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Saturday, January 08, 2005
Women of the world! Should you be at a party and see a photographer for a party-covering website, it is your responsibility to flash your tits so that people who were not at that party, and especially people who are not in a big city, can feel like they are really missing out on something, even though most parties are, in fact, kinda boring, and there's very few parties with actual titty-flashing, which, thank god, because then I would want to flash my titties, and don't no one want to see that. Trust me.
I mean, on the one hand, titties: yay, but on the other hand, titties: huh? It's girls-gone-wildism outside of the usual context.
In an only semi-related note, being sex-positive in NYC sure is a lot, well, uglier--or, I guess, dirtier--than it is in certain other places, but that's for another time.
 In the TimeOut article, they say: "When people come to the site, I want them to say, 'Man, I wish I had been there, because it looked like so much fun."
posted by Mike B. at 2:00 PM 0 comments
Very interesting piece by Douglas on the responsibilties of auteurs to their audience. It's something I know I've discussed before, but nothing springs to mind right now; generally, though, my feeling is, "creatively, do whatever you want, and as an audience member we'll try and give it the benefit of the doubt and maybe it'll lead us to a wider appreciation," but this is mainly based in a reaction to widespread "the early stuff was better, man"-ism, which I rarely find myself agreeing with. (Like I think REM's mid/late-period stuff is waaaaaay better than their early stuff.) And it also brings up my "it's too bad Kevin Shields didn't die" thing. But just go read, we can discuss later maybe. Right now I seriously need to do some mixing.
Also, I note that he says "this is ridiculously long" but it's still about 500 words shorter than my P&J comments. That should tell me something, huh?
ADDENDUM: I left a comment, in response to his first dictum:
It's the duty of people who want to be serious about making stuff, &
I understand that failing at #1 is frustrating to fans, but I'm unclear why it's a problem for the creator. Does it have any actual effect on whether or not they end up putting out good work, whether or not it has anything to do with what they've previously announced? For instance, the two post-Kid A Radiohead albums have been preceded by advance notices that had little if anything to do with how the albums actually sounded, but that doesn't make them bad albums, and if Beck's new album turns out not to be a party album, I'll be annoyed, but not because he said it would be a party album, just because I'd like a new Beck party album.
I think what's being suggested is that for certain creative types, the act of disclosing their plans sometimes suffices in their heads for actually carrying them out--that they get enough satisfaction from telling people what they want to do that they don't feel the need to actually do it. Is that a fair read? Is this defensible, and is it applicable to most artists, or just a certain subset? (I.e. "neurotic white guys"?)
UPDATE 2: This is also interesting as another angle to the career-watching-as-pop-pleasure stuff I was talking about in the pop biographism post. It's a very important point that this is also a source of pleasure for cult artists, and in fact is at the heart of the cult appeal: all the stuff surrounding the music becomes highly important. Being excited about there being a Pixies reunion tour or a new MBV album provides a key source of enjoyment and participation, as does arguing with other fans about what it will sound like and whether or not it will be any good; tracking down new tidbits of information and tracking the album's progress; and evaluating it from a careerist standpoint after its release--all these are as important as the music at a certain stage of fandom.
posted by Mike B. at 1:59 PM 0 comments
SONGS I LISTENED TO THIS YEAR THAT I LIKE A LOT (SILTTYTILAL) #4-2005: BAD COMPANY, "FEEL LIKE MAKIN' LOVE"
Everybody's always talking about critical authority. Who has it, who doesn't, if it should exist, if it's reinforcing prejudice. What gives you the right to blah, and who decides that this is good or bad bloo. Well, I have come upon a solution to this problem, and I would like to share it with you today. Who has critical authority?
That's right, me. Doesn't that make things easier? So from now on, if you have a question about something, if you need a critical issue resolved (i.e., the second Sponge album: sucks or rocks?), just come to me and I will resolve it, and it will be definitive, because why? Because I have critical authority! Isn't that easy?
So for my first proclamation, I offer this: no one is allowed to pretend anymore like the Pixies invented the concept of dynamics. OK, that's a bit unfair. Let's put it more generously: no one is allowed to say that the Pixies invented the concept of a sudden dynamic shift between the sections of a pop/rock song, i.e. you are no longer allowed to say "the Pixies soft verse-loud chorus shift" or any variant thereof. (In a correlary, you will also stop taking Cobain seriously in his joke that he ripped off "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from the Pixies.)
As evidence of this, I give you, first, the "Jailhouse Rock" entry below. (If they could have turned But I will also give you, because I am a just dispensor of critical authority, another example, which revealed itself to me at breakfast this morning. It is, of course, "Feel Like Makin' Love." I've always liked this song, I suppose, at least in the sense that if it was mentioned I would go in my head "dah-duhn, DAH!" Plus, being a young'un, my only exposure to it had really been via TV ads for best-of-the-70s (or "Guitar Rock!") compilations, where they'd play a little snippet of the chorus. And, you know, I liked it enough.
But in much the same way that Grand Funk Railroad's "Some Kind of Wonderful" does, upon full inspection the song reveals itself as something really great. Because the damn thing's two songs in one! And both are totally great pop hits! Now that's efficiency, my friend. And actually, now that I think about it, if this was an obscurity Tenacious D could drop it into their set and easily pass it off as a new track, although, no offense to Jack or Kyle, this is much better than what they come up with. It's passed through self-parody and came out the other side, covered in a kind of sleazy goo that smells musky but appealing, and you are drawn to it like unto a busted leather mama with saggy tits and wrinkly tatoos. Wait, wasn't I saying something about metaphors? Damn.
But so yes (oops! Two straight paragraphs starting with "but," sorry dad), the first song (aka "the verse") is this great pretty little acoustic white-boy loverman number with sort of 70s SoCal harmonies, and then there's a transition not that far removed from the "snhick-snhick" muted distorted guitar whangs that introduce the chorus in another quiet/loud masterpiece, Radiohead's "Creep," and then all of a sudden we're in the midst of this great Southern boogie-rock number, all whump-whump-SCREEEE! And it's great. And and and, the beginning of this riff is basically a half step added to the "Jailhouse Rock" hook, and then you throw the "SCREEEEE!" in afterwards because it's the LOUD part of the song and so it has to be DENSER. (Someone talked about the way AC/DC inverted this sparse-quiet/dense-loud dichotomy at one point, but I can't remember who, or what the point was, so I'm just going to mention it and move on.) And then--woo!--back to the quiet part, i.e. "an entirely different song." But they make it work, and they make it sound good, even though I'm not sure how much that sounding good has to do with the juxtoposition; I think it's more that each individual part is great, and they switch between them just as each is starting to get boring. Plus, the lead guitar in the chorus is fantastic--"totally killer!" report 14-year-old boys. Although I guess it is veeeeeeery similar to the Guess Who's "American Woman," but I don't know the chronology and quite frankly am too lazy to find out. Incidentally, the Guess Who are the source of a great family moment. We're driving by the casino near our town and my dad reads the sign and says, "Hey, the Guess Who are playing." My mom says, "Who?" My dad says, "the Guess Who." My mom says, "No, tell me!" Ah, hilarity.
Finally, a brief note to Life Cafe 983: folks, Q104 was killing it this morning! I mean, "Don't Fear the Reaper"? You gotta be kidding me! The bleary 70s rock was totally going with the rain-soaked ("cats and dogs!" as a guy passing me on the way to breakfast said) day outside. So why'd you have to put on some grating techno CD, huh? If you wanted electro, you could at least put on Phoenix or something. I mean jeez.
posted by Mike B. at 1:56 PM 0 comments
Friday, January 07, 2005
SONGS I LISTENED TO THIS YEAR THAT I LIKE A LOT (SILTTYTILAL) #3-2005: AMERICAN ANALOG SET, "THE POSTMAN"
Again, I've been listening to this song for a while (it is, in fact, the only American Analog Set song I like, and I downloaded it as an MP3 some 3 years ago, I think), and again, my attention was drawn to it recently because of one particular line: "leave for work." Aha! See, the problem with this, and thus the reason I'd only regarded it as something pretty but not like super-extra-good, is that I'd only listened to it at work, but it was, in fact, a song specifically made for not being at work. In fact, it was a song made for me in my short-ceilinged but otherwise very nice room in Ohio, getting ready for the day and listening to music on my stereo (often, actually, Mass Romantic). That I can no longer do this is too bad, but it still extracts the feeling of that particular experience, and presumably one day in the future I will be able to do such a thing once again.
This room--well, first off, I was only in it for like 4 months, and admittedly they were good months for outside reasons, but it sure didn't start out promisingly, with me having to move out of my by-now-miserable former living circumstances in all of six hours, due to general irresponsibility on the part of the person I was exchanging rooms with (long story). Though it had denegrated into a sort of pit of despair, the room had a lot of promise, from my weird little fountain I had set up around the walls to the killer recording setup I'd wedged into half the space. (Got this great sub-bass noise from a mixer feedback loop.) And actually, the new place wasn't so great at first--I was kind of alone in the middle of a dark winter, we couldn't find the thermostat so the house was really cold, the room was, in addition to being short, covered with powdery stubbly plaster that would come off if you brushed against it, my bed was really uncomfortable, and I was just generally miserable. But this wasn't the room's fault, and we'd set it up in a very efficient way that allowed me to keep it clear, although the fact that it was pretty big helped this a lot. As the seasons changed, the real glory of the room came into play: its wall of windows, which let in just an obscene amount of light in the morning, which was actually very nice. By the time late February rolled around, I was very happy to be there, and even happy to get ready to leave, because it was just so lovely in there, with my music playing and the sun shining.
Unfortunately, if you actually read the lyrics, the song's a sort of trite tale of an obsessive mailman. But it sounds like it could've been something much nicer, and it's polite enough to allow you to forget that.
posted by Mike B. at 6:15 PM 0 comments
Oh my god! The red alert riddim, which "Hot Like We" is based on, is the goddamn salsa nuevo beat! I can no longer like that song! Fuuuuuck.
posted by Mike B. at 4:04 PM 0 comments
OK, I have to admit this intrigued me.
Hello New York Friends,
Ah, you Haverford kids.
posted by Mike B. at 10:41 AM 0 comments
Thursday, January 06, 2005
I wanted to reply here to the comments Todd made on the criticism post, just because I think they'll stretch out and I want to give 'em their due. Todd wrote:
Although the Slate movie club has been terribly disappointing, I don't
Dude, are you trying to bait me? Pop songs aren't as good as movies my sweet aunt fanny. Well, no sense getting into that, really, as I doubt I'm going to convince anyone on that, at least not today.
Instead, let me try and clarify something I thought was sorta the basis of my original post, although I guess it didn't come through, and to make a distinction clearer. What I was talking about was specifically criticism, not reviewing. Reviewing tells you "this is good" or "this is not good." But honestly, I'm not too interested in that, and quite frankly I don't need a gatekeeper, or at least not a gatekeeper that takes itself this goddamn seriously. I like critics who are there to sort of talk about things afterwards, to discuss what the movie's about, but I don't really need someone to explain things to me beforehand--I'd rather the work itself do that.
Now, if you want to talk about curatorial functions, that's something else entirely. Certainly I appreciate some pointing out things that are good to me, or warning me away from things that are bad. But look: David Brooks and I agree on pretty much nothing. His value as a critic is worthless, and to a certain degree what they were all bitching about is correct: critics make their judgments in a very public way and inevitably have something at stake besides their simple opinion. I'm much more likely to see a movie if someone I know, and whose tastes I'm familiar with, tells me to go see it. This is for movies. For music, well, I'm confused as to why people don't regularly call MP3blogs criticism, but they surely are, and indeed are probably the best form of reviewing ever invented, because they're actually giving you the thing they want you to hear, framing the context, and letting you go at it. This is not that far removed from being at someone's house and having them say, "Watch this show, I think you'll like it." You can't really top that. So in terms of gatekeeper functions--meh. Reviews are interesting as criticism, but in terms of pointing me towards things, a three line e-mail from a friend is much more valuable to me.
Now, you could say that reviewing was exactly what the movie club was about, but this was part of what was so annoying: given this opportunity to have a sort of grand debate about movies, they instead resorted to squabbling about whether X was good and why people who like X are bad. This is criticism? Who friggin' cares? This is not interesting to read except as gossip, and even then we all know that wordy gossip is bad gossip.
What I'm talking about is criticism as art, a separate form, able to be enjoyed on its own, and equal to any of the other forms of art we're familiar with. (This is not a new concept, I don't think.) So ideally it shouldn't matter what you're talking about--good criticism can be as easily about bad movies (Sontag, the only good thing she ever wrote, god rest her soul) as it is about Shakespeare. That good crit seems to coalesce around genres we're not currently taking seriously seems less about criticism and more about the way it's currently being practiced. I would be happy to read good criticism about highbrow stuff--I don't give a shit what it's about, as I've said. But I'm just not seeing it.
posted by Mike B. at 6:46 PM 0 comments
SONGS I LISTENED TO THIS YEAR THAT I LIKE A LOT (SILTTYTILAL) #2-2005: ELVIS PRESLEY, "JAILHOUSE ROCK"
(Yes, these have been old songs so far; I don't know why. So it goes.)
Reason number four trillion why you should pay more attention to novelty songs, suckas. This started off as a goof for superproducers-of-their-time Lieber and Stoller, a pastiche written for an Elvis movie which began as a sort of campy homage on the music they loved very seriously--check the walking bassline and the Count Basie (?) piano in the chorus. A joke, in other words, about rock 'n' roll's lowbrow take on their highbrow style. But it works as a song, and today we take it fairly seriously, or as seriously as you can take a song featuring dancing prisoners. One reason, of course, is that L&S were so on fire at the time that they couldn't help shoving whole legions of hooks in there, from the now-canonical half-step walkup-boom-boom pattern in the intro, to the actually kinda Pixiesish transition between sparse verse and big, loud chorus.
But the main reason is because Elvis takes the joke and tells it totally straight-faced. He was certainly capable of smirking at his songs, but on the recording, he is singing his guts out, just shredding the shit out of this stupid little tune. The main place to hear this is in the slightly flat, pentatonic-blues single-note business at the end of every verse (and, ps, we should remember how well short verses work) where his voice just seems to be wanting to break free of his throat. It's also there in the way he ends notes in the verses, crescendoing and pitching up and then choking them off suddenly, cutting the sound short. And, of course, there's the "run run run!" right before the solo, a precursor, maybe, of The Scream, in "Hard Day's Night."
This is what I'm saying about taking things unseriously, because someone else is always taking them very seriously, and it's this combination, of telling a joke like it's the truth, of taking a thrown-off little thing and performing it with everything you've got, that can make for greatness.
posted by Mike B. at 6:10 PM 0 comments
Blog-I-did-not-know-before-today Silence Is A Rhythm Two [sic] has posted a very good beefed-up remix of the Scissors' "Comfortably Numb." Well worth a listen. And apparently there's a whole remixes EP, of which I was (perhaps embarassingly) unaware of. What's "The Skins"? Is that one new?
posted by Mike B. at 5:49 PM 0 comments
ROCK 'N' ROLL BON MOTS #024
This is returning briefly to an old subject, but I figured it out: the reason I don't like Chromeo is because I heard Opti-Grab first, and they're just miles and miles better. Now, in all honesty, this might merely be because they have a female member or because I've seen their awesome choreographed dance routines, but nevertheless, I think Opti-Grab spoiled me...
posted by Mike B. at 3:06 PM 0 comments
SONGS I LISTENED TO THIS YEAR THAT I LIKE A LOT (SILTTYTILAL) #1-2005: NICO, "I'LL KEEP IT WITH MINE"
Or, "reason number two million why everyone performs Bob Dylan's songs better than Bob Dylan does." I've liked this song for a while, but I didn't even know it was a Dylan song until I went to look up the lyrics this morning, because one line grabbed me, all of a sudden: "come on, give it to me," which comes directly before the "key line" that lands on the tonal resolution Dylan is so fond of. (I'm no Dylan fan, and just off the top of my head I can give you "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," "Tangled Up In Blue" and "Highway 51 Revisited" as examples of Dylan songs that use this trick. It's a folk trope, but Dylan sure does like it.) I just hadn't caught it before, because it seems so out of line with the tone of the rest of the song. It was the first thing I listened to this morning, because it is so warm and soothing and nice, "Pale Blue Eyes" if Reed had fully gone for it and given into the warmth lurking beneath Nico's cold facade. That rhythmic acoustic guitar! Those gorgeous strings that her voice throws out before it like a penumbra! The way it just holds on chords for like quadruple the number of bars it needs to!
But "give it to me"? The first thing that brings to mind is Jay-Z's "I Just Wanna Love You," not Nico. It's confrontational and brash in a way the song just doesn't suggest sonicly, much more reminiscent of hip-hop or modern R&B than folk-pop. In the grand Dylan tradition, the lyrics don't actually say anything, and my attempt to puzzle out a concrete character or narrative failed, because I just don't think it there--it's maddeningly unspecific, and the creative writing tutor in me wants to put a bunch of big red circles on it. But it does have a feel, and that feel shifts very suddenly with the line in question, from something supportive to something much more desperate or agressive, depending on how you want to take it. It's the "come on" in particular: it's insistant, nagging, pulling at your sleeve, demanding something. The sentiment "I'll keep it with mine" is very sweet, but the way the offer is being made suggests that the song's object of address does not want to give it up, and that turns the song into something much more akin to obsession than love.
posted by Mike B. at 1:55 PM 0 comments
Incidentally, Phil has posted a speed bass MP3 today, and you should go get it, because it sounds like all the input and output jacks on your computer are having a big fucking fight, and then in the end they just decide to turn on your speakers and beat the crap out of them instead.
This would work well on almost anyone's torture tape, yeah? (If you want to have a more interesting discussion about that here than the one that happened on Stereogum, feel free. Cause that one was bad. "Four Non Blondes, 'What's Going On'...Britney's 'Toxic'," are you serious? Although the guy who answered "32 kbps Mp3 versions of disco songs, honky-tonk and TV themes" has a good point, and the one that starts off with a Christian grindcore is good too, most of the mixes posted actually sound like ones I would enjoy listening to.)
posted by Mike B. at 1:03 PM 0 comments
On one of my mailing lists, I have started a game. It is called, "name a short story, then name a song that goes along with it, and explain why."
My first entry: Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" and Radiohead's "No Surprises."
Reason: sunny but cold, calmly menacing, slowly revealing itself from unremarkable beginnings.
I'll post other entries as they come in, but if anyone wants to contribute here, it would be more than welcome. Post in the comments or e-mail them to me and I'll append to this post.
From Marcus Gray-
Not a short story but a poem, "Sylvia's Death" by Anne Sexton, which I'm
The first 35 pages (that's all I read) of Less than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis and "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" by Smashing Pumpkins, experienced in tandem this morning in someone else's apartment.From the improbably-named "Humberto Torofuerte"-
Suicide Blonde by Darcey Steinke - Suicide Blonde by INXS
From mike jolkovski-
posted by Mike B. at 11:03 AM 0 comments
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
If you want the definition of "rambling" you could pretty much go with my year-end roundup, which you will not get to see for a month, suckas, as it has been submitted as my P&J comments. (Or, um, will be shortly.) It is 3000 words, for which I am profoundly sorry, Chuck and Nick. If you'd rather I edit it down before I subject you to it, you know, drop me a line.
Oh, ballot as it was submitted, except with the album rankings changed to reflect the fact that I only assigned things 15, 10, or 5 points:
1. MIA/Diplo - Piracy FundsTerrorism, Vol. 1
1. Scissor Sisters - Scissor Sisters
1. Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat
2. MeowMeow - Snow Gas Bones
2. Strong Bad - StrongBad Sings!
2. Courtney Love - America's Sweetheart
2. Gwen Stefani - Love. Angel. Music. Baby.
3 .Annie - Anniemal - 679
3. Killers - Hot Fuss - Island 3
3. Streets - A Grand Don't Come For Free
1. Kelly Clarkson - "Since U Been Gone" - RCA
2. Eamon - "Fuck It" - Vibe
3. Dykehouse - "Chainsmoking" - Ghostly International
4. LCD Soundsystem - "Yeah (Crass Version)"- DFA
5. Helen Love - "Debbie Loves Joey" - Sympathy for the Record Industry
6.Janet Jackson - "Love Me For a Little While" - Virgin
7. Kanye West - "All FallsDown" - Roc-a-Fella
8. Britney Spears - "Toxic" - Vibe
9. The Knife - "Heartbeats" - V2
10. Rachel Stevens - "Some Girls" - Universal
I feel a lot better about the albums, for which I give eternal thanks to the points system that allows me to simply group stuff into tiers rather than actually rank it, than the singles, which underwent heavy modification at the last minute. (Compare with the Flagpole list.) Partially this was due to the need to remove the Candypants song (curse you, temporality!), but it was also due to being weirdly dissatisfied with the whole thing, which perhaps is simply reflective of the fact that my taste in singles really does change every 3 months. I could publish a more extensive list if the desire exists, but I assume it doesn't. Generally, I only included things that were released in 2004, and I didn't duplicate any artists, even cross-list, so although I might like to vote for the Dykehouse album or "Mono," I decided not to, although I kinda regret that now. In my desire to have a list I was satisfied with, I did break the former rule with "Heartbeats," which was either released in 2003 or will be released in 2005, and hit in 2003 anyway, but what the fuck, I like it and would like to see it do well.
In an unrelated matter, this is awesome. I want a particle beam digital record player!
posted by Mike B. at 6:31 PM 0 comments
Reading the Slate movie club is just too depressing for words. But I guess I'll try and summon some.
Just as an introductory aside, all the Kael bullshit really is annoying. Folks, I just don't care, I'm sorry. It seems a bit like Ginsberg or Ferlinghetti (and if I've spelled his name wrong, good, the cock-knocker deserves it) to me--I can recognize how for a certain generation the work had a very salutory effect, but in a modern context it just seems superfluous. And Jesus, her main effect was to make you feel free to say what you wanted? What the fuck is wrong with you that you didn't feel like this before? I mean christ. But I don't really know my shit about Kael so I should probably shut up, and besides, I can certainly recognize the effect Kael's stuff had on the criticism I actually like today,so bully for her.
At any rate, although you would think it would be Charles Taylor that would finally, irrevocably crush my will to live (although his addle-headed repetition of the "About Schmidt was insulting to midwesterners!" criticism makes me want to throttle him), as it happens it was actually Armond White that did the trick, and specifically the weird, sneering anti-Voice rant he gets into, which apparently is like a prereq of working for the Press. I'll quote the main bit here:
Fact is, throughout the rest of the year, the Voice's arts pages practiced the most biased, propagandistic (anti-Bush) pseudojournalism. (Its lack of objectivity [An objective film review?!?! -ed] was only matched by Frank Rich's witch hunt against Mel Gibson in the Times.) The poll was a small effort at being "fair and balanced." It was a hoot last spring when the Voice's cover headline announced Dogville as the year's most polarizing film (no doubt the headline writers were attempting to scoop The Passion of the Christ) while, inside, printing a handful of valentines to von Trier.
And it's just...you know, I just don't care. Maybe it's the tone (a bit later he says, "Call it lighting a candle instead of cursing the dark, bucking the tradition, or just plain fighting back" and, I dunno, it just makes me want to kill a puppy it's so goddamned self-righteous) or maybe I'm merely cringing at my own sort of critical provincialism, but it seems like such a silly thing to focus on, such an absurd thing to be wasting your energies with when there's real work to be done. (Although--in fairness--I think I backed up many of my jerimands with a legitimate argument that the criticism I was trying to knock down was having a negative effect on the actual making of music, not just on its consumption, but I could certainly be as delusional as Mssr. White in that regard.) The Village Voice simply does not have a significant effect on the film industry, nor does the kind of criticism it, apparently, promotes, although I admit I'm at a loss as to what that is--didn't they review as many slow-moving Iranian films as the next chappie? And sweet lord, can we please stop complaining about hipsters? They're like bad smells--unpleasant to be around, but making no actual impact on your life.
Look: nothing is preventing you from seeing a movie. The technology is just there now, and in terms of criticism the freedom that apparently some people needed Pauline Kael to grant to them already friggin exists. If you don't think it does: there! Poof! I'm giving it to you! Go watch whatever the fuck your heart desires now! If you don't, stop goddamned complaining!
As for distribution: look, if a film fails, it fails. It's not like an AIDS drug not getting to patients who need it. It's a goddamned movie, and, let's be honest here, there are many more productive things to be than a goddamn filmmaker. If your film career doesn't work out, go start a free clinic in Thailand. I mean sweet jesus.
What I'm trying to say, I guess, is that while 2004 was a great year for music (just like every year), it was just a horrible year for criticism. The three best critics working were Chuck Klosterman, Alex Ross, and Heather Havrilesky, one of whom doesn't review anything, one of whom works with classical music, and one of whom reviews TV, which is to say that none of the best critics are working in the big 3 genres of novels, rock music (sad but true), and movies. I don't know if this is worrisome or predictable or both. What it speaks to is the stultifying provincialism of criticism today, its unwillingness or inability to embrace a wider culture, to engage with culture as it's actually experienced rather than attempting to create your own little artificial cultural biosphere where only things you like are successful, which, for all his fire and brimstone, White's trying to do as much as any Voice critic (or Pitchfork critic) is.
Culture is interesting to me because it's so complex, because it's the result of millions and millions of independent actors, from viewers to editors to lawyers to marketers to (er) actors to directors to writers to musicians. It's the finely-wrought and nearly infinite universe created by these tiny decisions, and the simple fact is that even the smartest critic can't create something more interesting than that. The reaction many critics have to this sea of choices is to try and create a restrictive little bubble in their own image and then only allow access to people who can conform to that shape. Bubbles are OK, but it seems more useful to make 'em in the image of the world itself, a map rather than a model, and to have a little bubble-door where anyone can come in, and the bubble will grow and stretch and...OK, I'm trying to do too much with this metaphor, but you see what I mean.
Just as there is a finite-but-ginormous ocean of culture out there, so is there a similarly horizon-kissing dead sea of opportunities for criticism. But aside from a few folks who've been plopped out in the middle, we're mainly sticking close to shore. There are so many things we can do with what we've been given, and criticism's very youth as a genre is a huge boon. It really isn't an accident that the best writing's being done in fresh territories, because there aren't any expectations there, and when there are no expectations, there's no responsibility, which is exactly what you want out of criticism. Good TV criticism is so good in part because you simply can't take the subject that seriously--as great as America's Next Top Model may be, you can't ignore those indescribably crass, campy Jay Manuel Cover Girl commercials that interrupt every episode. The artform comes to you debased, and it is this lowering that promotes a higher criticism. The more seriously you take the artform, the worse the criticism will be, and it is the criticism that matters here, not the art itself, which will after all survive with or without us. If we can manage to be passionate while laughing at what we're doing, which I think is most people's experience of art, we can make something truly wonderful.
These petty battles and limitations of scope do nothing for criticism. They are boring, the worst thing you can be when you're already at least one level of symbiosis down. We have been given a challenge and we are failing it. Criticism has a real capacity to entertain (and by entertaining illuminate) that is simply not being explored.
My favorite film of the year was unquestionably Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and one of the things I really liked about that was the banality of it. The gorgeous scenes have stuck in my mind, of course, but I find myself returning more to the images of the two in the car in their winter clothes, or on the LIRR, or in the apartment building. They manage to depict everyday life without beautifying it or debilitating it, which is what makes the gorgeous scenes so affecting, because they fire here like a good song or a good movie does in the context of driving in a car or walking on a sidewalk or sitting in your messy room. Art is our waking dream, the epic battle that takes place only in our heads, the interruption of pleasure in the middle of banality, thus becoming banal itself. Art is beauty, and as such it is the presence of the sublime in our lives, making our lives, again, sublime themselves.
But we forget this. We treat art as politics or lifestyle, and while these things can be wonderful too, they are not beauty. Arguments about art can be lovely, but they must be expansive to be truly worthwhile, they must take us somewhere else besides where we currently are. What I want from criticism is nothing fucking less than what I get from Renoir or Kurosawa or Flan O'Connor, and you motherfuckers are not giving that to me. So give it to me, or go away. I don't have time for your bullshit anymore.
 You wanna talk "freedom"? Freedom is not dissing Dogville and promoting Asian cinema. Right now, freedom is using the phrase "the strange postmodern twists and turns of 'The Joe Schmo Show'" with complete and utter sincerity, not even acknowledging that some people might read it as ironic, as Heather does. 
 "Again with the metaphors!" OK, I'll stop.
 I wanted to do a full post on the movie after my initial viewing, but it seemed to be adequately covered elsewhere; maybe I'll rent it at some point and attempt another go.
 Incidentally, this article is pretty much the most essential year-end wrapup you'll read anywhere.
posted by Mike B. at 11:45 AM 0 comments
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
As I discovered yesterday while finalizing my Pazz & Jop ballot, and as a Flagpole reader oh-so-delicately pointed out to me a few hours later, one of my top 10 singles, Candypants' "I Want a Pony," is not from 2004. It is not even from 2003, or 2002. It is from 2000, which is or is not part of this decade, depending on how you count things, but I'm going to give myself the benefit of the doubt and say that at least I got the right decade.
So fuck it: this year I'm just doing "songs I listened to this year that I like a lot." Starting now.
posted by Mike B. at 11:31 AM 0 comments