clap clap blog: we have moved
Saturday, August 16, 2003
Judging by the lack of response to my last Tom Tomorrow post, not many of you really care about it. But I do, and hey, what's a blog for? So let me highlight the end of his interview with Salon. The exchange begins with a very astute question:
Have you ever written positive cartoons?
Oh, come on.
I don't know. Some moment when you were overcome by a burst of cheerfulness?
It is not a frequent occurrence. But I wouldn't do what I do if there wasn't an inherent optimism there. It's an optimism tinged with bitterness and frustration but if I didn't believe that things can get better then I would go live in some remote farmhouse somewhere and ignore the world entirely.
No, my friend, that's not it. Everyone has an "inherant optimism" by that definition, otherwise they'd kill themselves. What you're missing is an actual hope in humanity. You don't seem to believe that people can actually do better.
The real reason you don't go off to a farmhouse is because then you wouldn't be able to constantly remind people that you're smarter than they are, which seems to be the real message of the strip most of the time.
posted by Mike B. at 1:02 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Two smart letters and one dumb letter about Northern State. I suppose it's worth noting that all three letters (all negative, I just think the second one's stupid--"why black people hate us" my ass) are written by males, or so I'm assuming from the names. Don't want to perpetuate logosism here at claps blog.
posted by Mike B. at 12:06 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, August 15, 2003
I'm back from the blackout.
Oddly enough, the two hipster enclaves--Williamsburg and the LES--were two of the last neighborhoods in the 5 boros to get their power back. (Also Flushing and some of midtown, from what I hear.)
At any rate, a wallace-l'er writes this in:
I was watching CNN from my electricity filled living room here in Berkeley (the CA energy crisis isn’t so funny now is it?) learining about all the trouble, when the on-the-scene-reporter started to talk about the small wave of fires that were breaking out throughout the city, caused by people using candles to light their homes or whatever. So, after discussing the general dangers of open flames, the reporter exhorted “any one using candles right now to be very careful not to let them spill over” thereby risking fire. On CNN. To those who were using candles at the time. On cable TV.
Thank God for CNN.
Also funny was listening to the radio right after the blackout hit on Thursday. On Bloomburg news, they did a rundown of what was happening and then did a stock market report. On 1010 WINS, they cut off an interview with the mayor for a Subaru ad. Pretty neat.
All I have to say is: I really wish I hadn't watched 28 Days Later recently. Brr.
posted by Mike B. at 11:49 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, August 14, 2003
A while back Jesse sent me a proposal for an article he wants to pitch. I thought I'd take a crack at critiquing/commenting on/building on the idea, both for the good of the article and for my own selfish education. So lemme paste in his idea.
On the weekend of August 2nd and 3rd, the rock band Phish drew over 60,000 fans to a remote corner of northwestern Maine for a two day festival at a decommissioned Air Force base. They were the only band on the bill. Between a 2.5 mile stretch of parallel runways, amidst mud and grass, concertgoers erected a massive tent city. On the tarmacs, unlicensed vendors who follow the band from show to show hawked beer, cigarettes, homemade food, clothing, and marijuana paraphernalia in a colorful bazaar.
On a main thoroughfare sat a man campaigning for Democratic Presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich. Faithful Phishheads filed by, few looking twice at their peer behind the table. Phish and, subsequently, their significant followers, are a notoriously apolitical bunch. With the exception of a pro-choice benefit played in 1995, Phish has never taken a public stand on a social issue, not wanting to wield what is potentially a lot of power. While few fans are cultish enough to follow Phish to the letter of their word, there is undoubtedly a general political apathy that courses through them.
Simultaneously, they have become a large demographic, the next generation of the Deadheads. "If every Deadhead voted, this country would be a different place," gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson recently groused. Music industry veteran and progressive activist Danny Goldberg has declared in a new book, Dispatches From The Culture Wars: How The Left Lost Teen Spirit, that the Democratic Party desperately needs to get in touch with American youth if they are to remain relevant, or even survive at all.
Disclaimer: it should be noted that while this is the theory of Danny's book, the reality turns out to be more of a half-memoir and a boomer reminisce / grumpy rant about how things used to be better back in the 60's and these darn kids etc. But the theory's pretty good, so we'll go with that.
Disclaimer 2: yeah, Kucinich ain't exactly representative of the Democratic party, but he's a pretty good one for deadheads, I think.
Thompson is right, as he still is a frightening percentage of the time, but his remark is telling: he's not talking about modern-day Phish fans, he's talking about the actual old-school deadheads, the products of the 60's, and pointing out that they themselves aren't (and weren't) actually all that politically active; they talk a good game, but through the rhetoric of the times (and of the scene), they tend to disdain regular politics in favor of localism, which to be honest is more a social than a political endeavor. So the issue seems to me to be about the apolitical nature of this particular demographic; what about the values of their group makes them avoid politics, and should they get involved in politics? And, for that matter, how would that happen? Phish, after all, is considered to have a certain political viewpoint (progressivism), even though, as Jesse points out, they don't really do anything progressive besides live in Vermont. How does this impression come about?
Hannah Arendt points out that a good portion of the citizens of almost every country are apolitical, and it's actually in the interests of the state for that to continue. She doesn't mean that in a Chomskybot, "they just want to keep you down, man!" kind of way--she simply points out that whenever this apolitical mass does get active, they tend to produce some pretty negative results. They go for demagoguery almost always, and totalitarianism seems to creep in there, too. I'm not saying that a motivated mass of deadheads would throw up a Mussolini, but as an abstract phenomenon, there is a certain value, democracy-wise, to having the apolitical stay apolitical.
Still, as a lifelong Democrat in a country that feels pretty Republican these days, it would be in my interest to have all of these people vote Democratic, as they hopefully would. (Brief sideline: would they? Certainly all the progressives that decided to vote for the Green party in 2000 had a bit of a negative effect, and it's unclear that the kind of kneejerk purists who seem to make up the jambands scene would be able to deal with the kind of compromises the Democrats have to engage in to get elected.) So why doesn't Phish, as Jesse asks, convert them? Partially I think it's because, as I've noted before, there's a weird repugnance to "political music," or to musicians who are political outside their music. Witness, for instance, reaction to Bono, or Thom Yorke, or the Dixie Chicks, or even Toby Keith--sure, some people get jazzed up about their particular stances, but a lot of people get pretty violently annoyed by them, far more annoyed than they would have been otherwise. It's simple mathematics, really, because politics is an energizing, divisive thing. You don't mind a musician one way or the other when they're singing about love or their own sadness or even, to a certain degree, Jesus or cowboys. (Tastes differ, of course.) You don't have such strong opinions on these things. But as soon as someone comes out, say, against abortion, it's a whole different matter. That you care about, and for whatever reason, it clouds people's judgment of the music. Clearly I think this is a fucking stupid thing to do, as a fan, but I also recognize that musicians are very aware of that possibility, which is why the causes you see them embracing are usually things like helping starving people or America being good or something. You get a vibe from them, like you do from Phish, but rarely policy positions, because that--as I say--is divisive. Partially this is an economic matter of musicians not wanting to lose fans, but it's also that it would suck if you made it harder for people to like your music, because you should be able to enjoy it. So even though it would be far less of a risk for Phish to take certain positions than it would be for other musicians too, I can sort of understand why they wouldn't. (This is leaving out the possibility that Phish, like many musicians, are themselves just plain ol' apolitical.)
But really, Phish shouldn't have to convert their fans; you would think, as Jesse does, that a scene whose values seem so firmly rooted in leftist politics would just vote Democratic anyway. The reason for this can maybe be found in a comparison with the kind of rightists who have driven the Republicans in recent years. They, being against big government and against taxes, etc., would appear to be apolitical, but are, in fact, deeply political, because (and this is impressive) they actually convert this apoliticism to a political stance. Deadheads, on the other hand, appear political but are in fact apolitical. Sure, they're environmentalists, but that mainly means they recycle, or are vegetarians, or buy organic food--consumerist stuff. Maybe they organize a group to lobby the local council to institute new conservation programs, but this is rarely taken nationwide, and it's rarely sustained so it can be allied with the Democrats. (It's important that interest groups be sustainable and somewhat widespread so that parties can help them, and they in turn can be helped; this is partially the theory behind the Greens, but it doesn't seem to be working so well so far.) Like I said above, a lot of their solutions tend to be social: they support local farmers, they ride bikes, they don't own guns, they live on communes. And while these things may have political meaning, they are not, in and of themselves, political acts; they do not constitute participation in politics.
And despite the dewy-eyed nostalgia of boomers like Danny (it's worth noting that Todd Gitlin seems to happily avoid this), like a similar kind of apolitical purism found in the indie scene, this flows directly from the idealism of the 60's. This idealism peters out when it comes to politics because it is utopian, and because it's never really accepted the true impact of their actions "back in the day," which from a contemporary perspective look far less impressive; the civil rights movement was driven by black leaders and Democrats, the gay rights movement by, well, gays, and even the war itself ended less because of the actions of a group of people who no one in "the establishment" ever particularly liked or agreed with, and more because it dragged out for so long and lots and lots of young Americans came home in body bags. Their favorite issue, ending the Vietnam war, was a success mainly because they were joined in their opinion by mainstream America, and most telling, they (by "they" you can substitute SDS or "the hippies" or what-have-you) never really managed to move beyond that issue to all the other ones they were so concerned about. It's not even certain that they managed to have an effect on the Democratic party--how many ex-hippies do you see today in public office or political activism? Hell, even the Trotskyites managed to change sides and elect themselves a President.
Hippies, as the 90's showed (how many startups bringing in millions were run by ex-hippies?), are only a step removed from being libertarians, although oddly it's this step that allows them to be politically active. You can see the ideology still active today, and see the problems it's caused. Search for a utopia which can never be found--dissatisfaction with anything less than perfection. Distrust of money--inability to get your voice heard. Search for the new--inability to appreciate the old.
But by far, the most pernicious and most damaging belief of the boomers is their distrust of authority. Up to a certain point, this can be a good thing--dictators and all that. But authority is a key component of politics, and politics is the way we hopefully get stuff done. It's a lot better than violence or payoffs, anyway. Without authority, without power, you can't do anything, can't start a movement, can't pass a law, can't change the way things work. It clearly makes folks like this very, very nervous to have authority over other people, and while I can sympathize, it's just these kind of people who we need to get over their discomfort and start moving things along, since otherwise it'll just be the ones who aren't uncomfortable with power taking charge. I can respect the rhetoric of equality and fairness, but until we are living in that perfect world, lots of other people are going to be getting rich and using that money to influence the political system, are going to be seizing power and using it for their own aims, are going to be leading movements antithetical to our interests. In the face of this reality, it's clear that a lot of jambands folks back away, get nervous, prefer to retreat and remain untainted.
And I have no doubt that it's this distrust of authority that plays a large part in Phish's refusal to be political. "Hey, do your own thing, man--we aren't going to tell you what to think." But people need to be organized, and telling them what to think is different than identifying a bunch of people who think the same way and getting them to all speak together to get something done. It is an unfortunate thing that they are not willing to take this risk.
I can certainly understand the people who say that they just want to listen to some music and have a good time. That's cool. But I think the opportunity is there, and I'm curious, at least, to see what would happen were someone to take advantage of it.
posted by Mike B. at 2:16 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Credit where credit is due: there's a pretty good Pitchfork review today of the new Ween album. Sure, it's a "quirky" review, but it's actually a pretty good impression of the album; if you can get to the end and still want to hear the album, you'll probaly enjoy qUEBEC.
Personally, I found the disc pretty boring and bland, but I guess it's not really my style, being kind of, um, proggy and sludgy. One of those where I didn't really notice it was playing, which for Ween is probably a bad thing. You'll notice there are no "Chocolate and Cheese" references in the review, and that's telling. Oh well.
posted by Mike B. at 1:05 PM 0 comments Links to this post
So I finally got my invite to the Harvard bloggerCon. And by "invite" I mean "direct-mail solicitation." As those of you who've seen it on other blogs doubtless know, they're not inviting me to speak (because, let's be honest, why would they?), they're asking me to attend. And pay $500.
For which fee I'd better get a goddamn blowjob from Elizabeth Spiers.
posted by Mike B. at 11:44 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
A bunch of conservatives chuckle about French people dying. Priceless! Be sure to read the comments--they're awesome.
posted by Mike B. at 6:01 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Speaking of Fountains of Wayne, I haven't been up on my NYLPM reading lately, but here's a post that talks about the video for Stacy's Mom:
When hearing this song it works wonderfully, because it is assumed that the kid singing has just come home from college, and it is the kind of decadence that is completely mutual, a graduate for our post ironic ages.
Then the video comes, with enough sexual signifiers to make Foucault come, and enough paedo subtext to allow for everyone but gary glitter skeeze out. The kid in the video is 10, the mother in question is 27--Steacy is about 11. We see the boy floating in the pool until he sees the mother and has a pop bottle orgasm, we see Steacy wearing heart shaped sunglasses, and sucking a straw--a Lolita with a co-dependent Charlotte Haze and a Humbert Humbert about her age. After that, there is a fantasized pole dancer which puts Everclear's Volvo Soccer Driving Mom in proper perspective, a Bo Derek coming from the water and removing her bikini moment, and in conclusion the gentleman in question being caught masturbating in the bathroom.
The whole thing is supposed to come off as a cute way to look at wistful lust, but the results nibble away at a number of taboos we really should think about keeping.
Well, I dunno...
UPDATE: They also have a kind of familiar take on Liz's "Rock Me," including a nice interpretation of the "if it's alright" turn in the chorus.
posted by Mike B. at 3:39 PM 0 comments Links to this post
In a precursor to the long-promised but coming-soon (right, Jason?) academic celebrities page, here is a very nerdish page featuring the faces of great nerds which you can test your knowledge of by trying to identify, facial-wise. And I'll leave it to some other nerd to diagram that sentence. Facial facial facial.
UPDATE: The creator notes:
"all of wallace-l simultaneously accessing 1MB+ page = server kicked
massively and repeatedly in the nuts. if the page is taking more than a
minute to load then safe yourself the bother and come b ack later. it should
only take like 3 seconds to load on a fast connection. eye caramba. thanks
for stopping by but i am sadly not equipped to be wallace-led."
posted by Mike B. at 3:31 PM 0 comments Links to this post
If you're curious what noise I made when Rob forwarded me Ryan Schreiber's review of Fountains of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom," rest assured that it was a zombie-like "Muuuust...kiiillll!" (It was a late night last night.) Let's quote the damn thing and then write a letter.
Fountains of Wayne: "Stacy's Mom"
Can a song be too catchy? I'm afraid the answer is yeah, and this me-decade throwback is insidious proof. The hooks are so fucking easy-- it sound like the result of a record company's elaborate study to determine the most primally appealing hooks of all time. And that's not even getting into discussing its inane lyrics, or the topic cribbed from the only passable song ever written by Sub Pop's mid-90s proto-mallpunkers Chixdiggit! ("Where's Your Mom").
But somehow, the melody broke me down. I got past its shameless predictibility and the unforgivable refrain (the title character "has got it goin' on," among the most dated expressions you could hope not to encounter on the radio today), and really loved it-- for one day. Which is when I discovered that it's one of those rare tracks that subtly implants itself in your head where it creates an unshakable three-to-five day-long extended mix of itself. From there, it's a downhill battle trying to force in other simiarly catchy songs to overpower it. You will lose. And when you finally lie down, exhausted, defeated and stinking of 20-year-old bubblegum, you will curse yourself for not knowing how or why this track chose you for its victim. --Ryan Schreiber
Good christ, man, do you know anything about Fountains of Wayne? Did you just see their video on MTV2 and have an indie-kid allergic reaction? I mean, it's not like they're an obscure band--you've gotta know something, right?
Why then, claims that the "hooks are so fucking easy-- it sound like the result of a record company's elaborate study to determine the most primally appealing hooks of all time." What the hell is an "easy" hook? I've been playing guitar for 10 years and the only easy hooks I know are Nirvana's "Come As You Are" and the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun," and the ones I hear in "Stacy's Mom" don't come anywhere close to that; the little turn at the end of the opening riff is particularly nice. Maybe you just mean it sounds familiar? Well, sure--the hit that similarly comes near the end of that hook is a reference to the Cars' "Just What I Needed," and I think that's nice, since the rest of the hook surrounding it doesn't have much to do with the Cars.
But more importantly, why the "record company" stuff? Are you really trying to imply that they made this song as a bid for international superstardom? Because the history of FoW is pretty clear on this point--yeah, they're pretty enmeshed in the biz, which I think is kind of a neato art statement myself, but anyway, I don't think they harbor any illusions that two men approaching middle age and playing a commercially debased genre (power pop) are going to be playing the Budokan anytime soon. They've got a video on MTV2? Great! It's a great song, and it should be played. That a good band has a label behind it willing to spend a little is, I think, a good thing.
But obviously you don't actually think a record company went through the elaborate steps you describe. What you're saying, instead, is that a hook that good could not have been crafted by the hands of mortal men, but had to have come out of some mystical / scientific process. This is clearly not true--I like the hook and all, but there are others that are just as good that were definitely written by individual human beings. So are you incredulous because Fountains of Wayne are actually getting heard and listened to by many people instead of languishing in obscurity--or instead of being heard by many people 30 years ago and forgotten today? Or are you incredulous because, surely, no one who could write such silly lyrics could ever write a good hook? (Won't address your thoughtless dismissal of the words here, but you might take note of the brief, sad twist at the end of the last verse which might redeem it for gloomy-guts such as y'all.)
Well, whichever it is, it brings us to your main, weirdest criticism: that it's, um, too catchy. Gotta admit that I don't know what's up with this, at least as a critical judgment. Sure, some songs get caught in your head (although "Stacy's Mom" never got in mine that much), and some of these songs are pretty bad, but what you seem to be saying is that you thought "Stacy's Mom" was a good song until it got caught in your head. What the hell is that supposed to mean? It suddenly changed in worth because you were too fucking stupid to hum the "Smurfs" theme a few times? Spare me.
All in all, it casts further doubts on the whole WATW revamp; OK, you like pop with drum machines now, but still not guitar pop? What gives, hombres? I'm beginning to think Matt P's comments on my first complaint were on-target.
posted by Mike B. at 2:42 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Pretty interesting, political-nerdy rundown about art in the Capital in the NYT. The crux of the article is that through rearrangements and new commissions, Sen. Christopher Dodd is trying to fix the fact that so many of the portraits and statues in the Capital building, especially the ones seen by touring groups of schoolkids, are of old dead white congressmen. The funny part is when the author says "lawmakers are determined to bring the Capitol's art into the current century." This is not quite true. If they were bringing the art into the twenty-first century, it would involve Jesus peeing on George Washington. Bringing it into the twentieth centure should suffice. Some of the rhetoric used by the folks leading the effort sounds a bit wacko at times, but I don't think you can really dismiss this as "political correctness."
The article gives us a useful punching bag in the form of Roger Kimball:
Mr. Kimball, who is managing editor of The New Criterion, a monthly magazine, rails against such thinking. "This is to let political correctness triumph over accurate history," he said. "The truth of the matter is that with very few exceptions the people who framed the political documents that founded this country were white men. That's just historical fact."
You know, I think the clear implication of his "statement of fact" is a bit skewed. Sure, Roger could defend himself by saying that it's just true damnit that white men have done more stuff in American history, but I think what he's alluding to is that this is the case because they are just better people. Clearly not true, but hinted at, I think, in his statement.
Still, that's subtext, so let's address the substance of his remark. The critical distinction he's missing is that the Capital is not the official record of our history. That's the job of, um, the National History Museum. The Capital, on the other hand, is a sort of showpiece for democracy and for American government specifically. And while it's historically true that white men have dominated government, it's not the job of that venue to display some weird official history of America. I don't even know how that would work--would you go through and count the pictures and a proportionate number have to be white men, or what? So since history really isn't the concern, we might want to think about how it isn't so good from a public-relations standpoint. I mean, I hope that most Americans feel, shall we say, a bit awkward about the fact that white men so dominate our history and continue to dominate our government. Schoolkids should be able to see people who look like them in the Capital, because we want them to participate in government. Call it meaningless tolerance-mongering if you want, but I think it's a policy that should be pursued in this case.
Yet the Capitol is extremely tight on space, so when the women moved into the Rotunda, a man had to be expelled. He was Roger Williams, a proponent of religious freedom and the founder of Rhode Island. His likeness is now in a far less conspicuous spot, a thought that makes Mr. Kimball seethe.
In his view, "art and politics don't make good bedfellows."
It hardly needs to be said, but never trust anyone who's saying art shouldn't be politicized, because that in itself is a pretty forceful political position. Art has always been politicized--it just used to be more in favor of the king.
posted by Mike B. at 12:39 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
Great, great, great LPTJ piece about Liam Lynch:
But what it is, on the surface, is a guy with spiky hair and a real basic punk song structure describing a number of scenarii in which he was given the opportunity to reply in his eminently imitalbe, monosyllabic way. Here’s one verse:
"and then it’s three a.m., I’m on the corner, I’m wearin’
my leather, and this dude comes up, he’s like: ‘hey, punk,’
— I’m like ‘yeah, whatever’”
...and that’s it: there’s no pointless unamusing dry unhelpful explication, no pose beyond The Pose Itself which is simple enough to devour the person assuming it, no spelling it out for the people who don’t get it the first time.
Right on. And I'm not even going to give you shit for ripping on novelty records. Because you shouldn't, because they're really...well, I'll keep to my word.
Good piece, and the Liam Lynch album is pretty damn good, too.
posted by Mike B. at 4:14 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Boy, I sure do hate Northern State.
Here's a quick, totally patriarchal lecture, gals. This is gonna be about what you might call two familiar subjects for me.
First off: humor.
"Even if you hear a track you think is slamming and you feel and and want to listen to it, but it's all about bitches and hos, that's damaging. I used to listen to that stuff when I was like nine and sing along to NWA -- at camp, we were like, 'Somebody say hey, we want some pussy!' The music sounds good, you're dancing, you're singing, but it definitely affects your perception of self, your self-confidence, your understand of how relationships should be."
Hmm, that's not very joycore, is it? Sexism in rap is a problem, but I'd suggest that you're going to have to go a lot further than censoring NWA to get young girls to feel better about their "perception of self." The real problem with sexism is that it's a) boring, and b) validating of men's perceptions about women. Or so it seems to me. But at any rate, "Somebody say hey, we want some pussy!" is a hilarious fucking line, and when something's slamming and you don't like the lyrics, just bite it and use it for yourself.
But ask them about Fannypack -- the pre-fab Brooklyn girl group with the flash-in-the-pants hit of the summer, "Cameltoe" -- and all of a sudden they're not so sisterly. Well, at first they try. They really, really try. "At this point a lot of people are gonna realize that there's a gap in hip-hop that could be filled by females, and white females, and the question is how are people gonna go about filling that gap. They could be coming from different angles, and I would say that their camp is coming from a different angle," says Spero.
Prynn pipes up. "I would say -- fuck it, I would say I think it's wack to have boys write your rhymes and all your music and then put on hot pants and show your ass in New York magazine. Yeah, that's wack."
Ah, that old chestnut, "singing something someone else wrote = bad." Besides the fact that this model's been a centerpiece of pop since its inception (and if you don't think you gals are pop, take another listen), and besides the fact that Fannypack has not exactly been ardently pursuing authenticity--they have, in fact, been entertainingly self-aware about their creative process--you gals are going to have to get a bit less defensive about the whole comedy thing. Yeah, I know, authenticity is a big thing in undie hip-hop (or, more accurately, indie rock, which is the scene you're probably more a part of), and you all feel a bit self-conscious because you're from a wealthy Long Island town and just being feminists and talking about victimization just isn't quite enough, cred-wise, you really are going to have to acknowledge that humor (or, um, the intention of humor) is at the center of your music. Your rhymes are funny, or at least clever, my wee little babesicles. And that's OK. To paraphrase what Scott Thompson says of Eminem, why you gotta be scowling in your pictures when you're laughing it up on the mic? Sweeties, humor is OK; admitting that you're funny is even better. Fuck cred.
Besides--honestly--do you really think you kids are gonna fill the gap in hip-hop for white females? (A gap which, as far as I can see, only exists in the mainstream.) You think you're gonna be hanging with Missy and Nelly or what? Or are you gonna be big on the indie scene and fill the "white hip-hop girls opening for the Dismemberment Plan on their reunion tour" gap? I think it's the latter, and I'd like you more if, like Fanny Pack, you were a bit more honest about that.
OK. Second: politics.
But the minute they show up, we totally girl out -- French manicures are evaluated, my orange mules are admired, boyfriends and peeing are discussed -- and everything is all right. By saying that, I'm not trying to out Northern State as prisses by day, posers by night; on the contrary. I'm saying these ladies are the real deal: cool girl-geek feminists who talk about politics and clothes in the same breath ("keep choice legal, your wardrobe regal"), who rhyme the word "chest" with "palimpsest." They write their own rhymes, complete with props to Parker and Plath (plus hip, kitschy nods to Nigella Lawson, Kavalier & Clay, Dawson's Creek, and Professor Plum "with a candlestick in the conservatory").
"We believe wholeheartedly that we are part of the women's movement, and we're just trying to put ourselves out there in a way that is inspring [sic] to young women," says Sprout.
Prynn's the one Parker Posey would play in the Northern State movie: lean and long-fingered with a thrift-shop skirt and a bonus cleft in her chin. Her feminist "click" came while watching her mom not leave her dad because she couldn't afford a lawyer on her own; Reviving Ophelia also helped. "I remember asking a lot of questions in Social Studies and not really being satisfied with the answers," she says.
Sprout, with long brown hair and camo-green pockety pants, looks like your favorite camp counselor. She figured out feminism when she finally got that her mom's choice to stay at home totally counted as "work."
"Keep choice legal, your wardrobe regal"? Are you fucking kidding me? See, this is where that whole "no, we're not funny" thing comes into play. (Am I just making this up about them having a problem with being perceived as funny? Geez, I hope not. They sure seem like they're concerned with people taking their feminism real serious-like.) Because if it was a joke, a parody about feminism meant to diminish the seriousness of the former view with the banality of the latter, then it would be sorta funny. But as a serious declaration--which we know it is, since they're "hardcore feminists"--it's just, well, stupid.
Looks, chickadees, lemme tell you something--and this is going out to all the Kathleen Hannas and Ani DiFrancos out there. Art is not about slinging slogans; it's about ambiguity, and when you just throw in something like "keep choice legal," it makes it sound either fucking stupid or like a crowd-pandering bit on the level of "throw your hands in the air!" (And don't try and tell me "Keep choice legal!" ain't gonna get more of a cheer at the Luna Lounge than "Party people in the house, say yeaaah!") When you put something in as received truth when it is, in fact, a contentious issue, without noting the opposition, it ruins the whole point of throwing it in there in the first place. Being a feminist is not just closing your eyes and repeating things until they're true, or making slogans part of your lifestyle. If it's political--if the "personal is political," a phrase which makes me want to bash my head in with a copy of "The Bell Jar"--then you should be rapping and living your life like a discussion, like an argument, because that's what politics is, not just feel-good, let's-all-get-together-in-a-group-and-agree-about-stuff-ism.
That's what irks me about girl-groups like Northern State (see also: Le Tigre, Rogers Sisters, etc.): their politics have become their art, and their politics are simplistic and dumb. These gals are so convinced of the rightness of their views that they don't seem to feel any particular need to convince you of their validity, so when they start making music, they don't feel the need to convince you that they really love doing it, because simply the fact that they're girls and making music is supposed to be an "empowering" and "inspirational" act. And so they go on in these deadpan voices with deadpan music behind them, and I guess it doesn't, you know, conform to any mainstream models of femininity (although it does sound just a weeeeeee bit post-punk--and hell, a bit Neptunes-y), since heaven forfend they sound happy or enthusiastic or sad or whatever. Enjoy it! Joy! Sing! Dance! Have fun! If this life is your politics, man, your politics is boring, and I don't really want to live in a world like that.
But that's just me and my penis-obsessed, animal-killing masculinity.
 In fairness, Ani actually has been good at this model of politics at times; I particularly like the lyrics for "Little Plastic Castle," which are nicely ambiguous. She's never been very good about challenging and engaging her fans on the problems of embracing a foreshortened version of her politics, which I sometimes get the feeling are more complicated than she lets on.
UPDATE: Some folks made great comments, so I wanted to reply here, since it helps clarify my position theory-wise.
For a good example of what I think is a good song, politics- and even feminism-wise, see my Fluxblog post on PJ Harvey's "Rid of Me", which I'm really quite proud of. That lays out my position in a pretty good way.
The Throwing Muses call is a good one, and thanks to Sue and Joe for helping me figure out better what I'm trying to say. So lemme give that a shot.
First off, "art is about" should always be read "I think art is about," and so forth. I just stopped putting those qualifiers in because it feels tiring to read, and often I'm just floating an idea with some enthusiasm to see how it sounds, although in this case I do pretty much believe what I said, humor and politics and art and the intersection thereof being something of a favorite subject of mine. (Sorry for saying "intersection" just then.)
Second, as you'll see from the PJ Harvey post, what I think of as a political statement is not just what's generally regarded as a political statement (i.e. Northern State-ish stating-of-positions), or even what would be regarded by weirdo cultural theorists as a political statement (the Throwing Muses example Julia gives us). I take both of those and then I add my own weird, perhaps misguided category of politics-as-discourse, which I've picked up because I'm a political philosophy nerd. Maybe the most obvious example of that kind of a "political" song would be a duet, where two voices trade positions (with neither being overly favored) about love, death, Keynsian economics, whatever. So I'm not asking for them to endorse pro-life positions; I'm just asking them to acknowledge that they exist in some way. With multiple vocalists, the possibility is certainly there.
Sue brings up Dylan's "Masters of War," Neil Young's "Ohio" and a Sleater-Kinney song. Now, while I really don't like S-K, I know this is in no small part due to the vocals, and I actually like the lyrics she quotes--up until the last line: "culture is what we make it, yes it is / now is the time, now is the time to invent / invent invent." How does this differ from the first two songs she mentions? I don't mind people stating political positions, and I guess I don't even mind them stating only one side of it. But look at what we've got here: "Ohio" has a narrative to it, the centerpiece of the song ("4 dead in Ohio") being a statement of fact rather than a political opinion. Dylan's song, too, has a narrative to it, in that weird Dylan way. Whereas the Northern State example--and, to a lesser extent, the S-K example, although I might just be being crotchety there--is just, "Hey, here's this position, now let's talk about clothes!" It's a non sequiter, with no argument to back it up, and worse, it's an abstraction. So it's both lazy lyrics writing (lyrics are, I think, generally better when they try and deal with specifics) and lazy politics. Why should we keep choice legal? Who knows? Can't really argue with it, can't really refute it. So it's specifically that noncontextual statement of position that irks me, a conclusion without an argument, and worse, an abstraction without any reference.
Also, that kind of thing is very rarely funny.
posted by Mike B. at 3:50 PM 0 comments Links to this post
So as you've doubtless heard by now, Fox is suing Al Franken for trademark infringement for calling his new book "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." His publisher, Penguin, responds by calling NewsCorp "un-American." Good. I hope they have a lot of fun with this, since Fox has pretty much given them a free pass via their filing. Usually a company responds to lawsuits carefully, making sure not to say anything that could be used against them later or make the judge angry. But when you've got stuff like this:
"Franken is neither a journalist nor a television news personality," according to the complaint. "He is not a well-respected voice in American politics; rather, he appears to be shrill and unstable. His views lack any serious depth or insight."
The court papers refer to Mr. Franken, who is a former "Saturday Night Live" writer and performer, as a "parasite" who hopes to use Fox's reputation to confuse the public and boost sales of his book.
Mr. Franken is also accused of verbally attacking Mr. O'Reilly and other Fox personalities on at least two occasions, and of being "either intoxicated or deranged" as he flew into a rage at a press correspondents' dinner in April 2003. Mr. Franken has not filed a response in court to the suit.
...you can pretty much reply however you want. Run with it, Al. The lawsuit's got no merit, anyway--say "parody" and it's gone.
I particularly like all this because, up until now, "Fair and Balanced" has been a very effective slogan which I quite admired, in its own horrible way. It's a self-conscious, cynical joke which they managed to take deadly seriously for quite a long time, and it would enrage liberals in a totally disproportionate way--because it was obviously untrue, but they wouldn't even admit to the criticism. But with this, that all changes. Franken makes kind of a lame joke about it, but because Fox reacts so very harshly, they validate the joke; they bring everyone inside it, and it goes from being make-funable in a "I don't believe they can possible think that!" way to make-funable in a "Hahaha, they know it's not true" kind of way. In other words, we can move from endlessly demonstrating why it's untrue to simply laughing at it. This is good. This means it loses some of its power.
posted by Mike B. at 1:34 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Because I am a hideous fanboy, here is an excerpt from the Carla Bozulich (ex-Geraldine Fibbers, ex-Ethyl Meatplow, currently (?) in Scarnella w/Nels Cline) newsletter:
The Red Headed Stranger album is finally coming out on September 8. Willie Nelson did end up playing on it. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Very surreal, cuz I felt dizzy watching him 5 feet away and hearing his voice curl around mine -- like how did this happen. Am I me? Wow. The man is strength satisfied beautiful warm sand in the honey grinning rough gift. I guess you guys made that possible for me just as much as anything. Nels Cline plays the guitar with some help from me and Willie. Devin Hoff plays the upright bass. Scott Amendola plays the drums. Jenny Scheinman plays the violin and sings a bit. My sister Leah sings with me on "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain". It's on a brand new label called diCristina Stair Builders based out of SF and run by the happy souls at Revolver Distribution.
I want to thank you for your righteous excellence.
Let's think about that for a second: you're putting out an album that's a cover of an entire Willie Nelson album, and Willie Nelson comes and sings on it. Whoa.
Also: "righteous excellence." Mmm.
posted by Mike B. at 12:06 PM 0 comments Links to this post
All right, I'm breaking my Pitchfork moratorium (you knew it would happen) because I gots to comment on Chris Ott's Young Marble Giants review.
Geez Louise, Captain Meta: you give Marcus a half-jab about repetitively pushing Laura Logic, and one sentence (and two colons) later, you're taking a random, contextless swipe at The Raincoats. What gives? Everyone I know thinks they're keen, so while there may be a different received wisdom in your particular social circle (such that everyone you know read the jab and nodded sagely and murmured, "Yes, that's quite true"), in the context of a published music review (about a totally different band, natch), you're going to have to provide a bit more rationale so the rest of us can know why, in fact, you think The Raincoats aren't very good.
And then--oh my sweet lord--two paragraphs later you actually say, "their first two recordings are about their best"! Without a hint of self-consciousness! Did you just morph into Jaded Robot or what?
Anyway, it's actually a pretty good review, albeit in a kind of Casablanca way, if you know what I mean. Overall, it coulda used a bit less history (not that much less--I recognize it's a reissue review) and a bit more, you know, description of the music. I was way more interested in hearing the Giants from reading Brendan Reid's Repeat entry on "Final Day" which did the courtesy of describing a song in a bit more detail than you ever seem to give it over the duration of your review. But so it goes.
posted by Mike B. at 12:00 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, August 11, 2003
I went home to Central New York State this weekend, and while there I read in the local paper that one of the local stations, WUTR, has decided to stop broadcasting local news from the actual city it's based out of, Utica, and will instead be broadcasting local news from a city an hour to an hour and a half away from many viewers, Syracuse. This means that of the four networks that operate locally, only one will be carrying local news. Hopefully we can all see why this is a problem.
What's significant about this? Well, let's start with the fact that WUTR is owned by ClearChannel.
I've said this before, but I'll keep saying it: what people miss when they talk about media consolidation producing crappier radio stations and bad TV shows and lame cross-promoted movies is that this has a very real effect on our political life. We've already seen this with newspapers, and if my little hamlet is any bellwether, it's going to start happening with TV. Can we all agree that, whether or not market forces dictate it as a desire of a majority of residents, having one voice covering news is just not a good thing? (To say nothing of way decreased citizen access to media, but that's another subject entirely.) The former WUTR news manager made the excellent point in an editorial that it's true that local news might not be an entertaining or popular choice, but we've pretty well decided that having local media is a good thing, and that's why we have government regulate it; when the FCC decides that it's OK for station owners who eliminate local news to keep their licenses, that violates the public trust which created the agency in the first place. (The editorial in question is unlinkable, so I'll try and type it up tomorrow.)
ClearChannel is not just about music. Spectrum is not just about music. NewsCorp is not just about TV shows. The FCC is not just about greed. It's about politics, and it's about democracy. Why does ClearChannel give overwhelmingly to one political party? It doesn't matter which one--it matters that such a large share of our nation's discourse is being created from such a small pool of sources. That's what matters, and that's why shuttering WUTR's news department is a bad, bad sign.
posted by Mike B. at 6:29 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I commented on this at Matt's blog, but let me just say that it's simply adorable to see politics geeks talk about transhumanism, in much the same way that, say, literature geeks would talk about straw polls. They just don't quite get it, and that's OK, but it should still probably be addressed. (In a, um, non-dumb way.)
Special you-can-tar-me-with-this-later notice: I believe in most of what I'm about to explain.
While "transhuman" has a particular meaning for tech geeks, the originators of most of the ideas being propagated in the above-linked articles, it has a very different meaning for the cultural theory crowd, who call it "cyborg theory"--google this and you'll come up with a lot of references to Donna Haraway, whose "Manifesto for Cyborgs" is one of the best pieces of half-ironic theory I've ever read. By "transhuman" the Wired crowd seems to mean specifically electronic bodily enhancements such as super-eyes, super-limbs, etc., whereas cyborg theorists think it's silly to limit this classification to the internal body and point out that we have things like telephones to artificially enhance our voices, "calling out" to people far away, and telescopes to enhance our sight. Even within the body, we've had artificial limbs since the pegleg, and it's difficult to see how injections--which we put directly into our circulatory system to change our body chemistry--are any different from super-eyes, except in their visibility and psychological impact. It's just an updated version of the kind of shudders the Romantics had at the Industrial Age, seeing machines "replace" (rather than "enhance") human labor.
The bottom line is that by most intellectually defensible standards, we've been "transhuman" for a few centuries now, and so the issue is not whether we're going to become "transhuman," but whether the pace at which that happens is going to be so fast that it's noticeable and protested against. The rate is really the only thing that matters in this debate, I think.
posted by Mike B. at 6:10 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Some questions (or statements in question form) for my music krew:
1) Does anyone "get" the Blur album? I know some of you do, but I gave it one last try on the Greyhound yesterday and it still doesn't do anything. I fucking love "White Noise," but the rest of it just kind of bores me. Can anyone give me a sort of greatest-hits edit for subway consuption--i.e. that I should hit tracks 0, 3, 5-7, etc.? That'd be nice.
2) Does anyone else like that last Max Tundra album? Like, a lot? Cuz I sure do, although I admit I didn't expect to at first. Now, though, I'm listening to it quite a lot, for a somewhat abstract electronic album (yeah, there are lots of melodies and vocals, but the songs seem to be arranged by someone with MPD, or at least ADD), and on my last listening I noticed that a good half of the motifs are, at some point, played through once or twice without any accompaniment, as if they're asking to be sampled. Hmm. Well, maybe.
3) Is it just me, or is the sequencing on the Rapture album fucking brilliant? Yeah, I know, it's not out yet, but it's Soulseekable, and I finally gave in to temptation and listened to the whole thing this weekend. The first best example of sequencing magic is the way the first track, "Olio," goes into the second, "Heaven"; what's wonderful about it is that they represent the two pretty disparate halves of the Rapture's identity, dance music and noisy rock. So what they do is bring Olio down to a drum break and then the vocals come in a capella for "Heaven"--at pretty much the same tempo. And then when the full band crashes in, it sounds great, like a totally logical transition. The other great transition I've caught is between "The Coming of Spring," which mixes in a (intentionally) shitty-sounding live recording of between-song noises with the studio stuff, and "House of Jealous Lovers." We're all used, at this point, to the long intro for "House," but here the crowd noises from "Spring" is carried over, and "House" actually enters at a lower level for a few seconds before the bass is brought up. It sounds great, and I think we can actually safely pin both of these on DFA, since they're perfect examples of a DJ's cross-fading and beat-matching skills--but applied to sequencing what is, at heart, a rock record. It's a super-neat and super-effective idea.
posted by Mike B. at 4:39 PM 0 comments Links to this post
From Part 3 of Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism:
"In modern society, with its characteristic lack of discerning judgment...someone who not only holds opinions but also presents them in a tone of unshakable conviction will not so easily forfeit his prestige, no matter how many times he has been demonstrably wrong."
Apply it to who you will--Bush, Clinton, Ebert--but I should mention that Arendt probably didn't mean it in a positive sense, since she was talking about Hitler.
More about Arendt later, I hope--the last chapter of "Imperialism" was pretty goddamn great.
posted by Mike B. at 2:11 PM 0 comments Links to this post