Pop culture treasure, high culture trash.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Lightning struck itself

On the plane, waiting out an endless pre-flight delay, I pick out the following phrase from the conversation going on behind me:

In the trunk of your Mercedes

I want to turn around and say,

Hey, um, did you know that what you just said was in perfect trochaic tetrameter? You know, like Poe--Once upon a midnight dreary? While I pondered weak and weary? In the trunk of yr Mercedes? Yeah. So um, do you like trochees too? Because they are so totally the most punk rock of all metrical feet. BUM-bum BUM-bum. It's almost the "Marquee Moon" riff, don't you think? Okay, not exactly, that's more evenly stressed, but "Psycho Killer," maybe? "Beat on the Brat?" 'Cause like, the trochee is also the underdog foot. Everybody loves iambs. Iambs steal the attention since they're Shakespeare and all, and I realize it's hard to ignore that 'The quality of mercy is not strained' stuff, but really, what is iambic pentameter? A feather floating to the ground--a horse galloping at best. Which is fine and all, you know, that's great, but trochees are like hammers striking anvils. You want urgency? You want speed and heat and insistence and propulsion? The trochee's yr foot. Do you know what I mean?

I don't.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

And now a word from our sponsor

Out of town for the weekend. Keep pogoing by yrselves in the interval.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Some people are hard to impress

L: Oh my God. The Smiths turned down five million dollars to reunite at Coachella.

(a pause)

J: Don't they do that every year?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Show me the lipstick

All big musical trend pieces are doomed out of the box. Still, last Thursday's New York Times Critic's Notebook peddles egregious journalistic what-the-fuckery of a kind normally reserved for the pages of the Weekly World News. Casting about for a way to explain what those crazy kids are listening to nowadays, the NYT sells its sanity for a point of reference its target age demographic can appreciate and finds itself reporting, "EMO IS THE NEW GLAM ROCK." Which is a compelling and plausible claim, if you happen to be a 70-year-old reclusive Valium addict who spent 1970-1974 listening to the A side of "A Gene Autry Christmas" and thinks that Mott the Hoople was a character on Sesame Street.

It starts out innocently (if lamely) enough: "[emo] has become the soundtrack of white adolescence." That's about six years late, and marginalizes all of the precocious smartie lit kids who are listening to, like, the Decemberists, but okay. Then--

"A genre that was once mocked for its supposed earnestness is now home to some of the most flamboyant boys in rock 'n' roll."

Flamboyant? Flamboyant how, exactly? In their egotistical tunnel-vision and unshakeable belief that their straight white boy problems trump those of the rest of the world? In their confidence that said problems deserve to be soundtracked by bargain basement power chords dueling laryngitic hamster vocals and listened to adoringly by the sympathetic youth of America? This sidesteps the real meaning of flamboyance, which refers to the ostentacious public display of one's self, often through elaborate and fancy clothing. If we adhere to the first half of that definition alone, all pop singers are flamboyant; to get into true fiery glam territory, emo bands would need to wear a lot more than black hoodies and thrift store Vans. Glam was necessarily queer--by which I mean abnormal/subversive/ literate/hedonistic/revolutionary in addition to homotastic--and there is nothing queer about emo, either sexually or politically. For all its anti-establishment trappings, emo clings desperately to the status quo and to the stability of a system in which boy-subjects must eternally suffer at the hands of cruel yet objectified girl-vixens. When you queer emo, make a girl a subject or a boy a vixen, it ceases to be emo at all.

"BUT OH!" the Times interjects here. "Didn't you notice THE MAKEUP??"

"emo bands are doing something unlikely: they're reviving the fierce, fey spirit of glam rock, complete (sometimes) with eyeliner and lipstick."

At this point the article gestures proudly at a a picture of Pete Wentz wearing (GASP!) eyeliner. Oh, the abjection! Oh, the upended social paradigms! Pete is Ziggy reborn! Or so the Times would have us believe, since they make supreme ass-hats of themselves by running a picture of the Homo Superior himself c. 1973 on the next page and proving by visual comparison that Wentz is about as fierce and fey as a Little Debbie snack cake. Wearing a Bowie t-shirt and rebirthing an entire socio-musical movement are not the same thing. As for the lipstick tease, where are all of these mythical Maybelline'd baby queens? So Gerard Way likes his eyeliner--fine. But find me a picture of an emo dude wearing lipstick and I'll show you an Alkaline Trio lyric that quotes Andrea Dworkin.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The devil will find work for idle hands to do

When I work upstairs at the bookstore people mostly leave me alone. There is the occasional "Where's yr Vonnegut/Frank O'Hara/Scientology/ public bathroom" query, but the truly bizonkers customer encounters are few and far between. Yesterday, though, kittens, yesterday--a man approaches me blazing a bright white clerical collar and asks for Dante. He is holding a torn paperback of Paradiso but wants more. "Oh," I say, trying desperately not to stare at his collar, and then remember something. "Oh! We actually have a beautiful illustrated copy of the Inferno. Would you like me to get it for you?"

"No," he says firmly. "I am only interested in Paradise."

So I scamper away into the lit section feeling totes the foul temptress, tapping what are surely cloven hooves inside my knockoff New Balances. I find another copy of Paradiso and call after the priest, "Sir!" even though it would really curl my pointy tail to be able to yell out, "Father!"

He takes the second Paradiso and goes downstairs, but my mind is already racing around and away and ahead, thinking back through the history of the priest as fetish and wondering what this is really about, whether it could all be as simple as overripe paternalism and the specter of the flesh renounced. Why do priests get eroticized in ways that rabbis, for example, never do? Is it just the celibacy or is there something uniquely Catholic at work here?

It is a good thing the store will be keeping that illustrated Inferno, though, because one wants to know where one is going to spend eternity. As far as I can tell it's the seventh circle for me, the flaming desert where it rains fire, and it's really not so bad compared with what goes down in circles eight and nine. Chances are I'll see you there, because technically, any non-procreative sex acts comitted outside of Christian marriage are sodomitical. When I get there I'm going to start a four-way checkers tournament with Michelangelo, Colette and Freddie Mercury. I am sure there will be checkers in hell.

Monday, March 13, 2006

"Is there some place I can plug this amp in?"

Also on the Tracy tip, or at least the filmmaking peers of Miranda July underappreciation roll call: Dream Machine, by Brett Vapnek. The most inspired cinematic use of doughnuts, lipstick and karaoke ever? The best short film you've never seen? A WORLD OF YES. Like July and Greenwood, Vapnek has an eye for the mundane, for the awkward silences and small social traumas that fill our lives but rarely get seriously represented in works of art. Dream Machine isn't afraid to point out the beauty of the everyday caught up in a thousand moments of waiting, boredom, miscommunication and aloneness--or to posit a world in which people ignore Mary Timony and make it somehow believable. Vapnek has fallen off the Pogo radar somewhat since Fan Mail but I am hoping she has a new project lurking wing-side, waiting for its glorious Me & You & Everyone-style accolade explosion. The world needs her films too much for this not to happen.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The city--apocalypse!

The 7th Street Entry, 3/9/06
Tracy + the Plastics w/ Ear Candy, Gay Beast

Despite top City Pages billing and the fact that this was the third-to-last time Tracy, Nikki and Cola will ever appear on stage together (possibly the last time they will ever exist live, period??) the crowd was light and in a distinctly un-mourning mood. Gay Beast heroically dodged Erase Errata tags while still kicking out the kind of no-wave spazz-core that is perfect for seizuring yrself into an early danceteria grave. Ear Candy rocked white vinyl minidresses, shades and wigs with Chicks on Speed ferocity, sang in French, blew minds and stole hearts. When Tracy came on the mood didn't so much come down as rearrange itself to accomodate the eulogy. This show, after all, was Wynne saying goodbye to characters she has been shaping and living inside for six years. Not that she's sad about it. Pointing out that there are just two Tracy shows left, she declared, "That's a good thing." "No! Nooo!" the front row fan kids gasped in horror. "Yes," she insisted. "It is. A very good thing."

And maybe, somehow, it is. Being in a three-person band where all three people are you is not exactly twinkies and skittles, and the fatigue showed just the smidgiest bit, with Wynne performing the painfully brief set/demo sitting down. It was fab to see that even after so long, Nikki can still make Tracy laugh--she sat slumped in her chair, fiercely nonplussed, staring into Nikki's face projected onto the backdrop, shaking her head and snickering as if to say, "God, Nikki. What are you doing?" But the empty spaces of Tracy shows have always been there for a reason, to give breathing room to spontaneity, audience interaction and politics, so we talked about Cheney, South Dakota ("I thought about doing an impromptu performance piece where I give myself an abortion, but that would have just been gross,") Wynne's last Mpls Homocore ("I was a roadie for the Need!") and the imperative to decenter and deconstruct the White House ("That's how it is when you're a radical lesbian feminist.") Six years went by so fast. Tracy, Nikki and Cola, you will be missed.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Expressway to yr sub-corporate distributor

Am I supposed to be squiffed that Ecstatic Peace is teaming with Universal? Because the sadness is there, and a twinge in my heart—the “this is so not what Ian MacKaye would do” indie bereavement-cum-indignation. But in the end, I am calling this an un-betraying non-issue, because the Thurston says he’s being cautious, and I trust that. SY did this little thing in 1990 called sign to a major label, and they somehow weathered the morph without turning into the J. Geils band. It was a harrowing time, for totes, but we all survived in one piece, and later there was Murray Street, and Sonic Nurse...right? Right? Ignore the twinge. It'll be fine.

Monday, March 06, 2006

She's come undone

The Oscars have always demanded a certain number of jokes about gay and Jewish people per hour. The number gets smaller every year, but we are counting backwards from a million, so it is going to take us a long time to get to zero. I ask Jon and Anjanette why this is. They jibe, sarcaustic: “Because gays and Jews are funny.” I dance to the commercial and when they laugh at me I snark, “See, I just proved it’s true.”

At the bookstore we looked at Why We Never Danced the Charleston, its back cover advertising “the handsome, brooding Jew.” “Can that be my new nickname?” I plead, even though I am not sure I quite deserve to be called any of these things. “Yes,” she says. It should be a Wikipedia tag, we determine tonight. We also look at Cinderella’s Big Score, and when I point at Cynthia Connolly's S-K portrait under Mia Zapata in the photos section and say, “Look, she is schizophrenic,” that is exactly what I mean. Split-brained. Skhidzein, to split; phren, phrenos, mind. Split at the root. If the English language offers any precision whatsoever it is thanks to Greek. Pinnioned in the fold like that Carrie has three eyes, one of them downcast and half-closed, the others curious and peering. It is not a comment on the inward eye, voyeuristic complicity or even pop performance as schizophrenia, but I want it to be, because isn’t that what you have to do? Keep one face smiling at the photographer and another focused on yrself? This is not really me at all/ stunt girl daring twirls watch me fall.

This makes me nervous. I do not like the coincidence. All too often when we talk about women, artistry and genius keep solid company with schizophrenia and hysteria. The classical legacy plays nice when confined to words, but sabotages our assumptions about art and who makes it and why. When men make music that is wild and new and difficult it is because they are brilliant; male artistic experimentation has precedent and canonicity. When women make music that is wild and new and difficult it is harder to explain without talking about hysteria, trauma, instability, sexual history—-witches boiling newts’ eyes in cauldrons. Nick Cave is innovative. Bjork is unhinged.

Hysteria is a loaded and highly problematic concept to introduce into a discussion of female creativity, even as a metaphor. The term comes from the Greek word for uterus, husterikos. For centuries, psychosomatic and mental disorders in women were attributed to a ‘wandering womb.’ In other instances, such delirium was perceived as the mark of possession by demons...*

But then, doesn’t this make women the ultimate pop stars?

In a sense, hysteria is the very stuff of pop, both on the part of performers and fans...Pop has always been about the too much, the melodramatic amplification of passion or pain.**

When I made the mix tape, I wrote down the band names on a scrap piece of paper. Slant 6, Julie Ruin, Rasputina, Mecca Normal, Tuscadero. Excuse 17, Tracy, Patti. Later I noticed that across the top I had written HEROINES AND HYSTERICS as a reminder to check out the book of the same name. Another coincidence, or 23 years of conditioning? I say, let's reclaim this shit.

Hysterical Blackness
Hysterical Librarian
Hysteria festival

* & **: Simon Reynolds and Joy Press, writing in The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion and Rock 'n' Roll (276-7).