Pop culture treasure, high culture trash.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Fingertips to fingertips

Sometimes you read or hear something to which no amount of grandstanding or slang-slinging can do justice, something that absolutely and with no mercy kicks yr emotional equilibrium to the curb, bereft of breath and words. You are following along, doing yr laundry, perhaps, until suddenly the narrative twists, the story being told is yr own and you are left standing still in the middle of yr bedroom, holding a matchless sock and sobbing.

Catalina Puente's WNYC Radio Rookies segment is that kind of thing. Please, whoever you are--listen to it. It might not be about what you think it's going to be about. It will be worth the 12 minutes and 43 seconds, I promise.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Simons say

By the time of rave I had read Deleuze and Guattari, and it all just seemed to genuinely be there in the music, at the heart of how it operated. The idea of rhizomatic networks applied to the world of white labels and pirate radio and record shops serving as hubs. And also the dementia involved. Deleuze and Guattari came out of the idea that normal life screws you up and that madness is a sane response to our civilization.

If there was ever any doubt that Simon Reynolds knows his shit, it's been Cheney'd out of the quail covey by his Seattle Weekly Jukebox Jury with Andy Battaglia. The name-that-tune format really lets Reynolds shine, especically when they're listening to Phuture's "Spank Spank" and he pounces, "Is this an acid-house track? Phuture? Something about the hi-hats..." Or when they put on Gang of Four and he deadpans, "This is very much about Antonio Gramsci." Which it totes is, it's just, y'know, weird to hear somebody say it so declaratively. He diagnoses Arctic Monkeysitis as a kind of perennial Beatles nostalgia, observing, "the core music-press readership is always looking for a four-man guitar band from Britain that reflects back their lives to them in a slightly heroic way." Notice the "man" part of the equation; do (boy) critics get jazzed about Electrelane and the Gossip and even the Sleater in quite the same way they do about the Monkeys and Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand? Maybe sometimes. But the downward pull of the girl ghetto always lurks, fierce and relentless--like Scylla, or Ann Coulter. The default setting for "new genius band" is still "men."

While we're on the subject of glasses-wearing British whiz-crits named Simon, I'ma get something off my chest. Remember when Perfect Sound Forever interviewed Simon Frith? That was the one that went like this:

PSF: You've talked about generalizations of record collecting habits where girls are 'dupes' and boys are 'cognoscenti.' How do you find this so?

SF: ...One of the few generalizations you can make is that if a boy likes a record, they'll [sic] go out and buy all of them (by an artist). You find that when boys buy a Bon Jovi record for instance, they have to go out and buy all the Bon Jovi records, whereas girls may have two...And that just kind of struck me through a lot of anecdotal experience- just to hear how girls listen to music, that they're not collectors like boys are. And that's something with a very long history and that goes across any number of cultures too. Being collectors and cognoscenti seems to be a very masculine attribute. How you actually explain that, I absolutely have no idea--what sort of cultural or psychology things are at play and such.

Apart from the fact that I do not appreciate being called a dupe because of what is (not) between my legs, I am not stepping to Simon F. I know it's just a generalization, and I understand the point he was trying to make. However, I feel obligated to stress that I do not fit this pattern. I can kick the collector/cognoscenti steez any day of the week, and I am a girl. My sister is this way, too. And I can think of at least one "cultural or psychology thing" at play--try gender socialization. Kids are brilliant at conforming to what is expected of them. If girls grow up being assured that they're weak, or nurturers, or dupes, that's what they're liable to become. As for Frith's later point that "girls are more likely to have female acts in their collection than boys are," yeah, I suppose--except for the most collectorly dude I know, who shops for 7 inches the way most people buy bread and whose house is practically constructed out of rare vinyl. Said dude's mantra is six close variants of "BOY BANDS ARE BORING" and he quizzes me on Raincoats trivia when we are supposed to be working. Whose anecdotal experience is Frith privileging here? How many girls have to be collectors before the generalization begins to break down?

P.S. So's not to be exclusive: Simon Price is also lovely.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Julianne Shepherd nails it in Interrobang:

"YouTube is also this insane cultural tool. It not only illuminates certain truths about moments in music history, but also offers this intimate window into how other people in the world are relating to the current moment-- people who you'd never otherwise know but for the webbertron's perpetually amazing global connectivity. For instance, who is this guy, and how does one end up live-popping in a clothing store? Or these dudes, chillaxing in a V formation? I don't know, but I think I would like to be all of their friends."

Monday, February 20, 2006

Take the money/ leave the box/ everybody's on Top of the Pops

YouTube's reign of terror is merciless. I can't go anywhere without brainstorming bands to search for when I get home. Two nights ago I actually sat up in bed and gasped, "SUZI QUATRO!" The live performance trough appears to be bottomless, even after you've sifted out the 75,000 clips that are Mariah Carey and porn. A good bet is to search for Old Grey Whistle Test and Top of the Pops, but be warned--you may be forcibly dragged from yr compy months later, deranged & dehydrated, screaming, "NOOO! I HAVEN'T CHECKED TO SEE IF THEY'VE GOT X-RAY SPEX YET!"

Some of my favorites:

The Adverts -- Gary Gilmore's Eyes
Gaye Advert's black nail polished bass wizardry blinds the eyes and burns the heart.

Human League -- Sound of the Crowd
The fog! The hair! The single stabbing finger keyboard-playing! A tranny disco fever dream for the ages. Words cannot express how beautiful this is. Get in line now/ get in line now!

The Kinks -- Autumn Almanac
Toasted, buttered currant buns; my poor rheumatic back; yes, yes, yes, it's my autumn almanac! Ray Davies lifts suit jacket, wiggles bum; Dave grins like he's just drunk a quart of Skittles. You'll get six cavities while watching.

Queen -- Killer Queen
Whatevs, whatevs, Freddie's the shit, even lipsynching. Fastidious and precise...if you're that way inclined.

The Rezillos -- Flying Saucer Attack
Four-way tie between this, "Destination Venus," the deathly meta "Top of the Pops" (performed on show of same name, natch) and the coked-out art school wankery of "(My Baby Does) Good Sculptures." Boy-girl vocal caramel a la John & Exene, plus guitarist nailing the perfect pogo. Karen O has obvs. seen the tapes.

Altered Images -- A Day's Wait, Insects
In heaven, all kindergarten classes are taught by Claire Grogan. And everyone dances just like her, too.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Turn on the Brit bands

So the Arctic Monkeys aren't as bad as all that. Maybe it's only because I've just now eaten an enormous bowl of Count Chocula, the crack cocaine of breakfast cereals, but honestly, they could be worse. I enjoy the way Alex Turner straps his guitar way up under his armpit, as if he could care less about assuming the requisite "my axe is my phallus and I wear it down by my knees" pose of rock boy machoism. His playing doesn't resemble wanking off so much as frantically grating a wedge of cheese. I also like the fact that he rhymes "Capulets" with "DJ sets," and that the Monkeys will be hitting up the Hull Ice Arena for their spring 2006 tour. Perhaps they will perform on the rink itself, in reference to their name? Or at least hijack a zamboni for the encore?

Like it or not, we had all better get used to the Arctic Monkeys, because they are the new Oasis. That's what everyone has been saying, so it must be true. The Subways are the new Arctic Monkeys, as well as the old Art Brut, who were the new Futureheads, who may or may not have once been Oasis. Everyone is Bloc Party.

Personally, I miss the days when you could just call somebody Joy Division and be done with it. Those were simpler, saner times. Dammit, Interpol, where are you? I think some more Count Chocula is in order.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Quiet mob/ noisy recluse

with special guests SPAGHETTI WESTERN STRING CO.

Cedar Cultural Center
Friday, February 17, 8 pm
$10 advance/$12 day of show/$8 student rush

Like October's Quiet Mob release party in reverse. This time the Pines headline, towing a brand new EP of their own. They are deep and dark and shiverful, like early Dylan but emphatically un-Oberst. Plus, SWSC have new songs that are not to be missed--I have heard living room previews.

Monday, February 13, 2006

And if you like you can buy the ring

"It got very treacherous in the end, the flowers thing, because the stage was so goddamn slippy...you know, I'd be wearing moccasins and you'd be getting down with your bad self, and the next thing, whoa! Bang! A tulip!"

-Johnny Marr on the unique challenges of Smiths shows

Youtube has a Smiths clip up with more dreamy concert montages than you can shake a daffodil at. It's from some British VH1 rip-off called "I Love 1984," but unlike their American counterparts, the Brit writers and music people herded in to do the commentary are not bumbling, unfunny ass-clowns. This is great, because it means that instead of Michael Ian Black drooling we get Tony Wilson & Friends being classy and making comprehensible points. We also get Shaun Duggan, the Smiths teenage superfan whose play based on "William, It Was Really Nothing" was produced and performed in London in 1984. The BBC smelled drama and somehow induced Moz to actually show up and interview the poor kid, and said interview is the grand finale of the Youtube clip.

I dunno what the whole thing is like in context, but as is it's gothic and weirdly sexual, with Duggan looking like he desperately wants to climb into Morrissey's lap. I'm not complaining, it's fucking fantastic, but where are they? Why is the set so dark? And was that really a close-up of Morrissey licking his lips? Moz asks if fame is important to Duggan, and he quips, ""Yeah, I mean, I don't want to die and be no one, do you know what I mean?" There is the briefest of pauses before Moz breathes, "I do." But in that pause there is Morrissey, a teenage superfan in his own right, barricaded in his bedroom in his mum's house, sanctifying every inch of wall space with James Dean and the New York Dolls and trying to figure out how to turn himself into a pop star. Yes, darling, he knows.

Mozzer also shows up to head-scratching effect in New York Doll, the bizonkers documentary on Dolls bassist Arthur "Killer" Kane. He's totes eloquent and earnest, almost painfully so, but for some reason the director insists on shooting him exclusively in an eyebrows-to-chin close-up. Which is odd, because all of the other Dolls genius testifyers (Chrissie Hynde, Clem Burke, Mick Jones, Bob Geldof) are shown sitting several feet away from the camera. Maybe he's body-conscious and agreed to appear in the film only on the condition that he be shot in close-up, or else the director thought it would make him seem more mysterious and savior-like (he masterminds the Dolls reunion). Either way, the result is some seriously intense heaping screenfuls of Moz face.

You'll be able to see all of him, presumably, at SXSW next month when he does a special combo interview and music showcase. If you're a starving wallflower like me and will be sitting that one out, read this charming essay instead. And let's all of us read Saint Morrissey again--it's still the stunningest Mozological survey yet produced.

P.S. Dear God, this is the cutest thing ever.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Pogo Princess Girl Band Quiz 'N Contest

Test yr music smarts. If you get 7 of 7 correct answers w/o cheating, e-mail Pogo headquarters (dancingvioletsnail@yahoo.com) with yr address and you will receive a prize.

1. Which of the following is not an actual girl band?
A) Bella and the Bottomfeeders
B) Goldie and the Gingerbreads
C) Doris and the Dee-Lighters
D) Martha and the Muffins

2. "It's garage pop in clean overalls...And like Debbie Harry, Nikki is no slouch in the looks department -- ooooh, that pout! "

The previous quotation, from a review of Nikki & the Corvettes' self-titled album, was written
A) in 1979
B) in 2000
C) by Greil Marcus
D) by an alcoholic donkey

3. Tracy + the Plastics is
A) The world's leading manufacturer of disposable silverware
B) Three women
C) One woman
D) Two women, a man and three robots

4. In a 1999 interview with Rolling Stone, David Bowie described 70s super girl-group Fanny as
A) "about as talented as my cat's bum"
B) "one of the finest fucking rock bands of their time"
C) "tremendously indebted to Space Oddity"
D) "a bit better than the Spice Girls"

5. Laura Molina was the lead singer for
A) Tiger Lily
B) Tiger Trap
C) Tigerella
D) "Tiger" brand stain remover commercials

6. Influential punk phenoms Kleenex (later LiliPUT) were also
A) Swiss
B) amateur mimes
C) actually men
D) the Mo-dettes' secret side project

7. What was Cibo Matto's first full-length record called, and what were all of its songs about?
A) Ladies, Women & Girls; skateboarding
B) Odyshape; origami
C) Stereotype A; pets
D) Viva! La Woman; food

1-3 correct answers
You looked in She's A Rebel.

4-6 correct answers
You are Gillian Gaar.

7 correct answers
You are Gillian Gaar's mom.

ANSWERS: 1) C; 2) B; 3) C; 4) B; 5) A; 6) A; 7) D

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

SCUM/Solanas FAQ

Writing about the Friedan legacy for Salon, Joan Walsh offers,

"I'm not old enough to judge the battles of the day with firsthand knowledge or memory, but certainly [Friedan] was wrong about some things (she called lesbianism "a lavender menace" and thought if feminism embraced gay rights all feminists would be labeled lesbians), right about others (she threatened to sue when New York NOW president Ti-Grace Atkinson took up the cause of Valerie Solanis [sic], deranged founder of SCUM, the "Society to Cut Up Men," [sic] who shot Andy Warhol after accusing him of exploiting her in 1968)."

A few observations.

1. Valerie Solanas' last name is S-O-L-A-N-A-S. Kind of like the breakdown in Hollaback Girl. It is considered good journalistic practice to spell people's names correctly when you call them "deranged" in a national publication. Even if they did suffer from childhood abuse and paranoid schizophrenia, and are dead. Especially then.

2. The acronym SCUM stands for Society for Cutting Up Men.

3. SCUM was not, as the sentence implies, a functioning organization. Rather, it was an extended literary device intended to provoke attention and debate (think A Modest Proposal). Solanas never seriously planned to destroy the male sex. As she told the Village Voice in 1977, "It's hypothetical. No, hypothetical is the wrong word. It's just a literary device. There's no organization called SCUM."

4. Solanas did not say anything about men in the SCUM Manifesto that men haven't been saying about women for thousands of years. Substitute the word "female" for "male" at any point and it reads like mainstream ancient Greek, Medieval, Renaissance and even Enlightenment philosophy. Is SCUM more "deranged" than John Knox's 1558 "The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women," which states, "[Women's] sight...is but blindness; their strength, weakness; their counsel, foolishness; and judgment, frenzy"? It's anyone's call. At least Solanas, as Lili Taylor stressed on Saturday night at the Walker, had a sense of humor, which is more than can be said for either Knox or Filippo Marinetti, whose 1909 Futurist Manifesto called for the glorification of war ("the world's only hygiene"), the defeat of feminism and a general "scorn for woman."

Solanas didn't start this game. She just played it from the opposite side:

"Direct thought is not an attribute of femininity. In this, women are now centuries behind man." -Thomas Edison
"Completely egocentric, unable to relate, empathize or identify, and filled with a vast, pervasive, diffuse sexuality, the male is psychically passive." -Solanas

"Nature intended women to be our slaves. They are our property." -Napoleon Bonaparte
"The male is docile and easily led, easily subjected to the domination of any female who cares to dominate him. The male, in fact, wants desperately to be led by females, wants Mama in charge, wants to abandon himself to her care." -Solanas

"When a woman becomes a scholar there is usually something wrong with her sexual organs." -Friedrich Nietzsche
"[The male's] responses are entirely visceral, not cerebral; his intelligence is a mere tool in the services of his drives and needs; he is incapable of mental passion, mental interaction; he can't relate to anything other than his own physical sensations." -Solanas

"Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another." -H.L. Mencken
"Love can exist only between two secure, free-wheeling, independent groovy females, since friendship is based upon respect, not contempt." -Solanas

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Occult empathy

Always suspected, finally confirmed: Lili Taylor is the Mirah of film. Feminist, independent, uncompromising, inspiring as hell, realer than reals. Her talk show guest crossed-legs pose quickly melted into a hands-in-lap, legs-folded-at-ankles posture of polite attention, which also alternated with the kind of leaning-forward, both-feet-on-the-ground, "fuck ladylike" stance that betokens serious thinkery. She giggled a lot and was nervous and excited and awkward in the most endearing of ways and used the word 'autonomy.' TWICE. She posited a seachange in the marketability of indie movies around '96 and '97, just post-I Shot Andy Warhol/ Girls Town, but decried the reduction of an entire artistic philosophy of independence to a financial formula wherein you go low-budget only to maximize profit. She also made it pretty clear that from now on she is exclusively interested in taking on small projects that will probably never make money, because she is in this for the art and the honesty, not so much the commerce.

And of course, the heart-stealer moment: she said, "I am a feminist." When she did, my breath caught in my throat, because I swear, it is like J.M. Barrie's fairy-killing in reverse; every time somebody says "I believe in feminism," there's a feminist somewhere out there who comes to life.

Speaking of feminist heroes: my lady Becky Smith sends the arrow into the bullseye, through the target, around the world like Superman and into the bullseye again.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Give me 15 cents, and I'll give you a dirty word

Lili Taylor talks with B. Ruby Rich tonight at the Walker. It is going to be like Inside the Actors' Studio, only feminist, and not stupid. Hopefully somebody will bring up Jungian archetypes during the Q&A and we will debate their potential for lady-positive reclamation for six hours.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Please don't kill the freshman

I have been OKed to present at EMP Pop Con this year. This is rather like the Yankees letting a 5-year-old tee-ball novice pinch-hit for a couple of innings. I am very, very scared--the kind of scared that keeps company with rashes and cold sweats--but hope that it will all turn out like it did when I was 11 and did ballet. I was a mouse in The Tales of Beatrix Potter, and every night before I had to go onstage for the big mouse dance I would cower in the wings and wish that I was somewhere, anywhere else where I wouldn't have to run around in front of hundreds of people in a mouse head that made it impossible to see where I was going. But then, when my part was over and I could just hang out at stage left and clean my whiskers while the adults danced, the blood would rush to my head and I would get the most intense natural high imaginable and scream internally, "THIS IS FUCKING GREAT," only without the "fucking," because I was 11.

So maybe EMP will be like that. Me, dancing blindly in a mouse head. And then euphoria. Here is what I will be cleaning my whiskers about:

Truly Outrageous: Towards A Defense of Jem & the Holograms

Part response to the MTV explosion, part transparent marketing gimmick for a line of Barbie-like dolls by Hasbro, the animated television series Jem & the Holograms debuted in 1985 and aired in syndication until 1987. The show followed the adventures of Jerrica Benton, a plucky Nancy Drew-Kylie Minogue hybrid, as she and her all-girl band the Holograms recorded music, toured, and sparred with rival girl band the Misfits.

Jem & the Holograms provided a generation of kids growing up in the 80s with a template for understanding female musicianship. Not surprisingly, this template had more to do with fashion and magical earrings than it did with the labor of songwriting and performance. But where it failed to delineate a practical guide for musical production, Jem succeeded in conjuring up a unique world in which women were the primary producers of music, and men their villainized or inept supporting players. In my paper and through analysis of video clips, I examine the politics of this world and its influence on the ways we think about “girl bands” today. I also assess the show’s equation of musical (and female) success with materialism in order to test the limits of a feminist reading. Finally, by situating Jem as a response to the popularity of real groups like the Go-Gos, the Bangles, and Bananarama, I argue that the series deserves recognition not only as a guilty pleasure, but as an historical site of engagement with the changing musical landscape of the 1980s.