Pop culture treasure, high culture trash.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Dialectical sprechstimme

Listening to Pulsallama's "The Devil Lives in My Husband's Body" tonight I realized that there is an entire genre of punk songs built around, or out of, a spoken narrative. Songs that seem to have excerpts of This American Life slipped into them. I wanted to include "Rock Lobster" and "Jilted John," but those only toe the line of sprechstimme, not hop over it. Rex Harrison, speak-sing yr heart out:

Pulsallama, "The Devil Lives in My Husband's Body"
'Donald, Donald honey, what are you doing down there in the basement?' That's what I said to my husband Donald when he came home from work last night. He said, "Honey. I gotta fix something downstairs.' Well, as I was pulling out the casserole I heard this weird barking noise coming from the basement, and you know, we don't have a dog. So this went on for two weeks. Every night he'd go down to the basement and I'd hear this barking. So finally I called up Hilda, the next door neighbor. Well, everybody in town thinks she's a witch. But just because she has seventeen cats doesn't make her a witch...does it?

Cold Cold Hearts, "Maybe Scabies"
So you know how last summer everyone thought that Jerry Garcia was dead? Well me and my sister, we have this theory that really he's not dead, that really he was abducted by aliens. So these aliens came down from one of those planets like Pluto, Jupiter, or Mars, and took him back up to their spaceship and then they conducted all these tests and experiments on him, you know, like on The X-Files, and they gave him scabies, and they set him back down on the planet Earth, and that's how all the hippies in America got scabies!

Gang of Four, "Anthrax"
These groups and singers think that they appeal to everyone by singing about love because apparently everyone has or can love--or so they would have you believe anyway. But these groups seem to go along with what, the belief that love is deep in everyone's personality. I don't think we're saying there's anything wrong with love, we just dont think that what goes on between two people should be shrouded with mystery.

Sleater-Kinney, "Surf Song"
Dear Corin-you're the only student in the whole school who can keep an open mind about music, and accept a little wild loudness. Keep listening to those crazy new wave bands and keep an eye out for Sheena, 'cause she's a punk rocker. Keep the faith and new bands will appear...we've got to start a band this summer, but we've got to find a better name than "Sleater-Kinney."

Also noteworthy:
Splodgenessabounds, "Two Pints of Lager and a Packet Of Crisps Please"
Bikini Kill, "Thurston Hearts the Who"
The Gymslips, "Take Away"

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Previously on All My French Poststructuralist Children...

Aw, shoot! Daytime TV goes Baudrillard!

No being is assigned by nature to a sex. Sexual ambivalence (activity-passivity) is at the heart of each subject, sexual differentiation is registered as a difference in the body of each subject and not as an absolute term linked to a particular sexual organ. The question is not "having one or not." But this ambivalence, this profound sexual valence must be reduced, for as such it escapes genital organization and the social order...[The masculine-feminine structure] leans on the alibi of biological organs (the reduction of sex as a difference to the difference of the sexual organs); and, above all, it is pegged to the grandiose cultural models whose function it is to separate the sexes in order to establish the absolute privilege of one over the other. If everyone is led, by this controlled structuration, to confuse himself with his own sexual status, it is only to resign his sex the more easily (that is, the erogenous differentiation of his own body) to the sexual segregation that is one of the political and ideological foundations of the social order.

-For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign

Pants made an interesting observation about this clip, saying that one of the reasons Zarf/Zoe is so screamingly awkward and synthetic (and therefore also irresistible and somehow authentically queer) is that nobody's had time to figure out how to write trans characters for television yet. Today's situation resembles the period when (straight) writers started trying to write gay characters in the 1970s--they had no idea what they were doing, and had to make things up as they went along.

That All My Children decided to go the whole rainbow hog and make Zarf/Zoe an M to F lesbian isn't really so surprising, since this reprieves them from having to show what viewers will see as a man in drag coming on to another man. Nor is it an accident that Z/Z (ooh, so close to S/Z!) is "British" and "a rock star"; trannies still only make sense to the American mainstream at this point as exotic, eccentric foreigners. Still, a couple of scenes feel almost revolutionary in their issues-never-before- legitimated-on-daytime-TV-ness. One hopes they've got Kate Bornstein's phone number.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Notes on Notes on a Scandal

-The Anglo-Irish are to native white Londoners what Mexican Americans are to white Los Angelesians--pure signifiers of otherness, border invasion, working class struggle, Catholicism, emotionality, hysteria, passion, "feeling," sexual availability, et cet. et cet. Little Steven Connolly (why not just go all the way and call him Patrick Mickey O'Pattypat?) could not do the work he does as a character if he were not Anglo-Irish.

-The spectral lesbian predator of the golden age of Hollywood is alive and well! Judith Anderson reborn in Dame Judi. Overspill from crisis of faith in security of the nation-state puddles into crisis of faith in security of the heterosexual matrix.

-Resurgent culture of anxiety/paranoia over wisdom of the old woman; the crone accretes too much knowledge, becomes dangerous, cannot be trusted--what happens when the world's old women aren't bridled by grandmotherly nurturing activities? What secret powers can they hold over us? Vaguely Puritan witch hunt cadences.

-Rarity of women in Hollywood films admitting their erotic needs, sexual agency, subjectivity and power with this kind of directness--Richard: "Why did you do it?" Sheba: "Because I wanted him." Sheba as clear subject, Steven object. Equally rare display of inverse of quasi-accepted Lolita scenario. How much preserved from original?

-Painfully obvious symbolic nomenclature--Barbara Covet(t), Bathsheba

-Philip Glass's anvil-dropped-on-head score; every scene upstaged by thundering chimes and roiling arpeggios. Forget humans, give the score Best Actor.

-Paging Mary Kay Letourneau.

More meta-notes

-out-of-nowhere Siouxsie reference; Kaleidoscope as relic of youthful rebellion; what was the logic behind choosing Siouxsie? Was this a carryover from the book, or did somebody throw a dart at a board with her and, like, X, Bauhaus, Birthday Party, Nina Hagen and Lene Lovich tacked to it?

-Speaking of Philip Glass, Muse's "Take a Bow" is so chock full of frantic arpeggios it's hard to believe he wasn't involved. The symphonic arrangement lags not far behind in terms of raw Glassiness (Pants, thanks for the tip!).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Brace yrself

Mark Simpson has a blog. I may never get any work done again.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

One of these things is just like the other

I somehow never noticed this before. Excuse 17 s/t came first, so...accident? Homage? Sly insider reference? Personally, I think it's a reoriented Azerbaijani national flag, but then you know me--I'm an Azerbaijan booster from way back.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Silent alarmist

New Bloc Party album brewing. Kele Okereke is so fantastic I don't even know what to say. Although it's funny, these issues seem familiar somehow...

In the Shoreditch pub, Okereke gulps at his glass of wine. He is, justifiably, nervous about all this. A Weekend in the City is his unflinchingly honest depiction of a world of drugs, racism, religion, suicide, gay sex, violence, youth in hoodies and white vigilantes. This is London, it says, and this is now. The record doesn't presume to have all the answers; it is as confused and confusing as life is for young people. It also sounds terrifically exciting, a crunching mix of guitars, electronic beeps and multilayered vocals; a great leap forward for British music.

Here is London--giddy London
Is it home of the free or what?

'I just feel that every non-white teenager will know what I'm talking about when I say that certain avenues in this country are closed to you. Whenever I walk into a pub in London I feel frightened. There are certain activities that are still more predominantly white.' He and his flatmate, a white Austrian girl, have been abused by bigots who thought they were a mixed-race couple. The multicultural melting pot, Okereke concludes, is unworkable.

The lyric 'the buses have become cruel' in 'For England' was a reference to his memories of catching buses to and from school in Essex, and the terror unleashed by his fellow pupils on the top deck. The song then moves on to the horrible fate of David Morley, the gay barman kicked to death on London's South Bank - his teenage killers capturing his death on their mobile phones. The lyric 'England is mine, I'll take what I want' pinpoints a feral youth underclass for whom normal rules of civil society don't apply.

I decree today that life is simply taking and not giving
England is mine and it owes me a living

Also, as part of his stated intent to create a 'warts-and-all account of where my mind is right now', there are the songs about sexuality. Is 'I Still Remember' autobiographical?

'Not really,' he replies, before adding: 'I guess, partially.' Can we call it a gay love story? 'Yeah, but is it a love story? It's one person longing for somebody they can't really have. But it's not consummated. It's not a mutual thing. It's weird - a lot of straight women that I know have confided that they've got it on with other girls. It seems quite a healthy part of their sexuality. Whereas it seems that the same impulse is apparent in heterosexual men but there's no ...' He stops again. 'I can't tell you how many times I've been propositioned by straight boys.'


'Yeah, yeah. It happened a lot before all this [the band] started happening. This is probably a contentious issue, but I swear that I could always see it in people, in the way that guys would need to be touching other guys. You could see there was something they couldn't say aloud. And I saw it when I was at school. And I guess 'I Still Remember' is an attempt at trying to confront that. I don't think that my sexual impulse is that bizarre or foreign. [But] the way that it's supposedly discussed in mainstream culture is [that] it's a crazy thing. But I know from my own experiences a lot of heterosexual boys had feelings or experiences when they were younger. And that's not really ever spoken about, that un-spoken desire.

He'd love to touch
he's afraid that he might self-combust
I could say more
but you get the general idea

'Not two gay boys,' he continues, 'but the idea of two straight boys having an attraction, or there being an attraction that's unspeakable - that was the idea of that song. When was the last time you heard an interesting pop song that actually tried to give you a different perspective on desire?'

All the streets are crammed with things
eager to be held
I know what hands are for
and I'd like to help myself
you ask me the time
but I sense something more
and I would like to give you
what I think you're asking for
you handsome devil

'One of the things I was most disappointed about with Silent Alarm was I was hiding behind abstraction,' Okereke concedes. 'Then I really got into the Smiths. The lyrics were amazing, so focused. There's no worse sin as an artist than hiding behind cliches and abstraction. If you have something to say, it should be able to be understood by everyone.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Love's Not the Answer

The news came this evening like a bolt from my YahooMail: The Gymslips are now on MySpace. I feel like I have arrived somehow, now that I receive unsolicited e-mails from strangers in the UK with news about my favorite bands. I do not worship at the church of MySpace, so I am sadly unable to do as the mystery e-mailer urged and "come say hi." I can, however, exhort YOU to comment up a grrrl band fanstorm in my eager stead. I had not heard any Gymslips post-1983, round about Rockin' With the Renees and the Silly Egg EP, but apparently they soldiered on to eke out a gloriously trashy mid-80s spew romantic existence in the manner of Hyaena-era Siouxsie and Duran Duran. Gone is the Oi! bristle of Rockin', synth-bombed by hand claps, fingerless gloves and bass drum rolls. Says the official (not the old) M'Space case:

The second incarnation of the all girl punk/pop band The Gymslips. the new line up did a Radio One John Peel session to include the tracks, Evil Eye, and Lead Me On. The girls also played several gigs including The Marquee in Wardour Street, London and supported Aswad at Leicester Square, and also supported New Model Army, Fields of the Nephilim. They used to rehearse in the same studios as Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Paula Richards now lives in Cornwall Karen Kay lives in Cornwall and sings with the Daughters of Gaia see www.daughtersofgaia.com

Honestly, anybody Frankie told to relax is ten times worthy of yr fandom, but if that's not enough incentive, consider that the Gymslips list among their followers one Alex Bowie, a MySpacer so excessively musically knowledgeable he finds it necessary to list his picks alphabetically. He likes all yr favorite bands AND the Nipple Erectors! Personally, I think he's dreamy--almost as dreamy as Pants. Resemblance to Shane of The L Word not a drawback.

Oh, and in case you couldn't tell, I'm back from Minneapolis. I brought some records with me kindly donated by ex-coworker Don of Midway Books. One is from Pants' parents, though--guess which.

The Raincoats - s/t
The Raincoats - Looking in the Shadows
Bush Tetras - Beauty Lies
Emily's Sassy Lime - Desperate, Scared but Social
Erase Errata - At Crystal Palace
Ear Candy - Chante Le Femme...JUST LISTEN NOW
The Third Sex - Back to Go
The Softies - Winter Pageant
The Dials - Flex Time
Heavenly - Heavenly vs. Satan
Infinite X's - s/t
Free to be You and Me - Marlo Thomas And Friends

And lastly--for Pazz & Jop's sake, people, my year-end list was fake. It's heartening to know that you think there really is a band out there called The Near-Sighted Nepalese Stock Brokers, but you won't find them in an old Elephant 6 mailorder catalog no matter how hard you look.