Pop culture treasure, high culture trash.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Daintier! Smarter! Better-dressed!

Recommended: listening to Rasputina with earphones. Piping the sound directly into yr ears lets you pick up on all the painstaking aural details that Creager & Co. crochet into every track but that get lost when they're competing with background noise. Like the xylophone frill in "AntiqueHighHeelRedDollShoes" at 0:52, and the sound of PJ Harvey's head hitting the wall. Cabin Fever is still their best record to date, but 2004's Radical Recital doubles as live comp and career retrospective, so use it as soundtrack to yr Victorian babydoll bonnet-mending until they midwife out a new one. Creager is one of the best pop lyricists of the last ten years, and one of the least recognized; take a gander:


A primary academy, we're a secondary seminary
teaching finishing rinse, and dancing tips, and scorn.
Always concerned with plummeting virginity rates,
we lecture young girls on how babies are born.

Children, make a chain! Oh children, make a chain!

The staff here is severe, yet so altruistic
(it hurts us more than it hurts them!).
The new girls are tender, the old ones sadistic--
The late janitress was a gem.

Don't belive what the boys from next door heard--
requirements do include math.
We draw straws and put our best foot forward
down the straight and narrow path.

*No relation.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Pop baptism, or, Who's afraid of Natalie Portman?

It has become terribly gauche, in this post-Garden State world, to say that a pop song saved or changed your life. Still, the fact remains: I listened to three songs this weekend (none of them for the first time), and they saved my life. I think it helped that I was in an airport for two of them. Transience has a way of making choruses stick.

Islands, "Rough Gem"
Client, "Down to the Underground"
The Smiths, "Ask"

If you listen hard enough, you can hear each of these songs--the music, not necessarily the lyrics--dripping the same holy water on yr forehead, slipping the same annunciatory whisper in yr ear: live, you silly fuck. Starting now.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Little Hans isn't so little anymore

Apparently, Freud can show up in some random-ass places:

Magnetic and optical carriers are used for analogue and digital signals while in practice mechanical carriers, in the form of cylinders or discs, have only been used for analogue signals and MO-disks solely for digital recordings. Metal matrices - negatives (fathers), positives (mothers), and stampers (sons), are used for the production of mechanical carriers as well as for CDs and DVDs.

The Safeguarding of the Audio Heritage: Ethics, Principles and Preservation Strategy

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Asking for it?

In what is still one of the best dissections of Courtney Love ever written--a coup of rhetorical economy at 200 words--Cintra Wilson reported in Salon in 1998,

She was able to sucker-punch the whole beauty myth, thrash horribly like a half-dead fish through her personal tragedy and rampant displays of public fucked-upness and still end up on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. The thing everyone is talking about now is what a tragic political disaster she has become...She didn't want to be a world-beating feminist rock symbol after all. She has surgically transmogrified into anti-woman Claudia Schiffer. Instead of a loud angry girl with ideas, Courtney turned out to be a horribly vain sociopath who venally choked enough money out of the world to transform herself into a "pretty lady."

The scariest thing about Courtney 2006 is that she makes Wilson's Courtney look like a picture of sanity and healthy living. There was the 1998 round of surgeries, yes, but since then the Love-ly one appears to have embraced the frequent customer card philosophy of plastic surgery. Why settle for one new face when you can buy five and get the sixth one free?

Even so, there's something admirable and almost-still-feminist about Love's consistency; she will not shut up, or back down, or be a lady, no matter how many judges wag their fingers and Armani sheaths get ripped. Which is why I'm glad so many critics (Joshua Clover, Danny Kelly, Lisa Levy, Ariel Levy) have adopted relatively pro-Love stances, either in general or for the release of Dirty Blonde. Overrated, desecrated, still somehow illuminated, Love clings to defensibility through sheer force of will and the survival skills of an Eagle Scout.

What has sustained the heartbeat of Love's persona, through the publicity wrecks and sugar comas, has always been her undistilled faith in the power of pop music. She's a student of pop history, and most people don't give her credit for that. She is, to use her own word, "pornorific," but she's not the junkie bimbo she pretends to be. Yet.

She made her bed, she'll lie in it:

Kurt Loder: Was punk any kind of a rebellion for you?

Love: No, because the punk thing, for me, was more my geography. I was a total Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs, then later Smiths freak...but I lived on the West Coast, so that was my pool to pull from. The guy from Pavement came up to me and he was like, "You're so brave." I was like, "Why?" He was like, "To cover a Bunnymen song! I wouldn't have the nerve." Nobody admits that the Bunnymen were the greatest band. I like Social Distortion because they were melodic, but I like Cheap Trick better.

One time, KROQ was having their Flashback Weekend, and I was singing every word to "The Killing Moon," and Kurt was like, "Man, this music you like is so romantic." I was like, "Yeah, alright?" But I did like Flipper, we were on very common ground with Flipper. But I mean, none of that--Black Flag--it wasn't me, and I'll be the first to admit it.

Loder: Not many people will anymore.

Love: Well, that's what I think. I think you should admit the embarrassing stuff. I think the embarrassing stuff makes you more vulnerable, and it's cooler. [People say,] "Stooges, Velvet Underground: my influences. Butthole Surfers." Oh, shut up! You know every word to, like, "Pretty in Pink." Backwards.

Joe Strummer said to me [when I told him I was moving to Minneapolis to start a band], "You are the worst guitar player I have ever heard." I had only just started in earnest, and I have gotten a lot better....I'm fine, I'm fine. I am fine. I have a style. What's funny is that a lot of my songs are complete Bauhaus rip-offs. My guitar playing is totally picked up from Will Sergeant and Johnny Marr, referenced from these British bands, and nobody would have guessed that, because of the persona that's been foisted on me.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Jiving us that we were voodoo

Ellen Willis' death last week prompted me to read through some of her old criticism. Particularly noggin-expanding is her no-snarks-barred New Yorker profile of David Bowie, to wit:

Part of the problem is Bowie's material. Hunky Dory, the first of his albums to get much critical attention, has become one of my favourite records, but his more recent stuff bores me.

This seems reasonable enough, until you remember that Willis was writing in 1972, so Bowie's "recent stuff" is actually, um, Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy is many things, but it's the rare critic who can stare that record in the face and call it BORING. Her greatest praise? "Some of the songs are OK." Yikes! Then again, Willis was not one to be intimidated by rock's pretensions to subversion:

What cultural revolutionaries do not seem to grasp is that, far from being a grass-roots art form that has been taken over by businessmen, rock itself comes from the commercial exploitation of blues. It is bourgeois at its core, a mass-produced commodity, dependent on advanced technology and therefore on the money controlled by those in power. Its rebelliousness does not imply specific political content; it can be—and has been—criminal, Fascistic, and coolly individualistic as well as revolutionary. Nor is the hip life style inherently radical. It can simply be a more pleasurable way of surviving within the system, which is what the Pop sensibility has always been about...The truth is that there can’t be a revolutionary culture until there is a revolution. In the meantime, we should at least insist that the capitalists who produce rock concerts charge reasonable prices for reasonable service.

Good to remember. Although hopefully, the shows in heaven are free.

Monday, November 13, 2006

You may applaud now

Holly Hughes has tri-colored hair and a laugh that fills up a room. She sat three rows behind me and to the right and chortled loudly and jarringly, like a joyful parrot (it takes a sense of humor to fight the NEA). In his introduction to the introduction, David Halperin pointed out that she was in attendance and called her "insanely brilliant," but all I could do was stare at his head and think about how much knowledge was inside. You wouldn't remember me, I telegraphed silently in the direction of the head, but we had lunch together four years ago. We sat in a booth and ate potstickers. That summer I read the first 30 pages of Saint Foucault while kneeling on the floor of a public library and crying. There's no way you could know this, but it happened.

Someone asked during the Q&A whether At Swim, Two Boys was a gay book. O'Neill responded, "Let me put it this way. One night I put my book on a shelf next to Edna O'Brien's book and went to sleep. When I got up the next morning and looked, nothing had happened."

Sunday, November 12, 2006

So many times a day in danger

Oh, unintentionally homoerotic mainstream advertisements. You make life worth living. More choice diamonds from the pre-Yahoo dark ages:


On a related note: Lars von Trier suddenly seems slightly less problematic.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

So kind of me to be interviewed by you

I’m hung over. I’ve never eaten sushi. I don’t know how to order it. I can’t use chopsticks. I’ve never conducted an interview before. And I’ve come away without my bloody glasses.

U OF M Main Campus

O'Neill will be at the League this Monday to talk about his writing process and be characteristically awesome and inspiring. Read his 2003 profile of Cate Blanchett as a teaser--it burns new life into the tired "I'm a nervous fan!" interview framing device, in which the subject always arrives an hour late and the writer is left to sweat and wring napkins in neurotic anticipation. Hell, it just about resuscitates the entire interview genre. O'Neill comes recommended by major-league smarties, and he wrote At Swim, Two Boys over ten years while working the night shift as a porter in a London psychiatric hospital. If ever there was a hero for the struggling, disenfranchised writer, this is yr Stevie Dedalus.

I tell them about my postman. When I came to Galway, he knocked on my door.
‘O’Neill,’ says he, reading the envelope, ‘that’s not a Galway name.’
‘No,’ says I.
‘There was a good hurler named O’Neill, you’re not related?’
‘I’m not,’ I say. My boyfriend comes down the stairs.
‘That wouldn’t be your brother now,’ says the postman, peering in. And I think to myself, Right, I’m going to do you, mister.
‘This is my boyfriend,’ I say. ‘He’s French. We’ve moved to Galway on the head of a novel I’ve written. It’s about two Dublin boys who fall in love, getting mixed up in the Easter Rising.’
‘Well,’ says my postman and he shakes my hand, ‘isn’t it just what Gortachalla needs?’

(At Swim in Canada)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

You hate me, you really hate me!

Thanks this morning to the Washington Post for its stellar headline-writing skills. Other lessons from the election: (straight) Americans really hate gay people right now, but they hate Republicans even more. Personally, I see this as a missed opportunity to ban Republican marriage. Because honestly, if Republicans can get married, it makes my own marriage mean so much less.

In my new home state of Michigan, voters struck down a referendum that would have allowed the seasonal hunting of mourning doves, inclusive of "participation in mourning dove hunting by youth, the elderly and the disabled," ostensibly because nothing lifts spirits and builds communities quite like pumping animals full of lead. And to be fair, it's not like doves are symbols of anything.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The thrill of discovery

Oh, the things you can find out while not interviewing software developers. An end-of-week roll call:

-All of CSS's videos contain segments where the film runs backwards. It's a comment on the fiercely nostalgic, pereptually backwards gaze of the pop subcultural zeitgeist, surely. Or something. Observe: 1) "Alala"; 2) "Let's Make Love etc."; 3) "Off the Hook". Y'all are getting an early Bjork vibe off of Lovefoxxx too, right? Right.

-You can Hollywoodize anybody, including maverick misfit genius photographers and the virgin mums of religious prophets.

-Popular mystery writer Anne Perry is the same person as Juliet Hulme, sometime convicted teenage co-murderess whose relationship with Pauline Parker was dramatized in Peter Jackson's gonzo-fantastic and bravely sympathetic film Heavenly Creatures.

-Using the word "dukes" as a synonym for fists originates in Cockney rhyming slang: Duke = Duke of York = fork = how you hold your hand when you hold a fork, i.e., in a fist. I grew up 5,000 miles away from the East End and yet, somehow, kids at my elementary school were able to run around the playground starting fights by shouting, "put up yr dukes!" I never knew what the hell it meant at the time. Blimey.

-Linda Perry is totes Pope Leo X:

"Like the Protestants of the Reformation, indie fans continue the rebellious narrative first put forth by the punks, the paradigmatic British music performers. They present a narrative of the deviation from true musical encounters through a hypertrophic growth of institutional machinery to benefit corporate executives who exploit the faithful and debase music itself...the notion that at the heart of indie lies what many feel to be a conservative and repressive religious ideology would be distasteful to those who embrace one of the fundamental and widespread folktales of youth culture, namely, that participating in a music scene constitutes a form of rebellion rather than a recapitulation of the dominant cultural ideology and narratives."

(Wendy Fonarow writing in Empire of Dirt: The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

No one's little girl

Q: What does a radical feminist librarian do?

A: She makes this. (To be fair, I also made a page for Laura Ingalls Wilder).