Monday, May 31, 2004

Back from N.O.; historical and therefore charmingly neutralized antebellum sleaze sits cheek-by-jowl with this-very-moment risque-t-shirt-shop sleaze. This is the only place where a restaurant menu would gloss bahn mi as "Vietnamese po'boy." Bree poked around the Faulkner House, I found a James White & The Blacks button on Decatur St.

Agreeing and disagreeing with everybody; going to bite part of Sasha's credo to the effect that this is the place where one writes the things one should think better of. (I've been annoyed by my own self-editing and lack of tendentiousness lately. My idea of overcompensating for this will not be yours, perhaps.)

I'm going to point out something here, once, and hope it will be recalled on occasions when I take the following tone. What I'm into, here and elsewhere, is figuring it out, not once and for all, but provisionally and as-it-happens, and this often means retracing my steps, as a matter of intellectual integrity, not only for the sake of the game, but as a matter of ethical responsibility. I'm going for informed-as-I-can-manage, but not authoritative, if I can help it. This, I suspect, makes it damn near impossible to be as tight a stylist (this goes for the published stuff too) as many that I admire. (My worries about the self-regard and mastery often implicit in the critical-authorial voice are not unrelated to the issues below, but had better wait to become less ill-formed.) But: If at any point in the future of this blog you read something that indicates, who is this fuck to tell me to rethink anything, well many of you have done the same to and for me, to my benefit.

So: I just don't find the term 'rockist' useful. Xgau coinage, circa '70s, correct? What did he mean by it?* Not that you have to mean by it what he did, but do you? Sasha took a stab at defining it in a Slate piece, I forget how right now, but I'm not swearing there hasn't been semantic drift since. Matos has a version in the Prince books -- there it has to do with how one approaches canon formation. So if I had a different list than the one in The Book of Lists, but used it to organize my further judgments in a similar way, would that be rockist, or just list-ist?

*One thing he meant has to do with his generation of critics' attitude towards pop's past; the assumption that very little of interest, especially regarding class- and race-related stylistic hybridization, happened before Elvis. There's a good passage where he admits this in the This is Pop piece; unfortunately, I've loaned out my copy.

Does rockism happen when one thinks that the transgressive or innovative character of the work, if present, is to be valued? Or is it the aggression, even if that's a highly non-transgressive feature of a given recording's sub-genre? Was it something about the historical connection between popular music and social change at a certain time, thought rightly or wrongly to be absent now? Is it rockism if you like tracking the basics in one room, even if you're a soul or salsa band? If I insist on mastering to 1/2-inch rather than DAT, even if the release is going to be CD-only? (I want to get back to this, and say something about the Tape Op conference, another day.)

If a musician makes some music that fares well on one or another rockist scale of value, is that musician thereby a rockist? Or is rockism a function of approving of that music's way of doing things? Am I rockist if I admire a live band's tightness (or looseness)? Or only if I think that ingredient Q of some music 'demonstrates' the bankruptcy of some other approach?

(There's a dozen versions I'm sparing us all, notably, variants around who's a qualified consumer/user/arbiter of music, the valorization of obscurity/authenticity/romantic notions of authorial integrity/popularity-independent scales of value. Also, there's the whole explicit view or implicit filter question.)

Am I a rockist because I got to sit in on keyboards with Vic Chestnutt at Howlin' Wolf in N.O. on Friday, and that the set seemed pretty effective b/c Vic and John Convertino and Joey Burns and Paul Neihaus (Lambchop) were a bunch of people collectively and simultaneously working out a dynamic that served the songs but was also of some independent sonic interest, having been handed some chord charts (in the drummer's case, not even that) ten minutes before going on stage? Is it rockist that we did it that way; worse, that it worked?

Maybe we're going to be pressed to a place where we speak of 'rockisms' the way academics have come to speak of 'feminisms.' But that won't do, because 'rockism' can, as far as I can tell, only be used as a perjorative; the word's power comes from the grammatical and even orthographic similarities to 'racism', which allow users to connote other sorts of relations between the two. This is a matter of pragmatics, not semantics, the way these things are usually divided. And that's something I distrust, in this instance. Look, my friends: In a few months or years, some clever but disagreeable writer is going to label a set of notions -- some unexamined assumptions, some hardwon insights, and some misrepresentations -- 'popism.' (To be, or not, confused with 'papism.') And if that writer, if clever enough, is going to make the label stick to a variety of views in an undifferentiated manner, and you, nascent 'popist,' will be pissed, and have a good deal of difficulty being heard when you say, 'no, no, that's not what I or any of us meant.' (When e.g. Curtis White applies 'cultural studies' in an undifferentiated way, this is halfway to happening, except his rhetoric isn't very seductive, and he's too obviously mandarin for many to rally round.) Because the term will be a substitute for an argument, and many folks will be relieved to have a word available to do their thinking for them. But none of you need that kind of crutch, even as a stick with which to award Nick Hornsby, again and again, a series of richly deserved beatings. (Whose books also, thank you Jane, suck, and I'm not even so sure.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

mission of burma -- this is not a photograph ('79 taang version)
mission of burma -- fever moon
elvin jones -- spacing (1977 electric rec. w/ bunky green, kenny barron, among others)

radel esca -- my favorite theme (some kinda d.c. indie-funk 7", not in any of the usual niches)
pigeon john feat. abstract rude -- identity crisis (of l.a. symphony, best of the 3 on this ep)
twilight circus dub sound system -- twilight c meets tommy z/bassie dub II (archival dub on roir, don't really grasp the provenance)
girl talk -- pump it up (on-the-cut collage-electro)

caetano veloso -- detached (high-concept transcribed-for-strings cover of:)
dna -- detached
arto lindsay -- make that sound (from new salt; kicking my ass)
the new sound of my bossa nova -- man (iffy lofi indie-bossa)
juana molina -- misterio uruguayo (that's more like it; got a nice call)

flatlanders -- yesterday was judgment day (hancock/ely/j.d. gilmore; weird transition, but good)
amy allison -- dreaming's killing me (ok, so it's the americana set)
amy blaschle -- thoughtlessness of (new to me, voice reminds me of?)
death water estates -- suburban beachtown (charlie mcalester 'best' of, remember him?)
eddie pennington -- information, please (kentucky thumb-picking, smithsonian, hot playing)

guys and dolls -- i must go home alone (just this single I pull out every so often)
evolution control committee -- by the time i get to arizona (the kids need to hear this)
time machine -- night lights (eh)
alias -- divine disappointment (anticon comp; this one has some atmosphere; got a call)

cristina -- disco clone (been waiting for months to have my show again so i could play this)
freezepop -- stakeout (self-aware electropop, girl-stalks-indie-boy)
lali puna -- b-movie (#1 at the station, i gather, notwist + personality?)
metal boys -- the pleasure (post-metal urbain, best seg of show; shoulda brought the robotnicka disc; a call on this one)
fennesz -- transit (w/ david sylvian)

fats waller -- us on a bus (charming song I've never heard otherwise, 1935)
john coltrane -- ascent (from sun ship; one more for elvin)

Anytime I happen to overhear the conversation of a certain kind of 'precocious teen' (I'm in a cafe in Claremont, pre-radio, trying to grade), I can only imagine how awful I must have been to be around at 16; hell, 19; hell, 23; and so on. This one's been making a series of Pythonesque jokes about the Crusades; his pal may be saying equally annoying things, but is doing so quietly. I'm not in a foible-forgiving mood today. (Ten min. later -- now they're getting serious: "I'm always suspicious of trying to stop a revolution with force." Me too, bro.) At least my h.s. didn't have Mock U.N..

Ate badly, stupidly, yesterday. Expect to eat unheathfully in a somewhat more worth-it way for a couple days in New Orleans this weekend (see below); after that, just as an experiement, let's try 'eating right' for a few weeks, shall we? On this 'life of the mind' gig, one tends to wishfully deny the extent to which the state of one's body affects one's less-obviously-embodied faculties. Why there are fat Cartesians.

Had much of my faith in Destroyer revived last night at Spaceland. Rockist or not, it's likely the case that some people make more convincing music in real (oh, I can't say that, can I use 'lived'?) time than in virtual-MIDI land. That is: Being backed by Frog Eyes helped the performances of the new songs a great deal. As for F.E. themselves, terrible name, and a frontman that anyone who hates indie-rock would hate, and I'm not so nuts about him myself, but a fine band dynamic -- either the late, unlamented Rock*A*Teens are now an influence, or the same Birthday Party records got to Cabbagetown, GA and Victoria BC. Keyboardist could play, drummer not unLindylike, I wanted to steal her. Hadn't been too concerned to crack their promo before this, will do so now.

Bacon? Check. Beans? Check.: Will be at this in The Big Easy, thru Sunday, backing La Toomey. (Others playing over the 2 nights: Sue Garner, Vic Chestnutt, Calexico, John Doe, Pedro the Lion, Steve Wynn, Blackheart Procession). I'm surprised to learn that Harry Shearer is the MC -- just for the daytime events, or the shows too? Looking forward to hearing Alan Toussaint on the producer's panel. May tappy-tap-tap from there, depending on the gods of wi-fi.

Radio tonight; playist later.

Monday, May 24, 2004

You'd think that word would have gotten to me that the actual sad music in The Saddest Music In The World is by Chris Dedrick of The Free Design. The movie stands or falls on the music -- Kern/Hammerstein's "The Song Is You" sung in many, many arrangements, a good deal of very clever work on the cross-cultural contests between paris of countries' miserablism, a beer ad that had a recognizably Dedrick vocal arrangement. Of course, reviews I've seen don't really understand this is part of the film, but as an something appended to Maddin's image-making. Won't speak to Maddin's work in general, as I've only seen (and liked) a few shorts, no features, but the grainy, 16mm texture plus the Caligari-via-Les Carbiniers art direction (and very uneven performances) had the same problem as indie-rock -- no, see, that bit was supposed to suck. To the extent that the film is absorbing enough that you forget the idiosyncratic look for a while, the technique is beside the point. (Though Daniel pointed out last night that, as Maddin works with larger crews w/ a higher proportion of standardly trained technicians, it probably becomes harder to the get a less normal/transparent look -- so perhaps it is an achievement. Noted that Maddin and several of the actors were credited w/ extra camerawork.) Still and all -- given a choice between a soundtrack and a DVD, I'd take the former. "The Song Is You" has a terrific bridge -- modulates back to the last A section adeptly, and gloriously. Works well in the climax, where Mark McKinney plays it on an upright as everything burns around him -- the actual piano track is artful, the song present under noisy 'impassioned' pounding, and dramatically, it's a quote of Laird Cregar's mad scene in Hanover Square.

[Tangent -- as music is to film, lyrics are to music; the fact that someone was responsible for them is usually ignored. Even the reviews that mention Kern don't name Hammerstein. And neither recent NPR birthday piece on Fats Waller even names his most frequent lyric collaborator, Andy Razaf; one simply calls Waller the author of "Black & Blue," which, we learn, was "the first protest song." I commend to you the Razaf biography, also called Black and Blue, from a few years ago. This is to take nothing away from Fats -- just listening this weekend to vol. 4 of the 14 disc Italian set I picked up a while ago.]

Where had I seen the gamine, limited Maria de Medeiros, as the nymphomaniac, before? Ah, Henry and June, a terrible pseudo-lit movie. There's more to her than her limited U.S. (well, and now Canadaian) filmography suggests: At home in Portugal, she's also written and directed -- including a film based on 3 Pessoa stories.

Oh yes: I was the only person in the theater. (Of course, it was Friday afternoon at 12:40 -- but I think wide release on this one may have been a miscalculation.)

May start trying to post about (roughly) one item per, like normal people, so that I'll actually post more often rather than waiting until there's a daunting pile-up. (I draw the line at giving my glorified journal entries titles.) But, this from NYT photo critic Sarah Boxer. "But this time there are two kinds of evidence in play, and they are difficult to tease apart: the kind that tells you what was going on anyway and the kind that tells you what was being done for the sake of a photograph." (Read the piece -- like Luc Sante's, it's tighter and less rhetorical than Sontag's Sunday mag essay.)

Friday, May 21, 2004

Only glanced at it and still deciding whether to shell out, but I expect The Wire's pronouncements on "The State of Song" to provoke me something terrible. There's a "war on pop," apparently.

Yesterday's purchases: LM Descloux Press Color (enjoying the other one, though with sadness), Arto Lindsay Salt (w/ Kara Walker cover art, nice parlay w/ DNA reissue and Caetano's "Detached"), Maiow When It All Comes Down (complete reissue of Cath Carroll's Factory-era band), Burma vinyl (analog mastering, I'm over that, but needed the extra track, the Dils' "Class War"), Liars They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (just to find out). Forgot I wanted the new Mozzer.

I've been using Dick Cheney as a random name in a set of examples about photography for my class; I won't go into the details. (By the way, Roger Scruton's "Photography and Representation" is one of the worst excuses for a philosophy paper I've ever read, but I've found it a necessary foil for making various points. I only recently learned that the Pet Shop Boys successfully sued him for 10,000 pounds in 1999, for claiming in print that they and The Spice Girls had little to do with their own records.) Anyway, one of my students presented me with a Larouche pamphlet with a photo of Cheney on the cover, manipulated so that his shadow is a hatchet-hefting executioner. Title: "Children of Satan II: The Beast-Men." [With Bette Midler as...The Ringmaster.] Glad to see I'm getting something across.

Wed. was awful -- waited for a plumber that never came on a day when I actually could have allowed myself out of the house. Now the tub's ok, and with no deadline up this sec, heading to Pasadena for Saddest Music In The World, maybe lunch, maybe read what I want to for a while over coffee. (Have you noticed that I post more boringly when I'm less stressed?) Better leave now.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

mission of burma -- this is not a photograph (summer theme song)
mission of burma -- fake blood (from the new one)
don armando's 2nd ave. rumba band -- i'm an indian,too (irving berlin tune also covered by clusone 3; ze 12" not on mutant disco)

cloudead -- son of a gun
tinklers -- zone fare (cloudy guy's voice reminde me of this)
susie ibarra & mark dresser -- metatone
chops (feat bahamadia) -- b-girl session (lotsa undierap 12"s in the bins)
mahjongg -- aluminum (oh, there's still electro)

bill wells -- family sighs (pretty but short)
simon joyner -- happy woman (from the new one mike krassner rec'd in l.a.)
westlake -- she grew and she grew (1987 ep by go-b's fetishist, ex-servants)
parts and labor -- s/t (7", a bit like hella, lock groove)

dj broken window -- too many mc's, not enough ultravox (there seems to be a certain annoying u-rap vocal style I was not aware of; quasimodo's one thing, but)
madvillian (feat medaphoar) -- raid (wanted 'accordion,' but it's un-clean)
the double -- firecrackers in sawdust (fake dub; this disc is growing on me a lot)
studio one dub -- race track version (real dub; soul jazz comp; c. dodd r.i.p.)
wayne mcghie & the sounds of joy -- by the time i get to phx. (reissue of 1970 solo debut of jackie mittoo bandmate; haven't read the notes yet)

le scrawl -- boiling point (kinda rad, flips between deathmetal and ska w/ horns)
breaker! breaker! -- do right, do wrong (you see the connection)
painting soldiers -- the canes (one-sided vinyl ep, new to me, ymg-ish)
the mekons -- gin palace (poor seg, too bad)
sol power -- raach ya sol (is that 'reach' or 'rock'?; clav-funk w/ nu-soul vox, I'll play this again)
eyedea & abilities -- now (showy, I like the acoustic bass)

broadcast -- lunch hour pops (request, better than remembered)
azita -- antartica (art bears meets suddenly tammy)
xiu xiu -- clowne towne
lyn collins -- rock me again x 6
carole simpson -- just because we're kids (cabaret)

got 'what are you playing calls' on Westlake, Double/Studio One, Painting Soldiers; and one woman asking if I'd sell CDs of my show. Too much pressure.

I know you weren't holding your breath, but further worrying over what Stephin is or isn't/means or doesn't will have to be an unredeemed promissory for a while. Backchannel from S/FJ drops me back into a mass of fundamental questions that again make me worry about whether I oughta [be allowed to] write about music ever, at all. ('Quitting' endeavor X looms large in my mental economy, whether w/ grand gesture or just by falling silent; never happens, I just tack on Y, Z, and [special character] instead.) In any case, my deferral implies no claim that I had any of it right.

The late Elvin Jones, uncannily quoted on May 12 by Hotel Point (link at right): “The length of my solos doesn’t mean anything. When I go on for so long, I am looking for the right way to get out. Sometimes the door goes right by and I don’t see it, so I have to wait until it comes around again. Sometimes it doesn’t come around at all for a long, long time.” (Latta cites Palmer's Code of Signals as source. If memory serves, it shows up there in a piece by fellow drummer Clark Coolidge; I know CC quoted it somewhere, anyway.)

My first radio show of the summer, tonight 8-10; I'll be trying not to anaesthetize the way that you feel in this time slot until late August or so, unless I'm out of town. Listen to me rustily screw up segs and speeds online by following 'radio' link. I do attempt to follow format -- that is, play a good number of new releases in the station's rotation -- but I get my licks in one way or another. It usually gets more interesting after I've broken myself in for a week or two. Playlists will end up here.

Trying to figure out where I can buy a copy of Witkin's Adorno and Popular Culture to replace the one just recalled by another UCLA library user, came across this rarity; an unsolicited book review actually worth a look. Weird, but pithy: "Witkin's Adorno machine is constructed by a scholar who is tone deaf to the music of the dialectic." (You could almost imagine it's by Jane, but she probably wouldn't go on about Woody Allen at length.) Hit "Compare Prices" to learn that the cheapest place to buy Routledge critical theory books new is...Walmart.

Spend two more hours on tomorrow's lecture, then struggle with ONoffON review while I wait for the fucking plumber.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

made herself, now...?

the fire but not the fire you look at

in this doctored photograph

Monday, May 17, 2004

S/FJ worries himself into a corner over Stephin Merritt -- as theorist, not practitioner -- in the process calling Mr. I-Claim-To-Loathe-Notions-Of-Originality-Then-Proceed-To-Make-Highly-Iconoclastic-Records a rockist, not to mention 'self-deprecating,' for what must be the first time ever. I'd point out that SM generalizes yet more daftly about hip-hop in a recent Salon interview [the author of which is in every way the sort of strawman SM lives to epater], but I worry that Sasha might take up arms.

I empathize. Anything I say about SM is vitiated by the fact that I've been arguing with him in my head (respectfully, which may just be my curse) for about 10 years, since an infamous-to-a-few CMJ songwriter's panel on which I committed the cardinal sin of claiming to attempt to 'avoid cliche' in my own lyrics. He also corrected Barbara Manning's grammar. My spirit has been to some degree broken ever since; I can't speak for Barbara's. Also, no one asks me to name Pantone colors.

All that as aside as I can manage: He's pretty clearly not a racist, and has actually thought hard about some of this, as demo'd by Douglas' interview excerpt. (In the dreaded 10th anniversary issue of Magnet, an amazing document of know-nothing anti-representation, he repeats the gist of the quoted point as "the smartest thing you've said in the last 10 years," and it's about the only thing in the mag that kept me from taking up arms.) Even here, though, you can read "very recent traditions of black radio" as a mild-sounding way of dissing hip-hop; if you think that dismissal of the form is by def. racist, well.... As for rockism, well, he's well-documented as giving the gasface to 'false realist' production, doesn't appear to valorize the capacity to reproduce what one records live, and I believe scandalized some other panel with his excitement about Ricky Martin's records, mostly b/c they supplied proof that hugely successful recordings could now be made with no studio costs of the traditional sort.

But the "Playlist" piece, and certain features of the new album, have me scratching my head. First off, either Stephin has not been oiling his critic's pen lately, or was rushed, or the prose was edited with a heavy hand. "Best lyricist in rock" doesn't sound like him, to say nothing of other bits of boilerplate: "Americana-rock purveyors," "gorgeously ragged voice." He was better in O'Hara-era Tony, right? I also have my doubts that Gomez and Steve Forbert are really his call, though anything is possible. (That Delays album does have its charms, btw, I would have said a male-fronted Sundays.)

I don't go about attributing cynicism to others, but I think some of these moves can be interpreted strategically. The pro-pop stance he took when he was trying mightily to escape the smothering proprietariness of indie-rockers served very well to make said community cluck nervously and view him as all the more sui generis, but it may not come off as interestingly contrarian when one has changed publicists from the indie-rooted Girlie Action to the high-class Sacks & Co., shill for many a 'career artist,' and thus has a shot at space in the dailies. (To say nothing of Harriet-to-Merge-to-Nonesuch.) At times, I think there's not a 'view' on offer, of the sort that can be assessed by the theoretically-minded, but shadowboxing and an overarching desire to give good quote. Which is fine, unless you're a plodder like me, easily tricked into believing that I really ought to work out my 'position' vis-a-vis the Great Brain's, only to find that the latter has shifted.

Then you have i, with its "no synths" policy (the trick being that "I Thought I Was Your Boyfriend" sounds like Erasure anyway, though the hook is by way of Tears For Fears' "Mad World") and first-personal emphasis. Yes, these are just new 'constraints,' in the Oulipean sense whose relation to song-form is probably the feature that makes me feel the Fields at all; but at times, I think, if it walks like a singer-songwriter and talks like a singer-songwriter.... For the record, I'm w/ everyone else on "It's Only Time," and like a lot of the back half of the album, which seems to be intentionally more harmonically sophisticated, though since the titles are alphabetical, this could just be an accident. I wish he hadn't used the bridge of the otherwise perfectly-wrought "Is This What They Used To Call Love" for a joke.

I also wonder if he hasn't given up on what I thought 69 Love Songs was partly designed to do; place him in a position, hype-capital-wise, to actually be Irving Berlin and write massive hits, or at least common-currency popular songs that might well be sung by other artists. Those on i certainly aren't like that; too many tricks, too much perversity, too much baring of the formal device -- nice for me and the Fresh Air audience, but patently doomed as chart fodder. (And musical theater, his other outlet, is a pretty rarified endeavor itself, nowadays.) Despite his protests, the 'personal' is in there, not as 'autobiography,' but as 'integrity' -- that the work satisfy, and even show off, his notions of craft is ultimately more important than their effectiveness for those who don't give a fig about the acrobatic succession of bridges in the ironically hyperarticulate "I'm Tongue-Tied," much less its ironic hyperarticulateness. Again, this is not something I have a problem with -- I'd be more than pleased to have written most of the songs on the new album to no acclaim whatever -- but I thought he was looking to be 'in the show.' Is there a bit of sour grapes in his apparent disinterest in Justin, Britney, OutKast, along with a recognition that he either can't or won't write that sort of material? When's Douglas' Nation piece coming out? Why was I up at 3:30 a.m. reading Dorothy Parker's book reviews?

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Terrific program of non-fiction shorts about Los Angeles, '20s to about 1961, last night at UCLA -- I don't know if you call booster travelogues or apparently raw footage of the construction of the Hollywoodland sign 'documentaries.' I'm always up for seeing vanished architecture, but the most fascinating were the last 4 shown:

1948: An observant, light-hearted look around "Muscle Beach" (Venice, I guess?), sharpened by a talking-blues soundtrack by Guthrie-era folksinger Earl Robinson.

1956: A kind of propaganda film commissioned by the U.S. housing authority to argue for 10,000 units of public housing in L.A., and, per the title, "...Ten Thousand More." Dismaying footage of the Chavez Ravine slum.

1957: Five-minute doc, extremely simply done and straightforwardly narrated, describing how the city made nearly everyone living in Chavez move out, w/ the plan that they be returned once the area was filled in with low-income housing. Famously, the political winds changed -- though you'd need more than 5 minutes to say how -- and this 'socialist' project never happened, though $5 million of federally-funded ground-clearing did. Dodger Stadium happened there instead. (Residents of the ravine had unsuccessfully lobbied the city for various public improvements for decades prior; a perfectly decent-looking school in the area went entirely unused for the years between the forced removal and the construction of the stadium). This is all in City of Quartz and a hundred of other places; it's one of the ugliest and most easily forgotten episodes in L.A. history. [One of the booster films also included shots of Kaiser Steel out in Fontana; reading Davis' history of the general area where I grew up was huge for me circa 1992, and also, I believe, for the Callacis. See Refrigerator, How You Continue Dreaming.]

1961: While The City Sleeps, a half-hour produced for KABC, made up of (a) a camera going out and seeing who's up at night (flower market, taxi dispatchers, maintenance guys), (b) an excellent cool-jazz score that I zoned on the author of during the credits, and (c) omnipresent, unintentionally hilarious narration, overheated Chandler by way of Norman Corwin. For instance: A whole house is loaded on an oversize truck in the middle of the night -- "A home...in search of a home." Worthwhile despite this silliness -- I can't even imagine a local tv station commissioning anything so quotidian now.

Followed by Losey's '50s remake of M, set on pre-redevelopment Bunker Hill, complete with opening shot out of the door of Angel's Flight, the aerial trolley that had to be shut down a few years back when it finally killed someone. Unfortunately, I haven't seen Lang's recently enough to make any but the most obvious comparisons. (E.g., the trial scene now takes place in an underground parking garage.) David Wayne, who I'm familiar with only from comedy (Adam's Rib, and the OCR of Finian's Rainbow, pinkest musical ever, by the way) -- is quite something in the Lorre role. Barely says two words until the big mea culpa at the end (which diverges, psychologically, from Lang's), but his body is expressive throughout; a much more method-y performance than I'd have predicted. Tour de force scene in the Bradbury Building (you've also seen it in Blade Runner), but overall, I wouldn't rate it as highly as The Prowler, among Losey's American films -- unlike Wayne, the genre-issue hoods (inc. Raymond Burr, affecting a strange scratchy voice that I've never heard him use) seem to have wandered in from a much more escapist film.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Filed my dissertation last Friday; the woman in the UCLA library's theses and dissertations office not nearly as Draconian as reputed. (Though I gather she has a superior I didn't deal with directly....) So, yeah, as of that day, I've been a Dr., and I would appreciate being addressed as such in the future. I've been a little funny about posting this here -- not that you don't deserve to know, and not that it's nothing, but there were some little oddities, not quite bureaucratic, last week that made me not feel that it was actually done-done. I won't detail, but Typical Me dept. again: I have a strong tendency to get X 97% into shape before X goes into the world, then spend a good deal of time regretting the other 3% after the fact. There's always a typo (see many entries below), or one title or year I didn't check, or one line of the guitar part (or, more often and worse, the vocals) I don't punch in. In the last case especially, this sometimes corrupts the whole thing -- sometimes that's interesting, more often not. Huge character flaw. In any case, the 3%, or at least 97% of it, was taken care of earlier this week, so yes, well, that happened. I'm told depression may ensue.

Film About A Woman Who... (Yvonne Ranier, shot between 1972-4). I don't think I'll have a grip on Ranier's project until I see the LACE show, but I gather this is the major early statement marking her move from dance to film. (Parts had been used in multimedia performances before the feature was completed.) Overarching sense of formal and representational struggle -- the film is sort of a compendium of techniques for trying to get 'behind,' psychologically and structurally, an outwardly simple narrative. It's as writerly as it cinematic, with an emphasis on combining image and text, culminating in a shot where the camera pans over Ranier's face, to which are pasted newsprint excerpts from Angela Davis' testimony at the trial of George Jackson.

In the Q&A afterward, Ranier immediately said that she hadn't seen this for 15 years -- when someone asked, "What did you think?" her first response was, "It's unbearable." She was mostly referring to the early-'70s sense of duration -- the film is either static or ruminative, depending on your expectations -- and I think it's true that it doesn't manage to use the slowness as a signifying element. (The contrast being, of course, with Jeanne Dielmans, which comes out of a similar millieu -- both were shot by Babette Mangold.) On a long scene in which the protagoness is stipped by her lover and another woman: "I thought I was parodying both pornography and Michael Snow." She also said she'd come in for criticism at the time for the film being 'pre-political' -- I don't think that's quite accurate, but it is pre-radical, and pre-coming-out (which may come to the same thing here). There's a hand-wringing quality -- "Why is the relationship with a huge jerk so difficult and unsatisfying?" It's sad that the approach seems dated; it's not as though the jerks have disappeared -- though most of them don't look so much like James Brolin.

A stretch of voice-over from the script (which I bought, thinking ahead, in Seattle):

"She catches herself snorting gleefully at the scene of the two women being totally bitchy to one another. She remembers a similar scene -- was it Dorothy, or Betty Grable? -- in a movie she saw when she was no more than 9 or 10. One woman had ripped another woman's dress off. She had stayed in the movie theater long after her friends had left until that scene came around again. She had laughed louder than anyone around. And she must have felt guilty about it, because she never told anybody, not her mother, not anybody."

This (and the sense that it's a writer's film) is what connects up with Mean Girls, which I managed to see last Wed. (Managed to get out of school early, lucked into non-metered parking w/in a block of Grauman's Chinese -- I think the last movie I saw there was 12 Monkeys.) I don't know whether to call this movie complicated or compromised. As everyone already knows, it's based on a non-fiction study of high-school cliqueishness, primarily among females, and much of it is intended to illustrate (what I assume to be) the source's observations and conclusions: Being perceived as part of the in crowd ends up seeming worth considerable humiliation from the one or two clique-leaders at the top of the pile. (I wonder if there's a new edition of Queen Bees and Wannabees -- "Now a Major Motion Picture.") There are several places where the satire is quite pointed, and an effective form is found. In a series of 'sociological interview' shots*, a plain girl talks breathlessly about the main Bee: "Regina George hit me in the face once -- it was amazing." It's there, but the film rarely hangs around these moments long enough to make anyone uncomfortable. (On the other hand, the impromptu consciousness-raising session near the end is as didactic as an anti-smoking PSA -- "You girls have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores, it just makes it ok for boys to call you sluts and whores." Is the target audience taking this to heart, I wonder?) Two other things I really did like: There's too much voiceover, overall, but the moments where Lindsay Lohan's head simply says "wrong" when the crush-boy is 'helping' her with calculus capture something; and there are exactly two shots of the Queen Bee's pageant-age sister learning how to be a woman in a darkened living room from the "Milkshake" video and a "Girls Gone Wild" add which are more effective for passing by quickly and without comment.

*Ala Masculin/Feminin, but I think there the answers come from offscreen while we watch the protagonist/interviewer -- here, the mode of address is unclear. Otherwise, the direction attempts transparency.

But, as it seemingly must, all this, good and bad, has to be packed into teen-movie form; Lohan's character not only 'solves' the problems of hierarchy at her school by snapping apart the plastic Spring Queen tiara and throwing out the pieces to the fags and freaks and crips (let them eat status), she wins the standard-issue hottie. Oh, and nails the tie-breaking question at the Mathletes championship, a calc question to which the answer is: "There is no limit!" Tina's clever, I'll give her that. (Actually, there's more to this scene than I'm indicating -- she figures out the problem by making the boyfriend's head disappear so she can 'see' what was on the board behind him on the appropriate day of class.) But: Thumbs down on the implicit notion that it's the prerogative of those who could dominate if they wished -- looking toothsome in a strapless helps -- to pass out the social goodies. (Cf. Yul Brenner's kid, set by education to be a slightly more enlightened leader at the end of The King and I.)

[Should note that there's entertaining stuff here that doesn't connect w/ the theme -- the kid whose 'business' card reads "Math Enthusaist/Bad Ass DJ," the scene where the math teacher (Tina Fey herself, a kind of Garafalo-lite) shows up at the mall in the embarassing vest she wears to bartend two nights a week, the entire performance of Tim Meadows as the principal -- something like Eugene Levy's ability to be funny just be being there, but appearing to do even less work for it.]

You know how Barrett Watten said, "A bus ride is better than most art"? A few minutes on Hollywood Boulevard is at least as good as Tjanting: On the way to the movie, in quick succession, I was invited into one of the Scientology buildings ("Have you seen the museum?" "I'm on my way somewhere."), noted banners for The Ten Commandments: The Musical at the Kodak Theater, and saw, among the 'characters' (Spiderman, Moses) that wander around in front of the Grauman's footprints, a new one: Jimi Hendrix, beaded and fringed, futzing around with an ampless Strat.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Point being, rays of light aren't the sort of thing that could lie or tell the truth.

Photochemical changes in silver compounds never lie.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

"The interrogator's art."


Saturday, May 08, 2004

Sorry for the absence: The glue they use for these "I Support Our Troops" bumperstickers is a bear to dissolve.

Spaceland show not exactly packed, given short notice; I kinda went cathartic (for me) in the midnight hour, covering both "Angst In Your Pants," which I haven't done for a while, and Bonnie Hayes "Shelly's Boyfriend" (from Valley Girl, listen to the witty and empathetic verses some time). Urinals fine as their current incarnation always is, dedicated new song w/ apocalyptic freight to Rumsfeld, encored w/ "I'm A Bug," which is tighter than 1978 but no less dumb-smart. Miss Fortune Cookie features Joe Nolte of not-often-remembered L.A. band The Last, who never quite fit into SST or Bomp! molds despite releasing records on both -- his guitar is the drawing card, the material is catchy but univentive powerpop of a kind I once cared about considerably more; dropping the uninventive might get you The Fastbacks. Precise cover of "The World's A Mess It's In My Kiss," which I suppose might have been similarly dedicated (though what to make of the interpolation of the counting breakdown of "Add It Up" in the bridge)? Rounding out: Low Flying Owls, a Sacto-based band that would appear to own some Doors records. I wasn't taken with them, but felt for them when I saw that they were on self-released album number three -- it is, I think, awfully difficult to be 'indie' in fact but not in genre, as you get no infrastructural love and probably a lot of snotty looks.

Otherwise, this is in danger of turning into 'Recent [i.e., un-dealt-with] Acquisitions." Yesterday's mail: A Bridge Street Books order that included the audio version of Christian Bok's Eunoia, the print correlate of which I am glad to have lead Douglas to, and which you can be sure I'll be mentioning again, and Jeff Clark's deceptively plainly-titled Music and Suicide. (Design, which one can assume is the author's, is odd too -- more boutique-hotel than I'd have expected.) If I'd known three words of my rev of The Little Door Slides Back were to be quoted on the jacket flap ("thick, purring music," not exactly immortal), I might have tried to score a freebie. Anyway, proud to assist. And: a promo of the new DNA reissue I requested from Forced Exposure, along w/ several intriguing things I didn't and which will stare me down guiltily. Maybe I'll be able to get down to words-on-page and bits-on-disc soon.

Saw two Yvonne Ranier films Monday, but am waiting until I can get to Mean Girls for the sake of a more complete report on how the personal-as-political is faring this millenium. For now, will note that Ranier was present at the screening, is vital at 72 in a way that argues for dancing, and was articulate in a matter-of-fact way that made for the least disappointing artist-on-her-work Q&A I've seen for some time. (When she didn't know why she'd done something 20-odd years ago, she said so, but she was also not afraid to establish some interpretive limits.)

Discovered after screening that this fellow Hayden (spelling? last name?) that I see at nearly every movie I go to, but only started speaking to recently (through Joseph and Rita, sorry for insularity) is finishing his film history doctorate at UCLA, with a dissertation on -- police procedurals, including Dragnet, including the radio version. Acquaintance-to-be-cultivated: On.

The post-reunion chapters of David Nichols' newly revised Go-Betweens bio (now from Verse Chorus Press, and much more attractively produced than the old one) shame me: I hadn't noticed that "Mrs. Morgan," on the last album, featured a character that has appeared in a couple of other McLennan songs (under that name), nor the relation of "Caroline and I" (about Princess C. of Monaco) to "Lee Remick," obvious now that I think of it. I sloughed of Bright Orange, Bright Yellow on release, now I'm worried that the problem is that I don't have the kind of time I did to unravel, say, the 12" of "Part Company" when I bought it w/o ever having heard of the band circa 1986. "Bleddyn Butcher" -- their usual photographer, whose credits show up on a good number of Australian releases -- still seems a name to conjure with.

Still too many intended post-topics behind. But tomorrow's Mother's Day, I'm behind on a Phoenix piece, and the key lecture of the 2nd half of my course is up on Tuesday; must gather thoughts on causal character of photography, try to avoid overuse of "indexical."

However: Independent of how it's answered -- when people ask whether song lyrics are poetry, why is that supposed to be an interesting question, and to whom?

Friday, May 07, 2004

Many of you just rec'd this as an email, but due to the decision of world-class nutter Mark E. Smith to cancel the remainder of The Fall's U.S. tour, I've been asked by The Urinals (yes, the very same) to join the bill at Spaceland Friday -- that is, somewhat later today. Midnight, to be exact, so that means I'm really playing Saturday, but you understand.

Urinals 10, Low Flying Owls (who?) 11, me 12. Surpise me. Directions and all that here. $7, $5 if you email me ahead of time for the discount list. I promise not to lose my false teeth on the way.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Chasing own tail, right now, and maybe for another couple days. I promise some meat this weekend.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Matos has a kidney stone; see today, and April 28. I'm with you, brother: This happened to me in 1995, the week before I started graduate school. (Sheathe the calculator, thanks.) I am to this day convinced that the proximal cause was a particularly humid Nothing Painted Blue show at Duke University a few weeks earlier -- sweaty walls, hands not staying on frets -- plus not drinking enough water on the drive back to California, in late August. Consider having it broken up w/ ultrasound before it exits, and think of the upside: This may be the only medical condition for which a reasonable program of treatment includes beer.

(And check MM's blog a few entries down for more criteoke.)

Approx. 7:25 p.m. tonight: The actual Oscar Mayer Wienermobile seen traveling north up my street. (I'm not going to link you to the Flash 'virtual tour' at the OM website, but now you know what to look for.) I believe I may have sighted 'it' (I imagine there are several in operation) on one previous instance, probably also on an NPB tour. I don't know why I'm so pleased by this, especially considering that the nitrates in various processed meat products were a probable distal cause of above stoney condition. (Not, mind you, nitrites -- wasn't that kind of band.) Kitsch doesn't touch me as it once did, I find, but, c'mon: Wienermobile!!

Saturday, May 01, 2004

"Don't self-praise."

This is my chair's marginal note 200-odd pages into my dissertation, attached to a sentence something like: "The following section is not intended to constitute a fully worked-out account, but to describe a promising, initally plausible line." Not exactly Ecce Homo, but fine, I changed it. (I don't know if I used both 'constitute' and 'describe,' the page isn't in front of me.)

I wish I could write "Don't self-praise" on some things that appear on this internet of ours. And then not read them until they had been changed. Come of think of it, I wouldn't mind writing the same on some persons, somewhere they'll see it. I'm sorry that this is cryptic; the issue is raised by my personal [not, let me clarify, my romantic] life. But the principle is general.

My response to the big Minimalism show at MOCA appears to be manifesting itself as lines of poems, so I'm not going to register that here. One of its big points seems to be that a number of artists one does not associate with the movement started off there, though some moved on quite quickly. We know that Lawrence Weiner and Douglas Huebler, say, got to Conceptualism by realizing they were making objects that could have as well been described (W) or picked out (DH)* -- but who knew that Judy Chicago had been making hulking Robert Morris-ish crossbars, or that Hans Haacke had started as an installaton sculptor of a highly rarified sort (ice, condensation, thin cotton sail and fan)?

*I am just noticing that this distinction between ostenstion and description -- a highly relevant one for philosophy of language -- is perhaps run together in some of the theoretical work on Conceptual Art. (I use the caps b/c I mean the 'heroic' period/figures) There's an article in that. Which reminds me, the wall text in that Hammer photo show: God-awful. Every work, apparently, "raises questions about x and y."

And the Krall/Costello (no) and Caetano Veloso (yes) discs wait to see if I will be remunerated for having opinions. I can say: The CV (A Foreign Sound) makes me want to quit music*, but in a good way, because someone gets it. (This is rich: Me praising Caetano Veloso for 'getting it.') Disc embodies a great deal of what I believe, and would like to demonstrate if I had the skill or charm, concerning the strangeness, continuity, and malleability of -- hell, you all know what I'm going to say -- 'song.' The fact that it's 'American' song isn't the really relevant part for me, but it is for CV, which is yet another layer beyond anything I'd be able to signify.

*wait, you haven't?

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