Pop culture treasure, high culture trash.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

High diva dudgeon

An especially lucid post at JD's SH nails down the seductive lure of bashing Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. It's too facile, probably, but the parallels are there:

Thus we are tempted into psychologizing the auteur: the story of the poor little rich girl, born and then again delivered into an incomprehensibly-contoured world of privilege, glamour and public visibility which would offer her anything but real experience and the possibility of being taken seriously, proved finally irresistible to [Coppola], and damn the context.

Speaking of psychologizing the auteur, Tiny Mix Tapes earns 10,000 Pogo Points for even insinuating "The Beatles Broke Up Yoko Ono." Take that, misogynist Beatles historians.

Essentially, Yoko's taste for the avant-garde style of music (concept comes before function or form) was one of the major factors in John's change in musical direction. After getting involved with her and gaining inspiration from her conceptual expressions, Lennon went on to write his best music: "Julia," "Happiness is a Warm Gun," "I Want You (She's So Heavy);" even the vitriolic attack of the stellar "Cold Turkey" bears her tremendous influence. And that's just in the '60s.

As for the suggestion that the first Tom Ripley novel prefigured glam a full 17 years before Ziggy sucked up into his mind and Marc was all alone without a telephone...why not? I love the idea of Patricia Highsmith sitting down at her desk in 1970 and exclaiming, "At last, the rock 'n roll era is over! Now I can finally revisit Ripley, since he never made sense within its context of Dionysianism and appeal to the big Other!" But I don't see the need to go and and sweep all the homoeroticism under the rug like that. The line between wanting to be someone and wanting to do someone is beautifully blurred and maddeningly unfixed, and its waverings deserve scrutiny. Then again, it's hard to argue with Zizek.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Unfinished business

Can there be some kind of public announcement about how great the Au Pairs anthology is? I mean, DEAR GOD. I know this phrase should be banned for the next ten years or until it recovers its meaning, but they're like Gang of Four--only Marxist AND feminist. Which boils down to pretty much the greatest thing to happen to the universe since Poly Styrene told off bondage. The first few tracks on Playing With a Different Sex even have weird echoes of upbeat early Smiths--all the steely bass and free-floating Marr-guitar. YES.

I have to deliver between 1 and 500 words on Sleater-Kinney to Venus (via Mairead) by August 1st. Suddenly, the subject I could write about more easily and more passionately than anything else in the world is making me about as articulate as a can of Tuno. Every observation and critique I ever had of them has flown out of my head (in spite of an amazing transglobal S-K post-breakup symposium I am currently enjoying with Fangirl). To really do this justice I ought to be on some sort of sensory deprivation retreat in the Catskills. How do you write about the band whose sound is the essence of yr freedom, rapture and joy? Who are so complex and real and protean they refuse all attempts at explication and analysis?

Seriously, let me know.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Aliens in our midst

Various Artists
Queer Noises, 1961-1978: From the Closet to the Charts [Trikont]

When Jose Sarris's droll sprechstimme sidles up to a piano melody on the first track of this compilation of queer anti-hits, the time travel effect is instantaneous and intense. It's 1960 at San Francisco's Black Cat Club, police are routinely rounding up gay bar-goers on charges of "indecency" and no one has ever heard of Rufus Wainwright. The recording, which barely but tantalizingly captures audience reaction, is suffused with the rich, bittersweet flavor of the underground--with an emphasis here on the bitter over the sweet. This holds true for much of Queer Noises' first half, dominated as it is by textbook examples of the "bitch/butch" musical dyad, in which a camped-up, breathy falsetto chimes in to comment on the warblings of a hunky baritone, if not spar with a rival Mary. It's the sound of a community mired in self-loathing, but also resolved to survive, and even thrive, on its own terms. Rod McKuen's spoken word track "Eros" is close to unlistenable, if only because its description of pre-Stonewall cruising is so desperate, humiliated and squeeze-your-heart real; likewise, the satirical "I'd Rather Fight than Swish" sacrifices some of its wry humor to out-and-out hostility. But Noises is an historical document, not a pride parade, and the collection's greatest strength is its preservation of queer musical histories, however regretful or problematic, that are often obscured by larger narratives of LGBT assimilation and "progress."

Still, there's no shortage of fist-pumper anthems here, from Zebedy's torch song stunner "The Man I Love" to Harrison Kennedy's adorable "Closet Queen" and Valentino's "I Was Born This Way." On "I'm a Man," forgotten 70s legend Jobriath wields an astounding voice that is equal parts Begees and Bowie, all the better for wailing, "I will love you the way a man loves a woman" over plush harpsichord accompaniment. Elsewhere, genres range from cabaret, novelty, and music hall sing-a-long to country, disco, and punk. Dead Fingers Talk roll up the Stooges, New York Dolls, Television and Lou Reed around a gorgeously rusty weedwacker guitar and come up with "Nobody Loves You When You're Old and Gay," a slice of glam rock at its sugary finest. The inclusion of the Ramones is especially apt, since it proves both the multiplicity of queer lived experience and its reach beyond opera and musicals. Even the word "punk" itself is inextricable from queer subculture, since one of its meanings originally refered to a male prostitute, or the passive partner in sex between men.

In spite of having some of the most comprehensive and well-researched liner notes this side of a Supremes anthology, there's a big, sad hole at the center of Queer Noises, and it's lady-shaped. Of its 24 tracks, only one is performed by a woman--Polly Perkins' shocking "Coochy Coo." This seems partly a reflection of historical realities and partly an indication of the compiler's interests. The women's music movement of the 70s could certainly fill up a compilation of its own, and it's a shame to see another example of "queer" used as shorthand for "gay male." Still, Queer Noises is an astonishing journey into a not-so-distant sonic past, and a reminder of what bent pop was like before Frankie went to Hollywood.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Be Your Own Finally Punk Grates

Feminism has taught me to distrust wave metaphors. They have a tendency to elide entire groups and eras from the historical record, suggesting that, for example, all American feminists between the years 1921 and 1965 were just sitting around cleaning their ovens and playing peanuckle, biding their time until Betty Friedan. Still, the cadre of riotous woman-powered bands breaking this summer is looking awfully watery crest-shaped, if stopping short of bidding for riot grrrl's second wave. A sampling:

Hometown: Brisbane, Australia
Newly-released album: Gravity Won't Get You High [Dew Process]
Charismatic frontwoman: Patience Hodgson
Championed by: SXSW
Sounds like: Velocity Girl, Elastica, the Dishes, Fever to Tell-era Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Listen to: "InsideOutside," "Lies Are Much More Fun"

Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee
Newly-released album: s/t [Ecstatic Peace/Universal]
Charismatic frontwoman: Jemina Pearl
Championed by: Thurston Moore
Sounds like: Machine-era YYYs, Bikini Kill, Slant 6
Listen to: "Bicycle Bicycle You Are My Bicycle," "Girls On TV"

Hometown: Austin, Texas
Newly-released album: s/t, 7" [self-released/Kill Rock Stars]
Charismatic frontwoman: rotates, grrrl-style
Championed by: Brace Payne
Sounds like: Numbers, Erase Errata, Spider and the Webs
Listen to: "Negative Creep" (Nirvana cover)

Disclaimer: post scooped by both Interrobang?! and City Pages.