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First/Last Ever Wednesday Wrrrap-Up!

Also, Espers Finally Sound Sort of Like Espers Instead of that Lukewarm Grey Water That Made Their First Record All Soggy

Alfred put me to the Empire Burlesque test. I did not like taking that test very much. Disco Dylan was more Dylan than Disco, whereas Ugly Dylan was more Ugly than Dylan (Dylan is already kind of ugly). Alfred's right about "When the Night Comes Falling From the Sky;" it's cool. But more than just reminding you of how insurmountably funny misplaced synth-horn farts are or how long 7 1/2 minutes really feels, it reminds you that while his shades & blazer getup never changed, the times did. (Regional humor for Alfred.)

Speaking of ha-ha songs that titularly employ inclement weather, the okay-to-boring Gnarls Barkley album has a song called "Storm Coming," and it sounds like when you go to the circus with your parents and feel ashamed to be alive when the flailingly uptempo lion introduction music comes on. It also rips off Stone Temple Pilots' "Sex Type Thing" ("Here I come I come I come I come") but don't tell Cee-Lo that because it doesn't sound like he knows. "Crazy" is great and fuck you yes I am reading more Philip K. Dick and I don't care what anyone says about dumb costumes (check), I am fully in support of a #1 single about being shredded to pieces by paranoia.

In that respect, they've somehow outdone Scott Walker at his own game, or at least street hockey to The Drift's ice; Walker's sense of humor deflates to an empty room. Well, he's in the corner punching a side of beef with a contact mic on it, but whatever. I like it, but Tilt came out 11 years ago; I can keep my pants on for a little while with this one.


Let's Talk

I couldn't ever get into Bob Dylan. Dunno why. In my effort to try to explore critically embarrassing and often psychically liberating bruises in the careers of Famous Musicians (Leonard Cohen's Death of a Ladies Man, The Eagles' The Long Run), I listened to Street Legal last week. The back cover makes him look like Alice Cooper. I thought heroin was slimming, but Karl assured me that quasi-Renaissance leisure wear lends a look of gravity (well, just, "he's not fat. just his shirt"). The only song I really like is "Is Your Love in Vain?," which is horror-rock, in a sense. I guess it's a thorn for Dylan lovers because it's not poetically nuanced enough or something; it's also one of the most wrong-headed and classically selfish sentiments I've ever heard, but he sings it with grotesque conviction (Karl said "I don't want to ever hear that song again"; I couldn't stop thinking about it). It's like he threw up all the worst love letters I write; it's like those ads--"If smoking did to your outside what it did to your insides, would you still do it?"


(This is Going to Drive Me Nuts)

(Okay, I have this weird story in my head about Tommy James making the cricket sounds in "I Think We're Alone Now" by rubbing his beard on the microphone while playing live; I think it's weird because I can't verify it anywhere and I can't even find a picture of Tommy James with a beard.)


Takin' It To The Trough

I've got dots and they need connecting, okay, come on, topics-style:

K-punk on youth, boredom, and the pursuit of pleasure

(Simon's response and sashay into food)

Geeta on Eno and food

That article in the new Harper's about Christianity/America/Thoreau

and probably-not-so-coincidentally talking with the Movie Night crew about the eroticism of food over, wtf, Branded to Kill


Food is a necessity, and in that respect it's part of a routine; it’s moot.

Of course, the culture surrounding food is both external and superfluous, at least from a biological standpoint: eating together, preparing food together (and all requisite "simple living" nu-zen rhetoric), buying free-range/whole-food/fair trade/whatever. These are ethical and social gestures, depending.

I don't see the cooking metaphors in Geeta/Eno's writing as being a part of a culture/pleasure dichotomy like Simon seems to (unless I'm misunderstanding him); I see it as an art/life dichotomy.

Sure, it’s a pretty clichéd dichotomy, but think about it: Eno talks about faster, cheaper, more portable, whatever; he manages to reflect his approach to art in his approach to "life" (both the necessity of food, the culture of cooking, and the extension of his own personal style of cooking). I always thought the artlessness/non-musicianship of Eno was kind of pretentious in practice, but in theory, liberating: the point wasn't "just think, anyone can do this (spice here, spice there/let's patch A through B and see what happens)" but more "there is no this to speak of that can be reasonably separated from just kinda existing." The radicalism of Eno’s food metaphors isn’t the precious yawn it produces in our consciousness and approach to music, but the fact that associating MUSIC with FOOD completely shakes the concept of how it fits into life: it becomes a necessity. How we approach it is up for experimentation and discussion; that we do isn’t. Which also explains, at least for me, the quasi-anorexia of dudes like Bobby Gillespie (Simon’s reference): real skyscraping sublime rock n’ roll feeling has nothing to do with necessity or daily life -— it’s all transcendence.

With all due respect to Geeta, she sort of nails the tendency for “culture” to treat these things like they were fucked up and ghastly: “My guess is that his path to lifelong weirdness…” Why exactly is it weird? We grow up thinking that attitudes like the ones that Eno has to food/music are fundamentally starched, inaccessible, and “arty” rather than actually permeable, fluid, and full of possibility. Marx thought art was a necessity; so did Thoreau. But making that argument now -— “take time with the things you do, make it healthy, be thorough, make creativity a part of daily life, immerse yourself, etc.” -— you just play into one of two societal boxes: arty (to the exclusion of the day-to-day) or you’re in some tier of Simple Living, whether it’s waiting in line at the Trader Joe’s (certain types of shopping have spiritual value, you know) or you’re like my friends Brandon and Hannah, who, despite being Brooklyn residents, fight the good fight by cultivating cooking herbs in their living room (Eno’s gardening & cooking metaphors tied into one literally “creative” rebellion).

I’m deeply turned on by all this, but made most cosmically supple by K-punk’s assertion that

“On this account, 'boring' is not opposed to 'interesting'. To be bored simply means to be removed from the communicative sensation-stimulus matrix of texting, MTV and fast food, to be denied, for a moment, the constant flow of sugary gratification on demand.”

This is basically what I wrote in my college thesis, which is a corny thing to reference, but the ideas still fascinate me. It was about Andy Warhol’s screen tests, which were basically what they sound like they would be —- 3-4 minute shots of a person keeping still, trying not to blink, showing their face for the screen. Warhol was actually a lot like Brian Eno, (a-)theoretically speaking. He didn’t care if you walked out on the films and came back in later. It wasn’t that important. The films just happened. ****, his 24-hour epic, is basically a psycho-conceptual joke: you think you’re supposed to ATTEND to it like ART, so you SIT THERE and get FRUSTRATED. You keep your expectations high—because art it supposed to take you out of life, not get all up in it—you don’t bliss out, you don’t get bored. Because the opposite of boredom isn’t interest, it’s distraction.

Being truly bored is being enough at peace with something to let its structured meaning slip out of your mind: music-as-entertainment as opposed to wallpaper, cooking as a directed way to make food rather than a way to relax; product and pleasure remains the primary object. It’s when this happens that similarities open up -— the similarities like Eno’s cooking/production approach, or watching clouds pass into bunnies (no longer clouds), or just staring into Warhol’s face until you’re completely outside both the film and your own head. You’re no longer acting with it in an oppositional what-can-I-get-from-you kind of way, but something much more shadowy and difficult to articulate.

(As an aside, I know that Talking Heads and Warhol etc. were avowedly about finding wonder in “banality,” but phrasing it as such is sort of structurally inaccurate or at least playing into the dominant lexicon to begin with -— it’s only banal because of the way we treat it; they wanted to make the “boring” stuff in life the space in which we can fundamentally open our minds.)

Frank Kogan’s praised Richard Meltzer for talking about Absolutely Live by the Doors in terms of food. Meltzer:

“"TV-Guide Pizza" (staple remover optional) to go with "Who Do You Love?" ("Dump the liquid grease all over [the pizza] and stick it back in the oven until it reaches desired crispyhood. And you can stick the staple remover on there too if you go for that. Yum-yum.”

And Kogan’s point is that you’d learn more about the album from his metaphor than any straight description, that it creates a context. Well, it’s a fast-food context and a backhanded pan -— no effort, no real satisfaction, a hack-job. The aural equivalent of a TV dinner. In “The Disco Tex Essay,” he calls contextual surprise in music “free lunch.”

While fast-food is weird in my expansion of K-punk’s context—it’s totally woven into daily life, but excises all of the “art/life” aspects of food -— you could also make the argument that it’s just fucking bad for you, I guess.


Paradise: Impossible?

Take Me Out of My Zip Code: Single Again

I was listening to Teena Marie's "Shangri-La" from Emerald City and instead of indulging in my usual speculative philosopher-style hack-work by wondering aloud about what songs called "Shangri-La" have in common, I decided to actually tackle scientific method by wondering aloud about what songs called "Shangri-La" have in common and then listening to a shit-ton of them. My only conclusion is that most of them are boring and nothing like how I imagine paradise, which shouldn't surprise me except that "Heaven" by the Talking Heads is an Eternal song and I thought that maybe because seeing the cover of Belinda Carlisle's Heaven is a Place on Earth when I was about five was the first time I had a boy-girl thing that someone could've nailed "Shangri-La" or at least sort of smeared it.

As of right now, Teena Marie has the best version of "Shangri-La" I can find (and it's not all that amazing or even the best song on Emerald City), though if the Kinks version had more syncopations it might win. I used to like it a lot, but I've been sorta tired of Ray Davies lately. The Nightmares in Wax (not on) is pretty good too, it's like no wave except the tunelessness seems more accidental. I can't decide what the worst one is. Right now, I think it's Gift Culture's, not because I take total offense at the idea that paradise sounds like lite pan-Asian trip-hop, but because it's all synth portamento, which is sort of like someone trying to forcefeed you a bowl full of parsley while telling you it's salad.

Billy Idol's is really terrible too, but it's actually not the worst song on Cyberpunk. That distinction goes to the crap techno cover of VU's "Heroin," remarkable only for the greatest perceived-time to actual-time ratio in any song I can think of (and not because of the song's imagined bulletproof vests/dumb guardian shrieks of "heresy" and not even because of idea, which, if you think about it for a split second, is actually a pretty good one). The ratio is either 9 or 10, which makes the experience long enough to listen to "Keeper of the Mountain" by the Flatlanders at least 21 more times or "I Wanna Dance Wit 'Choo" by Disco Tex at least 13 more, which are lowball figures, because I've diregarded the time-flies-when-you're-having-fun factor out of pity. Quantify your love, it's spring.


O is None and a Circle and a Hole and It's Whole

I suffer from ventriloquism. Whenever I'm personal here, it seems to be about self-doubt--which I don't mind, I just hope it doesn't become a full-on schtick.

Anyhow, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, besides admittedly dethroning Hotel Rwanda for Most Times I Wanted to Bawl My Fucking Eyes Out at a Movie But Couldn't Because I Was in Public, is, if nothing else, a portrait of single-mindedness. Tragic single-mindedness, sure; psychosis or fanatacism, even, but a condition not without dignity.

What I sorta envy about Johnston is what I doubt about myself: conviction. I've always been fascinated by the determination of belief because I tend to want to believe in everything, to let everyone sit at the table. I can't live without the noise, but I can't sleep either. When the belief seems right, well, that's wonderful; even when it seems wrong to me--neo-imperialism, The Darkness--I'm fascinated by someone's ability to tune out the hums around them enough to hear the psychic glint of a single sound. (Even cranky Lewis Lapham at Harpers, who seems to have written the same intro essay for the last four months, took the most recent issue to dissent from the prescribed, politically correct "plurality of voices" in the wake of the Mohammed cartoon debacle. Even if Lapham uses the platform to try to find a bearing against relativism, there's nothing to brace him and say he isn't just reinforcing it.)

I know there's a difference between believing in something and suffering from mental illness (though insanity is just extreme self-absorption I guess), and the last thing I want to do is fetishize Johnston's manic depression or the speculations of his LSD-burn. Still, it's hard to ignore the power of Johnston's single-mindedness when he broke into a house and frightened an elderly woman into actually jumping out of a fucking window because he was shouting at her about the presence of demons.

While Johnston's music seems best appreciated in bursts (Beta dares you to make it through a whole album), there are definitely isolated moments of brilliance, which were well-excercised in the film. While I guess most people know "Casper the Friendly Ghost" or "Speeding Motorcycle" because of Yo La Tengo or Harmony Korine, "Don't Let The Sun Go Down on Your Grievances" is, in my view, what makes Johnston special. Religious, albeit sidewardly; a religion of self--"Do yourself a favor, become your own savior"--self-reliant to a fault, uncharitable, almost martyrly; it's a tiny spot of light only if you believe the world is dark. Which, for Johnston, it wasn't really; he had people to help and support him, but nothing took precedence over what happened in his head. Johnston recorded the song in his first "studio," which utilized his brother's workout benches as tables for a portable cassette recorder and his chord organ; exercise, exorcism, Johnston's career was filled with long, existential puns. Still, if a pun splits the meaning of something, Johnston only wanted one for everything--his own--which, if frightening at times, is enviable; you could see him as a sinking ship or just a guy who wants a swim--god in the eye of the beholder.