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6/21/2006

¡NOTICIAS!

¡PBW se está moviendo a una nueva dirección! Mira, and update your links, please. Flying the Sty-flag in perpetuity / XO, PBW. For now, we'll be light on pictures in the archives, but I'll get it worked out over time.

6/20/2006

An Ode To RobMac

I solved my technical problems, but because beloved RobMac answered so promptly, here's some pulp squeezed in his honor:

Today I wear flip-flops, Robbie
But no man can wear flip-flops like you do
Name a man
Who hedges freckle-faced grace and rippling masculinity
Robbie Roadshow
Undisputed Trampion of Elizabeth City's backwoods

"I felt so good, I couldn’t feel a thing": Striking Revelations From Somewhere Near the Bottom of the Human Shitpile


(The Nominally Irish) Donnard Fahen: A PBW Level-Up In the Raw, Free World of Custom Jpegging


The other night Alfred and I were in the midst of a long phone conversation about Steely Dan's Gaucho when I looked down at my desk and noticed some flecks of blood on a CD. A mortal with mortal concerns, I'm always tempted to wonder where blood came from when I see it, especially when I see it on my desk. I looked at my hand and I had somehow gouged some portion out of my middle finger; it was covered in blood, which was streaming into my palm.

“Alfred, I'm sorry, but my phone is dying and I somehow cut myself and am bleeding everywhere.”

I only later realized how poetically appropriate the incident was—in the midst of mining strong feelings about the strikingly affect-less Gaucho, I actually wasn’t even registering enough to notice I was physically hurt. (Not surprisingly, the last time I had cut myself and not noticed was when I was on psychedelics a few years ago; when I noticed, I couldn’t do anything but just stare at the blood—the very legitimate side, I think, of Frank Kogan’s concern that psychedelics turn you into an Instant Aesthete. [The not-feeling feeling was also a significant swoop in my fading, regrettable waltz with a certain narcotic.])

Anyway, this past week, I’ve been more or less consumed with Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies Man and re-consumed by Steely Dan’s Gaucho (an album that actually seems more complicated and enthralling every time I hear it, rather than less). Listening to both back-to-back, I realized two things, one quickly and one slowly: one, I have a very broad soft spot for Hilarious Jewish Assholes (Cohen and Death of a Ladies Man producer Phil Spector, Lou Reed, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen). Two, and this took a little while longer, I realized that both Gaucho and Death of a Ladies Man are records that really want to fuck with a listener’s emotional make-up and challenge what place emotions have in music—sounds huge, I know; bear with me.

Death of a Ladies Man is constantly indulging in schlocky barroom bullshit—corny backing singers, sax solos, and pulpy, swooning melodies. Spector’s production drenches the mix in phasers and short echo; your cigarettes are gone, you are likely face down, you are definitely sweating. It’s pretty appropriate, actually. It’s a unique perversion of the romantic grandiosity/purity that Spector achieved with the Ronettes, or what I see as the apex of “romantic” Spector, The Paris Sisters’ “I Love How You Love Me.” There’s something sonically about those Spector records—the cavernous wall of sound—that left room for getting lost, just like you get lost in love; it’s not altogether different then Loveless in how it strikes me: if capital-R Romanticism is some smoke about introspection, the apex of romance is succumbing to something held apart from you; it’s getting lost in the cave of “I Love How You Love Me” or under the covers of Loveless.

What Cohen deals with on Death of a Ladies Man is the painful transition of coming out of the cave and seeing the light. The dumb, thumb-in-the-ass country shine of “Fingerprints,” though my least favorite song on the record, is also the album’s preposition: Cohen loses his fingerprints on a woman’s hair, and instead of lamenting it in a cold, Canadian bedroom, he plays it like it’s the cheapest regret in the world. On “Paper Thin Hotel,” he confesses/repents/finds salvation over the closest thing the album gets to a hackneyed “amen” break: “A heavy burden lifted from my soul / I learned that love was out of my control.” So what’s the function of the schlock? Well, it’s irony, it’s distance. Cohen almost seems too ashamed to admit the fact that he can’t control love; it’s the death of the ladies man. The ladies man, paradoxically unfettered by love and yet constantly messing around on a fundamentally emotional scene, can’t ever really believe his feelings. Is he in love? Well, on “Paper Thin Hotel” he is, but he immediately writes it off, too pained by hearing howling orgasms through the walls. But the astounding, essential “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On” is the kind of advice that comes equipped with a drunken punch in the shoulder and not just a back-pat; Cohen growls it like his life depends on it. Because it basically does. The dick needs to be milked. It’s a compulsion. But not a particularly romantic one.

What really gets me, or really complicates things, is that he accepts the circularities his own emotional ambiguity; on the title track, he says “I guess you go for nothing if you really want to go that far.” He plays it like he’s sitting in the crook of the moon cooing into a concert hall—it’s like a Disney movie. Over the saccharine music, there’s the sense that what Cohen’s saying is that, like on “Fingerprints,” the part of the ladies man only deludes you into thinking you can control your feelings. “If you really want to go that far,” if you really want to be the ladies man, you have to be prepared to erase yourself, to lose yourself to emotion. The tension, inherent in the idea and supplemented by the music’s alternation between boozy indifference and over-the-top earnestness, is what makes Death of a Ladies Man such a fascinating listen.

That epigram—“I guess you go for nothing if you really want to go that far”—could just as easily be applied to Gaucho. In 1980, Walter Becker told Musician: “Donald and I followed a certain line of thinking to its logical conclusion, and then perhaps slightly beyond—that was what we realized when we'd finished Gaucho: it was not as much fun...It wasn't fun at all, really.” The exhaustingly slick Gaucho really does, in a sense “go for nothing”; it tries to go beyond feeling. But where Cohen’s efforts at shrugging off his emotions ultimately sends him back to a storm of them, Gaucho whites out; it just breaks at a void. And what constantly gets me about the album is that it somehow comes back around; somehow, in its utterly exacting lack of feeling, it could break your heart if you weren’t careful.

I don’t want to give too much away, because I’ll have an On Second Thought on the album going up next week on Stylus. But I guess my revised boiled-down reaction is to say that while it’s sterilized to the point of making the hellish scenes underneath its slick veneer pretty inaccessible, it still reaches for them; it reaches actively through Fagen’s grotesque delivery and passively through the, well, the horror of feeling numb. (It’s somewhat uncanny like that, which is why I posted it as the crowning jewel on my dog show exercise.) It’s like trying to watch a terrible event transpire and not get emotional about it; you end up completely breaking apart, harder than you would have had you accepted the process of being affected. (Interestingly, and I won’t talk about this at length, I finally watched Lars von Trier’s The Five Obstructions last night, which was a really fucking fascinating complication of all these ideas. I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it.)

I’ve gone through a lot of personal shit in the last six months, which I’ve done an OK job of keeping off here (ha, like none of you have noticed the hailstorm of anecdotes and birth of the now-standard PBW Confession. We grow, we learn). Gaucho finally clicked with me at the onset of winter, the beginning of a low point that lasted until about a month ago. I started coming up again. So I’ve graduated to the mess of Death of a Ladies Man. When I talked to Alfred, I hadn’t listened to Gaucho in months; revisiting it was nightmarish. When I heard the album, when I saw the blood in my hand, I realized that the feeling of not feeling, experiencing the great grey powers of Gaucho, the drugs, the abstractions of horror movies and Philip K. Dick (had to quit those, too), were some of the most ridiculously intense and complicated emotions I’ve had in my entire life.

6/14/2006

(Housecleaning)

(Found: notes for one abandoned post about the Silver Jews.

"Remember when your bag got stolen in Argentina and American Water was in it and you thought 'At least I may have successfully exported American Water'?"

"Remember the day that Bright Flight came out and you spent all day listening to it on the train tracks and later you said -- you were especially taken with the innate hilarity of vomiting around this time -- 'this could only get better if someone threw up,' at which point, Joe immediately threw up?")

6/13/2006

Categorically Unavailable, Bejar

Pitchfork's Destroyer interview today taps plenty of nails, even if it's faith that'll hold the house together in the end. (Funny, then, that Bejar characterizes Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane has having "a mystic element and a sustained tone of catharsis"--something I'd ascribe to Bejar's own stuff [right down to the Cantorial vocal vibes of Rubies] even if that catharsis would require some modding/light redefinition.)

Anyway, the best part of the conversation has to be

Pitchfork: Why do you think more musicians don't write about being musicians? Recently, self-reflexive rock music seems to be all the rage, but it seems fairly logical that musicians would be interested in talking about making music.

DB: Most musicians don't write about being a musician cause most musicians aren't writers. I also don't think that it is a worthy subject in and of itself. Really good musicians don't think of "self-reflection" in those terms. I can't really comment on all that, since I'm not really a musician.

Anyway, the staying power of these themes seems unproven. They seem like a good springboard to other concerns, at best.


So, writers are not the same as musicians (in fact, they're exclusive). Just like Eno said he wasn't a musician or Warhol messed with what it meant to be an artist.

And like Warhol, Bejar worms his way out of the question entirely by basically saying that he's not only a bad musician, but he's no musician at all, making any answer he might give on the question of reflexivity in music totally pointless.

All of that could be relatively expected from Bejar, but the last line -- "They seem like a springboard to other concerns, at best" -- is getting me right now.

Bejar unknowingly jumps in on the critique will eat itself pile, but, like his fan Carl, he knows that this stuff isn't an end in and of itself, but damned if he's going to say -- or whether he even knows -- where all of it could go.

6/12/2006


(gnirb I lla si)


Kate H. scared me because she was a girl and I was 13 and Nikki told me that she had wanted to fuck me and I thought we were too young but I sort of wanted to anyway but I didn't, after all. But god, did I ever want to; we'd sit crosslegged on the carpet or kiss listening to Exile in Guyville and Whip-Smart and maybe she'd be my "Flower" and I her "Johnny Sunshine" or some messily half-assed approximation of either (I don't think she had any idea how bad these albums could wreck a 13-year-old boy). Years later, my mom and I were in the car and she abruptly said "I remember Kate; I remember how I'd come pick you up at her house and your shirt would be buttoned wrong." When she said that, I remembered how I thought t-shirts were pretty uncool back then (though I had a nice Minor Threat one, despite my utter un-sXe-ness) -- I remembered how I thought that Lame Collared Shirts were especially rebellious and cool for a fucked-up teenager to wear. Maturity and adolescence swapped spit and groped with eyes shut tight. So it was incest, I guess. Which is how you make babies with gnarled hearts and tiny hands.

We had also listened to Sonic Youth together, who I didn't think were as cool as Liz Phair, but I'm told that girls develop faster than boys. Rather Ripped has put Kate back in my mind for the first time in years. At the time, I thought our whole relationship was tragically complicated (in a lot of ways, it was: she had drastically low self-image made manifest in eating disorders; I was extremely moody, flunking out of school, huffing constantly, and getting in horrible fights with my stepfather. The point is that we could’ve been supportive of each other, but instead, we just decided to cuddle in the same hole).

It was like my favorite SY album, EVOL: needlessly abstract and bloody, High Passion (“Green Light,” “Shadow of a Doubt”) with a destructive remainder (“Expressway to Yr Skull,” “Tom Violence”). Rather Ripped is helping me do what I’ve been trying to do with that stretch of time for the past 10 years: accept my fumbling history of determined lust and idiocy, but, you know, with respect for the fact that that’s what being young is. And now I even get to laugh a little. Which is to say – or for Alfred to say – that “RR is music recorded by adults who've experienced and thought through the merely received notions of passion (or High Passion, as you call it) that dotted those early albums.” (And the remainder of all this messing around, importantly, is some idea of cool, subdued freedom - "Jams Run Free" or "Do You Believe in Rapture?," the latter of which I desperately want to be made into a full-fledged disco song.)

But “maturity” would be the wrong way to put it, because it’s more complicated than that. It’s like how I felt about The Sunset Tree: it’s the album that somehow connects most naturally and honestly with the mess of their past experience, but there’s no way they could’ve made it until now; somehow they farther they step away, the clearer their subject gets. But it loses things, too. “Sleepin’ Around” is the cool, bloodless wisdom of the cuckold years after the betrayal, but no previous Sonic Youth album would ever dare host a girl who screwed around in the first place. And anyway, like I said to Alfred, when your girlfriend is fucking someone else, you are not thinking about feelings being "green lights" or any of that shit. Infidelity is for terrestrials. Kate could’ve been on EVOL but it would’ve given her a free pass for all the laughable angst and self-helplessness; she wouldn’t be on RR in her full, fucked-up teenage glory, either. And still, in the space between, there she is.

6/09/2006

Alfred Soto, PBW Pundit

me: well, but what I am saying is that the pulled pork story/talking in anecdotes was sort of a way for me to start pulling out of the all theory all the time rhetoric
Alfred: I'm tempted to record your pulled-pork statement for posterity's sake
me: haha why?
Alfred: reread what you just wrote
me: pull pull pull
?
Alfred: david hume, walter pater, coleridge, wilde - these aestheticians suck cuz they couldn't eat pulled pork and fried chicken
Sent at 5:01 PM on Friday
me: I was trying to humanize myself a little
HUMEanize
rofl
Alfred: oh god
you WILDE and crazy guy

6/08/2006



Pulled pork sandwiches at Blue Ridge Pig are delicious and well-worth the drive out route 250 to get. Several trips ago I swore quietly under the sun that I'll never eat pulled pork anywhere else but Blue Ridge Pig I'll never I won't. It was a dumb promise and one that probably kept me from eating delicious pulled pork sandwiches elsewhere. But I was out to dinner with my friend Annie a month or so ago, feeling good (having not seen Annie in two years, realizing she was still a wonderful person, her telling me she thought I’d look good in suspenders), so I ordered a pulled pork sandwich. And it was pretty good. Later I went back to the same place and ordered something different. It, too, was pretty good though maybe not as good as the pulled pork. But, you know, pretty good.

So while I respect Simon’s opinion on the eating/listening analogy, the suggestion that “going to the same restaurant and ordering the same entrée you know you like almost guarantees 100 percent satisfaction; going to different restaurants with different cuisines each time and trying the most unfamiliar dish on each menu is going to produce much more mixed results” seems to completely bypass the point.

Yes, it’s true: I have experienced 100% satisfaction from only ordering Orange Flavor Chicken at a wide variety of Asian-American takeout establishments over the past 13 years of my life. But if we’re trailing what the value of open-mindedness in the critic is (or being open-minded at all), it seems like you’ve got to go the extra mile and then imagine what a wreck I’d be as a food critic. I drink black coffee by the bucket. I used to smoke. In college, I carried around Tuong Ot everywhere I went; I’m sure it absolutely ruined my mouth (public apology for those kissed), but it made dormitory food acceptable (more accurately, it annihilated it). The first time I met my friend Hannah, she said “Mike, you know, you seem like a real white rice kind of guy.”

I never developed an ability to judge food. I’ll eat it. Sometimes I explore and sometimes I don’t. The important thing is that when I do explore, I might not always enjoy it, but the sheer confidence of my exploration is sometimes enough to make me feel like I’m just getting more out of my experience as a sentient being with reasonable reflexes, proper bowel control, and all my limbs. Disorientation can reinforce my boundaries, it can strengthen my resolve; every time I eat steak I remember how much I love good fried chicken. Can’t force that feeling the other way. So after eating steak, which might not be the most pleasurable eating experience for me, I can return to fried chicken; after a coke I can return to egg cream. Sometimes I want to have a coke though. I try not to think about that too much, like when I just want to hear "Crimson and Clover" (over and over) to the exclusion of anything else.

But would I ever proclaim that fried chicken was better than steak? No. That’d be dumb, and while I have little taste for steak, I have less taste for being dumb.

____

So, something about judgment:

Robert Christgau invokes David Hume in his take on Sonic Youth in the Voice this week:

“ When Murray Street came out in 2002, non-old Amy Phillips notoriously asserted in this very newspaper that since Sonic Youth hadn't made a good album since (1995's) Washing Machine, they should break up already. Who's to say her opinion isn't worth as much as mine? Me? Well, yeah. One concept the non-old have trouble getting their minds around is the difference between taste and judgment. It's fine not to like almost anything, except maybe Al Green. That's taste, yours to do with as you please, critical deployment included. By comparison, judgment requires serious psychological calisthenics. But the fact that objectivity only comes naturally in math doesn't mean it can't be approximated in art.”


And I invoked him, albeit kinda unfairly and obtusely and in the wild – albeit rich – heat of passion a couple weeks ago here. The essay that I and Christgau and any Aesthetics course are referring to is 1757’s On The Standard of Taste. Because it’s very fucking good. And while the impetus (and how Christgau employs it) is to differentiate between having a taste for something and having the ability to judge it, it’s not the only trick it turns. Sorry to do this, but:

“But though there be naturally a wide difference in point of delicacy between one person and another, nothing tends further to encrease and improve this talent, than practice in a particular art, and the frequent survey or contemplation of a particular species of beauty. When objects of any kind are first presented to the eye or imagination, the sentiment, which attends them, is obscure and confused; and the mind is, in a great measure, incapable of pronouncing concerning their merits or defects. The taste cannot perceive the several excellences of the performance; much less distinguish the particular character of each excellency, and ascertain its quality and degree. If it pronounce the whole in general to be beautiful or deformed, it is the utmost that can be expected; and even this judgment, a person, so unpracticed, will be apt to deliver with great hesitation and reserve. But allow him to acquire experience in those objects, his feeling becomes more exact and nice: He not only perceives the beauties and defects of each part, but marks the distinguishing species of each quality, and assigns it suitable praise or blame. A clear and distinct sentiment attends him through the whole survey of the objects; and he discerns that very degree and kind of approbation or displeasure, which each part is naturally fitted to produce. The mist dissipates, which seemed formerly to hang over the object: the organ acquires greater perfection in its operations; and can pronounce, without danger of mistake, concerning the merits of every performance. In a word, the same address and dexterity, which practice gives to the execution of any work, is also acquired by the same means in the judging of it.”


There are assumptions here: that beauty exists, that there’s beauty and non-beauty. That there’s good and there’s bad; that saying Art A is better than Art B would be as impossible as calling a “pond as extensive as the ocean.” And that to discern all these things, what we really need is practice. We need to think and we need to listen. Somewhere, I believe all that, because I bother to criticize at all. And I criticize because I want to understand music, not because I’m always looking for pleasure – though it’s great to find and share that feeling. There’s no way I can hold it against the “average listener” for not wanting to listen to twenty Soft Boys rarities, even though I have a hard time believing that you could possibly be truly alive if you’ve never heard the guitar break in “Hear My Brane.” And there’s no food critic that could make me stop eating Orange Flavor Chicken. Which is a little daring, I guess, because unlike listening to the Soft Boys, Orange Flavor Chicken will eventually make me fat. So will a $50 cut of steak. Music will not make you fat. It might make you dumber or smarter, but only if you even bother to really think about it. Which again, most people don't.

___

So, something about taste:

The verb “policing” came into play in Simon’s post. What immediately registered in my mind was reading Eve Sedgwick – I think, can’t remember, sorry – talking about how we “police” our sexual desires to keep ourselves fitting into our social roles. What’s interesting about the open-mindedness issue is that it’s an inversion: you police yourself to keep your desires as free and open as possible. But it’s just another identity, when you get down to it. So we’re like kittens on ice or something, it’s horrible, how do we stop sliding? Or it’s like that great Weekly World News headline: DOGCATCHER IS A DOG! Recursive, self-destructive. Anyone that has had something put where they preferred it not to be will understand: after all that, some people like to fucking fuck in a boring, regular fashion. And that’s just fine. You can’t make a window or a libertarian out of everyone.

___

Simon: “There is no evidence that people who listen to lots of genres have more enjoyment of music.” And there’s no proof that they couldn’t be experiencing more pleasure by branching out more. And there’s no proof for or against the possibility that the mere experience of branching out might make them feel better and more attuned to what they love. There are lines. And maybe Carl’s Celine Dion project is too much. I'm not sure. But I’ll let him be the guinea pig, frankly.

I think the point here is to keep all these things in the back of our mind. We've all got our mouths open and think we're talking. But yeah, we're gnawing on ourselves a little here. As a critic, I absolutely think we have to test the limits of our tastes because it will likely help to improve our judgment in the end. Christgau’s piece—is it judgment or taste? Couldn’t say for sure, but there's some part of me that just believes him. What do I know? I'm just a guy who likes Sonic Youth and pulled pork. Maybe I can entertain you with stories of how I like Sonic Youth and pulled pork for a few minutes. Maybe I'll make you think. Get off my cloud.