installation with Lucy Lin after Donna & I went home exhausted. They were doing the hard part, too, up by the ceiling. Thank you Kevin & Lucy! You’re lifesavers!

By the way, in the process of sorting through menus for this installation, I couldn’t help but notice that I still have no menus at all from the following states:





North Dakota

South Dakota


West Virginia

What’s up with that?! You know what to do. Thank you!

Finally, just wanted to post a coupla pix from a very fun Chicago trip. Here is the fabulous Karen Tam with her bowl of jajangmyeon, which somehow became a running theme throughout our two days together.

Soft shell crab at Joy Yee Noodle aka boba heaven:

As you can probably guess, an excellent time was had by all. The students were a great bunch—quite possibly the sincerest pumpkin patch ever! Thanks again to Dan Wang for organizing, administering, hosting, chauffeuring, & being generally awesome, as he does tend to be.


Did I mention I got me one of those Census jobs? It’s kicking my ass! I’ve been enjoying my walking tour of North Oakland mezuzahs, dogs, & rosebushes, but still, I’m tired! So please forgive my laziness if I just link to Dan’s post about my Chicago gig instead of telling you all about it myself. Click on it if you wanna come to my slide lecture this Thursday night in Chicago. Otherwise, feel free to ignore, & just imagine me trudging from door to door in various parts of Alameda County, trying to build up Census stamina.


I’ve been busy lately! Coupla weekends ago I had a quintessentially East Bay foodie day with The Witch. First we went to a chicken workshop (yes we have urban chicken fantasies!) at EcoHouse, where I got no good photos of the chickens, but this friendly duck came to investigate my camera:

After that, we dropped by the People’s Grocery garden party, where we ate an embarrassment of padrón peppers & admired this lovely kiwi vine:

Then I felt kinda crappy for a week & didn’t do anything interesting. I think maybe I successfully fought off a full-blown cold.

Once recovered, I had to come up with a goodbye card for the incomparable Steve Woodall, who is leaving (wah!) to run the Columbia Center for Book & Paper Arts after nurturing our own San Francisco Center for the Book from its very beginning. I have always been in awe of Steve’s big, big heart. He is one of the kindest people you could ever hope to meet, & somehow manages to keep tons of stuff running smoothly with the most easygoing manner… I just don’t know how a person becomes like that. If I’m lucky maybe I’ll get to be a little more like him in my next life.

Anyway, you can imagine the pressure was on since I knew that about a hundred killer book artists were all making cards for Steve too. None of this running out to buy a card & scrawling something in it with a ballpoint pen for this crowd, no way. Not when John DeMerritt is making one of his famous boxes to put all the cards in. I was so distracted by the card situation that I forgot all about bringing food to the party until like half an hour before I had to leave. Doh! The fridge looked pretty bare & I thought I’d have to run out & buy something on the way, but you know, that’s not how I like to do things if I can help it. I spent too many years of my life as the person who brought chips & salsa to potlucks. (Although for the record, let me say at least it was always Casa Sanchez. I did have standards.)

Here is Mother of Invention Salad. We have fuyu persimmons on the tree right now, so I grabbed two of those, plus an apple & half a head of some speckly chicory (sorry I can’t remember the name of it—you could use radicchio or anything similar). Mandolined the fruit, squeezed some lemon juice over it. Sliced the chicory; the tops of the leaves were too soft to do on the mandoline, so I did that with a knife & then hit the mandoline when I got closer to the stem end. Tossed it all with red wine mustard vinaigrette (thanks again, Orangette!) & then thought it needed some green, so I ran out into the garden & pinched off some pineapple sage for garnish. Done!

Of course, when I got to the party it turned out everybody else had brought chips & salsa, bread & cheese, & wine. Occupational hazard of the book arts: no way in hell do you have time for anything else. Now I remember why I always used to do the Casa Sanchez thing… & why I don’t edition books anymore!

Next night, it was the reception for Road Trip at San Jose Museum of Art. I hadn’t seen the show yet so was quite eager to find out how it looked. I have to say I’m pleased as punch to be in this show. Curator Kristen Evangelista did a fabulous job; how often do you go to a big group show like that & really enjoy most of the stuff in it?!

It was a fun opening too. Five Dollar Suit was playing bluegrass, & the food was thematic, reaching its conceptual peak with these teeny tiny chicken fried steaks, sandwiched in biscuits with gravy, here modeled by the talented, hardworking hands of Noah Lang & Donna Ozawa.

Road Trip at San Jose Museum of Art

I’ve been so distracted—by various foods, effin Republicans, & little sewing projects—that I almost forgot to mention the Road Trip show at San Jose Museum of Art, on view now through 25 January 09. I’m tickled & humbled to have my Chinese restaurants included alongside some really great artists’ work. If you’re a museum member, maybe I’ll see you at the reception later in October.

Southern California folks: One Way or Another is opening at JANM this weekend, & will be on view till 4 May. I was gonna go down there for the opening, but if you can believe it I am still sick (almost 2 weeks now, wah!), so I’m staying home & keeping my coughs to myself.

Dude. I am obviously out of practice w/ the PR: I should have mentioned in my emails, & also in the announcement below, that the Asia Society show is gonna travel so if, for example, you live in San Francisco & you have way too many people to see & places to go on your next New York jaunt, why then you can just wait & see the show when it comes to the Berkeley Art Museum next fall (that’d be 2007)! En route, it’ll spend the spring (2007) in Houston, & after it leaves Berkeley, it’ll end up in Los Angeles in spring 2008 (wooo… that’s really far away).

Sorry I didn’t tell you all of that before. & while I’m looking out for ya, try not to catch this nasty cold I picked up. If you live around here & you know what’s good for you, you’ll be wearing wool outside after 5pm. & make sure you get lots of sleep.

Okay people, lest you think it’s all ice cream & cupcakes from here on out, here is an actual Art Moment. I’m back in the saddle with this group show, opening next week. Three photos from the Chinese Restaurant Project, Southern installment, will grace the spiffy walls of the Asia Society in New York.

Official info follows (don’t laugh too hard at the “born in the 70s” thing):

One Way or Another: Asian American Art Now

Thursday, September 7 through Sunday, December 10
At Asia Society and Museum
725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street)
New York, NY

Opening reception Thursday, September 7, with a “Meet the Artists” tour starting at 6:30pm; galleries open until 9pm.

Artists in the Exhibition: Michael Arcega, Xavier Cha, Patty Chang, Binh Danh, Mari Eastman, Ala Ebtekar, Chitra Ganesh, Glenn Kaino, Geraldine Lau, Jiha Moon, Laurel Nakadate, Kaz Oshiro, Anna Sew Hoy, Jean Shin, Indigo Som, Mika Tajima, Saira Wasim

Co-Curated By Melissa Chiu, Karin Higa & Susette S. Min

Asia Society presents its first major group show devoted to contemporary Asian American art in more than twelve years. Named after Blondie’s hit song, this uniquely conceived exhibition of works by seventeen Asian American artists—most of them born during the explosion of pop culture in the 1970’s—will draw attention to the most critical and prevalent themes current among today’s young Asian American artists.

Asia Society’s groundbreaking 1994 exhibition, Asia/America: Identities in Contemporary Asian American Art, showed the works of artists actively wrestling with their immigrant experience and the sensation of otherness. The current exhibition presents artists for whom other sensibilities and artistic questions have greater importance. One Way or Another includes works in a wide variety of media, including painting, sculpture, installations, and video.

A fully illustrated book, One Way or Another: Asian American Art Now, will be available at AsiaStore.

For information on related programs, see or call the Asia Society box office at 212-517-ASIA.

For more information, contact Elaine Merguerian or Jennifer Suh at 212-327-9271

Roadside Elixir

Cheers to Claudia Tennyson for organizing a fabulously fun & inspiring Roadside Elixir yesterday at the Headlands! The weather was perfect, the best you could ask for, & a fine old time was had by all, hanging out & making art in the shade of a lovely old tree.

Best Lyric Request of the day came from Paul's friend Josh: four lines from "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain". When he handed his form to me, I got all manic & started frothing at him about the Carla Bozulich cover. After I drew the diagram, he & his pals hung around analyzing all the revealed meanings with me for a while. Music geeks geek out! What could be more fun?

Honorable mention goes to Jerome's mom Nathalie, who challenged me to diagram in French. I actually pulled it off, which is some kinda miracle.

Craziest Request is hands down, no contest, Stephan's "Schoolhouse Rock" listing of all 50 states. What a nut! I told him I was gonna have to mail that to him later.

Then we got to go to the beach afterwards! It doesn't get much better.


If you're in the Bay Area this weekend, come to the Headlands Open House on Sunday from noon to 5pm. I'll be diagramming pop lyrics as part of Roadside Elixir, curated by Headlands Affiliate Artist Claudia Tennyson, who will be doing Street Repair. Other Roadside artists: Donna Keiko Ozawa, John Graham, Alison Pebworth, & Jerome Waag (& his mom). Should be a fun time for all, so start thinking about what lyrics you need diagrammed, & we'll see you there!