Sunday, February 29, 2004

So, is there someone or something in the world that you love, and feel that you somewhat understand, but that you also feel that not that many other people understand, and that your efforts to communicate regarding are largely in vain, partly because of your own inadequacy, and partly out of willfull misunderstanding?

Possibly you have felt that way about carpentry, or card tricks, or golf, or organic chemistry, or dancing, or the person your parents don't quite understand why you're in love with.

That's how I feel about songs. Not music, particularly -- songs.

I have been moved to tears or nearly so by Ethel Merman's performance of "Moonshine Lullaby" from Annie Get Your Gun. It is a wonderful performance, but it is a perfect song. An utterly trivial, utterly perfect song. It is good that that there are all sorts of things in the world other than such songs; but I don't care about most of them quite as much.

"Smoke Rings" is a very good song.
"Why Must You Throw Dirt In My Face?" is a very good song.
"Crying In The Rain" is not as good as those, but still quite a good song.

Neko/Kelly/Carolyn (+Jon Rauhouse & Tommy Connell) sang all those tonight. They've all got the pipes; Kelly Hogan's got the phrasing. If this were 1936, she could be, oh, Lee Wiley. She probably feels about singing like I do about songs.

Sometimes, people who are talented put on enjoyable performances.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Rec'd a piece of spam that I initially thought was an cryptic response to my Mountain Goats post. Rather than word salad, it's a bunch of proverbs, beginning:"A critic is a reader who ruminates. Thus, he should have more than one stomach." The rest is about Windows XP.

You'll excuse me if one of the purposes of the blog is to note down what I have and haven't accomplished. This isn't entirely diaristic, since there are more than a couple of likely readers who know what I'm supposed to be doing, and claim that I am. As I said, off diss until I get through a submittable draft of the Farber piece; aiming for Tuesday. Much of it is drafted, but badly; organization has been a bear. After several false starts today, figured out how to arrange and connect sections on: MF and auteruism, misreading of MF as anti-theoretical, and termite/white-elephant. Tomorrow, I hope to polish the last of those, and move on to the introduction to Negative Space and the (ultimately unstable) titular notion. That moves me into the paintings.

Otherwise, only consumption to report. Did some of my work at a cafe in La Canada/Flintridge (where's my tilde?), though I actually wrote more after coming home, so I could make one of my seasonal stops at Foothill Records, a collectorish but randomly priced store run a frazzled but affable lady who basically buys up the stock of other independent stores in So Cal that are closing. (Also seems to co-run an indie soundtrack label called Citadel.) The site doesn't have their hours, which are: Wed-Sat 2-7, in case you're in the area. NB: Cash only. (At least, no credit/debit card processor; I've never tried a check.) Again, not dead cheap, but cheap enough; what I brought home forms a strange enough list to seem worth posting (don't worry, I won't do this often):


Original Cast Recording What Makes Sammy Run?
Morricone's soundtrack to Battle of Algiers
OCT, The Grass Harp (Elmslie lyrics, Brainard cover -- this is a dupe that I'll give to someone who will value it)
OCT, Jingle Jangle (no idea, but the cast includes persons working under the names Allied Carpets, Capital Radio, and Vauxhall Astra)
Nadine Expert "I Did With The Rock 'n' Roll" [sic] (French 12")
Gina Lamour "The Continental"/"I'm Gonna File My Claim" (ditto)
Carole Simpson, All About Carole (never heard of her, cabaretish record with unfamiliar songs -- I can't really pass up "You Forgot Your Gloves" for $4)

Peter Lawford, "Two Ladies In The Shade of the Banana Tree" (from House of Flowers
(couldn't justify $9 for Roxy Music's "Trash," despite gorgeous sleeve)


Soundtrack, Jarman's Jubilee
v/a Shake Your Wicked Knees: Classic Piano Rags, Blues & Stomps 1928-43
Blossom Dearie Give Him The Ooh-La-La
A Modern Jazz Symposium of Music and Poetry with Charlie Mingus (though I can't tell if there's actually any poetry on it)
Serge Gainsbourg Du Jazz Dans Le Ravin


Blackmail and Easy Virtue (early UK Hitchcock twofer, the latter silent, the former the first British talkie)
The Business of Strangers (kind of meant to see it, just b/c I like Stockard Channing)

All this cost less than you probably fear, though I'm only saying this out of defensiveness.

Going to watch about 1/2 hr. of the last item and proceed to Neko Case/Kelly Hogan/Carolyn Mark. I didn't get assigned the Weekly pick on this, and I already had a Dolly/Linda/Emmylou thing sketched out in my head.

You call that content?

Friday, February 27, 2004

Stylus, or at least this review of the new Mountain Goats album, makes Pitchfork look like The Dial under Marianne Moore. Had to stop counting misplaced modifiers. (The subjunctive mood, however, is correctly employed.) As in other tepid reviews I've seen, the author holds John to an impossible standard (the lyrics on Tallahassee "reach heights...rarely, if ever, equalled in pop music") before demonstrating that he has absolutely no idea why he's any good at all. The specially annoying element here is the complaint that John is repeating himself. These lines from "Letter From Belgium":

Martin calls to say he's sending old electrical equipment
That's good, we can always use some more electrical equipment

are supposed to be one of several "disgusting examples of tedium and self-plagarism," in that the use of repetition resembles the famed "Going to Georgia." First, I don't see that the device is used for similar ends in the two songs. Second, the employment of a venerable rhetorical device is hardly evidence of 'self'-plagarism.

Third, friend, if you thought it visionary that about a third of the first 250 or Mountain Goats songs feature the I-V-I-IV-I-V-I-I progression, or that at least that many set a story that could in most respects have happened anywhere in a specified place, often (not always) nailed down by place names alone, this is part of what you like/d about John, and it is not open to you to complain that he is now repeating himself. (Let's not start on the recurrence of certain rhymes.) As a card-carrying (diploma-, actually) classicist, John does not care about your modernist notions of 'originality' or 'development,' even or especially relative to his own body of work.* (He cares about: Tearing your soul out; and meter.) If anything, the sonic variety and sustained narrative specificity of the 4AD recs is in productive tension with this; so don't tell me We Shall All Be Healed is a failure because it's 'more of the same.' Funny how you've noticed this just as he stops being your little secret.

This review, on the other hand, from a site I'd never encountered before, does the best job I've seen yet of tracking what's going down on this particular MG album, and contains some insightful speculation on its possible sources. A little fan-boy stiltedness, and better on the lyrics than the music, but still, a brave and serious attempt. This is almost exactly what I thought on first hearing the songs: "A feral gang of crystal heads in a motor inn does not sound nearly as universal a subject as a couple in a hellish marriage, and it isn't: WSABH won't affect most people as direly and directly as its predecessor did, and it will take longer for listeners to find their place in it."

To summarize: If you don't think John is stepping up to the plate, big time, now that he's out of the farm team and in the show, you barely deserve pity, much less The Mountain Goats.

*At least ten years ago, John turned to me after a screening of an experimental student film, and whispered, "Let it be noted that John Darnielle, arch-antimodernist, quite enjoyed that."

Skipping two shows I might have gone to tonight (Blackalicious, Aluminum Group); thought about seeing The Dreamers instead, but I want to get up early tomorrow. Next week, probably. Half-listening to radio drama on KSRF, going over what I wrote of my Manny Farber piece before I had to abandon it in the face of dissertation demands. Hard to get back in; the next week or so is probably my last chance to finish it before the last four-to-six week run of work on the diss (expand final chapter, revisions, track down my outside member, a musicologist I've spoken to twice since my orals, though that's hardly atypical).

Going to shows lately just to enjoy them, and for 'the social' after a day of unrelated and solitary work; self-identification as 'rock critic' likely to recede (somewhat) until April. Probably healthy.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Not elves. Trumpets. Bob Weston's, one presumes. The song (Conley's) is called "Nicotine Bomb," and it's the.

3 new links, stage right. Otherwise, consider this a T E S T P A T T E R N until, let us say, Saturday.

Near-duplicate post removed. Don't know quite how that happened.

Or, as Jessica Hopper reminds us: "PS: getting mad on internet only does not count as anything at all." (Plus, she hasn't used 'old' as a perjorative in days.)

My aversion to Will Oldham's voice does not mean I want to hear his instrumental music.

Addition to immediately previous list:

That I would receive a telescoping fork as a gag gift for the second time in my life.

What I didn't expect:

for +/- (at Spaceland) to rock "Trapped Under Ice Floes" so hard, nor for James Balayut to do a cupped-hands Stan Ridgway impression through most of one song.

Dwight Trible (at a bookstore in Baldwin Hills) to sing a vocalese "A Love Supreme" and Leonard Bernstein/Comden & Green's "Some Other Time" (from the stage version of On The Town.

to find both volumes of Adrian Piper's collected papers, which I've ached to buy many a time, shrinkwrapped together for $18.50. (Same place: Esowon Books, 3655 S. La Brea. Excellent remainders, not the stuff you see at outlet malls. Commended to L.A. readers.)

That Rael would want to stop at Pink's for a hot Chicago Polish.

the elf noises on track 14 (I think -- it's in the car) of the new Mission of Burma.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

I'm afraid to insert the javascript, I'm not sure how to upload mp3s here, and you already know about this, but: It's Gray Tuesday.

Thanks to Jeff, Nate, and MM for yet more dialogue. Jeff's "Return of the White Noise Supremacists" was in the Bay Guardian, not SF Weekly. Oliver Wang has not posted much on this directly; but he's in the mix, and he's worth reading on related matters, and on general principle.

Only just connected L.A. Carnival's Nebraska homebase with the extreme racial tensions in that state. Wish I had Ron Padgett's "Radio" handy. It's a strange and not obviously characteristic poem -- the first section is a fairly easy, nostalgic recollection of pop-culture from the poet's childhood; the second recounts the 1921 race riot in Tulsa (Padgett/T. Berrigan/Brainard's hometown). All in a flatly reported style as much like Reznikoff as anything else I can come up with. I don't have a good explanation of the power of the juxtaposition; all I can say that it seems like a poem put together, in a way that neither section would alone. (The Tulsa riot is apparently still an unreckoned-with episode in the city's collective consciousness; something similar happened in Omaha in 1919, but I haven't looked it up.)

Fence, at least the current issue, has a knack for including weak work by good writers. Lydia Davis' "Kafka Cooks Dinner" is adept, of course, but it's one-joke compared to her high standards.* An interview between Alice Notley and Edmund Berrigan is embarassing, indulgent, and self-serving. What Notley says about longer work is interesting, but this should have been severely edited. I'm pleased to learn, though, that she's editing a collected (complete?) Ted Berrigan for UC. Diane Williams' stories are Diane Williams stories; but Romance Erector was at an altogether higher level. $8 is too much for the two pages of Peter Blegvad drawings I wanted.

*I take it that it isn't just a pastiche of Kafka, but of a certain way of translating him. There could be something here I'm missing, but it didn't feel so.

I thought my ideas for band names were bad (State-Owned Department Store, Totally Rosicrucian!, Close Parens). In a few weeks, John Vanderslice shares a bill in Iowa City with the sure-to-be-huge:

Make Way For The Uno Champion Of The World

Cf. Charizma/Peanut Butter Wolf, "Devotion": "She reversed it on me like a game of Uno." (PBW released the L.A. Carnival record -- I'm amazed when these entries turn out to be tiny economies.)

Monday, February 23, 2004

I'm doing this early so I can get on with other features of life and work. There won't be more (at least directly) on this issue here, since I am trying even my own patience -- that doesn't mean it won't be in my mind or in my life.

On other blogs:

Framed as a response to Jane, Nate Patrin's long post explains the motivation of the original ILX thread/call-out/whatever-it-was 1000% better than anything on the thread itself -- up to and including the 'is this about race or genre or both or neither?' question. Really good. Agree, disagree, whatever -- but it's laid out.

An essay of Jeff Chang's on institutional racism in the Da Capo Best Music Writing series is directly relevant, but I can't locate the link. His very forceful piece may be behind some of the conversation around this issue as well.

You can perhaps get the gist from two related posts from Jeff's blog:

1) Here is his original take on P&J, which predates the ILX thread but which is, obviously, not unrelated. [It should be noted that he says the post is stupid immediately afterwards; then, the next day, says it wasn't after all.]
2) Here is a more recent post that is largely a response to something Mark Jenkins wrote about Jeff's Da Capo essay. It also refers to the way that I used his name to make a point, very badly, on ILX. Apology extended; the BBS form encourages such things, unfortunately.

Much more important than any personal issue here is this: No one involved should be understood as having made the claim that no white writers should ever write about hip-hop. By the same token(!), I would not like to be interpreted as ascribing that obviously foolish view to Jeff or anyone else. He has been misread this way elsewhere.

The issues raised on the thread were related, but not identical:

1) What does it mean when a writer who has only surface knowledge about hiphop expresses critical support for a particular record?
2) What does it mean when a bunch of writers who fit this description do so?
3) How much interpretation can a P&J ballot bear, relative to 1) and 2)?

Invited comments. (Thanks to Keith Harris and Michaelangelo Matos for engaging me as well.)

Jane Dark

"For me, the main point is that, although I occasionally believe people I know are racist (sometimes me too, though sometimes I am easy on myself), there's actually very little to be achieved through expressing that ("you can't change people's consciousness," my friend reminds me).

What one can do is prod people to take a look at some of the social (for me, consistently economic) structures in place that produce racially-charged data like Nate's list. As in, who sends me records? What radio stations do I have access to?Do my friends lead me towards this and away from that? How did they become my friends? Do these things happen passively? If so, do I need to actively
alter what influences me?

In short (this is all obvious to you; I'm just typing), if Binky says Bongo has race-inflected taste, Bongo generally sez something like "I just listed the albums I heard the most." And the two bunnies pretend that was a conversation, which it most certainly was not. The conversation begins: "How did you arrive at the life where you mostly hear J, and Z, but not Jay-Z?"

fjb comment: (1) Yes, and don't forget: Which paid writing gigs do I have a chance of getting, which can I do relatively efficiently given what I know already, and which are challenging/interesting but not impossible? This is only somewhat important for me, in my longstanding semi-pro state; I'm sure it's decisive for established (and, yep, older) writers. (2) I'm not convinced that changing minds bears no relation to changing individual behavior, and ultimately institutions. But yes, 'expressing' your heightened consciousness cuts no ice.

Finally, Dylan Hicks on lists:

I'd like to read something in-depth about the connection between music-fan list making and baseball stats. Maybe you know of something. Warren Susman, writing about Babe Ruth, argued that,
"the mechanization of life generally, when combined with the mounting effort to rationalize all aspects of man's activities, produced a particular middle-class delight in what could be measured and counted." Maybe that's the start of the discussion. I've never been a huge baseball fan. My
favorite list to make, and I try to update it bi-annually, is: Dylan Hicks's Nicest Pairs of Pants.

fjb comment: I don't know of anything in depth -- I think Christgau has written about his own stat-happiness in this vein, perhaps in an interview.

But I strongly resist the claim that what pants I put on such a list, or which pants I own or wear, warrants concusions about my 'fashion sense'? We must constantly ask ourselves: Where did I buy these pants? Where, and for how much? Were any of them gifts? From whom? What if my favorite pants are torn or stained? Must they fit? How well? My own nicest pants list should only be interpreted as a list of which pants I wore most often over a six-to-twelve month period.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

No ranchera from upstairs today -- "People Are Strange" instead, and now, unknown alt-something (recall that I can only hear the bassline). Wait! It's "This Charming Man"!

Spent last night at my parents'; hadn't seen them in weeks. Mostly talked, but we also watched an episode of Shazam, the '70s version of Captain Marvel comics in which Billy Batson travels around what appears to be the San Fernando Valley (this one burger place looked weirdly familiar) in an RV with 'Mentor,' played by Les Tremayne (radio's "Mr. First Nighter," and, as Kristi has discovered, a semi-regular on Perry Mason), helping troubled kids out of scrapes, w/ attached import re adolescent social adjustment. (Ending credits list 3 Ph.D.'s as 'educational advisors.')

The strangest thing about this show is the communication between Billy/Marvel and 'the gods,' for whom "Shazam!" is an acronym -- S for Solomon, H for Hercules (ok, they're not all gods), and so on. (They're animated, in a cutout, one-mouth-moving-at-a-time style; the rest of the show is live action.) Curious to find the ancient heroes mouthing a soft '70s humanism. Zeus, for example, seems especially worried about the harmfulness of peer pressure, while Achilles quotes Hamlet: "To thine own self be true." (Bree notes the irony, given the original context.)

Found a couple of old issues (c. '91) of the Kootenay-assoc. (or at least Jeff Derksen-edited) mag Writing in my old room. (I think these must have ended up there during one of several post-college transitional periods.) Spent the most time with the earliest piece I've ever seen of Rod Smith's, a section of something called "C.I.A. Sentences." Intro:

"CIA Sentences" is composed of sentences from books purchased by the Central Intelligence Agency. The books were purchased from bookstores in which I worked during the years 1987-1989. These stores were referred to as "unclassified stackers." One book is represented by one sentence. When multiple copies of a single title were ordered I chose to treat is as one book represented by one sentence."

Interestingly charged way of settling on 'found' material; but still a lot of room for intentional selection and arrangement. Most effects produced through -- Parataxis:

[...] Beatie and Barnard (1979) reported that the mean
duration of simultaneous speech in face-to-face conversation
is 454 milliseconds. Perhaps the first visible sign of this
unrest came with de Kooning's show entitled "Woman." [...]

Recontextualisation: "Add to the list. This is it, this is me."

And the sinister floating question of why the CIA needed some of these texts: "The heady ambience of the gasfitter's ball, which she attended against her stepfather's command, had excited the somewhat vacuous-looking Miss Mary Sutherland to reciprocate Mr. Hosner Angel's interest in her."

I assume the methodology in Smith's recent books is far less strict -- the fragmentation is phrasal, and there's a sense that the collaged material has passed through an organizing mind differently -- but the tone is sometimes notably similar.

Also found one of the first things I ever published outside of a school organ -- before any poetry or music criticism -- a essay (13 short chunks, originally meant to be 'shuffled' and read in any order) called "A Pack of Avaiators" from Louis Cabri's Hole (around the same time as the above mags, actually), on Auden's The Orators (plus a Blue Aeroplanes song based on "Journal of an Airman") and Ashbery's The Tennis-Court Oath, with glances at Christopher Dewdney, Avital Ronnel, Huidobro, O'Hara's "Call me..." poem, masturbation and technology! Prose style [definitely under the sign of The Telephone Book] seems almost unbelievable to me now; but for 21, it's got something. (Actually, some of the piece is about what it means to repudiate one's early work.) Tempting to work up an online version -- brief quotation seems highly inadvisable.

Also rec'd a pineapple upside-down cake and three bunches of fresh rapini.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Responses to yesterday's exculpation, beginning early next week, pending permission. Meanwhile, current listening:

Go Girl: Dream Babes: 22 Brit Girl Classic from the Sixties (RPM/Cherry Red): What the title says. Vocal ability ranges from the great (Linda Thorson) to the comical (Twiggy); it's all about the arrangements -- big horns, wild studio drumming, randomly inserted stabs as psych guitar. Writing not as varied interesting as the mostly-French Ultra Chicks series (at least the one quasi-illegal volume I found before they went off the market) -- "When Love Hit Me" and "When He Comes Along" are exactly what you'd expect. Standouts: The Chantelles' "I Want That Boy" ("'cos he doesn't hang around/with the troublemakers and the window-breakers/and the gangs that roll through town"), melodically strong as well, and The Orchids' "Mr. Scrooge," a straight-on I-IV-V stomp with some good lines ("You keep hoarding all your riches/like a miser hoards his kisses") and a huge missed opportunity to rhyme with "Take a tip from Ebenezer." (That's after the bridge, when he sees the ghosts.) I understand v. 5 of this is closer to the ironed-hair folk-pop tip -- may include some rare Marianne Faithfull singles.

The L.A. Carnival Would Like To Pose A Question (Now Again/Stones Throw) Reissue of c. 1971 LP (plus live material) from bi-racial Omaha, Nebraska soul/funk band. Singer Les Smith spent some time out West, hence otherwise inexplicable name; there's also an instrumental "Blues for L.A." Funk is solid, someone's a good post-bop sax player, not utterly unique or anything. Shocking: "The Klan," 7:42 jazz ballad largely based around a single, not quite correctly-intoned (of maybe just strangely voice) horn triad. Smith describes racially-motivated death/disappearance of siblings; three-minute-plus flute solo; Smith returns: "Minds have not changed/The plan is still the same/I killed a man today with my bare hands/a member of The Klan." At least as much pain as rage.

If anyone's worried, I've written about 5000 words of my diss this week.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Warning -- OutKast/Pazz & Jop/race/tokenism content:

Well, the ILX thread about this subject is dead but Jane Dark has me worrying the frayed end. My own posts there were (a) defensive, (b) sarcastic at some points and rhetorically overstated at others, and (c) written largely in ignorance of ILX ‘manners’ and assumptions. So, here we go again. It’s very hard to write about this without either constructing a position from which I’m a wonderful person and a brilliant thinker, or offering an abject mea culpa; I wish to do neither. I’m going on at length largely because Jane is absolutely correct to say that race is too easily taken off the table. There aren’t many good metaphors or jokes coming up, sorry; pith = off.

Before I even start: I especially welcome email response to the following. I will be happy to use konvolut m to continue the discussion; if you write to me, please note whether this is ok. I probably won’t post aphoristic brickbats, as I’m trying not to throw too many myself; I’d like to go forward in a different manner. Nothing with a question mark is purely rhetorical.

Readers familiar with the thread can skip the following paragraph of background, which is meant to be uncontentious: Under the title “Tokenism a go-go,” Nate Patrin posted a list of critics who voted for OutKast’s The Love Below/Speakerboxxx in the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll, but no other hip-hop records. This record was #1 on the poll by a wide margin; their “Hey Ya” was the #1 single. I’m on this list; I voted the album #1, and did not vote for singles. Patrin offered little or no comment on what point he wished this to make, beyond the thread title. As the thread developed, Patrin backed away from the implication that the named critics, most of whom are presumed to be white, are ‘racists,’ or that the kind of tokenism he meant to mark was essentially racial – at one point, he responds that he’s just talking about tokenism toward hip-hop as a musical genre. The age of critics who didn’t vote for much hip-hop and/or black music seems to be an issue as well. Saying why goes beyond the bounds of ‘background.’

The thread is here. It gets derailed, badly, about 3 days in. If you see Frank Kogan’s name, turn back. Jane Dark’s recent comment is here.

I’m not going to discuss the album/singles issue directly. I tried, but it went even worse than the rest.

I absolutely agree with JD that 'naming names' is a non-issue; even if it were an invasion of privacy, which it's not, it would be trumped by the ethical relevance.

I also agree about Nate's bait-and-switch. This played out quite directly, in his responses to me. Dialectic: NP: Y (inc. FB) is an X. FB: I am not X. NP: Made you look! The problem is, it's not clear what X was supposed to be.

(A) racist
(B) tokenist
(C) lazy/sloppy/unthinking/'corny' [Aside: What is the connotation of 'corny' in the ILX groupmind?]

That said, I'm disgusted at the part of my responses that amounted to: "Some of my favorite records involve black people." I was most concerned to answer charge (C), as a matter of personal/petty pride, and slipped into a blameworthy defensiveness about (A) and (B), which are obviously of broader significance. I should add that the relations between (A) and (B) are not transparent -- certainly not where music criticism (as opposed to, say, hiring practices) are concerned -- but I can only take this up anecdotally. (I.e., I'm unwilling to speculate on the motivations of other voters.)

Out of the heat of BBS rhetoric, I am in no way concerned to deny the complicity with institutional racism displayed by my listening patterns. (That's a poor attempt to put something carefully.) What's the future behavioral/critical/cash value of that admission (which, as Jane emphasizes, is what really matters; another reason why my original defensiveness is weak-ass)? What is one supposed to do other than admit complicity, and struggle with it internally? I am not sure yet. But I'm fairly sure that, in my own case, the vote for OutKast is not the best evidence of this complicity; and I'm not at all convinced that it's a pernicious manifestation of much of anything. I don't think some of the 'bad' motivations floated apply (esp. -- it sounds enough like 'white' music or 'black' music I'm more comfortable with for me to feel safe; I think those charges were leveled mostly at writers older than me) The fact that I don't follow hip-hop enough to 'know better' is much more relevant. I'm empathetic here, at least: Given my background, my kneejerk reaction is to find the high placement of White Stripes and The Shins fairly 'corny.'

Even given that, I can only say that my vote reflected actual listening and enthusiasm, rather than a 'need' to stick a hip-hop album on there. Am I more into The Love Below than Speakerboxxx? Yeah. Is the former 'less hip-hop'? Quite probably, on some readings. Is it 'whiter'? There, I'm not sure; beyond "Hey Ya," I responded most to the nods to Prince and jazz (horn arrangements, piano). I'm also fascinated throughout by Andre's approach to singing; it's like he's admitting he's not a 'soul man,' but going for it anyway, sometimes self-parodically. I don't think this makes the album any easier, from any perspective I can think of offhand, but it was part of what kept me chewing . Given the way 2003 went, and felt, for me, it would have been insane to leave this album off. If a few other candidates (Eastside Sinfonetta, Urinals) had made the list, they would have replaced something other than OutKast. Sprawl and ambition counted as well; I favor sparkling miniatures and modest perfection as much as the next guy, probably more, but Double Nickels comes to the island. The #1 vote and points assigned are more troubling; probably a sop to the disc's cultural currency. (The 50 currently circulating meanings of 'populism' are another thing I can't try to untangle here.)

Am I interested in the 'impure'/hybrid aspects of the record? You betcha. A lot of what I voted for reflects this in other ways, not always involving race: E.g. David Sylvian's Blemish, mainly included for the attempts to negotiate between song-form and non-idiomatic improv. This is not merely a retrospective observation; could go on, won't.

This is both overlong and unsatisfying; I'll close with a few shorter points I can't integrate (so to speak):

As I said, I don't know hip-hop well enough to be trusted; certainly not its underground, or how that relates to the mainstream. (Though my last two attempts, recent samplers on Anticon and Chocolate Industries, didn't bear fruit.) Still, I strongly dislike the 'gatekeeper' aspect of much of the ILX thread. There's a remarkably indie-rock-like snobbiness at work, which seems to be in tension with at least some versions of populism: How ahead of the commercial/mass-critical curve are you? Even if you're not a 'rockist,' are you 'corny'? Unless one is taking a literally or metaphorically separatist position, I can't see how this can be a good thing, for the music or its reception, or for larger social aims. This may have as much to do with the level of commitment and knowledge inside a community than race. I can well imagine having feelings analogous to, say, Jeff Chang's a decade or so ago, frustrated at the Phyrric victory of, oh, Pavement being critically lauded when, I don't know, Good Horsey are out there. (No, I don't know if they released records the same year.) But this position has been largely discredited as a meta-critical attitude toward rock; why has it been replicated in hip-hop?

[Deleted paragraph on ageism. Key points]: You will age; you will die. Jessica Hopper uses the word 'old' too much.

Everthing that’s happened confirms my sense that Top 10 lists are crude and misleading. I hold pretty strongly that items of the same 'kind' (here, recordings) can have value for incommensurable reasons; a ranking has a hard time capturing this. They're a useful shorthand; they have sociological value; all conceded. But they're vastly overvalued as a critical form. This is only partly a romantic 'art can't be quantified' view; too many features -- aesthetics, use-value, sentiment, relevance -- are in competition for them to carry the weight they're made to bear. Maybe I'm stating the obvious; it doesn't appear so, at times. Taking Jane again to heart: I'll name names. I disagree with what's at least implicit in the way Robert Christgau and Michaelangelo Matos assess the value and meaningfulness of rankings, and lists in general. I'm sure they have their doubts, but they certainly treat them as more than a necessary evil. I never collected baseball cards, either.

Last thing, then it's your serve: I'm sure it proceeds in other ways elsewhere, but almost all of the immediately relevant discussion has taken the issue of race and pop to reduce to either black/white, hip-hop/rock, or both. I'm not equipped to do more than register this, but -- there's more going on. The single song I've 'heard' the most in the last 2 months is some ranchera piece that my upstairs neighbors play. I don't know the artist, nor if it's old, new, popular, or obscure; only that its bass/tuba line (which is all I can really make out) implies the same chord progression as "if you're happy and you know it, clap your hands...." It's not on now; something distinctly Macarena-like is.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Standard Schaefer (author of Nova, editor of the now-vanished Rhizome) is moving to SF; recently sold his house in South Pasadena to....Bruce Dern. Says Dern talks and talks, and that he found him standing in the rain in his (Standard's) front yard a couple days ago, staring up at a tree.

Philip Sherburne, of all people, plays the screamo card. What, all that Gravity and no Clickatat Ikatowi, if that's how you spell it? And where's Honeywell? I didn't care for the band they turned into (Los Cincos; soundboys-do-drumcircle), but the one time I saw them under the old name, they defined my modest understanding of the genrelet. (I'm shamming here, a little; I saw more of these bands than I bought records by.) Claremont's currently extant The Mae She carry this torch ably, with the addition of a very old synth designed by the singer's dad for Morton Subotnick.

The closest place with an AirPort connection is a Starbuck's, so sometimes I go there to download something large efficiently, say The Grey Album, which I'll let you find yourself. This made me think about file-sharing in another light: Not only is none of my money flowing to Jay-Z or whoever currently owns the Beatles catalog (I lost track), which is fine, none of it's going to Dangermouse, who maybe doesn't care, but some of it is ending up in the hands of Starbuck's and T-1 Mobile, which is owned by God-knows-who. Maybe this is obvious, but I've never thought of it: P2Pers want to starve 'the industry,' all good, but they're happy to feed internet providersl, not to mention utilities. (If they're at college or their parents, they're not spending 'their own' money, but they're making it the case that someone gets paid.) I suppose some could be hacking into the grid for power, or generating their own, but I assume few are. Complicity, ho!

Title over-read in same Bucks' (the one where I saw Tom Waits about a year ago, even though there's an utterly Bukowski bar right across Western, visible from the display window): "Your Body's Many Cries For Water."

Which would not be a bad Jandek title. Saw the new documentary Jandek on Corwood this evening; movie has some pacing problems (and the filmmakers, in attendance, expressed surprise that it has laughs, which is troubling), but how often do you get to see Douglas Wolk's head that big? More on this later, maybe. Essentially: One would like to find a way to take an interest in this music without subscribing to some, ok any, of the assumptions of the community around it -- I don't mean the Jandek cult in particular, but the whole Milstien/Coley/Unterburger (especially) take on 'the uncommercial.' (This is coming from someone who finds 'song-poems' enjoyable.)

Dense day; decent balance of production, edification, and distraction. I will concentrate on the latter two.

1) Sara Jaffe filling in for Kenny G on WFMU. Back-announcing something by the ancient Ron Johnson band A Witness: "More goofy politics and scratchy guitars." (She's in Erase Errata.) Also fitting: Sir Douglas Band's "San Francisco FM Blues." Something amazing I'd never heard: Early Sandy Denny, w/ The Sprouts.

2) Launch for M. Dib's LA Trip, as plugged yesterday, in recently opened hipster bar (Mountain) across from the venerable Hop Louie. (Insert digression on takeover of Chinatown by recent Pasadena Art Center MFAs.) More respectably attended than many LA lit events (though largely by Paul Vangelisti's students at Otis): Beatrice Mousli read a brief biographical intro to Dib (who was exiled from Algeria in 1959 and resided in France until his death), Douglas Messerli read from letters between Paul and Dib, who had met on Dib's one visit here, in 1974, which visit was the inspiration for the present book, written in '99-2000 and sent to Paul to translate, w/ the express intention that the initial publication to be bilingual. (This didn't happen in France.) These letters were quite moving: Paul's work is often about a sense of exile at home, hence the easy bond between the two; the final letter was from Dib's son, reporting his father's death, not long before a planned return visit to Los Angeles. (In lieu of payment for a previous appearance in a Sun & Moon anthology, Dib had requested a Thomas Guide.) Finally, Paul and Guy Bennett read from the English and French versions of the work, respectively. I just purchased the book, and my one vodka gimlet (Paul claimed to be drinking one because he had just taught The Long Goodbye, so I followed suit) was hitting me pretty hard, so I won't try to say anything about the contents tonight.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Tomorrow: Publication party for Mohammed Dib's "L.A. Trip," recently pub'd by Green Integer. My understanding is that translator Paul Vangelisti will read both from the book and his correspondence with Dib (Algerian writer who died last May). Wed, 2/18, at the Mountain (473 Gen Ling Way, Central Plaza, in Chinatown), at 7PM. I expect to be there.

Overheard in The Borgeious Pig, local cafe I usually avoid: "I do feel that my energy is more conducive to the nature of the store."

Highly self-possessed prepubescent girl (child actor?) in gym, 12 at the very oldest, on treadmill when I got there, still on when I left. No body fat -- hardly any flesh -- in the first place. I know children have more energy than they can use -- but this can't be good. Cover story of New York: "Mommy, Am I Fat?"

Have Boy on The Corner and Country On The Click (Dizzee Rascal and The Fall respectively) programmed together as an iPod playlist. On shuffle, excellent exercise sdtrck. Freaked diction in common, certain song intros could belong to either disc, though this is not a particularly keyboard-or-programming-driven Fall incarnation. My first thought on hearing "Sittin' Here" involved Ranking Roger, which is yet another reason I would be ill-advised to write about hip-hop professionally. (See: I don't even know that grime isn't hip-hop.)

Managed to stay almost entirely offline today, wrote 1800 words of diss. The hell of it: This chapter is to an appropriate length for a draft, but the thing hasn't been said.

I now direct you to amusing links in last two days of Useful Noise (link at right), apropos which: First, maybe I want blobs in my Polariod. Actually, maybe I'm Lucas Samaras (halfway down). Second, I had completely forgotten that Billy Joel checks Johnnie Ray in "We Didn't Start The Fire"; doesn't Santayana's death seem an odd thing for him to emphasize? I'd understand if it were for the sake of a rhyme, but then, I usually do.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Guy being interviewed on KPCC this a.m. about new Woody Guthrie biography -- drag out the bromide about how his songs 'showed' or 'proved' that American popular music didn't have to be about romance, "like Tin Pan Alley," and how he showed the way for "Dylan" and "Springsteen" to "express themselves" in a way "the industry had never heard before." Who will speak for Jay Gorney (far as I know, the only Hwd songwriter to be seriously blacklisted)? Good, on the other hand, to hear "Pretty Boy Floyd" as an example of how far back the noble gangster goes in American song. (And not just: Villon to early Brecht to Guthrie (or vice versa?) to Gainsbourg to Biggie.) (To Steve Earle?)

From John Pareles' NYT piece on rock museums, yesterday: "The movie that awaits vistors entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame presents rock 'n' roll as a boomer revelation. It shows a young white suburban boy, surrounded by sterile, uptight 1950's pop, finding liberation in the sounds of blues, country, rhythm-and-blues and rock."

To self: Take closer look at Baraka's "Jazz and the White Critic" (and sequel in new Shuffle Boil, and Alex Ross' I-was-a-classical-nerd piece in the new NYer. (Ross is interesting: I think he's got to be wrong about certain things, but it's much too easy to misread him as an elitist/apologist, and he's usefully clear about how one might arrive at certain positions vis-a-vis pop.)

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving!

So, should we expect retroactive apologies from Adam Ant and The Village People? Is Tumbleweeds still running anywhere?

Briefly, Friday's reading. Leonard Schwartz, whose work I've only seen in passing, read from two long series. "Apple Anyone" proceeded by incorporating lists of words that came to English from Arabic -- many you'd expect ("minaret"), some you, or I, wouldn't ("coffee," and most of our names for fruit). Point of that should be fairly obvioius. "Library of Seven Readings" seemed to be a gradual transformation of quoted material -- many repetitions of the phrase "transcendental subject," much stately, one-branch-of-tribe-of-JA diction, not unlike John Koethe. I liked these less. Guy Bennett read all of a short book, Drive To Cluster, which uses a lot of de/re-contextualized dictionary-defs of highly polysemous words, notably "fold," which is never actually used in the text. Went by fast. Also a series subtitled "12 Fortune Cookes for Syd Barrett" -- the line "probing a rift in skiffle" (or nearly that) sticks. Just about all of Guy's work starts from found language, so the tone, if nothing else, is largely determined by the source; this had a very different sound that anything I'd heard of his.

Forgot to register: On drive up to SF, good selection of 3 for $3.33 cassettes at a Grapevine truckstop. 1979 Andrew Hill album, tribute to blues guy Arthur Alexander I don't remember ever seeing (EC, Dan Penn, duet between Frank Black and Gary U.S. Bonds), and whichever Roxette album contains "Harleys & Apaches." Or the other way around -- gave that to John and Peter as a tour gift. Could have picked up some Kylie and Kim Wilde, didn't.

self-reference/Pazz & Jop double alert (but at least it's not about tokenism): On further thought, my sour grapes about Fountains of Wayne don't make much sense; I was alluding to the similarity in theme between "Swivelchair" and some of Welcome Interstate Managers (white collar ennui, not unheard of in rock but not common). But the virtues of two other records in my top 10 -- Hearts of Oak and Electric Version -- don't seem to me entirely different from those of 0pb, and that probably pushed me toward them, rather than away. As in -- well, I'm glad somebody can hit this target better than I could. The comment I wrote on those albums originally began: "I'll sound like an apologist for people exactly like me, but:" -- which I took out before sending. I do seem to have a mild abreaction to Adam Schlessinger's voice; others (xgau and jclo included) have a similar one to Carl and Ted's; and "Bright Future In Sales" just seems a little forced, working too hard to make its point. The one track I love unconditionally is "Hey Julie" -- I assume the resemblance to "Cecilia" is intentional.

Also realized that I actually bought 6 of the albums on my top 10 -- plus a vinyl copy of Electric Version to check the lyrics. Of course, 'bought' here often means 'bought with trade slips from promos sold.'

Friday, February 13, 2004

Here's a counter-account of the Ashbery-Lehman event that continues to generate discussion at S/FJ. Link discovered via poet John Latta -- independently interesting reading.

A couple of people have heard this story in person, but: 3 times in the last several days, I've uttered "Thanksgiving" when meaning to utter "Valentine's Day." Twice when discussing plans with Bree, once while recounting these slips to others: "So, the other day, I was trying to say 'Thanksgiving'....Shit!"

And, in the course of diss work today (some progress, never enough) read this, in my committee-member David Kaplan's "Words":

"There are, of course, familiar ways in which one can fail to say the word one intends to say, for example by intending to say the magic word that opens the cave door, but forgetting exactly which word that is. Or intending to say the name of an old acquaintance at a party, but drawing a blank. (This last is a looming fact of life for many of us.) Here the word is given under a concept, as Frege would say. This is a quite different thing that mispronunciation, even startling, inexplicable mispronunciation."

On the way to Leonard Schwartz/Guy Bennett reading at Beyond Baroque, saw that old Italian restaurant called Bruno's is now Vineyard Christian Fellowship, though the change in signage is Not Fooling Anybody, though Howard's Bacon & Avocado Burgers still issues its siren call. (Brief notes on reading tomorrow.)

Returning, passed Henry Fonda Theater, where OutKast and Lil Kim were appearing at some event related to the NBA All-Stars. Spotlights out front, that sort of thing. Rael wrote me this a.m. wondering if I had any in, but I'd only even noticed the marquee yesterday. Idly checked Craig's List -- someone was selling their $300 tickets (I think that was for a pair) for...$280. Probably not full sets anyway (sour grapes). This moves me to note, however, that no increase in my degree of theoretical commitment to populism is likely to result in my following sport.

Just heard Anthony Braxton cancelled his 3 shows here for "scheduling reasons," even though they'd been announced about 3 months ago. Very disappointed.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Here's my Boston Phx piece about The Urinals.

SF trip was my first long drive since the iPod, pretty great. Between going up and coming down, got through extra discs of This Year's Model and Armed Forces, rest of Cugat disc (finally have that Lina Romay song), Johnnie Ray High Drama, Strictly Kev again, Cupid & Psyche '85 (which had just come up in conversation), 2 Dragnet episodes, and an hour or two of shuffle. Non-loaded: New demos by Peter Hughes, now recording solo as Peter Peter Hughes, and a radio station in Kings/Fresno that I always try to find, which plays '50s stuff that barely even pretends to be rock and roll, like "100 Pounds of Clay" and "Puppy Love," the vocal on which makes Mr. Ray look subtle.

Stayed w/ Joshua "Nashville is the ass that cannot be licked" Clover in Berkeley, who: Gives a different impression w/ his hair grown out, answered my halting questions about contemp. poets w/ aplomb, and suggested Scritti Politti II as my new band name (hence above). I wish. In a typical move, I left the shorts I usually exercise in at his place.

Mountain Goats show -- not the start of the real tour, just 2 nights in SF before starting in North Carolina a few days from now. No practice beforehand, but sounded fine. Mostly the new album and Tallahassee, but a very strong "Jenny" and the one about seed catalogs I never remember the name of. No "Against Pollution," my pick from the new album (though it's the dulcimer that makes it, not a phrase I often have need to write). Excellent tour t-shirt, the back of which details a fictional string of dates at mostly real and depressing Inland Empire locations, such as the Monclair poolhall Foxy's II, and Spanky's, an awful sports-bar-w/-bands-sometimes that 0pb played at in 1991 at the latest. Lovely to see the boys, and old friends Annick/Sean Rooney as well.

Next a.m. left J-Clo's after some deliberation over whether he wanted me to turn his furnace off. (He'd gone to work early and laryngitically.) Chose not to burn house down. Followed his directions to Moe's, where I rapidly blew my attempt not to buy books in Feb. Scored used-price copy of new Debord collected cinematic works, which I had glimpsed at JC's and wasn't expecting to find so cheaply; also George Albon's Brief Capital of Disturbances, prose work he'd published in a different organization in the privately circulated Lowghost several years ago. (Title is a Debord reference I didn't recognize, despite chiasmic giveaway.) Also two Lefebvre books and some other poetry (Berkson, Warsh, Gottlieb). Had to skip a new Cambridge anthology on Conceptual Art -- hope I haven't already lost the slip where I wrote the ed's name.

OK, strict reportage, maybe something else tomorrow; I think I've already worked through my P&J issues. This, an epigraph in the Albon:

"To us and all those who hate us, that the U.S.A. become just another part of the world, no more, no less." -- John Cage, 1967

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

out of promised order --

So, let's see, indie-rockers are narrow-minded haters with a closed shop, we're all agreed on that, and everyone else is a model of inclusion, right? That must be why, if OutKast is the only hip-hop record in your Pazz & Jop ballot, you get your name posted on a bulletin board.

Also, I think the reason I don't like the Fountains of Wayne album that much may be that I made it, as a single, in 1992.

jerk = off

Notes on SF trip tomorrow; stray Pazz & Jop comments after that. Today's guest informant is "Sea-Robber Maya" Gurantz, currently taking a seminar on Brecht at UCSD, who adds her three cents -- and then a couple of extra notes/clarifications. By way of warning: This is longish but (to me) fascinating. And whose blog is this? That's correct. All I will add is that some of Brecht's stated motivations are interesting in the light of his later, largely futile attempts at Hollywood screenwriting. Maya, now:

"The Pabst film of "Threepenny" was the cause of the infamous (to Brecht scholars, anyway) "Threepenny Lawsuit," in which Brecht, as an ideological publicity stunt, sued Nero Films for not using his film adaptation of the musical.

"The Backstory (apologies for anything you already know):

"The original musical was written fairly quickly--a Berlin actor was given 100,000 marks by his dad to open a theater, and wanted a show which would open on his 28th birthday that August. (I'm turning 27 in a week. I want: 100,000 marks for a show next Feb.) The rich kid approached Brecht in April--Brecht suggested doing an adaptation of collaborator Elisabeth Hauptmann's translation of John Gay's Beggar's Opera. Weill and Brecht and Hauptmann and Caspar Neher repaired to the south of France and wrote it in two shakes--returned and slapped it together. Against all odds (you know, actresses twisting their ankles and refusing to sing the racier songs, adding "Mac the Knife" at the last minute, etc.)...it was a huge hit. Everyone in Berlin loved it, the rest is history.

"Then Brecht read Marx.

"Thus began the shift from early Brecht (satirical, virile, angry, hilarious, politically cynical) to the Papa Brecht of Mother Courage 20 years later. He and Weill finished Mahagonny (for my money, the better musical), and he was concurrently creating the Lehrstuck (learning plays/cantatas done with working class choruses and union groups--meant to instill good revolutionary virtues by the ultimate breakdown of the audience/performer separation).

"So. By the time Nero wanted to buy Threepenny, Brecht's project had, to put it mildly, changed.

"Now, Brecht never made too many changes to musical of Threepenny. This is notable, considering (a) the rigorous, compulsive revisions he imposed on all his other plays throughout his life and (b) the fact that the play, while it pokes some good raucous fun at the bourgeoisie, ain't necessarily politically consistent. I think Threepenny's overwhelming success kept him from monkeying with it too much--it remained one of his favorite plays. (He did however, write a series of alternately provocative, useful, and hilariously overdetermined footnotes two years after Threepenny opened, in an aggressive attempt to show that he really--no really--meant it all along.)

"But we know better, because of what happened next. Brecht said he'd let Nero make a movie of Threepenny, as long as he got to present the initial treatment and final say for the script. "Co-determination" of the script is, I believe, the precise term.

"His treatment, then, entitled "The Bruise," is his post-Marx Threepenny. It's substantially different. Standouts:

"--Tellingly (Brecht's subconscious attachment to the popular elements of his work?), the entire musical is punctuated by new stanzas for Mac the Knife.
--It begins with Macheath's pursuit of Polly (whom he sees only from behind. "He begins to follow her immediately and knows: he will marry this charming bottom."), their instant marriage, and the collection of her stolen trousseau.
--The police whitewashing the London streets for the Coronation (and the added "Song About Whitewash.")
--The "bruise" of the title belongs to Sam, one of Peachum's beggars, who gets beaten up after snitching on one of Macheath's gang. The bruise is a running gag of sorts--Peachum drags the bruised man around with him to prove Macheath's brutality, emotionally blackmail Tiger Brown, etc.; when the bruise starts fading, Peachum hits him to keep it fresh. At some point, poor people begin to organize around Sam's bruise--"and no matter how small the bruise is, the fear of those above will make it larger, their bad conscience will see to that."
--Once Macheath runs from the law and leaves the business to Jenny, she decides to transform the gang into a legit organization, and buys out the National Deposit Bank. The gangsters become bankers. (This gets crosscut with Mac walking off to the whores, whistling his song that "has now become obsolete.")
--Ultimately, the plot elements are shaken down so that: "In a typically Brechtian interpretation of the Hollywood happy ending, the three main enemies [Peachum, Mackie, Tiger and the Police] discover their common interests when confronted with the threat of a revolt by the mass of exploited beggars." What's neat is that the revolt begins as Tiger Brown's dream and "such dreams have consequences".

"The Lawsuit:

"What Brecht delivered was not in any way what Nero bought. They went ahead with their script (which, as you saw, incorporates a lot of Brecht's changes). [fjb clarification: The 'bruise' idea itself isn't one of them.] Yes, that's just a fucked up reel change but that single skipping note was very annoying--they seem to be trying to push the "love story," they don't have Polly singing "Sea-Robber Jenny" (which made me sad, tho' of course Lenya), and they take forever to get to Peachum, so the set-up doesn't really hang together. They also added the kind of silly moment of the Queen being confronted by the beggars.

"Brecht, with only 15,000 marks, proceeded with a lawsuit (despite their best attempts to throw money at him).*

"In his arduous 70-page disquisition on the lawsuit, he insists that he knew he'd lose. In his words: "We tried in a specific, real case to get 'justice', to take a specific bourgeois ideology at its word and to let it be proven wrong by the bourgeois practice of the court." "Even our leftist friends regarded the lawsuit as superfluous. (The importance of proving that in a lawsuit against industry the individual is in the wrong! Doesn't everybody know that already? Indeed, everybody knew it.)" "The Threepenny lawsuit demonstrates how far the process of transforming intellectual values into commodities has progressed."**

"That's a big one for B.--that the bourgeois ideals of the 'artist' and 'artist's rights' are always contradicted by bourgeois practices, which are themselves determined by the factor of financial interests. Everything becomes a commodity under this apparatus, including justice itself. B. also attempts to prove that under the current capitalist film production system, the idea of film as art is impossible.

"As editor/translator Silberman puts it, "Brecht plays the role of the naive artist who goes to court to defend the inviolability of intellectual property guaranteed by the liberal, democratic constitution," maintaining a "one-sided, flawed understanding of 'co-determination."

"The main meat of the article consists of a painstaking (if often contradictory) analysis of the main 14 fallacies emerging from the case (both within the actual lawsuit and from the extensive amount of press commentary generated from the case). These range from "Art does not need the cinema" to "The public's taste casn be improved," "The cinema serves recreation", "A film can be regressive in content and progressive in form," etc.

"The weakness of Threepenny Lawsuit is in Brecht's remarkable lack of self-examination, his insistence on portraying himself as independent of the apparatus, without any critical examination of who he was and what he expected from the apparatus. It ends up sounding disingenous. He never answers the question, "well, if the idea of the artist is a bourgeois fallacy, who the heck are you, Mr. Brecht?" He never answers the question, "well, you wouldn't have Threepenny without Elisabeth Hauptmann's constant collaboration--where is she in this equation?" These are typical Brecht problems.***

"The strength is his desire to subject the philosophically and politically questionable elements of the film industry, which we (still!) simply assume as unquestioned, necessary evils, given circumstances of the form--and subject it to ideological, top-down criticism.

"Just a little more Brecht: 'Here again the road leads only over capitalism's dead body, but here again this a good road'."

"Yours in the revolution, Maya"

addenda from a later MG email

*"Brecht never actually saw the movie of "Threepenny" (!) though he's happy to refer to Pabst as "stupid" and "boneheaded" repeatedly in the article. Also, the "Threepenny Lawsuit" was part of the larger Weimar c(k?)inodebate (film debate) that emerged with the medium, as essential a document as Benjamin's "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," etc. Weill also sued, for slightly different reasons -- but he won his lawsuit, which leads to some snarky comments by B."

**"After all that, Brecht actually took money from Nero-Film! The case itself (of what constitutes an writers's rights w/r/t intellectual property in the film industry) set important legal precedent, and was one of the, if not the, first trial of its kind."

***"Realized I need to be slightly less reductive: Brecht's essay begins with the epigram: "Contradictions are our hope!", and in that spirit, he pursues his contradictions more deliberately than previously represented. His contradictions are essential to the discussion of the oft-contradictory apparatus he's critiquing. It's an often ironic, tongue in cheek legal/political prose performance. It's still awfully tough chewing, and he still totally avoids any kind of self-examination."

Monday, February 09, 2004

Little to report. Wrote all day, learned that I'd screwed up the lineup in my OOIOO review. Note to self: Do not write for publication after 1 a.m.. Or at least don't send it until the next morning.

Heading to SF tomorrow to see the Mountain Goats at Cafe du Nord. Out of range until sometime Thursday.

Playing: Xavier Cugat.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Remembered the Grammy/ies were on while at Bree's, tuned in just as Maurice White was introducing OutKast. No, I like the way you move. What about the guy with the plaid suit and umbrella, of whom a clear shot was never given -- did they CGI in outtakes from Bamboozled, or was I suddenly watching a Howard Jones video? (Let me explain Upland High School: The morning after a HoJo concert, a vast number of my classmates appeared weaing their "Dream Into Action" shirts. No, throw off your mental chains.)

Scattered impressions of The Threepenny Opera (Pabst, 1931): I don't know the plot of the original play as well as I do the songs, but I don't recall a subplot concerning 200 beggars overrunning a coronation parade. Mackie Messer never even gets near the gallows in this version. I'm not that familiar w/ Pabst either, but I was surprised that this movie didn't seem heavily Expressionist in style, outside of a late night scene in a bank; wouldn't say it was made on Brechtian principles either, despite a few inserts of a narrator commenting directly on the characters about the futility of human endeavor. Strong lead performances, not as stagy as you'd fear, and some amazing Breughel/Tom Waits extras. Business deal between gangster and beggar-king at end is made to connect with earlier marriage scene by use of candlelight; most interesting political idea is that Peachum, who exploits the poor for his own gain, nearly loses control of his 'army' thanks to the sheer force of actual human misery. Only about 6 Brecht/Weill songs used in the film, and those, almost randomly -- the great "Cannon Song," which comes early in the stage version (it was the first one the audience warmed to on opening night) is moved much later, for example. Dim memory of reading that this was a troubled production -- should look it up.

2 strange things about the screening. (1) Whoever sync'd the sound for this print wasn't very careful -- most of one reel had an audibly skipping record of a single barrel-organ chord in the background. Distancing in a Brechtian sort of way, though I can't believe it was intentional, as it senselessly ran though all of Lotte Lenya's "Pirate Jenny." Was the original soundtrack on discs, ala Vitaphone shorts? (2) Introduction by producer's son, who was mainly concerned to let us know that Fritz Lang had been pals with Goebbels, and returned to Germany several times after his 'exile' to settle his financial affairs.

This Bordeoms side-project (OOIOO) is a yawn, plus the digipak ripped instantly.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Saw Pabst's 1931 Threepenny Opera tonight, but it'll keep.

Sasha Frere-Jones truly excellent piece on Timbaland and The Neptunes from the NYT Style section is already offline for nonsubscribers, but you can always buy the paper tomorrow. The prose is restrained, as you'd expect from the venue, but not Grey-Lady-grey, thanks to wily use of the subjects' voices. 3 points are really significant:

1) The focus on "Virginia Beach as the birthplace of a certain sound, something like Detroit's claim to 60's pop-soul or Seattle's to 90's grunge." Maybe this claim is already better-accepted in the pop discourse than I am equipped to understand, but putting it down in the paper of record is gonna help it get written into history books, I'll bet.

2) The piece makes the case for the music, rather than assuming it. A fair bit of dense/inside criticism is being written from within these assumptions, but this piece would be accessible even to someone who knows even less about this music than I do.

3) There's a subtheme throughout on the difficulty of saying just what a 'songwriter,' a 'musician,' or a 'producer' amounts to at this point. I think these changes in division of labor are the most interesting thing about what pop now is -- more interesting, in the long run, than the changes in technology that (as SFJ documents) drive them. (I suspect they're more radical changes than the oversold collapse of writer and performer that's supposed to demarcate pre-rock pop from rock -- or at least they're its culmination.)

Now I really want the book.

In other sample-centric news: I'm what, 2 weeks behind the curve on Strictly Kev's 40-minute mix-of-mixes Raiding the 20th Century? (Link is to homepage, mp3 available from there.) You need to hear this. Anyone who writes saying, "Yeah, that's ok, but it's no [x]" can just...tell me what [x] is.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Sign in restaurant window: "Compliment your meal with one of our beverages."

Zonked slacker promo voice on dj-less Clear Channel-owned alternative gold station: "Indie 103.1 -- Your independent radio station."*

Equivocation in national debate between 'marriage' as religious institution and legal/civil one. That is: Given its traditions and dogmas, Church X can, I assume, (1) marry or not marry whoever it chooses; (2) withhold recognition of marriages performed outside of it. (As far as Rome is concerned, Protestants aren't married, right?) But since no such trads + dogs (nor the 'sum' of all such -- athiests can marry) can underwrite the civil institution in an allegedly non-theocratic State, said State cannot do so.** Fact that one consistent solution will satisfy no one -- eliminate term 'marriage' from the law entirely, make 'civil union' the only meaningful legal entity -- demonstrates depth of national confusion.

*Only non-major-distro-chain releases I've heard there: Elefant's "Misfit" (which sounded better than it did on their CD, I admit), Postal Service's "Such Great Heights" (which I love; also in rotation on KROQ), and unid. Death Cab song (which I don't love). Last 2 w/in 1/2 hr. of one another -- I don't begrudge Benjamin Gibbard his broadcast royalties, but come on.

**To my understanding, marriages underwritten by a given Church must also satisfy all standing legal requirements. Or does the State confer on selected religious institutions the right to confer, in turn, legal marital status? Even if so, this is not necessary -- Justices of the Peace are not ordained by any religion.

Beyond noting the fearful poignancy of the change from third person to first in the final sentence below, I have little to add to these words on SANCTIFICATION from one Pastor Jeff:

"My father has several workbenches filled with tools (and many other things for that matter).  Growing up, we learned that it was O.K. to use those tools for common use.  But we also learned that there was a special drawer of tools in my father's tool cabinet that was "set apart" for his special projects: his "snap-on tool drawer".  These were the tools that were to be used only by him and only on his most important projects.  God wants us to be set apart and live a holy life so that he might use use us greatly for his special projects.  His "set apart ones" are not to waste their time in the sin of this world, but are to be kept for the Father's special projects.

(Personal Illustration from Pastor Jeff...and his childhood experiences in learning the meaning of sanctification by the unauthorized use of my father's snap-on wrenches.)"

[fjb: I won't even try to explain how I arrived at this page. I don't recommend the link, but it's there for completeness.]

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Tried, emphasis on tried, to do work in random Starbucks in Atwater Village. (Had to take Bree's DVD player for repair nearby.) Only managed about 750 wds of diss, but more carefully done than usual working draft mode. Must be near some office complex -- from separate conversations:

"You need to set the tone in the office. You know, energy, be there for your people..."

"Yeah, well, if being a team player means giving her kickbacks, he's not a team player."

On the other hand, saw actual instance of good parenting; couple with 4-or-5 year old whose company they actually seemed to enjoy, keeping her attention rather than ignoring, or ignoring other than to tell her not to touch things (you see this a lot). Kid turned around, looked at the back of my computer screen, and said "Apple!" Interesting that this is more likely a function of having seen either Apple logos or other equally stylized apple-representations than three-dimensional fruit. Adorable, in any case.

Jeez -- haven't even written about Punk Rock, and here's another Langford record in the mail from Bloodshot. Also rec'd: Aquarius package with Metal Urbain reissue and Sounds of American Doomsday Cults, Vol. 14 which had me from the description alone.

Saw the first (and better) half of The Harvey Girls at Bree's today. This could have been one of the great non-adapted movie musicals if the central idea -- waitresses as civilizing influence in the Wild West -- didn't fall to a fairly dull love triangle in the third act. Still, Harry Warren/Johnny Mercer in top form. Everyone knows "Atcheson, Topeka, and the Santa Fe," the basis for one of the best-motivated production numbers ever, but no other MGM musical contains a downer like "Great Big World," with the refrain: "And it's cold, cold, cold/And we'll soon be old."

Plus the strangeness of hearing Angela Lansbury (post-Gaslight/pre-Manchurian Candidate/pre-pre-pre-Cabot Cove) singing "If you like chicken, take a wing" while shaking quite the gam. And the forgotten charm of Virginia O'Brien, who appeared in only a handful of movies, usually doing a novelty turn (always deadpan) in revue-structured musicals (Two Gals and a Sailor), in her only significant character role.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

A couple days after the Boston Phoenix ran my piece on the GBV box, Jordan Davis' blog (links to both at right) led me to his own article on the band, which contains a paragraph analogizing indie-rock's response to classic rock with the Protestant reformation.

Sasha mentioned Jordan's piece on his blog (again at right), and later asked me for further comment.

Keith Harris, who I didn't previously know, commented, astutely, on that post. Noticed on Keith's links list that he's reading E.P. Thompson's Birth of The British Working Class.

Thompson's anti-Althusser polemic "The Poverty of Theory" shows up in the book on humanism I mentioned yesterday. Said book also touches on Giordano Bruno, the 14th c. heretic/cosmologist my grandfather always claimed was our ancestor. In his Heroic Frenzies says Dent, "the language of idealism decomposes before our eyes into a pathological horror and contempt." (Sounds like some of the lyrics I wrote in college.) I mentioned G. Bruno in passing in the S/FJ post.

The Dent book's opening gambit is the famous Humpty Dumpty passage from Alice about language and use: "When I use a word...it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less." The Humpty Dumpty view that what one means is just what one intends to mean is a whipping-boy in contemporary philosophy of language; it's very close to the concerns of the current chapter of my dissertation, and I mentioned the view by that nickname about 4 days ago.

Thompson's working class book (which I've never read) forms the inspiration for The Mekons' "Thee Olde Trip To Jerusalem"; also mentioned in the S/FJ post. (They discuss the song in this interview.) My next Phoenix piece is on The Mekons' Punk Rock, bringing us full circle.

Dwarf in pink track suit in coffee shop this a.m.

Total Snoop clone in front of Burrito King on Hollywood this afternoon.

Woman in Fugazi shirt in treadmill in gym. Is this how Ian would have her expending her energies? (Of course, I was there too.)

Reading: -Humanism-, Tony Davies.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Googling the phrase 'real plums' (Mary McCarthy), came across www.residua.org, which collects 28 years of postcard-length writings by one Ranko Bon. Croatian by birth, professor of Construction Management and Economics in Reading; but apparently active on the margins of the UK art world -- apparently, many cards were/are actually sent to figures in same. (Some are letters to the editor, to -The Economist- and suchlike; he also manages to creep out Sophie Calle, no mean trick, via his correspondence.) A proto-blog of sorts -- some annually (self?)-published volumes early on, the whole project online by 2001. Entries I checked randomly from the last two years indicate that he's moved back to Croatia (retired?--he's 58); these are quieter in tone. I was instantly drawn to this project, because of its elegance, voluminousness, and obscurity (Cornell, Ray Johnson, Dickinson, Pollard), but much of the art-writing is just cranky, less about work than reputation (though this was something Johnson was obsessed with as well).

Did get one interesting fact: Brit artist Tracy Emin (of abject bed-embroidered-w/names-of-men-I-slept-w/ fame) used to be a couple with Billy Childish.

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