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Wednesday, June 30, 2004
100 SONGS THAT POP INTO MY HEAD AT THE MOMENT
What it says. Hitting "random" on the iPod...in my mind. No fact-checking, no revisions. And you thought this blog was self-indulgent before!
1) Jean Leloup - "I Lost My Baby" (playing at the time)
2) Hefner - one of those electro songs from the last album
3) Those three-piece British fellows that are sort of glammy...what the hell is their name? Well, you know who I'm talking about. One or two great songs per album, the rest crap, that sort of thing. Who am I thinking about?
4) Pulp - "Babies" I want to write a musical with Jarvis Cocker. People would burst into song in the middle of the street for no reason and it would be very narrative and cutting and awesome. Jarvis would be a super-spy, maybe.
5) That french rap song from the 90s with the baby.
6) Beach Boys - "God Only Knows" Something about strings. Strings? Synth-strings? Well, nothing's coming to mind.
7) LCD Soundsystem - "Losing My Edge" Trying to think of bands.
8) Louden Wainwright III - I don't know any of his songs but I like his name.
9) Thurston Howell III - Er, this is the nom de musique of someone in some band. I think I like them. Oh wait, it's some undie hip-hop group, and I don't.
10) Edan - "Rapperfection" which I still like (thanks Beau)
11) Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch - Walk On The Wild Side Didn't realize until a few years ago how weird it was that they changed all the lyrics!
12) EMF - "Unbelievable"
13) Dizee Rascal - "Fix Up Look Sharp" I heard this in Urban Outfitters the other day. How commercial! I liked it.
14) Los Amigos Invisable - "Disco Anal" Best title ever?
15) ELO - "Mr. Blue Sky"
16) Martha Stewart - "Living, 5/19/02." I don't know what this would be, but I wish people would refer to TV show audio elements like they would jamband bootlegs. "Hey man, put on "Will & Grace 3/14/01..."
17) Garth Brooks - Uh, something. I should listen to more Garth Brooks. Well, any Garth Brooks at all. How did I go through adolesence in upstate New York and miss this? I guess I just didn't notice it, like with Luther Vandross and Celine Dion.
18) Celine Dion - "My Heart Will Go On" I think I remember like exactly four notes of this.
19) Beavis & Butt-Head - Theme
20) King of the Hill - Theme Good theme songs to Mike Judge shows.
21) Erland Oye - That bit from the DJ-Kicks album with "One After 909."
22) Boredoms - Track 14 from Pop Tartari (never could remember track names from that damn thing)
23) Kid 606 - "My Kitten"
24) Corey Hart - "Sunglasses at Night"
25) Mike Dean - some Kurupt track. Sometimes my job starts to meld with my hobby.
26) Wasp - anything at all!!!
27) Scorpions - "Big City Nights"
28) White Lion - ??? Bad with my hair-metal titles, the band names are better anyway.
29) Metallica - "Master of Puppets"
30) Mekons - "We Got the Bomb" I should listen to more Mekons
31) The girl from Ash - "Kim Wilde" Cause it's playing right now and it's awesome! I wish I understood the Kim Wilde thing. Oh well.
32) Bad Brains - I should listen to more Bad Brains
33) Wilco - "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" Or, "I Am Trying To Eat Your Farts."
34) Tom Petty and the Heartbreaks - "It's Good to be King"
35) The Beatles - "Hard Day's Night"
36) Fiery Furnaces "We Got Back the Plague" (I actually thought of this after the Mekons but got distracted) It's about Bush!
37) The Monkees - "Daydream Believer" Used to be my favorite song in the world.
38) Outkast - "Roses"
39) Bon Jovi - "Blaze of Glory"
40) Bon Jovi - "You Give Love a Bad Name"
41) John Mellencamp - "Down to Tennessee"
42) Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Art Star"
43) Franz Ferdinand - "Take Me Out"
44) "Jesus Christ Superstar"
45) Gilda Radner - doing her awesome Patti Smith impersonation
46) "Marrow of my Boner" I should write a song called this.
47) Belle and Sebastian - "Lazy Line Painter Jane" I'm actually thinking of a different B&S song, but this is the title that popped into my head.
48) "Happy Trails" I like the happy trail.
49) Dio - something or other
50) Lisa Loeb - "Stay" I hate you, Lisa Loeb.
51) Billy Joel - "River of Dreams"
52) Billy Joel - "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant"
53) Meat Puppets - "Backwater"
54) Phish - "Run Like an Antelope"
55) Joe Cocker - "I Get By With a Little Help From my Friends"
56) Steve Miller - "Fly Like an Eagle"
57) Destiny's Child - "Independent Woman pt. 2" There's a connection between these last two, but it's a long story.
58) Moldy Peaches - "Steak From Chicken"
59) Moldy Peaches - "Who's Got the Crack"
60) Strong Bad - "Dangeresque pt. 2"
61) Brak - "Fluffy" One of the best punchlines ever: "What died in here?"
62) Lenny Kraviz - "Are You Gonna Go My Way"
63) Kanye West - "All Falls Down" Lenny interviewed Kanye in Jane magazine, which I was reading a different section of last night, and I almost bought the ringtone for this yesterday while waiting in line to see David Foster Wallace and George Saunders.
64) The Strokes - "Last Night" I like the Strokes a lot, but the intern in the cubicle next to me needs to stop listening to both their albums twice a day before I kill either him or Fab. Hey, given that David Lee Roth is on the LES now, if we killed Julian, does that mean Dave could front the Strokes? And how awesome would that be?
65) Van Halen - "Jump" Because, well, you know
66) Girls Aloud - "Jump For My Love"
67) House of Pain - "Jump Around" (I could go on all day!)
68) Holst - "The Planets" Hackneyed, I know, but still kinda fun.
69) Cher - "Just Like Jesse James" No connection; just heard someone say "Jesse."
70) Beck - "One Foot in the Grave" Thought I heard someone say "Bong Load."
71) Ramones - "Beat on the Brat"
72) "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"
73) Jerry Lee Lewis - "Great Balls of Fire"
74) "It's a Jolly Holliday With Mary"
75) Donovan (?) - "Jennifer Juniper"
76) The Carter Family - "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord"
77) The KLF - "Last Train to Transcentral"
78) Leonard Cohen - "Suzanne" Want to make a covers album with Leonard Cohen and make him cover "Baby One More Time" and "Beautiful."
79) John Lee Hooker - just about anything
80) Neil Young - "Cortez the Killer"
81) XTC - "I'm the Man Who Murdered Love"
82) Eric Clapton - "Cocaine" Diet Coke can in my trash, usage in F9/11.
83) Eagle Eye Cherry - Uh, what was the name of that song again? Leave Tonight? Something like that.
84) Buck Cherry - that song about cocaine which I've always kind of hated
85) Limp Bizkit - "Nookie" Which is kinda fun, actually.
86) Richard Pryor - Live on the Sunset Strip (OK, I'm cheating now)
87) Sifl & Olly - "Whatever"
88) Evolution Control Committee - er, something or other
89) Black Sabbath - "War Pigs"
90) Pink Floyd - "Money"
91) Iggy Pop - "Nightclubbing"
92) Elvis Presley - "Mystery Train"
93) Elvis Costello - "Radio Radio"
94) Abbott & Costello - "Who's On First"
95) The Prodigy - "Firestarter"
96) Edith Piaf "Je Ne Regrette Rien"
97) PJ Harvey - "Long Snake Moan"
98) Primus - "Too Many Puppies"
99) Faith No More - "Epic"
100) Aphex Twin - "Ventolin"
posted by Mike B. at 4:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Alright, look, you two: I enjoyed reading your anti-festival rants, but like I said in the comments to the k-punk post, why not write about what an elmination of these (and other) things could lead to? Dystopian futures are kind of old, and complaining about the bankruptcy of the present (cultural bankruptcy, at least) seems awfully subjective. So be subjective. What could the future be like, if everything went right? You don't have to be correct, of course, or even accurate, but I'm interested to see what you--and others, too!--think it would/could be like. I loved (as most did) Marcello's Joe Meek alternative history, even as I disagreed with some of the conclusions, but why not extend that? Why not dream a little, eh?
What's that Lee line? "You might be empty, the way your eyes just look right through / it's such a mess now anyway, wish fulfillment every day..."
posted by Mike B. at 1:44 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, June 28, 2004
ABSTRACTIONS #2: REBELLION
Enough with the rebellion already. Culturally, we did it. It's done. Time to move on.
Don't get me wrong--I certainly don't have any objection to some of its use in the past. It was a brilliant move on rock's part to latch onto that particular aspect of the adolescent condition, it being such a potent one in the time period in which rock really came to fruition. There really was something to rebel against, there really were widely-held and actively repressive social norms that didn't make any sense. The whole society needed a dose of rule-breaking, and while it was done more potently (while being simultaneously more inevitable) in other fields, it gave the music an extra layer to experience, which is one of the reason it's seemed (and still seems, on rare occasions) so vital. Pop always has to have some connection with a juvenile impulse, I think, and it just so happened in this particular instance that the juvenile impulse involved (rebellion against authority, in the juvenile case stemming from a real feeling of power but still being a minor and thus explicitly under others' control) happened to be one shared by adults. In other words, it was something that, in this particular context, you didn't grow out of, you weren't ashamed of, had relevance to your adult life. And this was true for a large number of people.
But I'm just not sure that's true anymore. The problem, if it is a problem, is that we pretty much won. The kind of change that can be effected by cultural rebellion, by a climate of transgression--which changes are confined to the realm of shared perceptions and assumptions, of what is acceptable to say and do--well, there don't seem to be a whole lot of opportunities for that sort of change anymore, at least not in the areas of the world where the cultural valuation of rebellion is strong. As unjust as it may be, there's a substantive (and, more importantly for cultural change, perceptual) difference between, say, minorities not being able to sit in a certain area of a bus and minorities being largely concentrated in low-income residential areas. The former can be changed by a shift in attitude, but not the latter. The latter is a much harder problem, one which needs to be solved rather than merely rectified.
I'm just not sure what's left for culture to make a dent in with its particular brand of rebellion. This is evidenced in no small part by its utter failure to do so. The speed with which any particular rebellion is subsumed by the larger culture (punk, hip-hop, etc.) is less a function of the ability of a status quo to incorporate opposition (although this is certainly a factor) and more due to the fact that the method itself is not longer really workable.
I mean, what's really left to rebel against? The only thing that's been really galvanizing in recent years, at least in the US, seems to be the various corporate radio issues with ClearChannel and its cohorts. I support that fight, of course, and sympathize, but, sheesh, come on now. It's like rebelling against Nabisco--a) it's a corporation, not a shared truism, and it's a little weird to be rebelling against an entity; and b) it's not something a lot of people support anyway. As to a), the response would have to be "So are they oppressing you?" to which the only reply really is "Well, uh, no, I just don't like them," which is sort of toothless. There is also, of course, government regulation involved, but the response to rebellion against that would be the same as the response to rebellion against a media corporation. (How is the FCC oppressing you exactly?) Add to this the fact that the terms this is usually put in make the issue about not being able to hear the Shins rather than not being able to hear a wide spectrum of political viewpoints and it's all a little odd. And as to b), can you honestly imagine a George Wallace-ish situation where a politician rises to prominence on a pro-ClearChannel platform? It's just not that big of a deal, nor is it widely supported. I don't like ClearChannel, but curing it with rebellion seems a little dumb.
The issue is that to be effective, cultural rebellion, by definition, has to be acting in opposition to something with broad support. What it's seeking/able to do is not so much construct an actual physical rebellion (i.e. crowds of people marching/fighting together) as to inspire/inform people in such a way that they change their individual behaviors. Very capitalistic, if you're into that sort of thing, and fine as it goes. But this only works, as I say above, against problems that can be reversed, and not a whole lot really can. We're sexually repressed? OK, let's start fucking more. Women earn less than men? Well, we can still fuck more, but that will rarely help.
Actually, the values that cultural rebellion could effectively assail are the very ones we lib'ral types want to promote. Because we won, by and large (and because the 50s were, in fact, a reactionary backtracking from the libidinous 20s), progressive values are, in fact, the norm. They are the status quo. And this is why we see conservatives getting so much traction from rebellious tactics, whether it's against "PC thugs" or "the homosexual agenda" (uh, you mean the be-nice-to-people agenda?) or whatever. Regardless of whether these things are, in fact, the views held by a majority of Americans, it's clear that they've achieved enough visibility and acceptance that rebellion against them can gain some real traction. I suppose for some people, the best argument I could make against the rhetoric of cultural rebellion is that at this point (in America at least), it mainly serves conservative aims.
But I guess the main reason this bugs me is that because I think there are other juvenile impulses that fit the criteria described above, that are things we don't (or shouldn't) outgrow, and these things could be championed just as rebellion once was. For one thing, teenagers are remarkably uncool, and this is kind of awesome. Either they're just not cool to begin with, or their conception of cool is so ridiculous that it's laughable, but they have not put up those detached barriers yet. That's something you can use, that exuberance of teenagers at their best (sort of). It may seem only slightly removed from rebellion, but think of it as not the words of "We're not gonna take it!" but the shout itself. Its well-nigh atomic pure energy is certainly something worth harnessing.
But oh this is just a transitional phase. Because of course, as I just said, what we're aiming for here is not actual adolescence but Teenagers At Their Best (TATB). Not all teenagers are rebellious, of course; this is simply a condition of adolescence, not necessarily a reality. Similarly, while teenagers can be cruel and exclusionary, TATB, funneling the younger shout of "that's not fair!" that's not so much an argument for freedom or even justice so much as simple equality, a desire to have exactly what your sibling/friend/parent has. Similarly, adolescents can often be anti-individualistic, and this is not necessarily a bad thing; the desire to be simply part of the crowd, when turned on its head, is the desire to include everyone. For all the games of hierarchy that dominate adolescent life, lurking there are these twin impulses, and even if they need to be nurtured they will not be created from whole cloth. There are things there to run with, if you want to. And I'm not even getting into lust or love, but someone else is welcome to.
Now, hold on a minute. Am I really saying that we should eliminate rebellion as a value? No, just as a (pop-)cultural value. Aside from the reasons above, I think that if we do accomplish this removal, maybe we can stop thinking of rebellion in such teenage terms--maybe we can approach it in a mature way and actually make it work. Cultural creation makes things seem inconsequential, but sometimes they're not. And in the case of rebellion, just as it added an extra layer of experience to early rock music, as it made it a fuller expression, so can the inconsequentiality that acts upon those extra layers obscure its value in a different venue, and it's an important value. If a method of political change becomes merely a pop trope, what then? And if it is a pop trope, can it seriously be anything else? Can it be redeemed by itself, or only be something from outside? And would it be better to concentrate on something else?
Here's what I will say: ambivalence is now the handmaiden of change.
 You can also make arguments about the way the terms under which it was conceived required it to be so straightforward, which directness is a large part of what makes it so appealing to so many people. The simple fact of its existence was meaningful, and so the more strikingly that existence was expressed, the more effective it would be. Uh, arguably.
posted by Mike B. at 2:15 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Related to the below: this Richard Rorty critique of a Richard (note: not Sheldon) Wolin book called The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance With Fascism From Nietzsche to Postmodernism. You can pretty much guess what this is all about. I had, once upon a time, intended to comment on this, but now I think my thoughts are in a different place. What I meant to address, I think, was this bit:
Wolin believes that the prevalence of "slack postmodernist relativism" is very dangerous. "The postmodern left," he says, "risks depriving democracy of valuable normative resources at an hour of extreme historical need." His book seeks to demonstrate that "at a certain point postmodernism's hostility towards 'reason' and 'truth' is intellectually untenable and politically debilitating."
My knee-jerk response, of course, is that this is silly; morals are relative, especially in politics, but there are also clear boundaries for "essentialists" just as there are for any functional pomos, so to imply that any relativism is a slow slide into fascism ignores your own. (Relativism, that is.)
But in relation to my point below about the way a confident connection can effect change, I have to wonder: is the (possibly unintended) implication here, i.e. that whether or not they actually exist, absolute norms do serve a positive role in collective governance, actually a corollary of my own point? That is to say, if what we're doing is pretending that something is true in order to make it true, isn't it useful to pretend that certain subjective ideas are true, too?
Well, sure. I certainly think beliefs in things like justice, the rule of law, equality, etc., are necessary for a republic, and I support certain things that foster these beliefs. But at the same time, you have to do the backflip again and realize that just as people have an unsupported, fundamentally faith-based belief in certain cornerstones of democracy, so do people have a naive, unfounded belief in relativism. That a decent number of people manage to live their lives more or less under the belief system of postmodernism (which plays a big part in modern liberalism) attests to the way that relativism can inspire just as much unreasoning devotion as absolutism. Awesome!
posted by Mike B. at 1:56 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Last Wednesday I caught Bill Clinton on Charlie Rose. (Direct link to stream: here.) Charlie said that there was always a sense of intelligence about Clinton, and asked, "Were you the smartest guy in the room, or was it something else?" Clinton, after making a self-deprecating remark about being in calculus class with someone who was clearly much smarter than him, said this:
I had a peculiar kind of intelligence, I think, which made me well suited to politics. I knew I had both the intellect and the emotional predisposition to synthesize apparently disconnected events and to be able to put things together. And I believed when I became President I needed to put things together in America and then I needed to construct a vision for a more united world.
Yes. And what does this make him? This makes him, of course, a critic.
Making connections, offering cohesive explanations--these are the things a critic does. And this is one of the reasons I really love politics: the genuine ability to create something from nothing. You are taking these things, a "chaos" as Clinton later goes on to describe them, and by connecting them, you change them. You are writing your vision on the world, and if it's done well, it can be extraordinarily effective.
Politics is the translation of word into deed, of proclamation into force, and while there are all sorts of interesting dynamics going on in making this actually happen (to say nothing of the dynamics of it not happening), this is, at heart, the ultimate purpose of governance: to do something with your words. Politics is criticism by act, of taking your interpretation of events (poverty is the result of insufficient incentives to work v. poverty is the result of structural factors that demand it, for instance) and applying it. The official statement of a viewpoint (that certain guns are assault weapons and others are not, for example; that poverty is defined as making below X dollars per year, for another) actually causes things to happen. We all know that your worldview inevitably effects your actions, and we can see certain ways criticism/art does this to individuals (particularly the creation that is religion, or certain critical interpretations thereof--witness the effect a very particular interpretation of Islam is effecting the world right now), but politics is a literalized version of this.
Maybe it's the post-modernist in me, but I really like that, in politics, perception is reality; it sort of neatly sorts out the more messy way this plays out in other arenas. You should only make policy on the basis of facts, of course (which facts can include how likely something is to actually get passed), but actually getting that policy implemented is, as Clinton states above, partly a matter of emotion, of knowing how to present the policy in a way that it will be embraced. And that's OK. If FDR hadn't lied about Social Security, we wouldn't have it today, and I'm comfortable with that. Much of our lives consist of doing things we don't really want to do, and if one or two of those things end of being a great positive collective benefit, then hey! Rock on, Washington.
Of course, like criticism, politics is a conversation; one party offers their interpretation, and this is countered by another. Sometimes policy clashes directly with its criticism and there's a kind of synthesis.
But I'm not just trying to big up politics here, I'm trying to reflect that back onto criticism to show the value that it could have if people took it either more or less seriously--I can't really decide which. But in either case, I think it should be a broader model, a good way of understanding things, and a way of acting. If we can positivize the essential negation of a lot of post-structuralist theory, I think something good could result. But, of course, I could be wrong.
 See Hannah Arendt. A bunch of the links here are good. Here is a good summary: "Arendt introduces the idea [of natality] in the course of her attempt to draw out the significance of the ever-present possibility that someone, somewhere, some time might say or do something that makes possible a fresh start in the realm of human affairs." The way she ties this explicitly to Christian morality has a lot of way interesting parallels with, if I recall correctly, the intended conclusion of my and Jason's reading project, Eric Voegelin, and his phrase "immanentizing the eschaton." Natality, not mortality.
 This is related to the non-discussion I had below about finding a way out of post-structuralism; OK, we know there's no meaning, but given that meaning can be a positive force, how do we create it effectively?
 And for every conservative criticism of the perceived post-modernist worldview (that morals are illusory, that there are no universal standards, generally a confusion w/nihilism) you can find a conservative political act that would presumably make Foucault wet himself.
 Har har har.
posted by Mike B. at 12:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
It came up in a private correspondence about referentiality, so I might as well post it here: Eliot's "The Waste Land" in hypertext, i.e. with clickable links for all the references that'll at least let you know what the hell Eliot was talking about. I do kind of wish it wasn't on Tripod, though. If the proprietor checks his references (ha!) and sees this post, I'll gladly host it on my private webspace for ya.
posted by Mike B. at 12:23 PM 0 comments Links to this post
So I am now watching Freaks and Geeks. I'll maybe do a longer post on it later, but for now, in relation to My So-Called Life, which we discussed a while back, I still stand by my previous assertion: by the terms discussed, MSCL does it better. To wit, it is a more accurate portrayal of teenage life from the actual teenage perspective, which is the particular valuable thing I think MSCL provided (and, again, I doubt F&G would have been possible w/o it). For all the accuracy of certain high school relationships/types in F&G, it's undeniably shaped from an adult's analytical perspective, whereas MSCL's impact centetered firmly on the immediacy of the experience, the particular inability to see the bigger picture that's one of the hallmarks of adolescence. It seems obvious to me, even on a superficial level: F&G takes place 19 years in the past, whereas MSCL took place in the present day. The former is a show of reminiscence, the latter of the feeling of being inside the storm; the former centering on I-know-better-now embarassment, the latter on this-matters-so-much hyperdrama.
It's hard to tell which one I like more, especially given the nostalgia factor associated with each (the actual memories of viewing MSCL while it was on the air in my own teenhood v. F&G's referencing of things from my youth) but I am certainly enjoying F&G a lot, so don't take this as necessarily a criticism of the show; I just think it's trying to do something different from MSCL, speaking to a different audience in a different way. Although the F&G commentaries rub me the wrong way; they're muddled and in-jokey and have an annoyingly elevated regard for themselves. I remember something in the 101 commentary to the effect of "See how we don't use much music? It's not like those WB teen dramas that use current pop songs all the time." Yeah, because WB teen dramas and current pop songs both suck balls.
posted by Mike B. at 10:51 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, June 25, 2004
A brief political question. I'm just throwing it out there.
1) Ronald Reagan was a great President because, in part, he caused the fall of Communism; and
2) If what he did to accomplish this consisted of, at its heart, not attacking, no matter the rhetoric; and
3) If failing to take military action to remove an oppressive dictator is a moral failing on America's part, as was argued in the build-up to Iraq, then:
4) Was Reagan's foreign policy a moral failing, even though it had a positive outcome?
It may very well be the case. But if it's not--if this conclusion makes you uncomfortable--then isn't it possible that there are instances where inaction is a more effective policy than action? Especially given imperfect knowledge? Just askin'.
posted by Mike B. at 3:12 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
ABSTRACTIONS #1: MYSTERIOUSNESS
Goddamn but I hate mysteriousness.
Well, I guess I mean that I hate mysteriousness as a behavior creative types engage in. (I kind of like the mysteriousness of the universe, but that's probably not a positive trait.) For one thing, it allows said types--especially musicians, who are not that bright--to get away with shit they couldn't in a million years if you actually called them on it. The whole technique of representation-v.-statement is riddled with opportunities for deception, but as long as there's not a point of view (just, rather, some free-floating imagery that seems meaningful or straight realism that merely depicts instead of setting in context), what can you get mad at? Well, a lot. And this isn't even getting into the musical issues involved. But as long as they're allowed to get away with being "eccentric" (see below post on romantic images of mental illness) then, hey, they're just kooky artists! Judge the output, man!
Which would be valid if, you know, the particular extra-musical qualities involved didn't constitute a large part of many artists' appeal. So what you have is a) shit that's indefensible being b) a big ol' draw. That's sort of fine--I don't care if that's why you like something--but it also has broader effects. Namely, as again detailed below, it tends to encourage others to pursue said behavior. You see someone getting a lot of love and, paradoxically, success for being obscurist and "difficult," and hey, that's a lot easier than having a broad musical appeal and an interesting personality, eh?
There's a flip side to this, too, of course--the reason that certain folk wouldn't be well-loved if their barriers were dropped is precisely because we get uncomfortable with the actual particulars of a musical (or, hell, human) life, a discomfort which wouldn't be as valid, I think, if these things were stated rather than revealed. It's their status as valuable secrets, and it's the expectations built up by their hiddenness, that makes them such a letdown. In my ideal critical context (ICC), these things would be admitted up-front and then discarded, or not, as preferred. But if you're above the age of 14, clinging to these sorts of things (especially but not limited to the concept of genius) is the equivalent of not wanting to be talked out of the delusion that David Bowie lives in a spaceship and the Beatles all live together. It's a charming construction, but nothing more--simply one piece of what's being presented.
But hold on--am I really saying that artists cultivating an air of mystery, or creating a myth, is a bad thing? Hell no. I'm too All About Pop for that. But there's a differentiation to be made, which may not be philosophically valid, but which sure is valid in terms of its effect on the Annoying Coefficient. Because, well, there's Mysterious & Constructed, and there's Mysterious & Authentic.
M&C bands have a mythos and a persona, but it's pretty obvious they don't actually live like that. Ideally there will be lyrics about their ratty bathrobes at some point, but I'm not picky, cause hey, I'm all about the glitz. They're so over-the-top that there's no suggestion that it's indicative of their actual lives. You may have the misapprehension that they go to a lot of parties and/or get laid more than they actually do, but we mistakenly have that impression of a lot of people, I feel, so that's cool.
M&A bands/artists (lotsa solo folks in this category) refuse to divulge information about themselves, in part, because it's inauthentic--you don't need to care about the people, man, just care about the music. But, of course, we do care about the people, so this just ends up creating a different kind of persona, one of "being authentic," and the more cynical ones quite consciously exploit this tendency. I know, I know, railing against authenticity is old hat, but listen: I'm all for authenticity! But wouldn't it be more authentic for a collective to reveal its work habits? Wouldn't it be more realistic to see the process laid bare? Are you all just normal folks or are you not?
So really, I like both of these approaches--the authentic and the glamorous. But I think there's a tendency to choose the latter for moral reasons and, ugh, a morality of pop music persona is like a metaphysics of pudding.
There are, of course, issues of privacy, too--if Radiohead's artwork was a little less obtuse, for example, it'd be hard to get mad at Thom for his desire for a protected personal life, and I can certainly understand the need of public figures to have a realm to themselves. But what I hope I've communicated here is that this realm can be just as invented as the mythos; it can just be a different aspect.
I think this distrust of mysteriosity is one reason the McSweeney's ideology appealed to me so strongly. (Although it has apparently not helped me with my transitions.) For all their constructedness, they are nothing if not open about their construction, and this is enormously appealing and, maybe somewhat surprisingly, workable. But maybe it's more useful to describe what I like about it by answering the kind of criticisms I usually see.
One charge is that they're a clique. (I know there's a specific link for this out there, but I can't seem to track it down.) This is sort of fair, but sort of not. In the beginning, Eggers seemed genuinely interested in breaking down the walls: making it a mainly freelanced operation, accepting an unusually large number of unsolicited submissions, running killed articles, talking a lot about the business of the magazine/publishing world in a forum that attracted a broader audience (sorta), etc. But I think they've found, not without reason, that this is a very inefficient way of putting something together that you don't produce yourself. Part of the recent charm of McSweeney's has been their championing of pet projects, and it's hard to deny this, just as it's hard to deny their skill at putting together compilations of well-known and semi-well-known authors. As nice as it would be to "expose" more people, certainly Eggers and co. mostly only exposed themselves, and this has certainly been the most enduring method of artistic rise over the last few decades. In a way, wishing that a well-established magazine like McSweeney's would publish your unknown work is a bit like wishing you'd win American Idol--it's a quick and, perhaps, too-easy path to exposure. The fact is (and this would be an interesting subject for a later post) it really seems like most great artistic products are the broadcasts of a cabal: the proceedings of a small group of confidents exposed to a wide audience.
That said, I think the resentment against not being part of this cabal is a direct result of the way they avoid mysteriousness. You really do feel like these are normal people; there's no going-to-bullfights romantic mystique for them, aside from the fact that they Meet Famous People, which we feel like, hey, we could do too. And so you feel like you could hang out with them, like they are hanging-out sort of people, like you'd all go to obscure bars and sit around discussing literary theory and snogging in the corner. Japes, capers, that sort of thing. But of course, they wouldn't have any more interest in hanging out with you than you would be in hanging out with some person you've never met. Those weird instances where somebody gets brought into a clique are a little too heartening for people lacking social connection, or feeling like their social connections are inadequate, and it's a reflection of the stuff I talked about above, about needing a private life. Just because you write about your experiences doesn't mean that your present-tense life is up for grabs.
Another criticism directed at McSweeney's would be that they engage in a sort of smug referentiality, an untoward knowingness. It may be an extension of the sort of resentment that people seem to develop toward McSweeney's (which I was not immune to), but it's an awfully silly criticism to make. Lots of things are referential: hip-hop lyrics, historical novels, medical textbooks. These all depend on an outside body of knowledge for full (note that "full") appreciation. But is this a bad thing? Lyric writers engage in an ongoing debate about whether it's better to write specific things or to try and make it as vague as possible in order to universalize the appeal, but I think we can all agree that having a work that's not entirely self-contained in its understanding isn't a bad thing.
The more particular criticism seems to be that the referentiality is something that panders to the intelligence of the audience, that falsely congratulates them on being so well-informed. But I've never gotten this, entirely, and I suspect that it's because I recognize a difference between pandering and acknowledging. I don't really know that many people (although maybe I just know the wrong people?) that see a referential joke and say, "Oh, it's so nice that I get this." I mean, honestly, who does this? Laughing is a more involuntary reaction than people are willing to admit sometimes, and to chuckle is a sign of recognition, not congratulation.
In other words, I think it's the wrong usage of "knowingness." It's not the being proud of the knowing, it's the simple fact of the knowing that's at issue. What McSweeney's and all its referential brethren do is not exploit this body of knowledge, but to acknowledge it and utilize it effectively. It's not some sort of Straussian thing where only the elect can see the true meaning of the text and they're speaking only to those what can comprehend: it's assumed, generally rightly, that their audience will understand what they're saying, and so they don't feel the need to shy away from that. (Although, admittedly, the reflexiveness of making sure nothing is misunderstood is one of their more annoying traits, an unfortunate aftereffect of the whole authenticity thing that drives them, I fear.) There's nothing wrong with knowing your audience, and (it should be said) there's nothing wrong with your audience being educated people. See above on morality.
So this is what appeals to me, I think: the willingness to play to an audience's body of knowledge (and, at their best, to drive it forward) rather than to appeal to their desire to not-know. This is, I think, the root impulse behind mysteriousness--distaste with being too informed, and having something being a mystery to be solved, which of course you don't really want solved, because once it is, the appeal is gone, too. The referentiality which gets dismissed as smug is not a barrier but an invitation, an appeal to learning rather than a barrier thereof. It's enthusiasm rather than coldness. This is what I like.
 What's your Ideal Critical Context?
 If not the McSweeney's products so much--I think my recent purchase of the (disappointing) all-comics issue was the first contact I'd had with Dave's Empire in the last year, although in the past I was quite pleased with a) issue #4, b) Samuel Johnson is Indignant and that Lethem novella.
 Here is a word that is not going to appear anywhere else in this post, because it's a lazy fucking summation of what's actually a much different concept: irony.
posted by Mike B. at 11:39 AM 0 comments Links to this post
It's abstractions day on clap clap!
Expect posts on rage, luminosity, titilation, and lardoliciousness.
Unless, of course, I get too busy. But here's hoping.
posted by Mike B. at 11:06 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
I think you might want to look up the actual definition of "taboo" there, Chester.
posted by Mike B. at 6:25 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Overheard in the next cubicle:
Intern 1: "You know, that album, 12:51, is like the perfect summation of the New York party scene."
Intern 2: "But you're from Detroit."
Intern 1: "Yeah, but...the whole album, it's like how parties always go around here. Everyone just standing around, and then you're in the middle of the street."
I hate the interns.
posted by Mike B. at 3:29 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, June 21, 2004
Sentences I never thought I'd find myself saying: "So is that a 'Me So Horny' cover?"
posted by Mike B. at 5:34 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Here's that alternate take on Wilco, if Clem's interested.
posted by Mike B. at 12:12 PM 0 comments Links to this post
OK, it's weird e-fucking-nough that I wake up this morning thinking about Collective Soul's "She Said." Now I'm sitting at work and the guy across from me is playing that song. What the hell?
Of course, the version I had in my head was an acoustic radio performance I taped back in the day, but still.
Hey, maybe I should cover that.
posted by Mike B. at 11:24 AM 0 comments Links to this post
So The Morning News linked to the latest Klosterman thing without linking to the post it was from, maybe not realizing that I posted it on my own webspace. But said webspace is actually the domain of my band, so maybe some people followed the linkback and were like, "Qwah?" So thanks, I guess. I suppose since technically I didn't write it and am "stealing" it from the original magazine, I shouldn't complain though, eh?
To make this not a total piece of self-indulgent tripe, here's another Klosterman article, this one from the NYT Magazine, and concerning a therapy-centric movie about Metallica, which he really sets up, knocks down, and then helps back up again.
"This is the point where 'Some Kind of Monster' starts to change; what it becomes is not a glorification of rock 'n' roll but an illustration of how rock 'n' roll manufactures a reality that's almost guaranteed to make people incomplete."
At the end of the article, he talks a lot about his various interviews with the people involved in the movie, but there are really only 4 or 5 quotes in the article itself, so here's hoping an extended version comes out at some point. I'd love to see a comparison of the two Hetfield interviews, for instance.
posted by Mike B. at 10:47 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, June 18, 2004
WRITING / MUSIC
An odd confluence of things lately:
1) A literary reading was appended to a gig we were playing, and I was one of the readers. Consequently, I went through a bunch of my old stuff to find what I wanted to read.
2) Someone wrote me a complimentary note about a story I wrote about 8 years ago and had left up in an orphaned corner of the interweb (and NO, I'm not linking to it).
3) I read a Joan Acocella article on writer's block (via Hillary).
The thing that ties all of this together is a pretty basic fact: I am a fiction writer who hasn't written any fiction in the last 2 years.
Oh, there are reasons, of course; it's far from a straight dry spell, and it's not like anyone's actively mourning my absence from the contemporary fiction scene anyway. The basic outline is this: majored in creative writing, graduated, moved to New York to work in publishing, couldn't get a job in publishing, got a job at a music company, started doing music 20 hours a week outside my job. In other words, I do music now, not writing. Oh, sure, some of my lyrics (especially the longer songs) are basically short-shorts anyway, and indeed I've set a few short-shorts to music. But I'm not sure if that counts, especially compared to my previous output level.
Which was: HUGE. I wrote reams of stuff, constantly. For good reason, of course, since I needed to do so for my coursework--although I've come across a lot of exercises that have a footnote reading "sorry this was so long!"--but even before the program really ramped up, I'm pretty sure I still wrote a story a week or so. I mean, cats, I wrote a novel. It's crap, of course, being a first novel, but still, it was 56,597 words in about 6 months, and that ain't just whistlin' Dixie. But it's not just that. It's the short stories, the experimental pieces, the exercises, the creative non-fiction...
And so going through the old material was weird. For one thing, I found pieces that I hadn't even known existed, that quite frankly I wouldn't have known were mine were it not for the name at the top and certain telling traits. None of it was good, really (in contrast to songs I've forgotten about but quite enjoyed), and it was just so weird to come across things I obviously put some effort into, but forgot entirely; on the bright side, at least I didn't misjudge a possible classic of Western Literature etc.
It was pretty painful. This may be a big egotistical to say, but I can now see why artists don't understand why people like their old stuff, and talk about how much they dislike it. How could you dislike or be embarrassed by something you made, that people enjoy? Well, for one thing, you see things in it that you really dislike in other people's work, and which you've tried hard to eliminate from your own stuff, but there it is. And sure, people like it, but people like the lazy, stupid crap other people produce, too. Maybe I'll feel that about my music someday, but for now, oh sweet lord, please don't let anyone see those goddamn stories I wrote when I was young and foolish (instead of slightly older and foolish, of course).
Mainly, I think, what made it an eye-opening rather than a merely cringe-inducing experience was the accumulated effect of reading through so many examples of my style and seeing how the tics that irk me in one instance start to wear down my will to live when repeated over and over again. The forced whimsy, the smartassed referentiality, the self-satisfied over-description, the nonsense words, the flat characterizations, unsurprising plotting driven by a desire for everything to come out OK, an unhealthy aversion to realism (which I had issues with, philosophically), consciously avoiding emotional depth, pursuing a false lyricism, etc.
One of the most surprising things I noticed was how imitative I was. A lot of the stuff turns out to be shameful rip-offs of an a) author I'd rather not name (v. embarrassing) and, although I would have fiercely denied it at the time and still deny it half-heartedly now, b) Robert Coover. (I thought I was just building on certain McSweeney's dictums, but no, Coover it is.) That young writers imitate other writers is understandable; that I was still doing so at that point was just silly.
The last story I've written is currently standing at 31 pages, and I haven't worked on it in the last 9 months. (It's also--natch--heavily influenced by David Foster Wallace, my current literary crush, which is annoying, but I'm choosing to ignore it, much as I choose to ignore his influence in my blog prose.) It's good, I think, but I just can't get going on it, and I can't start anything new. The problem with the current story, as far as I can tell, is that I can feel it's reached its peak, or a peak, and now I need to bring it to a close. But I can't seem to do it, can't figure out what should happen or how to get to what I want to happen. And this is an issue that I've never really resolved; the major difference between this piece and a lot of the old pieces I went through is that this one doesn't have an ending, whereas the old ones have shitty, slapped-on endings. Indeed, one of the biggest problems I see with my stuff is structural: I don't always know how to pace it, what feels rhythmically good to me as I'm writing it doesn't fly on the page, and the endings, well...the endings just plain ol' suck.
My best endings--and there are a few, I'm not trying to be too self-flagellating here--tended to be summations, conclusions of all that had come before, that tied everything up; synthesis, in other words. The rest were almost always marked for revision. In my striving for the former effect I too often ended up with the latter, because the former felt so good when I pulled it off, so complete and so right. But in pursuing this path with such regularity, I gave up the option of effectively using a lot of those modernist short-story endings that seem complex, but which always struck me as very easy. You know the type: "Well, guess I'll end it here on this minor epiphany and everyone will have to backtrack to figure out what I meant, even though I really just can't think of anywhere else for it to go..." Perhaps I'm being unkind, but we've all had these thoughts at one time or another when confronted with a sudden ending, no?
There's a good point about this in the Acocella article:
In former times...art forthrightly answered the audience’s emotional needs: tell me a story, sing me a song. Modernism, in refusing to do that duty, may have a lot to answer for in the development of artistic neurosis. If art wasn’t going to address the audience’s basic needs, then presumably it was doing something finer, more mysterious—something, in other words, that could put the artist into a sweat. As long as art remained, in some measure, artisanal—with, for example, the young Leonardo da Vinci arriving in the morning at Verrocchio’s studio and being told to paint in the angel’s wing—it must have fostered steadier minds.
"Sing me a song..." Yes. I wonder if I am maybe un-Modernist in this way. (Post-Modernist? Post-post-Modernist? Somebody kill me!) I was, am, either unwilling or incapable of not catering to this desire, even as I'm unable to consistently pull it off. And so, lacking a set of working methods to achieve these sorts of synthetic (hardee har har) endings, it was a problem I had to re-solve every time, which is draining, inefficient, and unproductive, especially given the great number of pieces I was producing that needed endings.
It's almost infinitely easier to structure a song than a story. This is certainly one of the things that's attracting me to music these days: that I can robustly describe a piece's structure with a chart, that I can take a grid and perfectly express a beat I want to hear. This is especially true when it comes to endings. Because, really, you don't often have to make up something new for the ending of a song; at most you'll write a bar or two, and there's actually an extremely well-established system for constructing cadences. Mainly, though, you repeat something, and while this can be tricky, it sure is a hell of a lot easier than making up a grand statement, a kind of overture in reverse. Really, once you've written the first minute and a half of a song, you've written the song, bar an extended coda, and even then you don't necessarily have to have much relation between that bit and the rest of the song (although the fact that the option is there actually makes the arrangement that much easier). The climax you're building towards happens in the chorus or the bridge, and then once you figured out that, it's just a matter of arranging everything in the most pleasing bits. Which is not to say that this itself is not a very delicate and difficult art, but it still seems easier, somehow--for one thing, rearranging a song is a thousand times easier than rearranging a story, where whole new issues tend to come up--and any resulting imperfections somehow seem more rewarding than is the case with a story. Maybe this is because anyone can tell a story, whereas it takes some training to construct a song--but when playing and composing music becomes as easy as speaking and writing, what then?
Maybe I'm comparing apples and oranges here; maybe if I was composing string quartets or stuff for an electronic ensemble or jazz quartet--art music--I'd be wrestling with many of the same issues. But the point persists in my mind that there's not that much difference between the stories I was trying to write and the songs I currently am. Maybe that was the problem.
One of my biggest issues with writing fiction, I've come to realize, is that I get too caught up in critical issues. More on this in a bit, but for now I want to focus on one particular issue, one that's brought up a few times in the Acocella article--indeed, it's the concern that leads into the quote above.
The issue, of course, is writing as self-revelation. My issues with this stemmed from an extreme distaste I had (and still have, to the best of my knowledge) for confessional literature. There was, of course, a lot of this around when I was taking off my writer's water wings (metaphorically speaking)--memoirs or autobiographical fiction structured largely around some sort of tragic event the author had gone through, such as incest, disability, death, disease, etc. I had many objections to this, suffice to say, but one of the more persuasive ones I pulled out (i.e. it was intended to convince possible confessees to do otherwise rather than to rail against current confessors) was that it was a stupid move, career-wise, since once you've given up your life's great tragedy, what else can compare? What else can you write about? The article addresses this issue of shooting your wad, as it were:
But loss of energy is only one problem. Some people use up their material. There has been much puzzlement among literary historians over the petering out of Melville’s career as a novelist after he published “Moby-Dick,” at the age of thirty-two, and various theories have been advanced: that he was permanently embittered by the reviews of “Moby-Dick,” that he felt his fiction revealed too much about his latent homosexuality, and so forth. But John Updike, in an essay on this question, says that basically Melville exhausted his artistic capital—his seafaring years—in “Typee,” “Omoo,” and “Moby-Dick.” If, after those books, he wrote a couple of mediocre novels and then gave up the trade, it is no surprise.
I didn't think much of the alternative to this, however. For instance, should Melville then not have written Moby-Dick? I think my theory was that if you were a good enough writer, if you had the talent to string together words in a good enough way, to think about things in an interesting enough way, then the story would carry itself. That skill, in other words--something you could develop, something you could work on and get better at gradually--wins the day over the more arbitrary dictates of experience, since one generally would not choose to go through a particularly tragic event. Tragedy might provide something momentary and fleeting, something of voyeuristic impulse, but skill would win the day.
Now, though, while I still get leery at the idea of wholly autobiographical fiction, especially that which focuses on tragedy, I think if I had to advance this view again (and I'm not really interested in doing that), I'd have to modify it a good bit. For instance, I've seen how personal tragedy can be used in incredibly effective ways, one of the best examples probably being Infinite Jest, which was informed strongly by Wallace's history with addiction and recovery, but which does so many wonderful things with those bits of information that, I think, the tragedy becomes not the focus but simply a seasoner that makes the whole work richer. And, when reviewing my own work, it's pretty clear to me that things have more impact when they resonate with you, too, and I can't think of many ways of doing that besides tying it, in one way or another, to your own personal experiences. Stuff that comes from living it almost always seems better, even if you don't know that it comes from experience (as I didn't when reading IJ for the first time).
So I think that in place of either skill or experience, I would have to put as a guiding virtue personality. This may be, of course, simply a reflection of my more recent involvement with rock criticism (which is way more personality-driven--think of the sort of very personal pictures you might have of Bangs, Christgau, etc.), but I think it holds true. Personality is not something that just happens to you, it's something you've developed, but it's also dependent on your experiences. And put that--a strong personality that's expressed well through words--behind a good story, and that's what I'm looking for. It's a reflection of the "I'd read that person writing about anything" idea--something that's true for a lot of my current favorite writers (Wallace, Klosterman, Havrilesky, etc.) and something that I'd love to see in myself. This still leaves in place a whole lot of other issues discussed above--structure, accuracy, pacing, etc.--but I did say it wasn't a theory I wanted to really argue for, right?
But like I say, I didn't write from any of these things--I wrote from ideas. Blech! Can you imagine anything worse? Oh, sure, there was experience, imagination, design, all of that was back there, too, but what I was mainly driven by, I think, was ideas about different ways to write. It was horrible! At one point I even wrote an essay about a sort of rigorous method of experimentation for prose, of producing fiction that was truly experimental. It struck me at the time that there weren't a whole lot of other systems out there, but it regrettably did not strike me why. Why? Because it's a fucking horrible way of producing art, that's why.
I mean, christ, who can do that? If there are any writers who claimed to follow systems, they seem mainly notable for the way they deviated from them. Writing is, quite simply, not something that's driven by theory; you have to generate so much of it to generate a piece, so much of it that just has to come from nowhere at all, that has to be fully created, that there's no system you can really design that could encompass all the variables. Sure, there are certain tenets you can try and stick by, but ultimately you have to sort of follow your muse, to follow your instinct, and that's something you either have or you don't.
But nothing I've said above--"skill" "talent" "instinct" "experience"--none of it means anything. None of it is actually generative; there's no direct correspondence between it and a finished piece of writing. Where does writing come from? Music, that comes from somewhere--it comes from an instrument. Art comes from the materials you use. Dance comes from the movements of the body. So, for instance, I can sit down at my computer, boot up FruityLoops, drop in an instrument, and click randomly on buttons on the screen. This can then give me a discernable melody. I loop the melody and orchestrate it; there I have a section. I develop it into a logical key-change and orchestrate that; I've got another section. I put those in a certain sequence, add a logical beat, and voila, there's a song. Might not be a good song, but it is a song. Similarly, I can slap some paint on a canvas, and that's legitimately a painting. I can wobble around the room, and that's a dance. But you simply cannot sit down in front of a blank piece of paper and put down whatever words spring to mind. That's not a story, plain and simple. The source of inspiration for something great remains mysterious in all artistic forms, but writing seems to me the one where you can't even make something shitty from nothing.
And that's why you can't write from ideas--it's like applying a mathematical formula to an empty set. If there's nothing there, there's nothing to apply the idea to, and in the absence of material, you inevitably spend more time developing the ideas than actually coming up with material to apply them to. And when the ideas aren't very interesting, then you're pretty much screwed.
The Acocella article has some interesting stuff on this, especially on the Romantic creation of a source for writer's block, which coupled the notion of personality to creation (aha aha!). In contrast to writers like Dickens for whom writing was a sort of mechanical process where you just sat down and did it, a "a rational, purposeful activity, which they controlled," the Romantics "came to see poetry as something externally, and magically, conferred," what Shelly called "'some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind,' which more or less blew the material into the poet, and he just had to wait for this to happen." The problem with this, of course, is that sometimes it doesn't, and that can be very frustrating. Some even say it can drive a man...mad!
Early on, in 1941, came Edmund Wilson’s book “The Wound and the Bow,” which reinvoked the ancient Greek formula of the mad genius...Wilson concluded that “genius and disease, like strength and mutilation, may be inextricably bound up together.” In 1945, Wilson made the point again, by publishing, under the title “The Crack-Up,” a collection of the later writings of his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald...Fitzgerald’s own description of his situation (“No choice, no road, no hope”), helped plant the idea that his early exit was somehow a normal pattern, at least for American writers...In 1947, Partisan Review printed an essay, “Writers and Madness,” by one of its editors, William Barrett, claiming that the modern writer was by definition an “estranged neurotic,” because the difficulty of being authentic in a false-faced world forced him to go deeper and deeper into the unconscious, thus pushing him toward madness: “The game is to go as close as possible without crossing over.” Many did cross over, he added darkly.
Claptrap, of course, but convincing claptrap, as it turned out; how persistent the idea of the "mad genius" is in today's culture is impossible to measure, but is undeniably big big big. (It is, indeed, one of the reasons confessional literature was so popular, I think.) Even worse, as the article suggests at one point, the idea may have created the reality; in a cultural context that values authenticity (witness the discussion of Trollope's critical blacklisting), are you a "real" author if you're totally sane? Well, sure, but kids are very impressionable, you know.
It's sad that this idea persists. A psychologist who claims to have had success treating "blocked" writers says, "I have never seen a ‘normal’ writer," but holy crap, man, I've never seen a "normal" human being, really. We all have our mental disorders--what matters is how well we deal with them. And for me, at least, there's no possibility of producing writing if I'm not dealing with it in one way or the other.
To quote Almost Famous: "Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song?" I'd been working on this song for a while, a song I'd started while mooning around the apartment, and it was OK, but I had no idea where to take it; the song was so tied to that specific feeling that a slightly different form of mooning made me unable to understand what the hell I was trying to say, and thus incapable of figuring out what to do with the damn thing.
But then one Saturday me and the missus got up early and went to midtown. She was meeting a friend w/parents for lunch; while she was there, I decided to go to Chelsea Piers and hit some baseballs. It was a hell of a lot of fun. Oh, sure, the walk over (from the 8th Avenue/23rd street C/E to 21st and 11th, on the water) was kind of desolate and weird, but it was great to be outside and in some sort of stillness for a while. When I got there I was a little confused, but then I found the entrance ('round the back, son) and made my way into the fieldhouse, which was like stepping out of the city--there were families everywhere, everything was sort of bright and clean, there were all these little kids, playing sports...I mean, I think there were even a few birthday parties. Indoor soccer, basketball, it felt very warm, somehow. And then I got to hit baseballs, which always makes me feel better for some reason, and the people I was sharing the cage with (so to speak) was a grandfather-father-son rotation that was awesome, and five Australians who mainly tried to understand the process in relation to cricket. There was camaraderie, there was ambient merriment, there was the joy of whacking the hell of out small balls. And so I left feeling very good, and as I took the bus uptown to meet the missus, I finished the song, almost without thinking. It was still a sad song, about sad things, and even very specifically about things that had happened to me that day, while I was feeling good. But I would not have been able to write it if I hadn't been in a good, or at least neutral, mood.
What I'm trying to say is that mental illness is not a prerequisite for artistic creation; it is, on the contrary, an impediment, and moreover something almost completely separate from the act itself. As the article points out, "the mind is actually the brain, a physical organ." It's part of the body, and so while these sorts of diseases may have positive or negative effects on a writer's output (just as physical maladies do--ask Borges), there's no correspondence. In many ways, the major effect is to impede your ability to work.
In college, specifically the period of college when I was taking literary theory courses in conjunction with writing courses, I realized that the better my pieces of argumentative (and specifically argumentative) non-fiction got, the worse my fiction got. It wasn't just the stuff I discussed above about idea-driven fiction; I could still write more purely inspirational (tee hee) stories, i.e. stuff that just originated from an image or a narrative, but they were still tainted by the particular mind-set of argumentation. Stories can make points, of course, but they're rarely good when doing so explicitly, and as you may have noticed from reading this blog, I tend to do things like argue in a very confrontational way for optimism, argue in a very negative way for positivism, and argue in a very explicit way for the values of ambiguity. Sometimes this works, but mostly it doesn't, and it especially doesn't work when the whole project is tainting a story. Criticism can be very effective and engaging when serving an explicit project, but fiction needs to stand alone, ultimately, and you don't really read a story for an argument--or, at least, you don't really read a story for one side of an argument. But even representing a real dialogue doesn't work, because you do have a conclusion you want to get to, and that's rarely effective. You respond to a plot's or character's points of view (as it were) rather than their effectiveness or interest level, and that can kill fiction dead.
But this was clear before. What's not clear is the way in which not just the mind-set, but the issues under consideration, can kill not only particular avenues, but all avenues--the way doubt can become all-pervasive. The article, for instance, mentions that for the French symbolists, "the problem was with language: how to get past its vague, cliché-crammed character and arrive at the actual nature of experience." But, of course, I have little interest in getting at "the actual nature of experience" (which would seem to be, I don't know, actually experiencing things?), and lots of folks have made great stuff while ignorant of the cliches they were working with (lots of that embarrassing early work I mention above fits in this category), to say nothing of the stuff that was so great that it become a cliche; was that never a true expression experience, then?
The problem with cliches is less that they're bad in and of themselves (after all, what if you've really had a madwoman in your attic? Should you not write about that? That sounds pretty cool!) and more that they come from someone else, and so it's a shortcut, which means that you're not getting all the band for your buck you could be getting, artistically speakin'. It's like (sorry to keep using this kind of analogy) using a mathematical theorem without understanding how it's derived: it'll work, but you get a lot more out of it if you understand its full range of possibilities.
But ultimately, I think the real problem with the critical mind-set is that, whether you're looking for cliches, inauthenticity, ornateness, or conservatism, you can find it in almost any piece of writing, and given that most writers are their own worst critics, it's easy to conclude, when you're more concerned with the preponderance of X in literary fiction than with writing a good story, that you are incapable of escaping this trap, and thus incapable of writing something worth reading.
It's easy to forget that writers are readers, too, and that writing is a dual act--the act of putting the words down and the act of comprehending them both contemporaneously and after the fact. Writing is interpretation, and the generosity of your evaluative judgments dictates, in large part, what you'll allow yourself to put down. If you don't even like what you're saying, then why write it? The fact is, you have to be willing to take chances, to use cliches and personal experience and all the rest of it, in pursuit of a good piece.
I think this is, in part, why I am such an insistent, even confrontational, optimist when it comes to criticism: the slide into bitterness, into hating almost all art and thus becoming incapable of producing or enjoying it, seems an easy one. Maybe this is just my own set of issues, but so many people have no interest in art (as I discussed here under the rubric of Not Liking Music-Ism) that I don't understand why there's an assumption that a current cultural consumer is immune to losing interest, nor why criticism/reviews wouldn't have as big an effect on this as the work itself, which, after all, is nothing if not near-infinite in possibilities. I'm almost never convinced of the argument that you have to vigorously express opposition to something in order to make the thing as a whole better, at least not anymore. It can be fun, but it should only be entertainment.
So what's the way out of this? It's an easy one, and one that many, many, many fiction writers seem to embrace: don't read criticism, especially given that it's still in its reactive phase of exposing the cracks in our assumptions rather than in patching the over. But criticism is fun--to read and to write. And what if you're better at criticism than fiction, as it turns out? Well...
(almost done here; stick with me now.)
So what to do with all this old work? I've briefly entertained the possibility of really revising it, getting it sharp, because there is some good stuff there, and I've even done extensive markups of a few pieces.
But the problem is that revising is my other big weakness when it comes to writing. I'm horrible at it. Clearly I shouldn't be, and clearly this isn't something endemic to writing, since lots of other people seem capable of revising. (Wallace famously cut 500 pages of out IJ, for instance, which, whoa.) But it just seems so hard to me. With music, everything is very discrete, so you can identify that the guitar line's not working and change that without having to touch anything else, or even if you do have to, you'll only have to do it in one bit of the song, not the whole thing; you can repair pieces without disturbing the whole. And if it's "just not working," well, you can start from scratch a lot more easily since there's something specific you're building from.
With writing, on the other hand, I get these pretty specific suggestions, and they're clearly good and useful, but when they're anything broad, I just can't seem to pull 'em off. I can't seem to revise a whole character, or rewrite a section, or change a plotpoint. What I drop in seems clearly different from what surrounds it; when I write, it's very much from a rhythm and a flow, and so when I have to just jump in, it doesn't work, somehow. Maybe I'm just blinded, but it almost never seems to work out.
I feel like what I need, and this would help with the structural stuff above too, is a producer for my writing: someone to not only tell me what needs to be fixed, but to work with me on precisely how, to be there directing my performance and to be able to evaluate it from an outside perspective afterwards. Someone to take what I've got and give me fruitful instructions on how to tie it all together, where to add and where to take away. It sounds like an editor, but it's different, somehow--editors aren't recognized as wholly part of the process, whereas producers are, and that's what I want. Basically another musician working on the song, except the song is a story.
But this won't happen, because writing is a solitary art. Actually, that's a big reason why I'm not writing anymore, I think. Writing alone for years and years and then getting something published in a small magazine and then getting something in a large magazine a year later and then finally a book three years later can be fine, but when I started playing in bands and started playing with other people, I realized not only how boring but how limiting it felt to create without collaborators and without an immediate audience. There's no question about whether a song works or not, because there's an audience right there, clapping or not, coming up to you afterwards or not. Instant feedback--for better or worse, that's what I grew to need, and now the idea of writing without it seems impossible, or at least foolish.
And so I justify it, and I explain it away as simply the way things go in the creative world: musicians are at their peak when young, so best to pursue that when I can still convincingly rock out, whereas writers often improve with age, up to a certain point, so there will be time for all that later. But is this really true, or is it finito?
Of course, there are reasons for the literary drought and musical bounty besides mere age. Music theory has helped me be more creative with music--it gives me options for how to put things together, suggests to me new ideas about where a piece can go, provides a repository of traditional fixes for problems I may be struggling with. For literary theory, the opposite seems to be true. The further I progress in it, the more I feel restricted in my writing options, the more aware I am of how little I know and how weak my skillz are. It's intimidating, and it can be crushing.
But maybe this is simply reflective of my stance in regards to each medium. Even when I was a full-time writer (and an only occasional musician) I talked about how I hated the novel, how I hated this and that style of writing. With music, I now have affection for almost all kinds, and even those that I might decry theoretically I can still make, admit that I'm making it, and then enjoy regardless.
Does it all come down to the apple-and-oranges conflict between Modernist writing and the more pre-Romantic musical model I'm so productively following? Is the problem that I am desperately waiting for inspiration instead of just getting out and writing? Certainly the technique's been productive for the blog. It has nothing to do with my personality as such--it's about a certain style I've developed, coupled with an ability to see things in a certain way that's more indicative of mental quickness than charm. It's anonymity, too, the idea of these missives being like an ode, or a sonnet. It seems to work. But can you actually apply this to literary fiction? I guess I don't know, and I guess it would be stupid to try, since again I'd be merely writing from ideas instead of interest. Maybe the road back leads, as I imply, through appreciation rather than criticism, through finding things to love in writing rather than things to despise.
Maybe this is just a good thing regardless, though, and the other things, they are just things, not good or bad; I'm doing music now, and I may or may not do writing later, and it's no big deal either way. I am no great gift being squandered, and there's always another path to try. But, of course, maybe that's a trap, too.
n.b. in accordance with the above, this post was not revised before publishing, although the author reserves the right to do so later, when he’s not shell-shocked
 One of which I'm footnoting here because I'm not sure if I'm going to get to it below: I objected to the lack of imagination that pervaded this sort of literature, the lack of any creative impulse beyond revelation, and I lobbied hard for, among other things, explicitly writing what you don't know, to write from a stance of being misinformed. The trouble with this, I realized while reading my own fiction, is that when you write about what you're uninformed of, you sound like an idiot. What ends up happening is, since you have to write from somewhere, you imagine things as being not unlike what you are familiar with, and this is either a) your own experience, or b) stereotypes. Trying to imagine what working in an ad agency, for instance, is like, and I would combine these two to decidedly cringe-worthy effect. Even worse, there would be no way to convince me to change it at that point, since I had no reason to believe that I was wrong! Ah well.
 Hate though I might some of my uninformed pieces (see above) there are undeniably times when I got it right--when I was able to present, say, a convincing portrait of an elderly woman, or an orphan in the 19th century--and I'm much prouder of this than I am of any of the more strictly personal stuff that people have responded to strongly. It's still an urge I resist, though, even though I'm not as enamored with the theory anymore; I still don't want to give too much of myself away in writing. It doesn't seem wise.
 It may be a "language poem," however. Boy, am I not going to get into that right now.
 A view I endorsed for a long time, until I looked at my own writing and realized that just wasn't working. The question then becomes how you become a craftsman instead of merely a laborer. The answer is probably practice, an idea I also endorsed, but I was seeing diminishing returns, it seemed.
 Post-structuralism is a pretty obvious tack by now, so as I've pointed out in the past, I think what remains is to say, OK, there's no there there, but since we need to (and do) continue living our lives, what's the most effective way of doing this? It seems especially necessary when it comes to art, to find some purpose for it. But that's for another time.
posted by Mike B. at 7:46 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Last night Miss Clap and I burned a bunch of indie-rock CDs for her 50-something dad (for Father's Day, natch). He'd been pretty staid in previous years, but recently has been getting into bands like Wilco and Fountains of Wayne, the latter of which was delivered by a 50-something male on a motorcycle, apparently a friend of his. You know what I'm saying. And so anyway, here's the list of what we burned and what we almost burned. It's too late now, but any additions/suggestions? Miss Clap thought that, given the Wilco, we should try and stay in that vein, so there were a few that I thought he might like (particularly cabaret-pop like Scott Walker/Gavin Friday) that got rejected, and of course we didn't even attempt electronic stuff, really; plus, Miss Clap's sister had previously burned him some Chicago post-rock kinda CDs. Some of these are pretty obvious choices, but some of them are pushing a little. Anyway...
...oh, and before I hit the list, I just realized what Fountains of Wayne should have suggested: power pop! D'oh! Well, I'll make him a mix.
Carla Bozulich - Red Headed Stranger
Pixies - Doolittle
Elvis Costello - This Year's Model (granted, "Armed Forces" might have been a better choice, but all my CDs are in big piles right now, waiting to be moved, and so this list is partially dependent on what I could actually dig up)
Magnetic Fields - 69 Love Songs, Disc 1
PJ Harvey - Uh Huh Her
Pulp - Different Class
TV on the Radio - Young Liars EP
Yo La Tengo - And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out
Spoon - Kill the Moonlight
Mogwai - Come On Die Young
...and one more which I appear to be forgetting
Mountain Goats - Talahassee
Beck - Sea Change
Cornelius - Point
posted by Mike B. at 10:27 AM 0 comments Links to this post
ROCK 'N' ROLL BON MOTS #014
Listening to ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead's Source Tags and Codes this morning, and god it was boring. Maybe I'm just not in the mood or something, but seriously, I kept forgetting I was listening to it. Oh well.
But the point is, I used to love this album. It's not that I burned out on it--I never listened to it that often--I just have no interest in it anymore, either due to my changing tastes or a changing life situation or a changing context in which to hear the album (i.e., no more viz). Anyone else had this experience? Ideally it'd be post-adolescence; lord knows we all have albums from our youthier youth that we're baffled by our previous affection for.
posted by Mike B. at 10:09 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
ROCK 'N' ROLL BON MOTS #013
How can Sam Cooke sing a song called "Havin' a Party" and still sound so sad? I don't think I'm just reading into it; when he gets to the end and delivers the line I'm havin' such a good time dancin' with my baby it just sounds like he's ready to cry.
More importantly, maybe, given the lyrics, why hasn't this been covered in an actual, you know, party style by someone? (It has been covered by the Afghan Whigs, but much as I love Dulli, that doesn't really count.) I mean: "So Mr., Mr. DJ / Keep those records playin'"? Doesn't get more old-skool than that.
posted by Mike B. at 4:10 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, June 14, 2004
The latest from Klosterman, via our usual anonymous source. Looks pretty great--a cultural theory about "advancement." Lou Reed is Advanced, Dylan isn't. Devour, devour.
posted by Mike B. at 11:45 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Sunday, June 13, 2004
I knew I wasn't the only one who kept thinking of the Lucasarts series "The Curse of Monkey Island" while watching Pirates of the Carribean--I mean, Barbossa = Ghost Pirate LeChuck, Elizabeth Swann the governor's daughter = Elaine the governor, secret pirate island = Monkey Island, pirate town = Melee Island, etc.
And I was right!
posted by Mike B. at 2:34 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Look, Joe Klein, we need to talk.
I know the kind of guy you are. You've actually got pretty good taste in one or two older musical genres--classical, say, or jazz, or folk. And you may even feel like you're on top of that genre, keeping-up-with-modern-artists-wise; dandy. But here's the thing. When it comes to pop/rock, well...you have shitty taste. There, I said it. Shitty, shitty taste. You give middle-brow a bad name, and that's really too bad.
But look, I don't have a problem with shitty taste. I have shitty taste in not a few genres myself. I don't think anyone can be expected to have an encyclopedic knowledge of multiple styles, and all I ask for is a simple enthusiasm and an acknowledgement of your limitations.
But did you do that? No, you did not. You wrote a goddamn article in the Times trying to justify your shitty taste. Let's examine, shall we?
I am an American aquarium drinker
Wow! Why didn't anyone tell me that you can get away with this kind of thing in the New York Times nowadays? Here, let me try:
"Elena's crumcake, bathed in a golden sheen, was the purest expression of Nietzsche's concept of the ubermenschen that you're likely to find in a modern bakery."
See? Isn't true, doesn't even make any sense. But it gets across the point, i.e., "I like Elena's crumbcake." The fact that my explanation for this is basically a load of pretentious horseshit doesn't matter, right?
Look, Joe: verbing a noun isn't reflective of an "outlaw sensibility." For one thing, there's no law against it, only grammatical rules that poets have been breaking in far more inventive ways for hundreds of years, plus those silly folk who say, "Hey, that doesn't make any sense, and it's isn't particularly aesthetically pleasing either." Are you breaking their laws of "being good" or "not being stupid"? Well, maybe, but that seems a stretch. For another thing, what? Writing shitty lyrics is more outlaw than, I dunno, Jim Morrison inciting a riot and getting arrested? James Brown running from the cops? A single word from "Folsom Prison Blues"? Really? Outlaw? Outlawed how, and by whom, and what's the penalty?
Tweedy sings the words tentatively, from a distance -- from a psychological rut, perhaps -- backed by free-range clanging and scraping, the melody overwhelmed by electronic anarchy. Totally annoying, but stuck in my brain for more than two years now.
Now, I hate to say this, but it's interesting that he said "stuck in my brain" rather than "catchy." If something is catchy, that's usually good, by my way of thinking--it means it's genuinely ingratiating, makes you notice it, stands out from the crowd. But "stuck in your brain," well, you know, I have toy commercials from 1986 still stuck in my brain, and I doubt that's the level of quality Klein wants to put YHF at. "Stacy's Mom" is catchy; the Fanta jingle gets stuck in your brain. Something getting stuck in your brain isn't necessarily a sign that something's bad, but it's definitely not necessarily a sign that something's good. It's just a thing, and pretty much the only substantive justification he gives for Wilco's place in the canon in the whole article. But hey, we're long past the point where we need to explain why Wilco are geniuses, right?
His theme is a familiar one, the constant tension between the virtuosity of musicians like Tweedy and the ephemeral lure of big bucks, arena crowds and hit singles. From the start, Tweedy and Farrar made it clear that if they succeeded, it would be on their own terms. Actually, for Tweedy, it was more vehement than that: he actively worked to confound the commercial expectations of the music executives -- fairly adventurous sorts, by definition -- who backed his work...Wilco made a couple of attempts to produce a hit single and migrate to the middle of the dial, but the deck was stacked against them: ''Record companies were funneling as much as $300 million annually to radio stations through independent promoters to gain access to programming decisions,'' Kot writes. ''Most labels say it takes at least $100,000 just to get a song on radio, with no assurance that it will be added to a station's regular rotation.'' For a band, like Wilco, that ''had never sold more than 300,000 albums domestically, such spending would have been absurd.''
The bullshit in this selection is so thick, I have to cut it with bullet points.
Tweedy became something of a basket case trying to outwit the system and create music he could live with. He suffered from severe migraines, took to berating his audiences, self-medicated with a pharmacopeia consisting mainly of booze and painkillers, and he pitched some world-class anxiety attacks.
Yeah, because his drug addiction stems from his heroic fight with the record labels. It couldn't stem from the fact that he's mentally unstable. No, definitely not. Must be because of his struggle to be unique in an increasingly homogenized world, right? Yeah, I sure think so.
Tweedy has a scratchy, nasal, good-bad voice, which depends on his emotional intelligence and phrasing, rather than timbre, for its effectiveness. His delivery is purposefully nervous, artfully irresolute. He will bend or slur a phrase, pause uncomfortably, allow a note to shatter in mid-attack; at times, it sounds as if he's very close to a nervous breakdown. There is a terrible sadness to it. (As affecting as Tweedy's postmodern angst can be, I sometimes miss the occasional lacerating jolt of angry energy Jay Farrar brought to their collaborations.)
Really? Jeez, why would you miss that? Are you saying there's no energy in Jeff Tweedy's voice or something? Pshaw.
Look, people may like Tweedy's voice (although I'm more inclined to think they like the lyrics and music and come to tolerate the voice, as with Dylan or Paul Simon), but to call what he does "purposefully nervous, artfully irresolute" is giving him waaaaaay too much credit. He's not a great singer, and he's trying to sing his songs, and that's fine. Good for him! But you're not really selling me on this, Joe, and throwing in a phrase like "postmodern angst," wow, it really doesn't help, you know?
''Yankee Hotel Foxtrot'' is Tweedy's apogee, an album that was notorious even before it was released; it skates the border of brilliance and pretense, filled with memorable songs that are constantly subverted, or perhaps augmented, by electronic mayhem. It takes some listening, which, apparently, was more than Reprise Records was willing to give it. The label refused to release the album and dropped Tweedy...
Can we please stop propagating this myth? Let's compare what happened with Wilco with what happens when a band really gets dropped. With Wilco, their A&R rep had left, the label decided it wasn't best-equipped to work the record, and sold it--lock, stock, and barrel, which let me tell you is friggin' rare--for a bargain price, much less than the actual recording costs. There was no override provision requiring any label that picked up the album in the future to pay royalty points on sales back to Reprise, regardless of whether or not the band was recouped, often a huge impediment to getting re-signed. What normally happens is that a band gets dropped without any consultation and for, sometimes, no reason whatsoever; the label either just holds onto the record and never releases it, or gives it up but retains the copyright and/or demands override points; and the band gets diddly. Reprise dropping Wilco was the best thing that could happen to them at that point, and the label damn well knew it. What they did was done very much out of respect for the band--out of a human impulse, not based on numbers. Reprise ain't the devil in this whole story, and indeed the lesson for labels from this whole affair isn't "don't drop your artists" but either "drop your artists with one hand and pick them back up with the other" (Warner, of course, owns both Reprise and Nonesuch and so got the profits regardless) or "be sure to get an override."
So Joe, I hope this has been illuminating for you. You know there are more adventurous, anti-commercial things out there, if that's what you're looking for; Wilco is still signed to a major label. You know that there's better experimental pop out there, made by people who manage to make it without getting addicted to painkillers. Why don't you go write about them, eh?
posted by Mike B. at 11:55 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Saturday, June 12, 2004
Got home at 11. Flipped around the networks (get all 7 of 'em with the antenna) and everything was covering the Reagan funeral. Except for PBS, which was showing...a documentary about the gay rights movement. Awesome.
In other TV news, Conan O'Brian now apparently has a featured called the "'Walker, Texas Ranger' Lever." Here is how it is described: Universal bought NBC. Universal also owns USA Network, which owns Walker, Texas Ranger, which means they can play Walker, Texas Ranger clips whenever they want. It's pretty great.
posted by Mike B. at 1:03 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, June 10, 2004
The Clinton library: whoa. Public policy school! Clinton in a glass box! Exhibit on Lewinsky! Nixon library has a replica of the East Room you can GET MARRIED IN! Cabinet secretaries' chairs you sit in to learn about the corresponding policy! "What people can't see at the museum, they may be able to see elsewhere in Little Rock — a city obsessed with Clintoniana." Oh, it's his Graceland. That's awesome.
posted by Mike B. at 12:40 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Swear to God I saw Frank Black driving a truck on 14th street this morning.
Speaking of which, here's a question. Changing your name when you become an entertainer: pro or con? Oh, I know, the gut instinct is to say con, since it sounds so contrived and inauthentic and whatnot, but consider for a second, my friend, the luminaries that have done it. One is mentioned in the first paragraph, and I might also throw in the name "Zimmerman."
I'm not really talking about a Jake Shears/Ana Matronic kind of thing; that's obviously awesome. Same goes for, I dunno, Jelly Biafra, Blag Dahlia, Jay-Z, etc. Anything obviously fake. But how about Joss Stone? Is that her real name? If not, isn't it better that she changed it? And if someone is going to become an entertainer and has the sort of last name that would be used on for a lame high school student in a TV show (ending in -ski, say, or having a very plodding sound), wouldn't it be nice to have something more in the ballpark of a "Lou Reed" or something? Know what I'm saying?
posted by Mike B. at 11:14 AM 0 comments Links to this post
The thing I'm really loving about Miss Kittin's "Meet Sue Bee She" right now is how well the tremelo works on the verse vocals. For me, I have a hard time getting this to work right, as everything ends up seeming either too indistinct rhythmically or not really trem'ed that much. Presumably it's synched to the beat here, but at any rate, it works really well.
What I particularly like is what happens with her breathing: instead of making it sort of white noise that fits into the background of the track, it breaks it up and makes it another rhythmic (rather than merely textual) element in the vocals, a kind of grace note into and out of each line. What's maybe more interesting is the fact that they're the same every time, and while I'd hate to disparage Miss Kittin's vocal ability, a) I don't think anyone could do that, which b) probably means that it's sampled and dropped in. Further evidence can be found at the end of the second verse, where it makes sense going into the line "Here is the number" but it appears to be the same drawing-up H sound going into "She is my manager," and that ain't right. (Incidentally, what is the "H" sound called? I know S is a sibilant, and T is a plosive, but H?) But at any rate, it works really well.
It also provides a nice demonstration of the way complex, modulated and semi-random human noises can really fill out a track and make the whole thing sound human even when it's not. The same thing goes for live guitar: all those little noises of the pick hitting the strings, your palm brushing the body or the pickups on the return stroke, the buzz of the amp, the little bits of feedback or different tone that sneak into any performance, these are often really good to have with drum machine stuff to make the sound more varied.
posted by Mike B. at 11:05 AM 0 comments Links to this post