Thursday, October 06, 2005

Rev'd The Double's Loose on the Air. No need to repeat what I said here, but I was struck that I got through a (short) review w/ no mention of the lyrics; after several listens, I had no real conception of what they were singing about -- possibly an effect of the production, possibly of the presence of lines like "hunger, gravity, lies" -- and that this didn't seem to me an issue I had to resolve, as it might have four or five years ago. Does this mean I'm lazy, or just that I've come to have a different attitude toward the "literary" claims of lyrics than this fellow. Whose blog, already maligned in some quarters, if he's actually a teen, tends to make me rather glad that there was no such thing at my age; that the few pronouncements I could make (basically, in my high school and college papers, and, even, I will not try to lie to you, in a FRP 'zine during junior high*) were unllikely to be read by those with a low tolerance for precosity. All of which in turn reminds me that, for all the ephemerality/non-material of this space, it's a hell of a lot more accessible and, barring the unforeseen, enduring than its 'zine-culture equivalents. Not heavy, I know, just hadn't thought of it for a while.

*Which, incredibly, still persists in much the same snail-mail only form -- though contributions are now photocopied rather than mimeo'd, as they were circa '84.

(Of course, I will regret this blog in a few years; a huge portion of my mental life to date consists of considering, at t2 something I wrote/recorded at t1 and thinking either/both "Jeez, I was much more productive then" and "Jeez, I was a frickin' idiot then.")


Need to temper my praise for Porton's anarchism/film book, now that I've finished it. Informed and informative, but: He's on the one hand happy to make value judgements about particular films, sometimes argued for and sometimes not -- he's particularly brusque on Les Amants du Pont Neuf ("Carax's vacuous film transforms anarchist salvos into 'art cinema' and nothing becomes rancid faster than a bloated commercial film masquerading as radical art") -- yet the book as a whole has only the lamest, survey-ish sort of conclusion: "I hope [this book] has proved that it is exceedingly difficult to say authoritatively what anarchist, plots, images, and forms are or should be: they are constantly in flux and subject to revision. Critics are rarely soothsayers, but it seems safe to say that the future will bring novel permutations of the ever-evolving anarchist aesthetic." And, despite (a) all the worrying about what aesthetic forms are appropriate matches for anarchist themes and (b) a good section on the problematic role of the anarchist intellectual/academic/pedagogue, the book's style and structure are as aludic (is that a word?) and even plodding as the sentence I'm writing right now.


A damn-sight better than Paul R. Gorman's Left Intellectuals and Popular Culture (1996), which I bought on remainder last Jan., stuck in storage, and then found on my landlord's shelf. This is just a small public service for anyone reading who is interested in these areas -- don't bother with this book, pretty obviously a cleaned-up dissertation (not that I don't empathize). Author's got one idea/critique which is put in various ways over and over: Critic of mass culture X was blind to the fact that its consumers could use it creatively/choose or reject particular instances of it/display agency.

And then cultural studies came down from heaven. Not to belabor the obvious, but doesn't this mode of argument tends to do to earlier theorists what Gorman claims the critic does to the "consumer"? Bonus question: what name of six letters beginning with "A" and ending with "O" appears nowhere in the book? Avoid. Try, perhaps, the M. Berube-edited The Aesthetics of Cultural Criticism (this year, Blackwell); typically lively introduction, interesting but inconclusive piece by David Sanjek, otherwise a lot of handwringing, at least some worth witnessing, about how to reconcile the terms of the title.


Speaking of Irish-American dialect fiction, here's the best bit from one of Edward W. Townsend's "Chimmie Fadden" stories. This is 1904 talking (the narrator, Bowery-born and now the "second man" for Mr. Paul, a swell of indeterminate occupation, is quoting his employer):

"Dere will soon be so many teeaters dat we all must be in de game, until Mr. Edison perfects his auto-actor. It's to be run by machinery, and warranted to make no holler, even if de ghost don't walk and all de press notices is roasts. Den will come a happy time. De critics will all be graduates of schools of engineering. 'De part of Hamlet,' de press notice will say, 'was excellently rendered by one of de new pattern, two and a half horsepower, drop forged, leading men constructed on lines invented by Mr. Mansfield. By a novel contrivance (for which de inventor has patents) its exhaust is made to resemble de sound of entusiastic applause. De power is directly geared to its legs, and, when a friction clutch is trun on dis character can be used for buck and fancy-step dances between de acts.

De Ghost was played by a high-powered, alcohol-heated, copper-tubed utility man, which slipped its eccentric in de battlement scene, and being hastily repaired, de wrong stop was pulled out, and it finished de scene with de lines of Rip Van Winkle. De Foist Grave Digger was geared a little too high for de requirements of de part, and trun Yorrick's skull into de gallery, causing a rough-house intermezzo. Furder rehoisals will no doubt smood de action in dis respect.

Ophelia was played by a low-pressure, napta, non-explosive design invented by May Irwin. We were not afforded opportunity to see dis model at its best, for in de middle of de touching mad scene an unfortunate accident to her repertoire attachment started her to singing "All Coons Look Alike to Me!" Dis was de result of engaging for de part a chilled-steel, gold-plated soubrette dat played in a Casino production last week. Furder notice is resoived, but we must urge managers to see dat de song woiks of lady-autos formerly employed in comic opera is trun out of gear when cast for de legitimate."

(Townsend, by the way, was also involved with the early comic strip The Yellow Kid -- sometimes mistakenly assumed to be a slur on Chinese immigrants, that character was actually of indeterminate ethnicity and completely silent until the creators decided to have him start spouting Bronx dialect; and, the author of the 1895 bestseller A Daughter of the Tenements which, from a quick Googling, seems to be mentioned in the same breath as Stephen Crane's Maggie as an early example of "slum fiction." DeMille, in his Lasky period, directed a couple of films based on the Chimmie Fadden character, here's a poster.


Aporia: I can't take metal seriously, and more or less can't stand it. I realize that, at the level of individual psychological explanation, this has much to do with precisely who was yelling "fag" at me as I walked home from school, and what was coming out of their Firebirds. And I accept the rudiments of a class-based analysis of the music's role as a displaced response to powerlessess; metal was by and large not the music of the college-prep/honors crowd. Yet -- I can't take metal seriously, and more or less can't stand it.

(By the way, when you think about high school, do you ever remember the moments when, on Friday, some kid was just, you know, some kid, and then the next Monday, they appeared as a fully-outfitted and apparently-committed member of one or another subculture?)


EC: Hmm, King of America + Blood & Chocolate = more than a handful. After that, I'm with you. Dylan: What can I tell you, I'm obviously not a boomer (and certainly didn't pick it up from my parents), but I listed to Love & Theft repeatedly and with pleasure upon release, not out of responsibility or self-education or some other form of shamming, but because the vocals have flow, there are a lot of great lines, and the rockers rock. I enjoy Infidels quite a lot as well, so sue me. Elliot: Sorry, you must have meant, "after Either/Or." Kanye: Couldn't he be "problematic" if you happen to have already decided what hip-hop's supposed to/allowed to be; decided, that is, on its limits? His albums are incredibly uneven, but it seems odd to lump "Crack Music" and "Golddigger," even before the K.O. overlay, in with backpacktronica. (Against myself: Seems pretty clear that what attracts critics-like-me to Late Registration is West's ambivalence about black machismo/materialism and their mutual imbrication at an explicitly disursive level, an ambivalence that is perhaps expressed rather than "explored" by much other (equally? more?) commercial hip-hop, in ways that are likely more difficult for the less-informed to read off the texts. Thus, strings aside, K. will appear "ambitious." In this light, Jay-Z's verse in the album version of "Sierra Leone," which SFJ's review treats as a bit inexplicable/irrelevant, looks to be a comment: Look, here's how someone acts when they are not bothered by what I'm bugging on in the rest of the song.) Destructiveness of Weill, K.: (1) Yeah, boy, I sure wish "Is That All There Is?" and Swordfishtrombones had never happened. (2) Yeah, again, if you had in mind the Bakunian associations of "destruction." (3) More seriously and accomodatingly, I would say Weill can be a baleful influence not so much on "pop" songwriting than on "singer-songwriting," in that nearly all of his vocal music was written for specifically theatrical situations, not as a vehicle for self-expression. Second: If by "Weill" you mean 6/8 time, minor chords, some surface dissonance, and maybe an accordion, well, sure -- Weill, without quotes, was a rather more complicated musician, well-trained in the thorny harmonic language of serialism but drawn to vocal music because he coudn't give up his love for melody (the sweet parts of, to take famous songs, "Bilbao" or "Surabaya" are as important as the jagged bits, and all this is usually missed by those who are bored by everything he did after coming to the U.S..) "Brecht/Weill" is up there with "surreal" on the list of Terms to be Shunned in Record Reviews without Due Caution, far as I'm concerned; here, we will give SFJ the benefit of the doubt and assume that he's listened to more Weill than I have Tori Amos. (And note with certainty that, whether I end up agreeing w/ his assessment or not, he would not invoke Imperial Bedroom lightly.) [Yes, there should be links all through this.]


"I gotta pick up the Berrigan collected" v. "when the hell do I have time to read the Berrigan collected?"

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