clap clap blog: we have moved
Thursday, October 09, 2003
Quoth Maryland's First Lady:
Kendel Ehrlich, wife of the state's Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, was criticizing what she views as the entertainment industry's negative influence on youth, during a domestic violence prevention conference last week in the city of Frederick.
"Really, if I had an opportunity to shoot Britney Spears, I think I would," Ehrlich laughingly told the audience.
Let me just highlight the part in the first paragraph where it's pointed out that this was said during a domestic violence prevention conference. Oh yeah.
Later in the article, Britney is quoted as saying that if she wasn't in music, she'd either be a teacher "or an entertainment lawyer." Me and her have so much in common! I bet we could totally date. Or, you know, have a brief, awkward conversation that would end with me making some highly inappropriate joke.
I also kind of like her saying the following, although I'm sure people will regard it as highly disingenuous, about being a famous musician: "I just think we're all here to inspire each other. We're all equal. We just bounce off each other and show the world what we can do." Right on.
posted by Mike B. at 5:48 PM 0 comments Links to this post
All right, you fuckers, fine: I'll give you a C-Lo update. From our friends at Popbitch:
>> We believe in a thing called Love <<
posted by Mike B. at 2:06 PM 0 comments Links to this post
New Stephin Merritt soundtrack! New Stephin Merritt soundtrack!
This isn't just exciting because it's new Magnetic Fields material, but because his last soundtrack, Eban and Charley, was one of my favorite albums of the year--a little confusing at first with the interludes, but listened to enough, it coheres into a really wonderful whole, with some of Merritt's best songs ("This Little Ukelele," "Maria") interspersed with these really pretty, interesting instrumental bits. It feels like a story.
But seriously, Pitchfork: 69 Love Songs as "amusing parodies you won't care to hear more than once"? Really? Because I'm a-listening to 'em all the time. But I guess we have different views on the value of comedy in music.
posted by Mike B. at 12:27 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I think the problem I had with the last Manitoba album, Up In Flames, is that I bought it the same night I bought Prefuse 73's One Word Extinguisher and around the time I was doing a lot of listening to the prerelease bootleg of Hail to the Theif, which meant that I saw it through the lens of experimental and/or electronic music rather than as pop music, which was how it was being largely being understood by most critics. And, frankly, I was having a hard time understanding that whole argument: sure, it had a lot of the trappings of Pet Sounds pop, but it didn't move me the same way pop should; it was nice to listen to as an album, but there weren't any killer tunes.
But lately I've been listening to stuff like Poison and Junior Senior and Guns 'n' Roses and John Mellencamp. So just now, while listening to "Jacknuggeted," it all snapped. I got it. The handclaps on the offbeats, which previously had just seemed like annoying-but-interesting hat replacements (also used as such on the Max Tundra album) now felt like an actual gospel revival or campfire singalong was going on in the distance. The big church organ crash-ins, which previously just registered as more laptop keyboardism, now felt like a gesture towards the big guitar-and-crash breakdown that's supposed to happen after the point in the vocal line at which it comes, were this a normal rock song. And so the thing that had really bugged me about the track, the sound, which made it feel like an extended intro or interlude rather than an actual song, due mainly to the lack of any snare and much of any kick and the general vaccuum-sealed digital gleam, I now recognize as the point. There aren't many drums because it's a pop song where you're supposed to fill in what isn't there--because you can fill in what isn't there, because we're all so familiar with pop songs that we have the capacity to do that. There's enough clues--the acoustic guitar, the repetative-but-melodic vocal line--that we can pretty much fill in the power chords, the guitar solos, the beat (which, interestingly, you could probably steal from "Hey Ya" with a few minor adjustments), and even the bassline, as there doesn't appear to be one presently.
(I still don't understand the positively Mu-ziq-esque IDM breakdown at the end, though. It's 1995 all over again!)
Interestingly, while I now understand the album more, I'm not entirely sure that I like it more. "Every Time She Turns Round It's Her Birthday" does have the best live beats you'll hear this year outside of Lightning Bolt, though. The ending, which feels like they had to drag the drummer away bodily from the set, roolz.
posted by Mike B. at 11:01 AM 0 comments Links to this post
What the hell happened to Lauren Hill? Well, this Rolling Stone story gives a pretty damn good answer to that question. Here, for instance, is just one of the issues she's dealing with:
At the same time, Hill's love life began to get really complicated. For years she'd been clandestinely dating Jean. Their relationship started long before he married his current wife and continued afterward. But Pras says, "I think he was kinda, like, playing with her emotions."
Uh, yeah. And the Jean issues played out in other ways, too:
It was critical that on "Miseducation," Hill was credited as the sole auteur. "That was why she had to be seen as doing it all herself," says someone familiar with the sessions. "To show, 'I'm better than [Wyclef]. He's getting credit as the genius in the group. I'm the genius in the group.' "
Of course it did! But...argh. And then connect it with this:
A friend says Brother Anthony taught Hill that "she should be whoever she wants to be, because she doesn't owe her fans anything. God didn't create us to be beholden unto people and entertain them. God holds us to be the people that we want to be."
(Can someone send Lauren a copy of Candide, please?)
It is sad, in part because it's so typical, so expected an arc after the hardcore weirdness of dating your married bandmate and the married son of Bob Marley. But it's also sad because it's such a clear case of being unsatisfied with what's clearly a substantial amount of talent. What actual need was there for her to pretend like she made the whole album all by her lonesome? What point is there to not giving the musicians co-credit? (And who the hell doesn't know by now that you always watch out for that, because it'll come back to bite you on the ass?) It doesn't make the music any better. It's just a person who was blessed with beauty and a great voice and (according to many) great songwriting talent who somehow thinks this isn't enough, that she needs to be able to do everything. And it's sad that our critical standards are such that we value this kind of thing to the detriment of the actual music. Cause Brother Anthony is wrong--we're not just supposd to "be the people that we want to be." The person I want to be spends a lot of time sitting on the couch watching TV and eating pizza. But that's not what I'm working toward (except in some very vague long-term sense), partially because it would drive me a bit crazy, but partially, too, because I recognize that I, like everyone else, has certain talents and interests that can be of use to other people. So why not do that? The music, Lauren, the song: that's what matters. Fuck all your bullshit. And man, get yourself some help that doesn't involve people who've made up their own religion.
posted by Mike B. at 8:51 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Prime example of AUR-delusional overstatement:
(10/6/03, 5 a.m. ET) -- While giving a stellar performance last night (Sunday, October 5) at the third annual Shortlist Awards show at Los Angeles's Wiltern Theatre, Bright Eyes frontman/mastermind Conor Oberst used his between-song stage time to verbally attack Clear Channel Entertainment, the massive media company that promotes the Wiltern's concerts.
Sigh. "No more real music"? Really? C'mon, Conor. I'm not so sure you're helping your cause when you make silly overstatements like that.
And "real" music? Well, anyway...
posted by Mike B. at 8:41 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Just wanted to highlight a few things from that Salon article I linked to in the long piece below.
Kalle Lasn isn't scared of the U.S. PATRIOT Act. "America has become a bit of a monster," says the punchy, 60-something founder of Adbusters, the anti-consumption magazine based in Vancouver, B.C. "Some of the things the U.S. is doing, in Israel, in Canc?n with the WTO, I just can't take it any longer. It's gotten to the point where I almost think I've become a terrorist."
Yeah, dude--you're a terrorist. You're totally right. Good catch on that one.
"We got tired of all the lefty whining and the boycotting. It wasn't making any difference," he said. "Quite apart from how many percentage points in market share the Black Spot sneaker can take away from Phil Knight -- that's of course the ultimate goal but may be a long time coming -- in the meantime, we can go a long way toward uncooling the Swoosh, which is losing momentum fast."
"I have a grandiose plan," Lasn said. "My dream as a culture jammer is that a small group of people with a limited budget could have the power to choose a megabrand we don't like for valid reasons and uncool that brand, to show that we the people as a civil society have the power to keep a corporation honest. Now that would be something that would actually redefine capitalism."
"Uncooling"? Sweet merciful crap. Do you take yourself seriously, man? Have you read any of the other major works in your field--No Logo, The Conquest of Cool? The whole point is that corporations have taken over "cool." You "uncool" Nike, something else is just gonna spring up, and it's a hell of a long shot as to that company being more ethical than our friends in the Pacific Northwest. You can't do "cool." And anyway, it's not really cool--it's just mainstream. It's the default. And that's a lot harder to unseat.
Adbusters, which has a circulation of 120,000, bills itself as the "Journal of the Mental Environment." The magazine's philosophy is that advertising encourages people to see themselves primarily as consumers, and its parodies reveal the "truth" behind slick corporate logos: the environmental and human costs of consumption, the abuses of corporate power, and private monopolization of public airwaves.
OK, I won't just mock this one, although that "truth" business obviously bugs the hell out of me. Instead, try this. I think we can all agree by now that just about everyone in Nike's target market knows about Nike's labor conditions, right? So what effect has that had?
At its Sept. 22 shareholders' meeting in Portland, Ore., Nike stockholders celebrated their first protester-free gathering in several years. The footwear company registered a record $10.7 billion in revenue in its 2003 fiscal year, and its stock price increased 40 percent, to a high of $62.50 in late September.
Yeah, that's working real well. And you want to know why?
Citing research on the 3000 marketing images most people consume every day, as well as studies linking advertising to an increase in mood disorders, Lasn said rage against the toxic cultural clutter epitomized by Nike ads is going to launch a new kind of revolution.
"Twenty-five years ago we woke up to the fact that the chemicals in our food, water and air, even a few parts of a billion, actually will give you cancer," he said. "That was when the modern environmental movement was born. Once people make that connection between advertising and their own mental health, that could be the birth of the modern mental health environmental movement."
Oh yeah--because consumerism and advertising has no demonstrable negative effects. What've you got--some vague study that ads make us angry? So does public transportation. So do our parents. Big whoop. It's a long goddamn way from giving our kids cancer.
Look, I like Naomi Klein. I think she makes some great points, and her arguments against omnipresent advertising is a more sensible one--basically that there's a lot of people who don't like ads being so pervasive, and that since market forces seem to place them everywhere, it would be nice if the government could work to create some optional ad-free spaces, or at least stop the spread of ads. She's anti-consumerist, sure, but she recognizes, I think, that people do often genuinely like the things they get. She also seems closer than others to realizing how ineffective ads actually are, and that you can't really take what admen say as a guide to what actually happens.
Then again, it looks like all that anti-sweatshop activity is having some effect:
But Marsha Dickson, director of Educators for Socially Responsible Apparel Business, says the Black Spot campaign is naive in light of efforts that have been made by Nike and other members of the Fair Labor Association, a coalition of industry, university and nongovernmental organizations that issued its first public report in June.
"While the tracking charts clearly show that much work remains to be done," said Dickson via e-mail, "the bottom line is that Nike, Reebok and Adidas are really acting as leaders. If a campaign such as [the Black Spot sneaker] is needed, it should focus attention to the thousands of clothing manufacturers and retailers that are not participating in the FLA. We know nothing or very little about how these companies treat the workers that make their products."
Seems sensible. But what does Mr. Adbusters think?
"I grew up in a time when cynicism didn't exist, that hidden assumption that nothing can change, that you better get used to capitalism, and that cultural revolution is not even possible. I don't quite see it that way. I am old enough to have seen a number of cultural revolutions. I believe another one is coming up."
Oh yeah--cultural revolutions. Hey, wait a minute--you mean that cultural revoluton? The one that sent intellectuals and creeping capitalists to "re-education camps"? Well, probably not. Anyway, the point is that revolutions are rare, and non-destructive revolutions even rarer; just ask Hannah Arendt. They're especially unlikely when you regard yourself as impotent to do anything besides fight ads with ads, or sneakers with sneakers. What the FLA is doing is what, more or less, should be the actions of citizens of a democratic republic with a grievance the government can redress--organize, pressure, and try and change. Not "tweak." Not "piss off." Change.
Although, y'know, reading the history of the Chinese cultural revolution, it does have some creepy parallels to the apparent goals of my friends on the far left. But I guess that makes a certain amount of sense. "Ideological misdeeds"--brr.
posted by Mike B. at 1:20 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
Random proposal of the night:
While I generally like the shifting nature of the terms and standards by with which we make our arguments in music criticism, every once in a while I think there might be some place for more precise measurement besides sales charts and RS starred reviews. One of the things we talk about a lot is different methods of production, for instance, and it might be interesting if we could have some way of quantitatively measuring certain aspects of that.
The particular thing I was considering is if it would be possible to write some sort of
algorithm to measure the mix of a track--i.e., what percentage drums, what percentage guitar, etc., which shouldn't be too hard, given that there's a fairly standard arrangement for most genres (guitars/bass/drums/voice, maybe keyboards, for rock; drums/bass/piano or sax or voice or whatever for jazz) and that there are established stats for which sonic ranges these various elements lie within. Anyway, I certainly can't do it, but it would be interesting.
posted by Mike B. at 10:03 PM 0 comments Links to this post
The CMJ schedule is online.
My current plans:
I'd see Sufjan Stevens on Wednesday if I wasn't going to see Black Box Recorder, who I've wanted to see for about, oh, four years now. I heart Luke Haines. And the Prosaics are headlining a show?!?!
Thursday: wouldn't mind seeing Avenue D, the Rosebuds/Trachtenberg show or the Lit show. Or, BBR is playing at Maxwell's, and I might be tempted to see 'em again.
Friday: tough choice between Roseland (Rapture), Warsaw (AWK) and Knitting Factory (Dirt McGirt). Roseland will probably win because of the three horrible venues, it's the least horrible.
Saturday: uh, couldn't we move the AWK show to Saturday? Please?
Anybody in the area up for anything, or have any recs, drop me a line.
posted by Mike B. at 9:58 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Pretty high on my list of things I don't want to see is what it'll look like when Neil LaBute directs a Playboy shoot (second item). Presumably I can get someone else to tell me whether it involves violent rape (Nurse Betty), child killing and/or homo-beating (Bash), using a deaf girl as a target in a bet (In the Company of Men), or what. Hey, maybe he'll come up with something all-new! Whatever it is, I'm sure it'll be great, since Neil has such a great view of women and humanity in general.
I hate Neil LaBute. Fucking Mormons.
posted by Mike B. at 6:50 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Thinking on this stuff a bit more: the fact that Harm and I both felt it necessary to say otherwise is a good indication of the cultural capital that's accrued around the idea that a repressive social and political environment produces good, or better, art. The theory goes that under a totalitarian regime (although this usually doesn't extend to religious repression, interestingly), artists are compelled or forced to create works of greater power, beauty, meaning, etc. Art under repression, art created dangerously, is better than that created at leisure by soft milksops such as m'self. Moreover, the art created by citizens after the repressive regime has been removed is inevitably less good, because there is now more moral ambiguity and so forth. Of course, this theory is highly debatable, if for no other reason than "good art" is a pretty subject proposition; if you like socialist realism, you're going to think art-under-repression is hogwash. But for now, let's accept that aside from the fact that the theory itself is widely accepted in the West, it also lines up pretty squarely with the Western critical viewpoint circa 2003. (The PCCS, or Post-Colonial Critical Sensibility, let's call it, with more than a small wink.)
The question this all begs, of course, is why art-under-repression (AUR--let's go a little acronym-batshit here) is better. I think the fairly vague notion most people have in their head when they're making this argument is a sort of reductive moral calculus: if someone has to deal with the negative consequences of living under a repressive government, then they should at least be able to use this to make better art, although this isn't exactly the fairest of trades. Of course, that's clearly not the case--talent doesn't work like that--and so asked for a more lucid explanation, I suspect the best anyone would be able to come up with (after working through a litany of ideas about the corrupting influence of commercialism that would skirt neo-primitivism) is that it's just true--that demonstrably more good works are produced under repressive governments than not.
Of course, that just gets us back to the point above that we're now working with subjective opinion-making, and a subjective viewpoint that I don't necessarily agree with. So the explanation I would advance is this: it's not that living under a repressive government causes you to produce good art, it's that making art in the context of repression causes the art you make to be regarded as good, and that it is thus easier to make good art under repression. Now, I'm not saying that it's easier to live in a totalitarian state than not--sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't, kind of depends whether you're a white American or a black Ethiopian and whether you're comparing yourself with a Soviety party elder or a North Korean peasant--and I'm not even saying that it's easier to make AUR than not, since clearly that's not the case most of the time. However, if you do manage to make yourself some AUR, it's much easier to have that work regarded as good, for a couple of reasons.
One is simple economics, of a sort: if the government is severely limiting what pieces of cultural production make it to the outside world, those that actually do so have a greater value, both monetarily and critically. While indie-types might like to rail against certain artists becoming the exemplars of a genre or movement or geographical area because it causes so many others to be overlooked, in this case if there's a demand to know what it's really like to live under a totalitarian system, or what kind of art that produces, any that do get noticed can't be overshadowing other works because there usually aren't any other works. If you manage to not only create but produce a work of art--that is, to get it distributed, in a weird resistance variation of the indie-film struggle-to-find-a-distributor tragic fable--then its emblematic status with an audience will cause many flaws in its artifice, the ostensible point, to be overlooked in favor of trying to puzzle out insights into the reality behind it. And that very reality is the other factor at play. The AUR artifact's status as samizdat or as official-government-art-with-subversive-message-revealing-the-individual-sensibility-behind-the-faceless-etc. inevitably suffuses the actual content of the art and becomes the critical viewpoint from which it is almost always interpreted; it places an additional layer of meaning there that might not otherwise be justified, and what's more, that layer of meaning is one that almost all readers will be intensely interested in. So your simple little love story couched in terms of traditional folk tales becomes a desire to reclaim the human and the community's past from the unifying, faceless bureaucracy. Set the love story in 1950's America to avoid any implication that it's a statement on your country's condition and it becomes a metaphor for the yearning for freedom or something. Write in the first paragraph "THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH REPRESSION" and it's a ironic diversionary tactic, a gleeful tweaking of the censors. The sort of rebellious gleam the object d'art has as a samizdat allows it to appear as a kind of culmination of a private joke, a way of being in-the-know, of being inside a conspiracy or a resistance, and that lines up squarely with the values of the PCCS.
So again, living under totalitarianism isn't easy, and actually getting art out there under totalitarianism isn't easy, but having that production viewed as quality is demonstrably easier. Look at the fact that's so often used to demonstrate the validity of the pro-AUR viewpoint: that the art produced after the repressive conditions are removed is viewed as not as good. And that's the case because the artists have had more of a free ride in this regard. Undeniably they worked hard and won victories, but these victories were political, triumphs of negotiating the laws and underground distribution systems and cultural climate. They are rarely artistic. And that's why it's easier. Removed from that context, they quickly find they don't have anything to hang their art on anymore, and without that base, it suffers.
None of this is meant to imply that I think the AUR standards are necessarily bad, even if they're wrong--but only if they're applied to actual situations of repression. Personally, I'd rather read Pinter's contextless evocation of life under totalitarianism than Vaclav Havel's, but I also recognize that the publicity well-executed works of AUR accrue can do a lot of good both internally and externally to bring a repressive regime down; you only need look as far as Havel himself to understand that. AUR fetishization becomes a problem, however, when it starts becoming such a dominant standard that it becomes a consideration of artists in free societies.
Like...well, like this one. (I.e. America, for my filthy foreign readers, although if you're reading blogs it's likely your country qualifies, too.) I think it's clear that due, I suppose, to the dominance of the mainstream pop culture over our perceptions and sensibilities, members of almost every subculture have adopted the standards of AUR toward their own work, and to do this, of course, they must believe they are repressed (repression, after all, sadly being a semi-positive thing under the PCCS; if you're winning, you must be doing something wrong). Thus, lit buffs loudly declaim that the artform is dying and things must be done to preserve it; undie hip-hoppers talk about "keeping it real"; rock fans herald any rockers who achieve prominence as the saviors of the genre; indie kids talk about preserving the ethics of the scene; etc., etc., and I assume such arguments also go on in artforms with which I'm less familiar. The subtext of such statements is a clear argument that a) said subculture is engage in some sort of battle, usually with the mainstream, and b) it is losing; thus, loyalists must rally to its cause and spread the samizdat  around to new converts and not give in to statist pressure. In other words, they make a political effort similar to the one subjects of a totalitarian regime do in seeking to produce their art.
The only problem, of course, is that by and large me and my first-world brethren are not particularly repressed. How do they claim this repression occurs? The two agents usually (indirectly) cited in arguments of this sort are capitalism ("Man, the major labels just have so much more money than us that we can't compete!") and mass culture ("Man, people are just so stupid that they'll accept any crap shoved down their throats and real genius never gets recognized!"). Let's take 'em in turn. Capitalism can definitely be repressive, but I'm way more likely to be sympathetic to your complaints if you're, you know, an African with AIDS who can't get medicine or a worker in an unregulated third world economy. If you can't find a job and are forced to endure the hardship of crashing on friends' couches for a while, or if you can't make a living as a musician, i.e. performing a service that serves no useful purpose in anyone's lives aside from film/TV producers and wedding planners, I just have a hard time seeing how you're being really repressed. I've seriously encountered very few people who are making art that aren't doing, at the very least, OK. Maybe they have mental or physical disabilities that cause problems, but this is rarely the market's fault. It's especially hard to be sympathetic to complaints about capitalism when it's that very bounty that has allowed us to become a culture with enough leisure time to make "professional entertainer" a viable career choice.
As for the oppressive nature of mass culture, this is sort of too much to get into now, as a critique of this particular view is something I've directed a lot of attention to elsewhere, but not here. But let me just point out that if your solution to the harmful omnipresence of consumer culture is to make your own fucking brand of sneakers, you may want to reexamine your critique a bit. And yes, I know that's glib, but lemme relegate that whole argument to a later post; I think enough bits of my point have popped up in my various screeds about anti-pop bias that you sort of know what I'm getting at here.
This all leads to various negative effects, most of which have been endlessly hashed out elsewhere: the emphasis on "authenticity" as a prime determinant of artistic worth, the multicultural interest in finding works that accurately (or appealingly) depict some "outside" culture instead of present a unique artistic viewpoint, the "rockist" (hee hee) valuation of rebellion and transgression over beauty and craft, the whole bullshit idea that "the personal is political" (the personal is artistic, maybe, but only the public is political), etc., etc., etc. But the reason I object to this slight-of-hand association of American subcultures with Chinese peasants is different than most people's, I suspect. Most people, when confronted with, say, a white college freshman girl who just discovered her lesbianism comparing herself directly or indirectly with Chiapas rebels, would say that her main problem is appropriation, that she's seeking to take this authentic culture and use it for her own privileged needs. But fuck that; I care about as much about appropriation as I do for authenticity. No, the reason I find invoking AUR in non-R situations objectionable is because it's ineffective.
It goes something like this. I do believe that there are legitimate problems both in our own societies and in foreign societies than we can address and work to change through our political and economic power; we are richer and freer than most of the world, and that's an advantage. And I do think art can and should address these problems, to participate in this discourse and to try and make change, whether in the policies of the government or in the standards and values of the culture at large. The problem is that when members of a subculture takes the AUR line, they are very explicitly rejecting that opportunity, because they are trying to claim that they have no power; that they are weak and oppressed. Bullshit. The slam poet down at Bar 13 ain't got nothing on a subject of Stalin. They have voices, votes, money, time, and freedom, and that's a whole lot more than 90% of the people in this world. Why not use that in a way that acknowledges your advantage and uses it in the most effective way possible? Maybe I'm a sap for believing in the political system, but fuck it, I do.
But isn't the whole point of AUR, which I acknowledge above, that it worked? Well, yeah, but it was invoking oppression in order to gain freedom, whereas the goals of my subcult cohorts are a lot more nebulous and morally difficult, if no less valid. So it's ineffective because it's exclusionary. The goals of anyone trying to overthrow a dictatorship is to build a popular movement, whereas here we have people explicitly excluding most people ("because they all have such bad taste"); in making that anti-mass culture argument, in saying, among other things, that there are Nike ads everywhere and so I can't paint right, you find yourself invoking arguments like "We don't really care about the morons who watch Will & Grace anyway," and how does that help your cause? If your cause is so obvious, why do you feel the need to dismiss the opinions of the mainstream, who apparently don't think so? Why feel the need to invoke "subversion" as a justification for your grade-school graffiti shit (thank you, Adbusters) when you do, in fact, possess the power to clearly and unambiguously talk back?
Worst of all, when you deny the real power that your group has, you are essentially sacrificing that power, and the good it could do, for individual gain, because rolling over like a puppy and yelling "oppression!" is the surest way to appeal to the PCCS. You further your own career, but you ruin the argument you're trying to make. Your artifact might take on that gleam of the AUR object, but robbed of the context of actual oppression, it just adds to the noise of political life, of people all trying to appeal to this new standard that seems, ultimately, to be self-defeating; we now have Republicans claiming they're oppressed because they get into losing arguments on college campuses and saying that affirmative action is wrong because it's biased against white people. Even worse, we have Democrats trying to claim that they live in a police state that silences dissent because it makes their dissent somehow more noble than it would be if it were simply normal political speech--which, of course, it is. Speaking out in America won't get you shipped off to the gulag, kids.
It's hard to fight the temptation, especially if you're not very talented, to appeal to some standard of abuse in order to raise the worth of your product, but I think it's vital to fight it if you supposedly care about the issues you're trying to raise, whether it be about globalization or about the vapidity of network TV. However, while I'm strongly in favor of finding effective ways for citizens to participate in politics (appearances here to the contrary, perhaps), I'm not one of those morons who thinks that a sophomore politics major has the same authority as Richard Armitage to speak on issues of foreign policy. (Thank you, Noam Chomsky.) Things like experience and knowledge matter; efficacy, in other words, is a factor. So while I'd like to see us start to expand our notions of what constitutes political speech, and to form more useful ways of interpreting and using said speech, I also don't mean that to imply that I think those new recognitions should necessarily have a huge impact. I think there should be more voices in politics (and art), but I don't think that means that those voices should necessarily all have equal weight.
In other words: respect the discourse. The discourse is a thing to itself, a self-perpetuating thing, and by trying to unduly influence it you only end up blocking and corrupting it. In many ways, you're simply going to have to sublimate yourself to it; even if you care deeply about an issue, you may have to settle for simply strengthening a particular angle within the discourse, or contributing an unattributed idea, or simply being one of many saying "me too." I see people sometimes getting discouraged about their efficacy within the political system simply because something they want doesn't happen--feeling impotent, in other words, because they didn't win. Well, of course not. It's a democracy, so by definition you're not going to win all the time. And even if, say, you don't get that gay marriage bill passed, you've still got a country that's far more tolerant of homosexuality than it was just 50 years ago; if you're disappointed because the country isn't being run according to Biblical law, you've still got a country in which Biblical arguments can still be deciding factors in major political issues (c.f. "partial-birth abortions"). Same goes for art. You can, ultimately, do whatever you want artistically, even if you're not necessarily recognized for it; you're not, ultimately, repressed. And if you want to use that freedom to indeed make something that no one will care about, go for it; lord knows I have. But if you are going to make arguments about the mainstream, then you need to recognize that you have the same power as everyone else to craft something that might appeal to the mainstream, that might advance your argument, whatever it may be. You are not impotent; the power is there. Let's see if you use it.
 To the wallace-l'ers: yeah, I'm probably drawing on David Foster Wallace's model of the samizdat as a terrorist weapon/political argument/ultimate pop entertainment, which I really, really fucking love (although I'm still baffled by the hillside arguments to a certain degree) and which probably deserves more explicit investigation in relation to our current cultural context, but 3,000 words in, I think it's gonna have to wait. (And yes, the irony of mentioning a DFW connection in a footnote is duly noted.)
 Sorry to get all Foucault on your asses, but this is good shit.
posted by Mike B. at 6:50 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Geez, Pitchfork, I just can't figure out your opinion of the Moldy Peaces from this news item. I mean, after all, when I read a news item, I want to get the writer's opinion as to the value of the group. Yep.
Weird how such a nice person inspires such oddly frothy hatred. Ah well.
posted by Mike B. at 10:17 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, October 06, 2003
I am Submeat's blog of the week, and there are also some nice things said, for which I offer my thanks and a pointer back that-a-way. But oops, I guess I'm still not focusing on music as well as I should. Ah well.
You've perhaps noticed the increase posting volume here today--it seems circumstances are such that I should be able to put stuff up at something approaching my previous rate, so watch this space; any requests, post 'em here.
For now, though, it's real world time...
posted by Mike B. at 3:27 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Well, at least the Press likes Bruce Campbell.
posted by Mike B. at 1:51 PM 0 comments Links to this post
For those of you wondering just what the hell the Coens are doing with Intolerable Cruelty, QV reprints a pretty positive review: "the yoks are richer, just as intelligent, and demonstrably more gut-splitting than those in THE BIG LEBOWSKI."
While you're there, check out the link two posts down about how the next Kaufman / Jonze project is going to be a horror movie. Yar!
posted by Mike B. at 1:38 PM 0 comments Links to this post
In the NYT Magazine, James Traub talks about how, despite the many similarities between NYC now and in the 70's, it was, no two ways about it, more dangerous then. Which is weird to read on Monday morning, because it was pretty much what I was thinking about on Sunday night.
Yesterday around 5, me and Miss Clap decided to go for a walk around Williamsburg for various nefarious purposes. We ending up heading north into Greenpoint, where we learned via cars with flags on them honking loudly, that some Polish team had just won something or other. After a while we turned towards the river and walked among the warehouses and factories and shipyards and weeds, and then we turned back inland (as 'twere) and walked beside very nice familial row houses. And then we stood on the corner of Bedford and North 7th for a while, opposite the subway, and watched. And it was then that I finally understood just what was so weird about Bedford.
I don't have the same love/hate relationship with hipsters that some people do (or, at least, a different kind of love/hate relationship). My feeling on the odd fashions is that if it gets 'em laid, more power to them. And I like going to Earwax and Main Drag Music and the coffeeshop and North6 and Galapagos. They're nice places to go. But the weird thing is the context. I don't think you'd get a lot of argument that the main ethos behind Bedford is a sort of recreation of the vital NYC scenes of the 70's and 80's, the punk and post-punk scenes that flourished in the LES. And in many ways, it's been a success: there's been more great music coming out of New York in the last three years than in a long time, it seems. But the problem is that the Bowery and the LES in the late 70's / early 80's really was dangerous. You'd probably get mugged, step on a crack pipe or two in your time, and have to be really careful. CBGBs was surrounded by violent crime, homelessness, and poverty. In contrast, you walk a few blocks away from North6 and you've got a pretty placid warehouse district, or a reasonably safe Polish neighborhood, or a Jewish community. It's not even remotely the same, and it seems pretty clear that it was this very context that fed into the NYC music scene of that time period.
That said, I don't think the difference is necessarily good or bad. (Although quite frankly, it's good for me, since it means I don't get mugged.) There are issues of gentrification, of course, but by all accounts Williamsburg is just a lot nicer than it was 10 years ago, and it seems like the old neighborhoods still exist beside the new ones. But that's irrelevant, because what we're talking about here is the artistic output of the scene, or, more specifically, the music. I don't think the LES context made post/punk better, just different in a way that was often good. And I also think, as I say, that the music that's been coming out of this new context is very good as well. From a certain viewpoint, it's less "authentic" because it's not created under as much distress, but it's still, you know, actually authentic, since this situation does exist, and this is what we're making out of it.
At any rate: take a walk around there, between the Williamsburg bridge and Queens, on a gray day sometime. It's quite nice.
ADDENDUM: Other articles in the Magazine bring up hip-hop, and maybe that's a better jumping-off point for what I'm trying to say. Even more so than punk, hip-hop came into being specifically because of poverty and government cutbacks. But while there's no doubt those criteria were crucial for that particular act, that's how it was created. So while poverty and danger was a necessary context for the creation of hip-hop, despite what some might insist, it's no longer a prerequisite for its continuation. De La Soul and their kin have, I think, inarguably proved that good hip-hop can come out of a comfortable middle-class existence.
The same thing, I think, applies to indie music. As the kind of sad post-70's/early 80's history of punk and hardcore prove, continuing to produce the new style of music in the same context simply replicates what was already done better. So the great thing about NYC right now, in many ways, is that despite the occasionally-annoying desires of its residents for it to be like it once was, it's not, and that new context, combined with the rich history we've built up, has just as much capacity for creating something new as the crime and danger of that earlier time did. This is exciting, and it's why I'm happy I semi-accidentally ended up here doing what I do.
posted by Mike B. at 11:56 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Looks like Gawker had a similar experience to mine at the Peaches concert, i.e. intending to go and then not going. I saw Bubba Ho-Tep instead--and, let's be honest, I probably had a better time. Ah well.
posted by Mike B. at 11:28 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Hillary had suggested I check out the new Who DVD, The Kids Are Alright, and whilst in Virgin on Saturday night, I did so. And I liked it a lot. Specifically, I sat in on the Rock 'n' Roll Circus footage, and seeing Keith just toss out his low tom between songs before going absolutely nuts in the next one was really, really cool. And Pete's guitar tone on chords is just mind-blowing; it's so wonderfully big and loud. I want to know what setup he's using.
However, I realized that I'm not really the kind of person who watches DVDs very often (due to various life situations as well as a general personal preference) so I decided, instead, to pick up the My Generation - The Very Best Of disc. And it's pretty good. But as a whole, it's nowhere as good as the song. Namely, "Baba O'Riley."
I feel like nobody talks about this much, maybe because it's on classic-rock radio so much, but I've actually been obsessed with it for a while, at least a year and a half at this point. And I've long thought that it's one of the greatest electronic songs of all time. It doesn't even matter that Townshend was constructing the keyboard part on one of the earliest modular patch-cord synths--it's still better than almost every other hook belched out during the 80's. Maybe this makes me rockist, but fuck it. The keys get overwhelmed by the guitar, but they're always there, the driving, major-key appegiations sitting under the song like a firm hand guiding it along. And of course, the guitar and the drums kill, too, but the way the keys come back out in the tempo-shift / breakdown that starts around 4:00, and the way they play around the violin--it's a lovely little bit of arranging, a preemptive fusion of new wave and post-rock (which, as those familiar with my music can attest, is something of an interest of mine).
The moment I want to talk about in "Baba" is obvious, I know, but I want to talk about it anyway, because it's what makes the song so perfect. Coming in at 2:15, everything cuts out except the keys, and Daltry sings those words that so often get confused for the title: "Don't cry, don't raise your eyes / It's only teenage wasteland..." The latter phrase, which could be considered a hidden bit of fundamental grammar behind all the "yeahs" and "babys" that populate the vocabulary of popular music, always struck me as the logical precursor for Sonic Youth's "Teenage Riot" more than anything else. But despite the punkish, pro-youth / anti-authority feel to the words, and the song in general, it's way more celebratory than angry, in the same way the SY song is, and in contrast to the model that would spring up with punk. So in contrast to the angry words / resigned music thing that Radiohead, for instance, does, we have sort of depressive lyrics with this absolutely ecstatic guitar (see, again, the coda) and crazily energetic drum fill at the end of the bit. And also, it's not "teenage wasteland, boo hiss, everything sucks" they're saying, instead, "it's only teenage wasteland." That "only" is extremely important; it is the viewpoint of older men with the perspective to know that you can and will escape all the tribulations of adolescence, and it's lines like this that go a long way toward explaining why pop is old people making music for young people.
But what makes that part truly perfect are two things. Number one is the chord change, which given that the synth is still the only instrument and thus the only thing carrying the change, and given too that the synth line had basically been vamping on the same chord at any other point we hear it, it absolutely makes me catch my breath when I'm listening close, and when the vocal line rises with it, it's stunning what one simple change can do. But number two is the fact that Daltry can't actually sing the part. Listen to it: he's clearly reaching to hit that top note, and even the rest of them are difficult steps along the way. They've even put delay on his voice for just that point to mask it. But it comes through, and it's wonderful that in this clearly very carefully-constructed song, that exposed bit of imperfection can shine through, especially in what's undeniably the song's centerpoint. (It's also evidenced in the final key change in "Livin' on a Prayer," but that's a whole other post...)
posted by Mike B. at 11:25 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Some further Tori thoughts...
The especially weird thing about her slow lyrical slide into autopilot is that, as a bootleg trader and general tour nerd, I kind of saw it in real time. Tight on the Boys tour, she starting throwing in more and more piano/voice improvs between songs as the endless (9 months or so) first leg of the full-band Choirgirl tour went on. And while they were kind of exciting live ("Ooh, where's she going with this, is this a new song?"), when you started listening to them on tape, they were just boring, meaningless, and if you were a fanboy like me and consumed an unhealthy number, all strangely the same, for improvs. That would be OK if this all cohered into some interesting song on the next album, but it didn't, and really couldn't, as both the piano part and the vocal line were pretty boring and shapeless. So the mumbo-jumbo encountered on Venus was disappointing, but not necessarily unexpected. Lyrically, the lucid personal narratives on Earthquakes that became slightly impenetrable but nonetheless sensibly coherent translations of an internal individual language/mythology on Pink / Boys were now hard to see as anything but a stream-of-consciousness flow of random signifiers and targetless references that all sort of meant something individually, but ceased to cohere in any satisfying way. That was what I thought then, anyway; maybe, as Matt and Phantroll say, I just need to give the later stuff more of a chance.
That said, I started listening to Pele again this weekend, and I'm definitely into it. The same melodic trick she was using in the annoying improvs works really well here: there really aren't any chord changes in songs like "Horses" or "Twinkle," but somehow it works. I also realized that a lot of the stuff that made me cringe the last time I attempted a Tori-reunion are actually pretty funny, probably intentionally, like the way she says "queer" ("kwee-aaah") in "Blood Roses." Her weirdly unspecific view of racial and religious issues still grates a bit, but there's a great tune in "Father Lucifer," and the lyrics mostly work. And I now have enough distance to realize how smart and good the total genre shift in the middle of "Professional Widow" is--that whiplash from harpsichord-metal to Stonesy tinkly ballad is delish.
Hmm--I guess this means I should finally check out Kate Bush, huh?
posted by Mike B. at 10:45 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Sunday, October 05, 2003
From the Times...
Outkast's divided album has some fans scared that the two halves will never reunite, but these two discs offer plenty of proof that the partnership makes sense. André 3000's flightier compositions could use a bit of Big Boi's earthy patter, and some of Big Boi's dense raps would benefit from André 3000's gleeful singing. In any case, the discs succeed because of the duo's shared sensibility, at once playful and thoughtful; they deflate their own pretensions by insisting that they are just having fun.
"Hey, do I feel like listening to a burial rite today? Gee, lemme think..."
posted by Mike B. at 1:07 PM 0 comments Links to this post
More stuff soon, but for now: Bubba Ho-Tep is, quite simply, one of the best movies of the year. ("Miss Clap approves," she says.) Go see it if your harbor even the smallest shred of affection for Bruce Campbell or his general asthetic. Here's the summary:
Based on the Bram Stoker Award nominee short story by acclaimed author Joe R. Lansdale, Bubba Ho-tep tells the “true” story of what really did become of Elvis Presley. We find Elvis(Bruce Campbell) as an elderly resident in an East Texas rest home, who switched identities with an Elvis impersonator years before his “death”, then missed his chance to switch back. Elvis teams up with Jack(Ossie Davis), a fellow nursing home resident who thinks that he is actually President John F. Kennedy, and the two valiant old codgers sally forth to battle an evil Egyptian entity who has chosen their long-term care facility as his happy hunting grounds…
Still not convinced? Try a quote:
"What're we gonna do, Elvis?"
"We're gonna kill us a mummy."
In other news, it's oddly gratifying to take a Belle and Sebastian CD out of your changer and put in Poison's greatest hits, but that's a story for another time...
posted by Mike B. at 3:34 AM 0 comments Links to this post