Sunday, June 27, 2004

(Widney Island)

Marianne Faithfull on A&E; Thomas Frank on C-Span2. He doesn't travel with an iron.

First wedding I've been to since the ascent of Norah Jones. 3 songs from Come Away From Me. I'd never noticed that the title track is actually in 3/4; but who remembers how to waltz? These may have been the only post-1986 songs the DJ played. (Bride and groom were about 30; but "You Spin Me Round" is forever.) Locally caught shrimp, bread homebaked by bride's stepdad. Not my own family, so it was quite pleasant.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

It's probably the contrapositive I'm more interested in:

Does no market [always, automatically...] mean no audience?

Friday, June 25, 2004

Is an audience [always, only, already, automatically] a market?

Thursday, June 24, 2004

A sense of rockism we can all get behind: Killing rent collectors. (See seventh paragraph.)

I'll be in Seattle and vicinity from tomorrow evening until Wed. 6/30. I don't know if Bree's aunt out on Puget Sound is connected, so there may or may not be blogging in that period. (Seattle correspondents, you'll be hearing from me presently; my dancecard is empty M-W.) Upside: Mecca Normal at Left Bank Books, Sun. 6/27, 7:30 p.m. Downside: Missing ever-lovin' Bid of The Monochrome Set at Zen Sushi in Silver Lake on Friday. What, can some one tell me, is he even doing in Los Angeles? Looking for a deal? This is up there with the times I had to miss Ed Kuepper on what must have been his only visits to the U.S. in the mid-'90s (and the strange fact that I've never actually seen The Cannanes).

Just Saying It's Art, Round II: This project of Andrea Fraser's. I think this requires sign-in by now, so: Fraser's videotape "Untitled" documents, explicitly but anonymously w/r/t the other party, the sexual act as engaged in by the artist and a patron, the latter paying $20,000 for the privlege/work. [From the article: "All of my work is about what we want from art, what collectors want, what artists want from collectors, what museum audiences want,'' Fraser explained. ''By that, I mean what we want not only economically, but in more personal, psychological and affective terms.'']

Not clear to me who else gets to watch the tape, and in what circumstances. I'm about as epatered by this as by prep-school girls backing it up on prom night, but if I were a working girl, I imagine I'd be peeved at the pay rate. Who doesn't love art that is simply premised on everyone involved having the least defensible possible motivations? Actually, I kind of like it, conceptually -- eliminating that pesky middle part where you have to make the thing that leads to the desired economic/(im)personal relation. But you can't really call it 'conceptual,' as the article does; if it were, Fraser wouldn't have to 'do the deed' to make the point. Still, it beats naked chess.

Sam Frank helps out re my post here of Mar. 17, re Macgregor Card's Hat poems. (Thought I had permalink going, something's wrong):

Came across your blog post on The Hat, and found a copy. Looks like both Card poems are actually palindromes, though a few typos confuse things. The first poem has two palindromes: the first running across columns from I to II ("Tacit" to "at"); the second being the title. The second poem, if you start reading at the title, is one long 'drome. However, I think the last "no" is actually supposed to be set at the poem's end, to mirror "On." And "Mr./Mrs. Ed" should be "Mr./Ms. Ed." The first "Q." of the second stanza is the hinge letter. You mentioned that other things are going on in the poems as well? Amazing. Demetri Martin's 220-plus-word palindrome was posted in his recent Slate diary, but Card shoots him to hell.

I was told that there were further constraints involved by Andrew Maxwell, but I don't recall that he said what they were.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

mission of burma -- this is not a photograph
roger miller -- portrait of a mechanical dog
azita -- yours for today
terror at the opera -- magic dream (some manner of improvish film music)
joanna newsome -- peach, plum, pear (been avoiding this, to be honest, but it's ok)
juana molina -- filter taps (station finally got this; instantly, two calls)

frankenixon -- due process (from ames, somewhere between azita and bettie seervert)
blood on the wall -- baby likes to holler
painting soldiers -- astronauts
nico -- chelsea girls (feat. artist, good call)
espers -- daughter

sally timms -- bomb (from upcoming t&g disc, all sung from male p.o.v.)
fashionettes -- whirlwind (from same gary paxton comp as last time, fantastic 'heat wave' bite)
turid -- om snallhet (swedish folkie, they'll reissue anything these days, won't they?)
eastside sinfonetta -- supply & demand

humans -- i live in the city (forgotten l.a. band c. 1981, x-ish lyrically; on i.r.s., even)
les savy fav -- knowing how the world works (so now we rock for a while; from singles comp)
dirtbombs -- lost love (adult cover, from split 7")
this moment in black history -- art project (not such a good band name, stoogier than song title indicates: "takin' pictures in the shower/watch me go!")
freezepop -- stakeout (better'n anything my favorite ever did)

prisonshake -- shook like roses
hot cross -- better a corpse than a nun (not entirely un-emo)
lkn -- sarah, i adore you (that is, lauren k. newman, one-woman disc but sounds like a full band, live drums and all, difficult to peg; somewhere between polly jean and a dischord band, maybe? this cut is 10 mins, but started skipping after 4...so, faded to:)

guy klucevsek + philip johnston -- tulips are better than one
joel rl phelps/downer trio -- north and annie-o (from upcoming 'customs' full-length)
cherry 2000 -- new waste of time (fairly random pick from the 'slightly older bin,' turns out to be a rather good sort of sy/shoegaze w tempo shifts and a good deal of 'verb)
murs & 9th wonder -- trevor 'n' them (took a break from the indie-hop this week; it was pretty uninpired last time; this is decent, though)

robert creeley! -- lackawanna lives (mixed w/ human beatbox by his son; slight poem, but interesting effect, from 'metaphysics for beginners' comp on redder records)
eric dolphy -- improvisations and turkas (from the strange '87 posthumous release 'other aspects'; this was from '60, w/ dolphy on flute and a very calm-sounding woman not-exactly-singing syllables in?; if I had time, this would be the moment to seg to sound poetry)

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

When in doubt, Just Say It's Art. That makes music better; hell, it makes anything better, just try it! (Link courtesy of Rael Lewis, who doubts that William Gibson was actually in a band with Rodney Graham and Jeff Wall.)

Absent for the last week largely because of --

last bits of grading for the quarter (pleased to find a student using Sheryl Crow's and Rod Stewart's respective versions of "The First Cut Is The Deepest" to make a point relevant to Arthur Danto);

the hooding ceremony (the university, or at least the printers of the program, seem to think I wrote something called "The Role of International Action in Artifactual Representation"; it's intentional, friends, but it makes me feel better about whatever typos remain in my dissertation, in any case);

a pleasantly busy weekend that involved a houseguest*, pretending to be Luke Haines for a few minutes, and a dance party at Joel's. You know what? Pylon is not actually all that danceable. And no, it wasn't me that put it on, thanks.

*Abject confession: I did not know Jackson Browne wrote "Take It Easy."

Attended the final evening of Beyond Baroque's Beyond Text festival Sunday. Jaap Blonk is one huge loud Dutchman, no two ways about it. Yes to various Fluxus pieces and Laurie Anderson's '70s violin quartet using a Sol Lewitt drawing as its score; no, at least for me, to movement-based realizations of Jackson MacLow's "Asymmetries."

Read most of Albin J. Zak III's The Poetics of Rock at a fair clip. Essentially an argument (directed at whom, though?) for seeing 'rock' (blanket term, seems happy to include pop and hip-hop) in terms of the expressive character of recording techniques. Good basic exposition of the origins of multi-tracking (Paul/Ford, Ampex 8-track), and quite good on the 'meanings' of various standard techniques (echo, reverb, mic placement and so on). Pretty much in agreement that 'live' v. 'constructed' amounts to a set of aesthetic options, not a conflict (unless you want to make it one). More moderate view of the role of songs than Gracyk's Rhythm & Noise (i.e. he thinks they have one), though it's in the same ballpark. Being the work of a musicologist, it's heavier on actual examples than a philosopher's treatment of the same issues would be; this is salutary, though there are too many references to Karl Wallinger for my taste -- Hank Shocklee makes a welcome appearance, however. Last chapter makes heavy weather of the insight that recordings take on 'resonance' by referring to other recordings. At least he's explict in not claiming that the system of intertextual references is linguistic. [Note mostly to self: Think about Cavell's brief passage in The World Viewed about sound recording; oddly, for someone very aware of 'what becomes of things on film,' Cavell thinks hearing a trumpet and hearing the (e.g. recorded) sound of a trumpet are not importantly different. Seems to rest on claims about the difference between sense modalities, but I'm unconvinced.]

(I have no logical place for this weighing-in: Nellie McKay reminds me a little too much of those precocious kids I whined about a few weeks ago. I heard/saw another interview -- on a CD-ROM given out in L.A. free-postcard racks -- where she spoke freely and ignorantly about her fear of the oh-so-homogenous suburbs. Disc Two of her two discs could grow on me -- n.b. that it could have fit on one -- but, as my houseguest said this weekend, shouldn't she be able to sing better? "The Dog Song"? No. And I like cabaret; it's smug I have a problem with.)

Finding that reading Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism in public view leads to unsought attention. (Cafe cashier asked how it was. Me: "Heavy." I mean, I'm 20 pages in, what can I say while getting my change?) I don't mind much; a man at the car wash last week told me a disturbing story about being cursed by Eskimos. He also gave his highest recommendation to David Cooper's Behold a Pale Horse: "It's banned in the whole prison system." On the other hand, flipping through Free Radicals (thank you Jordan) in an elevator caused the following exchange:

Woman Also In Elevator (belligerently): "Do you need help reading that?"
Me: [uncertain laugh]
Woman: "Do you want me to look over your shoulder while you're reading that?"
Me: [after confused pause] "I'm sorry, have I done something to bother you?"
Woman (indignantly): "You're attracting my attention."
Me (lowering book): "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bother you."
Woman (not especially mollified): "OK."

I have no idea what this was about. I swear on my honor that I was the very picture of minding my own business when I entered the elevator. She may have meant something by "You're attracting my attention" than those words signify to me, but I can't say what.

Also at various stages of completion: Matthea Harvey Sad Little Breathing Machine (a little Fence-y, roughly 1.6 on SBDQ*), Lisa Jarnot Ring of Fire (Salt reissue, so far I'm most interested in the uses to which she puts awkwardness, SBDQ about 2.3), Benjamin Friedlander Simulcast and various chapbooks (more later, SBDQ breaking the thermometer).

Lastly, just lying there waking up yesterday, considering going on-line, wondering if Sasha's started posting again; about two minutes later (he is), the voice of the very same starts soundbiting w/r/t Timbaland on NPR, as though I'd summoned it.

*Steve Burt Difficulty Quotient

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

There I am in miniature: Tense errors in a sentence about receiving my doctorate. (Posting as I dj; playlist around 10 p.m. as usual.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

more loose ends --

Walking in doctoral hooding ceremony Thursday. Not feeling markedly sentimental about how I've spent the last, oh, let's round up and call it a decade, I'm not certain I'd do this if not for my parents -- and please don't get me started about giving my father driving directions and parking instructions* -- but, again, I'm not certain I wouldn't. Ritual as chore. I think we get snacks.

*We are talking about a man who is actually issuing a book entitled "It's OK To Be Neurotic".

I kid because I love.


More than pleasant Erik Friedlander (gig? recital?) show at, oddly, Temple Bar in Santa Monica, the booking policy of which runs largely to nu-soul and chill-out DJs. (Noticed a sticker in the bathroom for that Sol Power band I've been playing.) Pieces by Arthur Blythe, Carlos Santana, and Zorn (the last more romantic than I'd have imagined, but my knowledge of his range is pretty shallow), plus a good bit of his Maldoror* disc (Brassland, run by Yalie/L.A. Weekly writer Alec Bemis) -- codified versions of originally improvised 'responses' to Lautreamont, I gather. (Was going to link to an online version of the book, but it seems to be dead.) Good bit of extended technique, and a lot of fast switching between I'm-going-to-saw-through-this-cello-dammit and plain-old prettiness -- which is what I'd have expected from a Zorn associate. One super-ugly piece, announced as "I Am Filthy," was too programmatic for me, but otherwise, glad I trucked out to the Westside. Too tired to stay for Mia, felt a little bad as I haven't seen her play for a couple years -- I think I've reviewed all of her records except her major-label debut/finale.


I never did explain that Bing Crosby song from last week's show, not that anyone's been waiting. "Tower of Babel" is the opening song from Three Billion Millionaires, a musical-on-record produced by? for? about? the United Nations in 1963. The 'plot' involves The Delegate from Goo, apparently a giant baby representing all the children of the world, appearing to the General Assembly and asking, essentially, "What d'ya got?" The rest of the songs, sung by various massive middlebrow entertainment figures of the time -- Carol Burnett, Sammy, Judy, Danny Kaye, and that underrated song-and-dance man Adlai E. Stevenson. Jack Benny, quite brilliantly, plays the American taxpayer, asking, essentially, "How much is all this peace supposed to cost?" It's essentially a TV-variety-show-era We Are the World.

Bing's "Tower Of Babel" precedes all this. Penned by Peter Farrow and Diane Lampert, about whom I know zip, though they apparently also wrote the Twyllyp series of children's books, which rings a distant bell, It's a straight-up Fidder On The Roof faux-hora, played by a heavy-guage studio orchestra in an arrangement that sounds something like Herb Alpert scoring a DeMille picture, concerning -- well, I'd better just transcribe the lyrics:

once I talked to my brother
once I talked to my brother
once I talked to my brother
and my brother talked to me

brick by brick build a tower
side by side build a tower
hand in hand reached for heaven
and my brothers worked with me

2000 Years B.C.!!

then the wrath of Jehovah
tipped that great tower over
and made of my brothers
as a foreigner to me

now I look at my brother
and I don't know my brother
I can't speak with my brother
and he cannot speak with me


he lives up the mountain
he lives down in the valley
I can't speak with my brother
though he lives next door to me

but I long for my brother
yes I long for my brother
and I know that my brother
in my heart must long for me


so we start to build a tower
side by side build a tower
hand in hand with my brother
and our work has just begun

'til that day I meet my brother
and I talk with my brother
and I know he's my brother
and we speak again as one

Babylon-a-Babylon-a-Babylon...(to fade)

And of course, the UN building is supposed to be this new tower, "gathering," as narrator/producer Arnold Michaelis says, "the fragments scattered by Babel's fall." Now, think what one will of the hyper-rationalized liberalism of the UN's project as presented here. (The record is also explicitly anti-nuke; Miss Burnett's song is called "The Newly Organized Brotherhood Of Marching Babies" -- you got it, N.O. B.O.M.B.) The crazy thing is that the song, while it's not exactly George Steiner, is pretty damn good, if you take out the chorus, on which Bing can't help but sound like a lunatic -- and maybe ignore the Hart-like "Jehovah/over." The limited use of rhyme, the tight stanzaic pattern, the switch to "begun"/"done" after the repeated "me"s, the overall narrative thrust -- I wouldn't be shocked to find it on Leonard Cohen's first three records. And Der Bingle, chorus aside, nails it to the wall. Wild.


I may get around to mentioning actual books soon; some of them contain poems.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Catching up:

Burma on Thursday: I wasn't in a state of mind to focus my attention for every second of a 45-min set plus an hour-set plus an encore, but it wasn't a matter of having had enough by a certain point -- whenever I thought "well, they've played everything I've got to hear," out would come something amazing: "Forget," or "The Set-Up," or said encore of "Peking Spring"/The Wipers' "Youth of America"/"Ballad of Johnny Burma" (especially the last, a VS. song that somehow doesn't cross my mind much. For all the conventional wisdom that Clint Conley wrote the hits, I often find Roger Miller's more aggro sense of what constitutes a hook at least as effective; I think he may sing (read: bark) better live than on record. Conley on the other hand, somehow looked physically younger at the end of the show than at the start -- as though he's not completely looking forward to expending the energy, but finds a reserve as the band gets going.

Not as well attended as the last L.A. show (floor of the Henry Fonda was full, but not the balcony); given their audience, it's touch to go up against Sonic Youth (Troubadour) and J Mascis (House of Blues) the same night. I was told that the rest of this leg has been fine, though. Bob Weston reports having won $400 at craps in the New Orleans' casinos during the TapeOp convention; one way to defray costs.

The Stepford Wives: See, when you don't see many first run movies, you can get suckered by trailers (I think I saw this movie's at Mean Girls). I've read the novel but not seen the original film version, so I didn't have much to feel disappointed by, but this is pretty eh -- sketchy script, nowhere performances by Matthew Broderick and even Christopher Walken, moments (mostly early, before the plot just moves her around) from Kidman. Mainly, I was hoping for a more saturated, hyper-something visual style, esp. from Frank Oz, but even this was pretty tame -- probably a mistake to use various 'kitchen of the future' promo footage in the credits, which had all the phantasmagoric campiness that the movie itself lacked. That said, Glenn Close is the best thing in the movie (after being intolerable in Le Divorce; very theatrical, way more in on the joke than anyone else, holding entire scenes in a not-especially-cinematic way. Bette Milder does a decent Better Midler; Faith Hill is stunt casting -- I've already forgotten which wife she was.

Odd moment: There's a joke at the expense of AOL's slowness, which gets more of a gasp than a laugh from the audience I saw it with, as if invoking and making fun of a real corporation was taboo, like a form of ethnic humor. (That said -- palpable anticipation in the theater during the Farenheit 9/11 trailer.)

The Five Obstructions: Diverting while I was watching it, but it hasn't stuck -- Von Trier's degree of insight into the supposed battle between formalism and expressiveness is modest at best. I was hoping for a cinematic Eunoia, and it's considerably less than that. Found myself interested less about the film's explicit problematic than whether the Von Trier/Leth frame conversations were scripted reconstructions of however this encounter actually went. Also, it seems to me that the 3rd ('no rules') and 4th (animated) version that Leth makes are more personal, self-revealing, whatever than the original in something close to the way Von Trier wants, so why does the latter think he's 'failed' at the end? My reaction may not say much: The real film sophisticate in our department, who essentially hates Von Trier, says she kept thinking about it for days. I can also well imagine renting the DVD, assuming it contains the entirely of the various shorts, including Leth's original.

Last night, pretty invigorating Refrigerator show in downtown Upland (the usual 'revitalized' downtown of antique malls and hair salons that can't possibly survive long), capped by Dennis handing off his guitar to Nathan Wilson during "State Trooper" and leading most of the audience out of the 'club' to the area's central gazebo, reprising "Tourists" from there and, well, running around hitting and hugging people. Oh, and earlier, yelling at me, "Get out! I've never liked you!" because I had walked across the street to window shop with Bree (who can't take loud for long) for a while earlier in the set. Interpolations of "Goody Two Shoes" and "Little Red Corvette" as well (Prince's publishers seem to have finally noticed Dump's cover CD on Shrimper, with predictable results). I'm puzzled that this depressing brew-pub is allowed to have live music his late in a staid part of town -- you really could hear the band more than a block away. The Upland police station isn't far off, and I'd have expected a cop or two to drive by during all this, but, happily, no. The Uncalled For, opening, debuted their cover of The Who's "A Quick One" -- all twenty or so minutes of it.

Tzadik-associated cellist Erik Friedlander (think he's played w/ Courtney Love as well, but I don't know on what) at Temple Bar tonight, if the late-afternoon Phil Department party doesn't sap my will.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Long and perhaps dry today; I apologize to those unmoved by the concerns invoked. But, before it falls out of my head, some notes on Rose Subotnik's talk "Did Tin Pan Alley Provide Faulty "Equipment for Living"?" at UCLA last Friday.

This was, as you'd imagine, largely a response to Adorno, though Subotnik (one of the giants of 'the new musicology' -- apparently one of the first in the field to get her grad students to read theory) began by taking on some more obviously inadequate critiques of the sentimentality and musical emptiness/cheapness of pre-rock pop. (I appreciate that she was explicit about using "Tin Pan Alley" broadly, but still have some problem with lumping together, for these purposes, theater songs, Hollywood songs, free-standing pop songs [which last are really what the output of TPA, narrowly construed refers to] and even song-hits disseminated by sheet music in the decades leading up to the era of recordings.) In particular, 1954 and 1977 pieces by SI Hayakawa and Lawrence Levine respectively, which appear to conclude from lists of titles and precious little else that all these songs put forward an idiot's vision of idealized romantic love and nothing more; which she countervailed by playing clips of various performances -- the difference between Hayakawa's description of "That Old Black Magic" as a song of abject bondage and a fairly blithe Margaret Whiting recording being a fair example of Subotnik's method.

(Side note 1 -- This does bring into play the question of whether it's the composition, or a given performance of it, that is this object of dispute. This was broached later, but I did feel that the deck was loaded. If you've only heard fairly swinging versions of "That Old Black Magic," you'd be surprised to learn that it debuted in Star-Spangled Rhythm, a WWII musical with the most cheesecake I've ever seen in a Code-era film [clearly 'something for the boys'], in the soupiest rendition imaginable, as part of a sequence in which Vera Zorina dances in a GI's dreams. Incredible that salvageable songs came out of this movie [also "Hit The Road To Dreamland"], but it wasn't usual to hire, in this case, Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen, who seem to have pursued their art as best they knew how whatever the surroundings.)

(Side note 2 -- Hayakawa, of course, was the UC Berkeley administrator (president?) who took much of the credit for breaking student unrest; I'm particularly fascinated by him as he was a popularizer of Alfred Korzybski's pseudo-philosophy-of-language "General Semantics," along with SF writer/L. Ron Hubbard crony A.E. van Vogt [whose World of Null-A was based on Korzybski's non-Aristotelean --hence the title -- logical 'system'; essentially the denial of the law of non-contradiction.] I want to research the connections about student protest, GS, and Dianetics sometime in the next 20 years. Strangely, his given names are usually reproduced "SI," w/o dots.)

The main course, though, was a discussion of a brief piece by Adorno, 1929's "Schlageranalysen" (which translates as "Analysis of Hits" -- in either language, this should be the name of someone's blog). The article is apparently untranslated, though the theoretical frame is much the same as more familiar work. Adorno takes on four songs from the teens and twenties: The mock-Viennese "Ich weiss auf der Wieden ein Kleines Hotel," "I Kiss Your Hand Madame," the Spanish-exotica "Valencia" and the English "Penny Serenade." Adorno's analyses are very clever -- a number of the songs are self-referential: "Penny Serenade" finds the singer commodifying his own performance ("Si, si, si, hear my love song for a penny"), while the chorus of "Ich weiss..." is framed [by the verses] as the text of a letter dropped by a young swain in a hotel. (Structurally, this is a bit like "Return to Sender" or "Tie A Yellow Ribbon." For all I know, there's a song on the charts right this second that uses the same device -- either way, I think I may revive it.) None of the songs originated in the US, much less in Tin Pan Alley per se, but all had hit American versions ("I Kiss Your Hand" was part of one of Bing Crosby's first post-Rhythm Boys sessions, hence part of his transition from white jazzer to sentimental crooner; just looked this up in Giddins' bio.)

No surprise that Adorno finds these songs to be 'just the same' except for some surface feature that serves to distinguish each from each -- he notes some harmonic craft in one, a memorable rhythmic figure in another. Subtonik's main point of criticism is that Adorno's readings are overdetermined both musically (if you're only looking for one feature, well you can find it by ignoring others) and thematically (all the songs turn out to bespeak decadent nostalgia for a dead Europe.)

[By the way -- hardly anyone in a room full of musicologists, some of whom work extensively on pop, could identify Bing Crosby's voice!]

Third act of the paper was Subotnik's attempt to carve out a defense of TPA (as she conceives it) with respect to its utility for everyday people; the "equipment for living" phrase comes from Kenneth Burke. This seemed to rest on relative ease of performance -- anyone can whistle, as Sondheim once wrote, and the home player didn't have to be an expert pianist to make it through commercial sheet music -- and the very impersonality/inexpressivness of much of the material, which, along with what I'd call the 'thinness' of the work (melodic and harmonic material are determinate, arrangement and tempo aren't) make such songs quite malleable, in a manner Subotnik called 'post-modern,' though I find this a fairly contentious way of using that term.

As to 'expressivness': Her climactic contrast was between --

(a) A performance clip of Lou Reed on the Charlie Rose show. Rose holds up The Raven, Lou croaks, "Yeah, I rewrote some Poe...it's really great," then plays "Who Am I?" on unaccompanied electric. It's just godawful: Both the songs, 6 minutes of dull quatrains, 'personal'-but-vague existentialism set to something like D/F#m/D/G. Reed also appears to be stuggling with the simplest possible rhythm guitar pattern as well -- I swear, Lois Maffeo has better time.

(b) a 1928 recording of Irving Caesar/Joseph Meyer/Roger Kahn's "Crazy Rhythm" (no relation to The Feelies') by Whispering Jack Smith; a very flip tune whose provenance I don't know but which wouldn't have been out of place in a Cotton Club revue --

When a highbrow meets a lowbrow
Walking along Broadway
Soon the highbrow, he has no brow
Ain't it a shame/and you're to blame --
What's the use of Prohibition?
You produce the same condition.
Crazy rhythm, I've gone crazy too.

Capped by Subotnik's exit line: "Now -- which of these is better equipment for living?"

Well: I didn't actually notice when the counterpunching to Adorno turned into the use of 'standards' (in any sense you like) to trump 'rock 'n' roll' with its romantic individuality and all that. I have no interest in defending Reed -- the song was truly bad, almost unbelievably so -- though all this may prove is that rock needs a rhythm section. More importantly, it seemed obvious that Subotnik was misunderstanding Reed's peculiar position in the pop landscape -- he's neither aiming to be, nor treated as, a mass artist at this point. Wouldn't a fairer comparison be with an actual contemporary hit -- any of the dishes at the feast Nick Hornsby's been starving at? Was also disturbed that Subotnik's research into Reed's reception was limited to quoting 5 star reviews by Amazon listeners -- isn't this a form of Hayakawa/Levine's list-of-titles error?

Bob Fink made a good point in the (lively) Q and A -- as a form of middlebrow culture, both 'sides' are fond of taking a crack at Tin Pan Alley; to the proponent of either high-culture or the avant-garde, these songs will look musically simpleminded, formally unchallenging, and so on; where as to the proponent of vernacular forms, they'll look 'cooked,' over-crafted, and generally lacking in cultural vitality. Subotnick showed her hand at one point when she commented, in praise of "Crazy Rhythm," both on the egalitarian (in later verses, quite openly melting-pot-ish -- "Their native folk songs they soon throw away/Those Harlem smoke songs, they soon learn to play") impulse of the lyrics and that "all the syllables fit." Look: I'm all over the craftsmanship of this stuff, but I'm not about to connect this narrow, and for me fascinating, aesthetic characteristic with claims about this sort of music being especially demotic or democratic.

It's much more complicated than that -- many of the era's best known writers are immigrant strivers of one kind or another, with wildly variable levels of formal musical training, with WASPy college boy Rodgers and operetta-holdover Kern being the key exceptions, and Cole Porter, rich by birth but a Midwestern arriviste hardly born into the class he cultivated and celebrated, a sort of sport of nature. (It's also false that black pop writers were systematically shut out, as is sometimes claimed; but most of the figures were involved otherwise in the NY-centric entertainment world.) But: By the time country and race musics go from regional to national, the same community saw itself as an establishment -- I think it was Arthur Schwartz who lamented "The amateurs have taken over," and this in the wake of "Tennessee Waltz" and "You Are My Sunshine," not Elvis. The mode of production that began to fall apart with ASCAP's radio boycott assumed a strict division between artists and consumers. [My own curse: i want to write like Coward and distribute like Fugazi; so far, this hasn't worked out.]

[Heavy digression: There's a similar tension (among many) in "The Work of Art...." Benjamin seems to consider it somehow empowering or progressive that anyone (a Russian peasant, say) might now be depicted in a film or widely disseminated photograph. I'm not sure what's supposed to be so great, by its nature, about this essentially passive relation to the new modes of representation: I mean, The Swan is about 'ordinary' persons, but don't they just become celebretized and further exploited by their insertion into the standing distribution and production systems? What value is the reproduction of one's image if it's meaning is tightly controlled by others? But WB doesn't imagine, as far as I can see, that the masses might eventually acquire cameras themselves; the economic and technological conditions aren't even in place yet for that possibility to be broached. (The book's not handy, but I think he claims, circa '38, that about 9 million have to see a movie for it to break even.)]

In any case: Thought-provoking, but contentious at just about every significant juncture. The last third -- and the difficulty people had framing certain questions after the talk -- further convinced me that the period of transition between pre-rock pop and rock is still largely seen as a unbridgeable historical break, and that some detailed work needs to be done to complicate that understanding.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

oh Britney we love you please get up

Blogging is just show-and-tell for the digitally privleged, so here's What I Learned Today, at Santa Monica Pier, where I hadn't been for years and years (old friends were staying nearby):

1) The bumper car ride is fittingly called the Sig Alert. (Not the same link as Harlequin Knights, but thanks to Joseph for the heads up, and the Ballard passage.) Bree claims these cars are those used in the title sequence of Three's Company, though it felt more like Mouchette -- all the other kids looked really tough.

2) The historical Muscle Beach is here, marked by a sign reading "birthplace of the twentieth century's physical culture movement," not Venice, as reported here previously. Also here, the carousel used in Curtis Harrington's ultracreepy Night Tide.

3) Liz Phair's "Extraordinary" has made it into arcade rotation. No sign of "Mono," but I wasn't there very long.

4) I could conceivably develop a knack for Dance Dance Revolution (esp. with assistance from a house remix of "We Are The Champions." But horrific zombie shoot-em-ups? Not for me.

5) If you can find a parking space and don't actually appear drunk, you could probably spend a very pleasant afternoon undisturbed in certain hotel lobbies. I suppose this isn't unique to this locale.

mission of burma -- this is not a photograph
mission of burma -- mica

steve lacy -- laugh (in memoriam, from "moon," byg, 1969)
steve lacy -- the bath (from "the rent" cavity search, 1997)

pookey blow -- get up (and go to school) (stones throw conn. hip-hop comp.; got a call)
free design -- umbrellas (p.b. wolf remix; 'fly like an eagle' sample!)
themselves -- good people check (hrvatski remix, anticon comp)
james white -- the twitch (latest comp.)

acid mothers temple -- mellow hollow love (station 'feat. artist of week')
!!! -- pardon my freedom (nice work on the slightly distorted drum sound, glad I didn't play this
susanna and the magical orchestra -- distance blues & theory (doesn't quite live up to the title)
the real tuesday weld -- easter parade (not irving berlin's song; divine comedyish, merits further exploration)

quine/maher -- bluffer (in memoriam, from "basic," 1984)
richard hell & the voidoids -- time (it's called sentiment, folks)
nomy lamm -- grand gesture (self-release, bedsit accordian)
rich west -- furcifer (hmm, l.a. outjazz disc named for mackey's "bedouin hornbook")

eddie pennington -- duncan and brady
peter blegvad -- magritte (from a recrec comp, not sure I've ever heard it before)
john fahey -- you can't cool off in the old mill pond, you can only die (little brother double 7")
devandra banhart -- fall (sure, why not)
bing crosby -- tower of babel (I'll explain this later, I promise)

calexico -- corona (got a call from someone who recognized the minutemen song but had never heard of calexico; a little surprising, but not a bad thing)
minutemen -- jesus & tequila (calexico also do this one; heard joey interviewed on fresh air on the way to the station)
emanon -- emcees like me

Monday, June 07, 2004

Horrible grey day; what's the point of living in L.A. at all if it's going to look like this in June? Sense of pressing commitments that there is only just enough time to meet, some more worthy than others; too much driving; other-directedness; extended family (brunch in Riverside at the place Nixon got married!); deaths of Steve Lacy, Robert Quine; far too many uses of the phrase "sunny optimism." All bad for intellection; near-total failure to render my tenuous grip on "The Work of Art in the Age of..." into a set of lecture notes. Try again tomorrow a.m..

That helped slightly. If you, reader, and I are in the midst of an email exchange, it will resume soon but not immediately.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Subontik eventually. But, I seem to have forgotten that one thing one does with one's blog is lead possible readers to what one has written elsewhere. So here's the rather limited amount of music writing I managed during the last push of the dissertation:

Seattle Weekly:
Mission of Burma

Boston Phoenix:
Robotnicka and Metal Urbain
Glenn Branca
Polyphonic Spree and Free Design (First half of this is the most negative thing I've published in a while. Even elicited complaint from PS' publicist. You don't want to know how I responded. I do regret a couple of titling errors, which I thought would have been corrected online by now.)
"Whipped Cream Mixes" and L.A. Carnival

While I'm in self-regard mode, there's this. I could say a lot about it (starting with the misguided implication that I'm a critical darling), but luckily, the thread died before I was tempted to add to it. (Did write to the initiator, briefly.)

Friday, June 04, 2004

Since parties not exactly slack in their interpretive skills have misunderstood, I’d better make this explicit. I don’t mean to assign every stripe of anti-rockism to anyone who uses the word as per my recent complaints. Fr’instance: SF/J is under no circumstances to be assigned the view that “tracking the basics in one room” is bankrupt, questions of genre aside; there’s photodocumentation, if proof be needed. (I’d love to work at Water Music sometime myself.) A distinction should also be drawn between the notion that bandin’-it-up is not the royal road to effective recordings, and the view that working this way (because of the availability of other technologies) can only bespeak aesthetic conservatism. The first strikes me as beyond question. Experience, rather than a theoretical principle I can point to, makes it difficult for me to accept the second, stronger view, which clearly requires a further argument. But I’m certainly more comfortable when the argument can at least be implicitly reconstructed from particular critical claims than when it’s wholly a matter of assumption.

I suspect my own tendency is to think of recording, at least as I’ve practiced it, as doctored photography. Enough worrying of this tooth for a while, I think.

UCLA hooked up some faster connections in the Phil. Dept. building, with the result that I finally managed to download Todd Haynes’ Superstar. (Here's the page again.) Just great, and as sad as it means to be; full marks for marriage of form and content. Also, “Rainy Days and Mondays” is a killingly good song and performance. (I listened to the ‘50s-retro side of Then & Now, one of the few not-entirely-pre-rock albums my parents owned, a good deal in the years before I discovered N** W***; especially obsessive on “Dead Man’s Curve” and “Johnny Angel.” That, and an 8-track of Evita.) I don’t think I’ve consciously followed Haynes, but I realize I’ve seen everything but Safe. Poison was the occasion of one of my worst dates ever – Genet + near-stranger = uncomfortable drive home, though this of course depends on the stranger. Entirely down with the Sirk-y one; I ‘got’ Velvet Goldmine, but didn’t take much pleasure in it. I recall disliking the visual style (editing, maybe), but can’t produce specifics; Hedwig did some of the same things better.

Saw Lambchop last night; I admire Kurt Wagner’s lyrics, but the constant undersigning is tough. Mainly listened to the playing, esp. their pianist Tony Crow, who I straight-up envy. I gather a good number of the members work straight Nashville sessions when they can. They’re back here in Feb. to accompany Murnau’s Sunrise. David Sefton much?

Really am trying to keep these more digestible, so it’s later this weekend for Rose Subotnik’s presentation on Tin Pan Alley and Adorno, which may well interest a few of those who link here.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

(bmi radio log week -- extra writing-down!)

mission of burms -- this is not a photograph
volcano suns -- greasy spine (branching out to the side projects; "never trust a man with a skinny tie")
mandre -- swang (very strange 1979 motown synth-disco, needs further investigation)
jeru the damaja -- won't stop

saturday looks good to me -- record store (from 'metaphysics for beginners' comp; sounds markedly like...)
aislers set -- falling buildings
sleater-kinney -- leave you behind (ipod threw me this earlier today, didn't even recognize it)
future pigeon -- haunted dub (l.a. group, new to me)

spoonie gee meets the sequence -- monster jam (kurtis blow hist. of rap discs are in rotation; "I'm like that pill they call Dristan.")
konk -- elephant (soul jazz reissue)
ramelzee -- cheezy lipstick (holy shit!)
lizzy mercier descloux -- slipped disc (in memoriam)
lizzy mercier descloux -- tumor (her peggy lee rip)

les george leningrad -- georges five (thud-wave backing great; vocals hard to take)
toulouse -- schematic for new situations
idiot flesh -- puppet theater (station's 'featured artist of the week'; I am not thrilled)
slow jets -- country under canada (new band from ? that sounds like something that would have been in the bins around the r.e.m. era; strange)
kevin dunn and the regiment of women -- private sector (guy from that very era I've never known much about; this record is the was-roots-now-am-wave move, very gated and kinda me all over)

dj signify -- winter's going (nice acoustic sample, mc not so much)
the opus -- isis (beats: 'mr. echoes' and 'the isle of weight'; better developed than above; rhyme sounds like something will alexander might write)
christian marclay -- louis armstrong (from wide-ranging RecRec radio sampler)
freescha -- sheena (split w/ casino v. japan)
the antibiotics -- telemarkets from hell (leavening a pretty dark set)

sol power -- fluid (stacy epps; she can sing some)
french toast -- hatred mace (some fugazi connection, unclear on details; practically darkwave)
jon rauhouse's steel guitar rodeo -- perry mason theme (seg makes no sense; a few pennies for f. steiner; have to come back to kelly hogan's 'smoke rings' another week)
azita -- just joker blues (starting to find my rotation faves for the summer)

Can I just be a 'rollist'?

Surprising correspondent Ben Friedlander reminds me that 'modernisms' might have been more apposite than 'feminisms' in last graph of last post. Also, of this colloquy of 'rockist' instancings, which I'd seen but couldn't find yesterday. It looks as thought it's been added to a few times since first posted; you'll need to scroll down the page to get it. The Simon Reynolds blogpost from which the penultimate entry is drawn beat me to a good deal of yesterday's point. (And read on in the same post for a capsule of Reynold's fine essay on C86-ish stuff, which I believe was called "Against Health and Efficiency")

I cede entirely to Matos on the origins of the term; the UK music-paper origins are ringing a bell now. The point of interest here is that, on that usage, the extension of the marked term to which 'rock' was the unmarked (until recognized as such) other was rather different that it is currently. Otherwise, MM reads me charitably -- I should and will read the relevant SO'TT passage with more care. Said charity is rare enough in the b-sphere that a word of appreciation is in order. However: 'Refutes' wasn't in it. I agree with nearly every plank of nearly every anti-rockist position, except for the one that implies that it's stupid to get in a room with others and make sounds at the same time (eye contact helps too, I find) just because other methodologies are available and valid; I just want to know which position is at issue in a given case before I start making like a Tommy LaSorda bobblehead.

This reminds me: If anyone knows of an archive of UK music papers from '78-'79, online or at any physical location in North America, please write.

Oh, and what I wasn't so sure about at the end there was the film version of High Fidelity; just didn't notice I hadn't finished the sentence.


Speaking of overdetermination, it would have been weird of me not to see Yo La Tengo/Antietam two blocks away last night, even though I was bushed. Missed Antietam (8:00? Very L.A..) except for a little bit of bleed while I was getting frisked. Better YLT set than their show in the same venue last year; Summer Sun material performed with more confidence and variation than right after release. Still highlights: "Stockholm Syndrome," "Autumn Sweater." New highlight: More elaborate doo-wop hand-jive routine (Georgia & James, with Ira singing to backing track; failry pop) than previous. "Nuclear War" more percussion than organ this time, but jeez is it long. Tara Key from Antietam joined on one of the long instrumentals (one plus of the show, they only played a couple of these rather than the full-on "Big Day Coming"/"Sudden Organ" half-hour they sometimes end with in cities where they don't come often enough to skip the biggies), and her own band's "The Orange Song," recorded by YLT way back on President. Other covers: Kinks song I don't know, Seeds' "Can't Seem To Make You Mine," a Black Flag song I'd better not name in case I'm wrong, "Cast A Shadow."

At one point, Ira dropped into the audience w/ mic for some Q&A, asking several people name, 'major' (even if this was obviously inappropriate), and whether they had a question for the band -- sort of a Dick Clark meets "What D'Ya Know" thing. Most of this is lame, but the last person he talks to is The Only Black Man at the The Indie-Rock Show.

Ira: What's your name, sir?
Respondent (very deep voice): Malice.
Ira: And what's your major?
Malice: Chillin'.
Ira: And do you have any questions for the band?
Malice: Let's get crackin' so we can have a good time and go home.

(n.b.: Not a question.)

Curiously, about 2/3 of Lambchop showed up right after the show, having just flown in for their own tonight and Thursday.


Make of this, from Gerald Bordman's 1980 bio of Jerome Kern, what you will:

"Phil Silvers's appearance in Cover Girl must have been especially pleasing to Kern, for many a night Kern took his family and friends to Charley Foy's popular night club to watch Silvers perform a skit in which Kern was a central figure. The skit had Kern teaching Paul Robeson "Ol' Man River." Much of the fun derived from contrasting the grammar and rhetoric of the unlettered black who is supposed to sing the song in the show with the college-educated Robeson's meticulous English. Robeson, for example, demands to know what "taters" are and when he is told then attempts to sing the line in his impeccable Rutgers grammar. But even Robeson must admit that "He doesn't plant potatoes and doesn't plant cotton" fails to work. The composer can only apologize, "Well, I didn't write the lyric." Kern saw the skit so often he came to know it by heart, so one night when he met Silvers at a party he had no trouble playing himself to Silvers's Robeson."

(I hesitate to interpret this, but note if you've forgotten that Phil Silvers = Sgt. Bilko; and that Robeson kept singing the song, with lyric changes that made it more explicitly about class, well into his years of radicalism and exile. His performance of the original version in James Whale's 1936 Show Boat is remarkable, as is the bizarre (for the film, not Whale) expressionist staging. Better all around than the MGM version, though it leaves out "Life On The Wicked Stage.")


Radio later tonight.

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