Pop culture treasure, high culture trash.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The covers issue

How bad is the Fiery Furnaces cover of "Norwegian Wood"? All I know is that its badness is easily eclipsed by the Nouvelle Vague cover of "Guns of Brixton," which is the ass-wonkedest drivel blue ribbon winner of this and yesteryear. Being annoyed by this version of the song feels strangely purposeless and post facto, since people have been grousing that the Clash appropriated reggae through it for more than 20 years. Getting yr dander up b/c Nouvelle Vague are just now buffing it to a fine bossa nova sheen could be seen as too little late.

Still, though, lining up one of Collin & Libaux's Pretty Ladies to sex-purr, "you can crush us/ you can bruise us/ yes, even shoot us" neuters the original politics of the song to such a palm-to-forehead, context-draining extent that all you can do while listening is wonder if maybe it really is time to have that cavity filled. And the sketchiest thing of all is that this seems to be the point of the entire Nouvelle Vague project, i.e., rounding up some young (read: stupid) female (read: pure, innocent) vocalists, throwing them in a studio with canonical 80s dance/goth/punk/pop and laughing at the irony that ensues. Some mod French babe butchering the Dead Kennedys! Hilarious!

What Nouvelle Vague don't seem to know is that there are only so many legit reasons to cover a song. Three, actually.

Reason to do a cover #1: MAKING A BAD SONG GOOD
This category includes all tracks, as previously blogged, wherein women cover the dino-core songbook and make them queer/feminist, but also things like Clem Snide's Xtina-redeeming "Beautiful."

Reason to do a cover #2: MAKING A GOOD SONG GREAT
Remember when Bratmobile did the Misfits' "Where Eagles Dare"? That was this. Also, the These Bones cover of "Toxic," which is sadly unavailable now but far superior to Local H's Nirvana clone shlock-a-thon version (really, wait for the chorus).

Reason to do a cover #3: SHOWING THAT A BAD SONG IS, ACTUALLY, BAD
Paul Anka Sinatrafying "It's My Life" and anything ever touched by the Moog Cookbook.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Why, shall we turn to men?

Oh my god. Is the Nile flowing backwards? Did Fugazi sign to Arista? Something is seriously altered and effed up somewhere in the unvierse today because I saw the Michael Radford "Merchant of Venice" and couldn't find the queer subtext. Every critic this side of Camille Paglia swooned that it had homoeroticism spilling out of every last extra's doublet and lute arpeggio on the soundtrack, and all I got was Jeremy Irons looking alternately resigned and wistful. Philip French promised me Irons as "a sad, rheumy-eyed old queen," for fuck's sake, but he just wasn't. Some subtle early sparks, and that promising bedroom snog, and then nothing. And this is coming from me, remember, a person who can find the queer subtext in an empty bag of Doritos. It sucks 'cause there's just so much there to draw on; even played traditionally, Antonio and all of "Merchant" are gay as yr uncle. I mean, check the first seven lines:

ANT. In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.
It wearies me, you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff 'tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn.
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me
That I have much ado to know myself.

Yeah. Uh-huh. Cf. like whoa The Picture of Dorian Gray, Chapter 2:

To realise one's nature perfectly--that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one's self...The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.

And I'm not even going to get into the Jewishness-as-queerness reading, which totally works, or the Portia-Nerissa relationship, or the fact that this play has more mysteriously motivated cross-dressing than a college football team kegger. I guess I'ma just have to see Callas Forever instead.

Friday, August 19, 2005

A weapon/ we must use/ in our defense

DC-area Goodwills are the thrift retailers of champions. Not only do they generously proffer yr typical multiple copies of Synchronicity, Tapestry, & the complete works of REO Speedwagon, they will also cough up the Dead Milkmen, Roxy Music, Tommy & Substance on cassette for $.50 ea. in return for a few minutes' worth of crouching on a dirty floor and blocking the always-crowded paperbacks/video aisle. I got Beauty and the Beat on vinyl because, y'know, it's an important record--Return to the Valley of the Go-Gos is grittier and more interesting for punk histori-fans, but Beauty was the first #1 rec written and performed by a lady band (factcheck me in She's A Rebel) so it's a nice thing to have around as, like, physical evidence of the music industry's not-too-distant sexist jerkwad past. 1981 is way late, dudes. Also, Belinda Carlisle totally used to drum for the Germs.

On Thursday (last week) I did my last radio show. It was like The Last Picture Show, only with much less naked Cybill Shepherd. I played On the Outside and Sevenwhateverteen, during both of which I got more than a little close to crying, and said goodbye to the surf rock DJ with the show before mine, who gave me his best wishes and a business card with a picture of a wave and "Tsunami Soul" on it. That kid was alright. We bonded over the sad lack of in-station Gang of Four and sub-zero studio temps. GAFTMG, RIP.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Go go gadget teenage underground

Ian Svenonius accounts for electro & neo-psych-folk by way of Alan Greenspan. Nice to see somebody acknowledging that even the punkest and indiest musical mov'ts don't press their 7 inches in an economic vaccuum. It's all so original and thought-provoking I'ma forego all the obvious Sassiest Boy snark tactics. That segment on the Make-up in Songs for Cassavetes, though, wherein a 1997-era Svenonius rants, poker-faced, about using shows to bring the gospel to his congregation--that was the scariest, funniest, most wait-is-this-actually-a-Rob-Reiner-mockumentary moment of the film, outdoing even all those low-angle shots of a (purposefully?) unlit Calvin Johnson that made him seem like a lurking, shadowy misanthrope, a la the phantom of the opera, or Dr. Claw on Inspector Gadget.

Also off the K Recs radar, the PDX community continued to break new territory for awesome on Monday by doing a benefit show for Beth Ditto, who has no health insurance to pay her recent hospital bills. I hope things like this happen in Minneapolis, to where I am moving myself in two weeks. One of my future Minn. housemates is in the band Spaghetti Western, who are totes lovely and you should listen to right now. B/c of the moving process and the way it has been forcing me to spend most of my waking hours in airports and post offices, blog action may slow just a bit. For now I am back in the Arlington-DC corridor, trying not to get upset by the fact that my hometown neighborhood has become a Cheesecake Factoried, Williams Sonomaed, beer-flooded dystopia with more denim bars than music stores or flea markets.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Hungry like the Wolfe

The Partyline show at the Beachland tavern last night was sad and a half. I had thought all the old Bratmobile fans would come out, but they didn't. Or rather, they did, but they consisted entirely of me and Sara. So Allison Wolfe is up there in her "Fuck Bush" short shorts doing splits and high kicks and talking about Ralph Nader and cicadas and smart girls and feminism and leaving the dishes in her sink at home in DC before going on tour, and there are maybe 15 people on the floor. I kept glancing around as if to say, "Dudes, get off yr bar stools and show some respect!" It was a Tuesday night, and the first date of the tour, and Partyline only got their debut EP out a couple months ago. Still, though, their jams are raucous and rare and A. Wolfe is a one-lady musical institution/national treasure. Attention must be paid. Their tour hits every city in the western hemisphere (Euro dates w/ Spider & the Webs!), so show up and compliment Angela on her tiara.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

I know I can dance

Have you ever willed something into existence with your subconscious mind?

After months of devoted daily listening, slogging through show after show of hardline evangelist Christians and Civil War surgery experts with only the occasional Donovan or Jeanne Moreau or Marianne Faithfull to break things up, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein were on Fresh Air. One minute I’m sitting at my desk, tracking down the museum acquisiton numbers of ancient Greek pots for my research job and singing “Sold Out” to myself, and the next they're on and I’m scrambling around on the carpet trying to position my little Sony radio so it’s at the one spot on the floor where it picks up the NPR station without static.

I know Fresh Air is all big and national and everything, but it feels like my show, and Terry Gross is my lady, so to have the three of them together was like a feminist media summit/dream come true. Terry did call Janet “Janice,” though, which was a shame, and quoted Spin a lot more than was necessary. She managed to slide in a few quasi-musicial and performance-related questions, and for someone who’s been spending the summer sitting on her bed with her guitar picking out riffs from The Woods, this was really exciting.

Why do some people need to have heroes? Why do I need to construct these icons—these women—for myself to believe in who are braver and stronger and more confident and nimble-fingered than me? Because really, all it takes is one tremolo or one eyes-closed scream at a show and all of the old kill yr idols, worship-the-music-not-the-musician gospel is stone-cold breathless dead in my heart and replaced by the malingering, naive trust that This Lady Is Somehow Like Me, loves music the way I do and does all the things I’d do myself if I weren’t so shy and scared.

There is a manifesta about queer fandom to be written here. I think Mimi Nguyen may have written it already but I can’t track it down. If you know of anything, let a sister know. This weekend I am going to Minneapolis to humbly ask that fair city if it will adopt me and generally be kinder and gentler than Chicago was a month ago. Pray, y’alls, pray.