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Monday, April 18, 2005

Sorry for moderately-long absence. Didn't mention it here before the fact, but decided late in the game to head up to Pop Confererence 2005 in Seattle. Really should have repurposed some of the EC material -- it would have fit neatly into the "Music as Masquerade" theme, but -- I didn't. So I was there, "just as a spectator," but 2 1/2 days of entering the conversation at meals, breaks, and q&as felt like a form of participation. Made the brilliant wrong-airport move on my way out of town, so didn't make it until halfway through Friday. Top Ten, roughly chronologically:

1. Walking in just in time for Douglas' survey of the "Things Go Better With Coke" campaign, back when the alliance of pop (from Otis Redding to Lesley Gore to Vanilla Fudge) and advertising was a novelty. (Plus a cd-r of the spots; and one of 100 Dylan covers; downside, missing Matos on "Apache.")
2. Faces to names, all within a couple of hours: Matt Ashare, Keith Harris, Dylan Hicks, Carl Wilson.
3. Drew Daniel on Darby Crash, feat. video of himself being given a cigarette tattoo by Don Bolles. In a nutshell: The "Germs burn" is the hermeneutic circle.
4. Video in Miles White's talk on performances of masculity in hip-hop, of a Seattle show by Brother Ali, who I played w/o any previous knowledge on the radio last week -- not realizing that he's not just white, but an albino. And has skills. I'd have felt stupid if Sahsa hadn't known he was white either.
5. Xgau's Coasters piece, for (1) solid information about the band members, hardly household names in himself; (2) noticing that the pop-cultural references in Lieber & Stoller are slightly off/dated w/r/t the songs' likely audience -- the detectives in "Searchin'" are from radio; (3) a sudden autobiographical aside about his "first, disquieting glimpse of vulva" at, it seemed, a strip show in a tent. General moment of too-stunned-to-snicker throughout the hall.
6. Complimented on my attire by Jessica Hopper: "...You look like a boss...a nice boss...you don't look like a jerk." Mostly the wing-tips, I think. Coming from someone who thinks a lot of people either are or at least look like jerks, and who at that moment was sporting an eye-popping red-white-and-blue plaid pantsuit, this was a minor personal victory.
7. Ned Sublette on the closeness of the slave-holding past in New Orleans, and the effects of that closeness. Fascinating photo accompiment of Mardi Gras "tribes" in the neighborhoods, off the beaten flashing-and-beads path of Bourbon Street. Really a talk about culture in the widest sense, very heavy, and faultlessly presented.
8. All three episodes of the "Fake Bands" panel: (1) Joe Gore and Elise Malmberg on their Clubbo Records project (they record music in various period styles and insert them into the appropriate states in the label's "history"). Wasn't certain it was fake until the title of their Donovan-esque folkie's double live album, A Most Magical Show; later learned that the clip played was voiced by Mark Eitzel. (2) David Grubbs on the Cologne artist Kia Altoff's musical sidebar Workshop, which, after the previoius presentation, I took for Grubbs' elaborate fiction well into the talk. (3) Carl Wilson on the motivations behind "bandanyms" -- Smog, Palace, MGs, Destroyer, and so on. I have to say that I'd not have assumed someone would have a lot of thoughts about this that I haven't had myself, but I was wrong. Pretty certain that this is the only time Robert Grenier has come up at EMP. (It's hard to get the "I HATE SPEECH" move to work in vocal music, so you've got to do something else to block expressive identification.) On top of everything else, it was pretty much the final bit of proof that I made a huge strategic misstep in 1991.
9. Dance-off at The War Room w/ Jessica, Julianne, Shayla Hason, Drew & Carl. I was outclassed, but not self-conscious.
10. Allmost all (see 3 below) of the final "Black Mass" panel. Weisbard on his long, ambivalent fascination with "Buddy Holocaust," a Dartmouth undergrad who played one show of vile right-wing satirical folk. the tape of which has circulated among Princeton DJs ever since. Peter Mercer-Taylor, a Mendehlsson scholar of buttoned-down appearance, on Cradle of Filth. Solid musicology, plus the (I think intentional, but not arch) humor of playing a few bars of "From the Cradle to Enslave" and then continuing calmly, "After the second ritornello, a textural shift...." Erik Davis doing something I would have thought impossible: Saying something useful about Led Zep and the occult, with no notes yet, and nice sidebars on "Christian turntablism" and Memphis Minnie. I could have listened to him for a couple hours.

Three talks I shouldn't have missed, by all reports (not to mention the minstrelsy plenary Thursday, before I could get there): Theo Cateforis on "American Nervousness, 1979," apparently including a reading of Peter Ivers' New Wave Theatre; a novelist whose name I'm not now finding at the conference site, on her punk past, apparently notably well-written; and Sean Nelson on Morrissey.

Downers:

1. RJ Smith cancelled.
2. Did see, as always, a talk or two that made me think, "Hey, you can suck the life out of something with academic critical vocabulary."
3. Some of the academic attendees still need to work on presentation. Do what you do, everyone, but you're up against performers, so bring a tight game. Consider printing out a hard copy; reading from the laptop is harder than it might seem up in the hotel room the night before.
4. Justin Farrar on Gnosticism and free-folk-psych (No Neck Blues Band, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Sunn O+typographical b.s., Jewelled Antler). No critical distance, mystical/drug experiences reported like a Dead review in a college newspaper. By the time we got to the trenchant point that the members of Animal Collective play under craazy fake names, I had to leave for a bit. There are many perspectives that I don't share but try to go down the road a piece with; this was not one of them. Extra points to Erik D. for recontextualizing most of what Farrar had to say in a few asides, much less dismissively than I could have managed. Number 11 above should be Daphne Carr, immediately after, with an Animal Collective-related story that is hers to tell. I was practically begging her to say something in the q&a, which veered between smart talk about power and affect to dumb talk about the evil mojo of MTV. Carl framed the right question a few hrs. later, over coffee: "Are you talking about capitalism, or demons?"

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