B2TW is taking a break for the holidays (including the most magical Advent calendar dates of all, Carl and Chris’ birthdays). Thanks for reading! We’ll be back on January 3.
Monthly Archives: December 2010
by Chris Randle
[I totally lifted this concept from Greil Marcus as well. My list is unranked and impulsive to the point of randomness; I avoided writing about anything I’ve already touched on at B2TW. And now, all hedges and caveats aside…]
John Seroff’s epic Singles Jukebox blurb is a beautiful consideration of “Whip My Hair,” but to me the clip below embodies this ultra-processed, aggressively silly song. What’s more absurd, more galvanic in its absurdity, than a weak-voiced nine-year-old touting their “swag” and finally managing to convince? A parrot dancing to the same track! I can only assume that the lone Youtube user who clicked “dislike” here is even now teetering atop Mt. Crumpit with a sleigh full of stolen presents.
2. Damascus, Palestine, Texaco
A cut from Jean-Luc Godard’s maddening, cryptographic and sometimes very funny Film Socialisme:
3. “I’mma start rocking gold teeth and fangs” (Nicki Minaj’s 32 feral bars)
Still waiting on the music video, which promises lots of squicky necrophiliac imagery (I was hoping for a colony of bats nesting in Rick Ross’ giant beard), but “Monster” already has a storyline: it’s the track where Nicki Minaj reduces the world’s two most famous rappers to afterthoughts.
Her feat is less impressive than it appears on a tracklist; wheezing Grizzly Bear fan Jay-Z sounds like an awkward fogey here, and while Kanye acquits himself well enough, even pulling off a good punchline for once rather than a stupid non-sequitur (“Have you ever had sex with a pharaohhhhhh / I put the pussy in a sarcophagus”), he still strains as an MC. His other guest doesn’t. Nicki’s virtuosic verse mutates new flows, accents and personae at rapid speed: “Pink wig / Thick ass / Give ’em whiplash / I think big / Get cash / Make ’em blink fast.” She shares Kanye’s monstrous ambition, but not his self-pitying insecurity. Her climactic “AAAAAAH” modulates a scream queen’s cry with sharpened glee: suck in breath, grope around on the floor for your male gaze.
4. Light the Pentagram-Signal: Doctor Hurt in Batman & Robin
This one requires some nerdy backstory. Five years ago, DC Comics made Scottish weirdo Grant Morrison the writer of its main Batman series. (His anarchic 1990s head trip The Invisibles influenced my teenage self to a degree that is almost embarrassing.) A characteristically metafictional conceit of Morrison’s early issues was that all the Bat-archetypes from 75 years of publication history – the original pulp vigilante, the bizarre ’50s version who wore zebra suits and inspired Adam West, etc. – were his actual memories, and the stress of keeping these disparate personalities straight was driving Bruce Wayne insane.
The process was accelerated by Morrison’s new villain Dr. Hurt, a mysterious psychiatrist who claimed to be Bruce Wayne’s newly-undead father Thomas and then distributed evidence revealing that the orphaned hero’s parents were not saintly philanthropists but a locus of corrupt decadence. Eventually, in a crossover called Batman R.I.P., he put on a camp opera outfit, injected Bruce Wayne full of drugs and dumped him on the street to subsist as a disturbed homeless person. Then our protagonist made a new costume out of rags, regained his bearings with the help of fifth-dimensional imp Bat-Mite (seriously) and they had a big fight. But Dr. Hurt returned in 2010 for a final storyline that Morrison called “Batman R.I.P. repeated as farce.” It began, context-free, with this scene:
It’s a perverse inversion of the most familiar origin story in comics, one so famous that Morrison and artist Frazer Irving can go minimalist and rely upon iconic visual elements (the pearls that always scatter, the eternally recurring Zorro marquee). Dr. Hurt’s masturbatory fantasy comes complete with the sort of infernally opulent yet faintly ludicrous sex club that only exists in Radley Metzger movies. Remember the sight gag at the end of Rosemary’s Baby, where an upside-down cross is repurposed as crib ornament? The longed-for Black Mass emphasizes Hurt’s unusual nature as a foil: he thinks that merely killing his foe is so dull. “I will be Batman in my great black car, preying on the weak, in Gotham’s endless night.”
The conventional idea of an obsessive super-nemesis is strange enough already; imagine one who yearns to expose every certainty in your life as a pathetic, comforting lie. He could be a jilted fanboy. Even after discovering that the bad Doctor was neither Thomas Wayne nor the devil, just (in his creator’s words) “this gibbering idiot with a very comic-booky origin,” his anti-prologue retains some Satanic allure. In a storyarc that also featured Shavian villain Professor Pyg raving about “the multitudes of the mother goat,” it was the creepiest moment of all, a flourish of satirical geek-blasphemy.
5. The moral responsibility of the blowjob artist: How Should a Person Be?
The second novel by friend of the blog Sheila Heti was, as they say, a long time coming. (There was an impatient Facebook group, even.) It still doesn’t have an American publisher, and a new article in the New York Observer speculates why: Too much cribbing from reality? Too many graphic descriptions of blowjobs? I would add another factor, one that took me by surprise despite my membership in that social-media cheer squad: the extreme depths of black comedy that Sheila reaches. There are lantern-faced fish swimming alongside some of these jokes. How Should a Person Be? is about struggling to live the good life, whatever that is, and Sheila the character’s earnest, agonized desire to become a great artist (or at least a famous one) is played for many painful laughs.
A later chapter, for example, ends with this passage: “I hadn’t realized until this week that in [Moses’] youth he killed a man, an Egyptian, and buried him under some sand…I used to worry that I wasn’t enough like Jesus, but yesterday I remembered who was my king; a man who, when God addressed him and told him to lead the people out of Egypt, said, ‘But I’m not a good talker! Couldn’t you ask my brother instead?’ So it should not be so hard to come at this life with a bit of honesty. I don’t need to be great like the leader of the Christian people. I can be a bumbling, murderous coward like the King of the Jews.”
As a blond gentile with an Old Norse surname – some drunk girl once asked me, “Did you steal your eyes from a dead Nazi?” – I felt a little uncomfortable just reading that. (The sexual interludes, not so much, perhaps because they’re specific to a particular situation.) I can see why publishers might shy away from it. But all the mordant humour extracted from her protagonist’s indulgent delusions and artistic crises has a point, and a pertinent one: What does it mean to be a writer or painter in a world where niche-level, D-list celebrity is radically accessible?
As for that “fact or fiction” question, a parlour game without the fun, let me cite Harry Mathews, whose last novel My Life in CIA explored similarly muddy waters: “Henry James once said that the Venetian painter Tintoretto never drew an immoral line. That seems madness, because Tintoretto was squiggling all over the place. I came to the conclusion that what James meant was that the moral responsibility of the artist is to make something real happen, whatever it takes. And for me, that is the moral responsibility of a writer: to make something real happen on the page. Its relation to fact is irrelevant. “
6. One word uttered forever
Toronto’s Double Double Land hosts an occasional series called Talking Songs, where lecturers play various pieces of music for the audience before discussing them. Carl’s spoken there before; I have too. At the event’s return a few months ago, one of the performers was York University professor Marcus Boon, who gave a talk called “Chopping and Screwing: From Terry Riley to DJ Screw.” I don’t really remember anything he said. What I do remember is that he finished by playing a single 25-minute-long drone and asking us to listen.
Erik Satie’s avant-garde endurance test Vexations, 34 dissonant chords typically performed 840 times in a row, is often said to have quasi-hallucinogenic effects on audiences. Palpable heat, like the kind inside DDL – it’s perched above a Portuguese bakery – must only intensify that. While Boon’s drone pulsed, time collapsed inwards before stretching out as if it might snap; most eyes stayed shut out of reverence or boredom, but sometimes I cheated and caught others fluttering open, sexy in their languour. After the noise spent itself, Boon very quietly asked how it made us feel. I still don’t know what my answer is.
7. The image world: Picture This, by Lynda Barry
Picture This asks the big question on its cover: “Do you wish you could draw?” Barry’s manner is the best Grade 3 teacher any kid/adult could hope for, supportive and pedagogical yet utterly free of condescension, and it comes through in her cartooning. Like Sean Rogers notes, this is an activity book featuring such activities as “collect blue.” Barry argues that we’re encouraged to trace and doodle as children only to be dissauded while we grow up, and her attempts to liberate your inner scribbler echo the open-ended tone of John Cage’s motto: “Get yourself out of whatever cage you find yourself in.”
One of Barry’s strips, “Chicken Attack,” was written by a five-year-old boy named Jack. He was sitting next to her on an airplane. While Mom dozed, he came up with a script: “One morning, the chicken was eaten by a man. The man went to work. His stomach started to feel funny. He went to the port-a-let, and then he went. The chicken came out. The man was surprised. The chicken was also surprised. The chicken ran from the port-a-let to the construction site. They put the chicken in charge, and from then on, the chicken was boss.” Lynda Barry is also pretty boss.
8. Continue: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, by Bryan Lee O’Malley
The movie was fun, partly because its doomed marketing showed Torontonians that our shitty lives could be the basis for a fantastical mythos too. But it wasn’t first to do so, and in other ways I preferred Bryan Lee O’Malley’s print finale. It begins with depressed Scott Pilgrim acting like a skeezy jerk, hitting on his teenage ex: “So…uh…what’s it like to no longer be a child in the eyes of the law?” It gives another ex, Envy Adams (Chaotic Neutral), a costume that says “Legend of Zelda boss as worn by Lady Gaga.” And its unconstrained space allows for many pages where people just sit around and talk.
In that sense, the supporting cast was especially hard done by during the adaptation process; a lot of secondary characters got compressed to a single note or joke where they had originally existed in a broader context, one the self-absorbed hero didn’t always notice. As Mike Barthel wrote, “that sense of outward focus and of ladies existing without reference to dudes (or dudes without reference to ladies, honestly) absolutely vanishes [in the film].” I lament this both as someone who wants more movies to pass the Bechdel Test and as someone who thought Alison Pill was cute, which is probably to say, a confused someone.
Finest Hour‘s luxury of sprawl also benefits the villainous Gideon Graves. (That’s him above. In the movie he’s played by Jason Schwartzman, which is perfect casting if you dislike the public persona of Jason Schwartzman.) Gideon is a disquieting portrait of the smart, arty kid who becomes a grasping and covetous adult. A grimly funny, comics-only detail marks him as the only character in their thirties – indeed, he shares an age with his (happily married!) creator. The evilest ex is emotionally controlling on a megalomaniacal scale: Instead of stalking “the ones who got away” on Facebook, he captures them inside an elaborate machine borrowed from some Final Fantasy boss.
When O’Malley launched the series’ final volume last summer, my life was a bit like a Scott Pilgrim book – the bantering romantic scenes, not the epic battles, though they often bleed into each other. I didn’t strap somebody into a…device so I could siphon their vitality. But there were moments that resembled a flashback in Finest Hour, where the younger, less-evil Gideon watches pixie pugilist Ramona Flowers literally disappear from his life; moments that were one long uncomprehending “Whyyyyyyyy?” (Then, to fizzling teleportation residue: “But I thought it was going so well…”) This was maladroit and thoughtless for various reasons, as I probably would’ve figured out anyway, but the literary synchronicity led to a pre-emptive realization: Why would you ever want to act like a bitter, stunted asshole while blaming it on someone lovely? So call this comic a cautionary tale, as well as a damn entertaining one.
9. Torontopia time machine: Wavelength 500
I doubt that I could describe this event any better than Carl already did – or Michael Barclay, for that matter. The 10th anniversary of Toronto’s integral PWYC music series ended with a reunion of the Barcelona Pavilion (who broke up when I was still in high school) and a surprise set by Owen Pallett (who debuted his solo project at a 2004 Wavelength before going all those places). The BP were raucous and baldly conceptual again, even in the ways they scorned misty local eyes; their encore was an iPod singalong as it played Mag & The Suspects’ “Thousands Dead.” Whether or not nostalgia is misplaced, they certainly merited some.
Kids on TV followed, and then Owen, and then the 2003 iteration of the Hidden Cameras briefly swept aside layers of antipathy to play “I Believe in the Good of Life,” along with the half of the crowd that joined them onstage.
There’s no visual record of it. (Never mind: Colin Medley popped up in comments to link his video!) I have to give you this clip instead, Owen and Steve Kado teaming up to cover “Independence Is No Solution.” It’s a great song about everything you believe in turning to shit: “Babies want to have publicists / Because better babies make best-of lists.” (No publicists contacted B2TW while we threw these together.) In that room, though, on that night, it felt more like shoving a crowbar in the coffin than a nail.
10. Thrash this mess around: Four Corners, at Steelworkers Hall, July 23
The concept for this show was simple enough. Four bands, all of them loud and scuzzy, manned the corners of a large room inside venerable Steelworkers Hall. We were in the centre. When the available light changed to a given colour, we streamed towards that corner for a few songs’ worth of ritual abuse. The beauty was in the details, and not just because the bill included Anagram, one of my favourite local bands.
Wandering through the cavernous Steelworkers Hall, with its tributes to industrial unionism and lefty agit-kitsch, I thought the venue could almost be a museum for older models of independent music. Meanwhile, the spastic colour cycles appropriated the structural logic of video games. But underneath those lurid lights, radical politics no longer seemed anachronistic, and the moshing reminded me that cathartic fake violence has its own history. To echo one of Carl’s entries, it was a new way of living. If you’re the resolution-making type, I hope you find a few of them.
by Carl Wilson
[With a debt of gratitude to Greil Marcus’s Real Life Rock Top 10, the Back to the World team is reviewing 2010 on a free-associative, nerve-impulsive basis. I’ve confined myself to things I haven’t already written about at length on this site this year, and discarded all critical-game rules of rank, comprehensiveness or balance. Another week it might be another 10.]
1. Collective redemptions: Auto-Tune the Meme
I don’t know how long it will last but for now it’s a blessing to live when whatever nonsense goes viral will be remixed with Auto-Tune, usually by the reliably silly Gregory Brothers. What was the sonic signature of high-end rap/R&B (and Asian and Caribbean pop) in the ’00s becomes the crazed sound of the inside-out unconscious of the Internet digesting fetishes in the ’10s. Which comes with a disturbing side, of course: What seems fair game for politicians and newscasters on the Bros.’ great, long-running Auto-Tune the News series, and unimportant when it’s Double Rainbow Guy, becomes more complex when it comes to Antoine Dodson losing his shit about a rapist in the Huntsville projects on a local news report.
Without music, it seemed nauseatingly clear people were mocking the way a gay, black man in a poor neighbourhood of Alabama spoke in a state of distress. But the music, I’d argue, really did transform that into a celebration of Dodson’s flair and sincerity, into a tune so distinctive that it can be played without words by a marching band (at a historically black university, fwiw) and still hit the same sweet divot in the brain pain. And the Dodson family was able to buy a house on the spinoff proceeds, inverting the usual consciencelessness of that Internet unconscious.
Would it be too treacly to say that it’s a reminder of how rhythm, melody and harmony are ancient technologies to mediate alienation and generate human connection? Definitely, but grant me an Xmas pass.
2. Candid-camera delusions of grandeur/grotesquery: Destroyer ft. Loscil, “Grief Point” (Archer on the Beach EP)
Another angle on the music/reality blur zone comes from Dan Bejar: This song is how it would be if songs or albums regularly came with the commentary tracks we’re used to on DVDs of movies and television, presuming that the commentaries were written by self-excoriating poets of course. (There’s precedent in the Dr. Horrible musical’s musical commentary tracks, though to more blatantly comic effect.)
Dan voices notebook entries seemingly written while recording last year’s “Bay of Pigs,” the “ambient-disco” song apparently originally titled “Grief Point” (or “May Day,” or “Christine White”) that reappears as the closing highlight of the upcoming Kaputt album, about which much more in the New Year. The way this track keeps up the links in this three-year chain of significance/striptease is part of the pleasure.
I prefer the denser EP version to the superminimal “Making of Grief Point” that Loscil (Vancouver electronic composer Scott Morgan) released earlier in the year: This one better fulfills and thus escapes what Dan calls “the same old shit. A potential, complete ignorance of ambience, real ambience, in that: Can you really construct it, every last bit of it, and just let the listener feel its effects? And is this the right treatment? Always the same question.”
The paradox of the ambient, which is Loscil’s genre, has percolated since Brian Eno coined it: How to listen to music not designed to be listened to, only heard? This track revisits that issue as the life/art problem (blah blah John Cage blah) etched in blood: Trust Destroyer to come up with a genre one could call Brian Emo.
As Dan considers whether to quit music or to be happy that he hates what he’s recording because “it means I’ve changed,” he flirts with the lines between social-media-panoptical self-indulgence and self-celebritizing and the substantive mental torment inherent to making meaning.
That’s what many of the most vital artists’ work currently does – such as B2TW intimate Sheila Heti’s 2010 novel How Should a Person Be?, which found a surprising champion in The New York Observer this week; but then the Observer, name down, has always been the cultural voyeur’s broadsheet.
Yet Destroyer was in this territory well ahead of the pack – “your backlash was right where I wanted you/ yes, that’s right, I wanted you,” he sang, before having enough recognition to get backlash. And he approaches it with a half-careless swagger but also a wolfish hunger to make the risks count, this fucking time at last at last.
3. Sex is so much more than sex: You Can Have It All, a performance by Mammalian Diving Reflex, Feb. 12-13, Toronto
Perhaps Ontario, the home of the old-lady sex Yoda, Sue Johanson, may inevitably eventually have generated something like this performance, but we’re lucky to have artist Darren O’Donnell to nudge it along.
Having advertised on telephone poles and bulletin boards for people “over 65 and still thinking about sex,” he gathered an incredible panel of women and men to first workshop and then publicly talk about their erotic lives in intimate, funny and often wrenching detail.
I can’t reproduce the effect here, except to say how exhilarating it was to hear how recent the participants’ greatest sexual experiences (in their opinions) often were. And conversely how intense it is to talk about great sex with someone now dead. … Funeral speeches that never were.
For all their universality it’s also a very local conversation; every community should bring in O’Donnell to root out these words stirring unspoken among them.
But the thing I was left thinking about most was that all the straight men on the panel dropped out before the performances: Was this just a generational blip or does it reveal something deep and hard to uproot about gender, power and vulnerability? (Including O’Donnell’s own power dynamic as a director, though that seems too simple.)
4. Past, unpassed: Richard Harrow (played by Jack Huston) on Boardwalk Empire
The best TV show I watched in 2010 was no doubt the third season of Breaking Bad, but the best thing on TV was this extraordinary character on an otherwise mediocre series.
Sniper-turned-hit-man Richard Harrow is a veteran of World War 1 whose face was so maimed in battle so that he wears a painted tin mask in public – a historically accurate representation inspired by this Smithsonian Magazine article. He befriends one of the central characters, fellow vet Jimmy Darmody (the anemic Michael Pitt), whose mutilation is less visible but similarly soul-obstructing. Together they use their skills to make themselves other-than-disposable to men in power the one way they know: murder at someone else’s command.
Yet Harrow (despite his wince-worthy, typically Boardwalk Empire-showboating name), as image, and in Jack Huston‘s physical and vocal dance (he is the mess of tics we all would be in his place, but never a cartoon), more than even Steve Buscemi’s ever-virtuosic lead, inspires a sympathetic vibration very near love. At one point, to soothe spooked children, he jokingly calls himself the Tin Man (referring to the book, not the yet-unmade film). Huston (grandson of John, nephew of Angelica) earns the parallel.
Boardwalk Empire‘s fatal flaw is its jones to emulate its media-gangster icons, from The Sopranos (on which its creators worked) to The Godfather and the best films of producer Martin Scorsese. But to do something memorable with the dawn-of-Prohibition lawlessness it aimed at, it needed someone more like David Lynch, who could capture the uncapturability of those silent-film years: the way its sensibility is just out of reach of an audience for whom history really begins with the talky mass-cultural connection that’s come to spell “20th century.”
That there was a 20th century before the 20th century is a fact the tapes in our cathode-ray lizard-brain stems don’t readily disclose. (As a music guy, I’m sad their takes on Eddie Cantor and Sophie Tucker don’t gel, though the Hardini-Houdini’s-brother riff had legs.)
Thus the series can’t give us the uncanniness, the unheimlich feeling of meeting Freud’s day on its own terms. Except with Richard Harrow. In his face we get a time before medicine was anything we’d see as fit for the title, when the compromises had other stakes – the spasms that pushed the modern out its birth canal. Upheavals still felt like phantom pains in today’s post-everything pathologies. What a story that could have been.
5. Mantler, Monody
There were days this year I wanted to live in a ditch. I wanted rats to nibble at my shoelaces and beetles to replace the pupils of my eyes. Too often I got right down in that culvert and dug my elbows into the grime and let the parasites feast on my shit, then come back up and spit it in my ears.
If I knew a little better any given Sunday, though, I’d put on Toronto singer-songwriter Mantler‘s record and then the goat-footed balloon man would come laughing, “Have you forgotten the word ‘mudluscious’? What’s wrong, fetish not got your tongue? Displace a little up-up-and-away into me, and wrap your troubles in dreams till they’re helium-drunk and far and wee.”
That most hospitals were never told about this miracle cure is one of the true scandals of 2010. That it had been six years since the last release of the absintheian elixir that Mantler (Chris Cummings) pours generously out of a cauldron full of white suits and colour organs and herbs that taste like bells is the occasion of every party you should have been invited to when some sad bastard forgot your name.
6. Not ready to make nice: Bernie Sanders’ 8-hour semi-filibuster
What I don’t really want to talk about, despite how much it weighed through 2010, is how hard it was to keep supporting Barack Obama (if Canadian support counts). Especially after November, when the tax deal, in particular, seemed to squander a vital “lame duck” opportunity to counterbalance the upcoming bullying of liberty, logic and economic justice by the Republican House.
But then there was this bit of performance art in opposition to tax cuts for millionaires at the expense of the vanishing middle class (and not just in America) by the only avowed democratic socialist in federal American politics, and nearly the only mensch (well, along with Barney Frank). It was just what I wanted for Christmas and Hanukah. This shit is the gelt.
Sometimes you speak truth even knowing power is deaf. And abusive. And would rather look good at basketball than take, to revisit a theme, a goddamn risk.
7. Stretching for substance: Taylor Swift, “A careless man’s careful daughter” in “Mine” (Speak Now LP)
This year Taylor Swift fell into a tabloid-tell-all mode that’s warped the naturalism that served her so well, not to mention overmilking the princessy crap. And where her nemesis Kanye at least freaked out creatively about their encounter of the 2009th kind, making it the sub-theme of his fine (if overpraised) new record, she was all too level and dull on the topic, on an album that marks her predictably awkward transition from teen songwriting prodigy to young-adult celebrity.
Notwithstanding, a key line in the record’s lead single has followed me through the months: “You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter.” It may be the most writerly moment in her career, at least in a chorus, with its un-Nashvilley cram of syllables. You can tell how proud she is of it because she puts it in the repeated pivot point of the song. You almost want to come back with the old saw of writing-advice, “Kill your darlings.” But a songwriter in her position might need her darlings in a way a poet or novelist wouldn’t, as a creative love-rival to fame’s blandishments.
In “Mine,” we never hear anything more about the father, but the line tells us enough about who the protagonist is, and who the boyfriend is (his version: “I fell in love with a careless man’s careful daughter”) to double the narrative’s heft.
That reversal of P.O.V. when the boyfriend assuages her fears could seem rote as craftsmanship, but in pop, rote narrative moves that sync up just right are the ones that get you teary-eyed. Hell, it’s not that dissimilar to the move Stephin Merritt makes in one of my favourite songs, “Papa Was a Rodeo” – it just lacks the knowingness about itself as a move.
I’m not sure why it’s so effective at lumping my throat. Maybe it’s that I’m a careful man’s more careless son. I’ll keep mulling the question in 2011. But I hope that in the next few years, Swift stays proud of it and fills more of her songs with lines like it, till they become adult stories. She’s a country songwriter, after all, and she’s got examples like Dolly Parton and Merle Haggard to show that if you hold true to your craft, hang your heart on those pivot points, they can take you anywhere. It’s not about being as fancy a syllable crammer as Elvis Costello, who just as often is hoist on that petard. There’s so much that suggests Swift could get there, and so many reasons to fear that she won’t. Grant me another Xmas pass here while I bet against the house.
8. The medium isn’t such a mess-age: The San Francisco Panorama
After years when there’s been nothing but gloating and/or despairing obits for the print media in which I mostly make my living, I want to give thanks to McSweeneys/The Believer for demonstrating that death isn’t the only possible future.
Their one-shot example of what a glorious print newspaper could look like (it came out in late 2009 but was widely available in 2010) may be starry-eyed, but it makes concrete what I often say to my peers: Losing the position of first choice for news every weekday morning doesn’t doom newspapers. Play to strengths: weekend features, investigative reporting, physical scale and, well, “eye-feel” (the way foodies talk about mouth-feel). And – well, maybe not a 96-page books section, where the publishers played too aggressively to their strengths, but a books section, because those other people of words are allies. I think people would pay, and they’d stay.
My paper took baby steps this direction this year but those booties need a harder sole (soul).
9. Chatty Kathy
Has any cultural source made me regularly happier than Kathleen Phillips’ video blog in 2010? Her live character comedy came close, particularly when I got to help program her (playing a deluded actress-turned-writer) as part of the Scream in High Park this summer. But can that compete with The Ballad of Four Feet Joe? With her other animations of the inanimate? Oh, world, you will never look quite the same and thank Heaven or whatever department is in charge. Even if Virgin Mobile ripped it off in the name of Christ.
10. Sex is so much sexer than sex: The collected works of Tonetta; Good Intentions Paving Company by Joanna Newsom, 4:35 to end.
It’s been a long year. Remember when all we could talk about was Lady Gaga? But finally some serious sensual competition came along in the struggle to make humans delirious, delusional, demented by delight. Toronto’s own Tonetta might have occupied my whole year if I were still writing a locally centred music blog (good thing there was someone around to fill in). You could shorthand it as Jandek meets Gaga meets Iggy in your pervert uncle’s basement, but the catchy hooks and obscenity and freak-flag-fluttering come with a poignant sense of a man finding himself in the act of losing himself (this is his post-divorce project). Social-media-voyeurism comes in for a lot of bashing, but Tonetta suggests one of its graces: Helping us discover what in us is worth gawking at.
Joanna Newsom has had that kind of gnosis for a long time, even too much so – she’s less sharp about what to leave out. Still, there are also great grasshopper artistic leaps on her 2010 album Have One on Me, including a verse that leaves me dizzy with desire – not for its singer (however deserving, vide the lascivious montage above), but with thoughts of people in my life who can reliably and relentlessly render me this way:
But it can make you feel over and old, Lord, you know it’s a shame / When I only want for you to pull over and hold me/ Till I can’t remember my own name.
And as she casts this invocation, horns and strings rise restless from every corner as if to redecorate the room for their sex-magickal rites. (RIP Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson.) May that be your benediction in the gloaming of 2010, and as 2011 rises, aroused.
by Margaux Williamson
1. The best movie I saw that I didn’t write about this year – Rocky
I had never seen any of the Rocky movies. It was recommended to me after a conversation about sports movies with my friend Lucas Rebick. I was surprised at how unfake the aesthetic was. It looked like Philedelphia in 1976.. and kind of like Toronto in 2010. I was surprised at how much I related to it. I related to Rocky and to all of the women he talks to.
“Hey Rocky” the loan shark’s driver hollers out of a car window. “Yeah?” Rocky asks. The loan shark’s driver – “You should take your girl to the zoo. I hear retarded people like the zoo.” Rocky flinches, “Fuck you, man!” Rocky shouts back, “She ain’t retarded, she’s just shy.”
2. The other best movie I saw this year and didn’t write about – My Man Godfrey
My friend Gracie has a favourite romantic comedy from every decade. My Man Godfrey is her tops for the 30′s (1936). Carole Lombard plays a rich socialite who falls in love with her butler. It was pretty interesting to see how rich people were portrayed as such silly and thoughtlessly cruel individuals (as in every situation, the beautiful, charming ones escape total condemnation). Rich people have enjoyed a much better and enduring reputation since all the communists were kicked out of Hollywood. It reminded me of how quickly things can change and how very long they can stay the same.
My favourite part came when the family needed to talk about money – the matriarch of the rich family looked horrified and cried “Money is dreadful! We can’t talk about money, it upsets Carlo!” (Carlo is the artist that they support). At this point Carlo turns away, towards the fire, upset and shuddering like an angel. Luckily, the cheese sandwiches come in just as things are about to get awk-ward.
3. Thick of It
I really couldn’t get enough of this British TV show from 2005 about the inner workings of the modern British Government. Sample text (if I am remembering correctly) – “Terry, do you know why they call him the Fucker?”
“Is it .. is it.. because he’s.. a bit of a fucker?”
This new reality TV show premiered in the summer. Contestants, from across the U.S., compete in an art competition with a jury of professional critics and artists. It was just like any other reality TV show. It was strange. And people wrote about it.
Art Fag City covered it like white on rice, Lynn Crosbie had some good points for the artists and Jerry Saltz (an art critic who was a judge on the show) wrote an article for each episode after first participating in and then watching the episodes. Jerry Saltz’s articles were, hands down, the best art to come out of the show. The articles were written to an audience that included the show’s participants, viewers and art-insiders. He wrote about the art, judging the art and judging himself judging the art. It was strange and good.
Some art-insider critiques of the show sounded an awful lot like a reversal of the old art-outsider stereotype – “my kid could paint that”. The equivalent turns out to be – “my friend down the street from me, in Brooklyn, could paint that a lot better”. Sucks to be on the outside.
Though there didn’t feel like there was too much at stake (America’s next great artist-wise), the beginning of some hilariously awkward public conversations (involving critics, artists and audience) about what art is felt stupid-smart, meaningful and full of potential.
The only “unreality” part was at the end when there were only three contestants left. One would get the bank and the others nothing. Maybe it’s just my world, but every artist I know would have been more than happy to split a hundred thousand dollars 3 ways and then gone about their business. But I guess reality TV without winners or losers is just the NFB.
5. Websites about videos
I know about these two websites, Ryeberg Curated Video and 2 Pause: Freezing Music Video Culture, because I contributed to them. But they’re both really interesting and I’m sure there’s a lot more of these websites out there – websites that are figuring out how to talk about or organize the massive amounts of videos out there. Ryeberg has contributors write short essays on Youtube videos and 2 Pause collects interesting music videos and puts them into categories like these: Lo/No Budget (that is where I am and this nice one from Antony and Boy George), Netherclips, Stop Motion, Electric Cinema (I didn’t watch them all but found this nice one from Foals and Chris Sweeney) and French Wave. I would like to see the categories that everyone has for their videos.
6. Artists Using and Sharing
I really liked that Erykah Badu made this video by borrowing the idea from Matt and Kim. She credits them in the beginning of the video. The structure of her video is identical, but the feel and meaning are completely different and more to my interests. The borrowing and added art reminds me of this article about Jeff Wall from a while ago.
Olaf Breuning’s work (consisting of performance based art video) has always looked really interesting but I assumed that he, like a lot of artists, didn’t put all of his work on-line. I only just saw one of his videos recently when Jon Davies screened it at the Cinecycle. It was great. Then I went home, looked him up and discovered that all of his videos are available on his website. Thank you Jon Davies for reminding me of Olaf Breuning and thank you Olaf Breuning for sharing. SO much better that way.
7. Moral/ art lessons from popular music videos
LCD Soundsystem and Spike Jonze reminds us that drunk people, whom are often beautiful and fun, can also be really fucking annoying. The video, featuring the band being abused by people dressed as pandas, is as good as Spike Jonze’s videos always are. And Lady Gaga and Beyoncé remind you again that it’s a bad idea to disrespect the people who serve your food. And Kanye West, who likes a lot of the same things I like ( naked ladies, revolution, ballet, Beyoncé, Takashi Murakami) reminds us to take paintings seriously.
8. Luc Tuyman’s painting Turtle
I really loved this painting this year, from 2007.
I also really love this painting from Brad Phillips.
The performances from Toronto’s LIFE OF A CRAPHEAD (Amy C. Lam and Jon McCurley) feel so good on your brain. They go right to the part that understands but doesn’t share with the other parts of your brain – the parts that could explain what is happening. But then those parts start understanding something else and then, somehow, every part of your brain is being massaged by a fire in-the-know and then it is over. It can feel like good drugs, but really, it’s more like spinach.
10. SUM: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman
David Eagleman, a neuroscientist, wrote this strange book comprised of brief scenarios of the afterlife. More about life than after.
11. Missing Objects
Is it too late for a really, really long Arrested Developement movie?
Also, I would like an audio book of Jack Hitt’s articles. I would buy two. While we wait, we can read his Mighty White of You: Racial preferences color America’s oldest skulls and bones and listen to his Act 5, the 52 minute long audio documentary about a group of prisoners at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center who are rehearsing and staging a production of Hamlet. It’s great.
Nice work William Hammond Hall and John McLaren.
by Chris Randle
In the first installment of TEACH ME HOW TO BOOGIE, I talked to my friend Amelia Ehrhardt about bounce music and the moves that go with it. She’s still studying dance at York University. Today’s very special edition of the series is about a single song, the nation-sweeping jerkin’ anthem “Teach Me How to Dougie,” and its titular dance craze (see above). Or at least that was the plan. My long Gchat conversation with Amelia wandered off on various tangents again – all about the same subject, this time. I condensed three hours of instant messages into this discussion. Welcome to Dougie 101.
Amelia: I just watched this:
Chris: I was going to ask if you wanted to know more about that track, or The Jerkin’ Movement in general, but it seems like you’ve already done the research!
Amelia: Background research
Amelia: It’s funny background research, via wikipedia youtube and urbandictionary
Chris: Did you have to look up “redbone”?
Amelia: What is that? I haven’t heard it yet
Chris: That may only be in the dirty version of the track (so not that first music video) – one of the guys says he’s going to find a “thick redbone” http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Red%20Bone
Amelia: “The fundamental thing, first of all, is jerking. Jerking is the main thing you gotta know, to jerk.”
Chris: It’s almost Zen
Chris: Here’s another favourite jerkin’ track from 2010:
Chris: “my iPod got the Bangz like it’s wearing a wig”
Amelia: Holy shit this is awesome
Amelia: Have you seen any of fzcentral’s videos?
Chris: No, are they dougie-related?
Amelia: Seem to be
Chris: You’ve probably figured this out by now, but the main membership/audience of jerkin’ is teenager skaters from L.A.
Amelia: I think fzcentral is more focused on jerkin…Can I say that?
Amelia: So let me get this trajectory – dougie is like a subcategory of jerkin’
Chris: Or a subset – or just a jerkin’ track married to a dance craze
Chris: The beat of a jerkin’ song is typically minimalist, and I think the one on “Teach Me How to Dougie” may actually be “live percussion” presets from some audio program.
Amelia: Cowbell apparently
Amelia: I’m watching a bunch of tutorials about how to boogie
Amelia: I mean, dougie
Chris: Although the California Swag District have been mildly controversial, because I guess they’re the equivalent of a boy band?
Chris: They all have names like C-Smoove
Amelia: How long has the dougie been like an officially recognized dance?
Chris: Since 2009, at least
Amelia: Jesus this happens so fast
Chris: There’s a song by Wes Nyle called “Dougie”
Chris: Personally I don’t really care if the group was created by an A&R guy in Burbank, because c’mon: “This beat was bubblegum/So I had to chew it.”
Chris: (Not sure if there are any A&R guys in Burbank)
Amelia: I’m sort of doing 3 Gchats at the same time right now, and I showed a couple of these videos to Jon and some of what we are now talking about is really relevant to this – just about how quickly this stuff develops
Amelia: Second time this has hit me – I was thinking about it last time I was talking to you about this.
Amelia: Things are codified so quickly; ballet took 100 years to develop 5 foot positions, now whole subcategories pop up in what – a year?
Amelia: Like, the system of academic dance I studied when I was young, if the syllabus needed to be changed it took a DECADE
Amelia: Not to be like wow it’s 2010 the future is now and boy it’s fast
Amelia: but shit
Chris: I think teenpop like “Teach Me How to Boogie” moves especially fast
Chris: Back when Soulja Boy first blew up someone presented an EMP paper suggesting that “microcareers” like his would become normal – though Souljerrrr is still hanging in there, possibly through sheer weirdness.
Chris: One of his mixtapes this year was named after an anime series
Amelia: Well they were right weren’t they? Microcareers are kind of normal now
Amelia: It’s funny – this video
at 2:37 there’s a section of arm stuff and Jon was like “is that contemporary dance” (joking) but what’s interesting is that yes, it is
Amelia: Most contemporary dance classes I’ve been to have wiggly arm stuff
Amelia: I think maybe that’s the technical term? Anyway it’s all hip hop, jerkin, tipping, etc.
Amelia: also how much of it gets appropriated by drag
Amelia: That’s the other thing – how quickly it develops means that it gets subverted really quickly too. It’s hard to tell where it starts/finishes
Chris: Is it? I’ve never seen a drag show
Amelia: God it’s amazing, I saw this weird piece a couple months ago, trying to find the choreographer’s names now
Amelia: All men, and half of it was pretty straight hip hop…hoods, jeans
Amelia: You know – they broke free! took off their hoods!
Amelia: Then they were all in heels and lingerie, doing all the feminized versions of the same dances.
Amelia: What’s the one form – is it rockin? – I can’t remember
Amelia: Anyway it has a whole other version that is the “women’s” style, which is so interesting, in all the development of western dance and trying to gender-neutralize everything, contact improvisation, women doing the lifts, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake
Amelia: and ultimately, people making dances still seem to want men and women to have different styles of dancing
Chris: Jerk kids can get pretty flamboyant themselves! Neon swag.
Chris: What you’re talking about kinda reminds me of something Maura Johnston wrote this week, about the gendered nature of proposal rituals: http://www.theawl.com/2010/11/why-the-ads-for-christmas-engagement-rings-make-me-uncomfortable
Amelia: man thank god someone wrote this
Amelia: “But all these ads are doing for me, a red-blooded American female, is solidifying my belief that that I never want someone in a relationship with me to feel like they have to ‘propose.'”
Chris: Maura writes really well about issues like that
Amelia: This is the second time I’ve started thinking a lot about gender while talking to you about these videos
Amelia: Maybe I just think about gender a lot, but I think it’s also pretty inescapable to have to think about gender in a form made on bodies
Amelia: Someone once said to me that you can’t make a dance on a man and a woman and not have it be about sex, a non-dancer/dance scholar – I was so irate
Amelia: Like, who are you to say what dance can and can’t be about? I still don’t agree, but I sort of see the logic behind it
Amelia: Because to an extent yes, if you are looking at work for representation, chances are you are going to try and have it represent something familiar to you…And I wouldn’t say that contemporary western theatrical dance is entirely trying to escape the fact or deny the fact that dance can be, tends to be, has a strong predisposition to be sexualized
Amelia: However I do think the form tries to work against that as much as possible – I mean, I don’t necessarily see sex when I see a man/woman pairing. But maybe I’ve been around bodies in that sense enough that I’m desensitized to it.
Amelia: Not in the same way that “all western people are now desensitized towards overt sexual imagery,” because I don’t think that changes our relationship to sex, but I do think that having to look at bodies abstractly – like, okay, what if my leg is an extended line and not the the part of my body that is attached to my crotch – leads to a certain disambiguation between bodies <-> sex.
Chris: I was going to say, why would a dance necessarily be about sex at a certain level of abstraction?
Amelia: I don’t think it would be, but I think there is a certain amount that people will take from it.
[Chris’ router stops working yet again]
Chris: If my internet connection was always about sex it would be bad, unsatisfying sex
Amelia: I would have left by now
Chris: no scrubz
Chris: Hah, that reminds me – have I told you about Pink Dollaz? http://passionweiss.com/2010/07/28/the-return-of-pink-dollaz/
Chris: all-girl jerk crew
Amelia: Is jerk something else that has a male-female version? Research I should have done
Chris: Pertinent quote: “Gets none from me so get your magic lotion / Drop you like a lost little puppy in the open”
Chris: Also, they have a song about making boys eat you out.
Chris: (at first I heard it as “lost little puppy in the ocean”)
Amelia: I mean, as great as it is to have a counter to songs basically glorifying rape, I still find this to be a bit of a Sex and the City version of feminism
Chris: Which rape-glorifying songs are you referring to?
Amelia: I can’t think of one off the top of my head – but a friend just posted lyrics the other day. I am exaggerating slightly, but I have definitely heard songs at LEAST about blow jobs
Chris: What I really like about Pink Dollaz is…how organic they are? They’re these high school friends who began recording songs about sex and Beyonce-style financial independence
Chris: And while a fair number of jerkin’ tracks are basically good-natured songs about fucking, theirs are the most aggressive I’ve heard.
Amelia: “good natured songs about fucking”
Amelia: I kind of love that
Amelia: don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with it
Chris: I actually wasn’t sure how to respond to your misgivings because I’ve never seen Sex and the City
Amelia: oh haha
Amelia: Well, I have a problem with Sex and the City-brand feminism
Amelia: I like this group – this one you just showed me – but it does seem close
Chris: There are huge racial/class differences between the two, though
Amelia: Well, of course
Amelia: But what do you mean by that? Does it make it any better to have “female rap” be about expensive bags and blow jobs if it’s a “racial/class difference”?
Amelia: What I mean is – that’s not the only thing that is “a female experience”
Amelia: and I have a problem with media/literature/etc that suggests this
Chris: I do think that saying “I pay my own bills” is more meaningful in one context, but that’s a good question
Chris: Yesterday I read this depressing New York Times trend piece about affluent, successful, ambitious women whose lower-earning male partners felt subtly emasculated or some shit
Amelia: exactly (which is bullshit)
Chris: or who couldn’t find a date at all because their male peers are interested in secretaries and nurses
Chris: though given our respective careers I doubt either of us will run into that dilemma! ha ha ha
Amelia: Have you heard of He’s Just Not That Into You?
Chris: yeah, I’ve heard of it
Amelia: It breaks women down into several categories of Women Who Don’t Get Second Dates Because Of The Following Female Problems
Amelia: one of them is a woman who is too into her career and too successful
Amelia: it suggests you tame it down if you want to get a guy to like you
Chris: “whenever a woman offers to pay for drinks my mind flashes to a primal castration scene”
Amelia: What’s that from?
Chris: a chris randle original joke, 2010
Amelia: ha ha ha
Chris: Detouring back to matters dougie-related – when you study dance in university, do they talk about how dance crazes like that can suddenly emerge from jerkin’ or another scene?
Amelia: No – “social” dance isn’t really studied in the university on that level, at least not in Toronto/Canada to my knowledge. I mean, I guess there’s some variety; this semester I had to take a course called The Canadian Dance Mosaic
Amelia: Lemme pull up the description
Amelia: “Examines dance as a human phenomenon that both reflects and shapes culture. Through readings, films, lectures, discussions and guest artists, students are introduced to a variety of dance forms from different traditions represented in Canadian society. The course examines the place of dance in its own cultural setting as well as approaching issues facing dance in Canada as a multi-ethnic society. ”
Amelia: It did that fairly successfully
Chris: That seems like a big oversight! But the emergence of new youth memes probably isn’t studied enough in general.
Amelia: It isn’t
Amelia: But what this course kind of tried to do was “level the playing field” and look at all dance forms as equal not ballet > everything else “world dance” etc.
Amelia: It makes the argument that calling other forms “folk” or “social” (vs like, formal/art dance) degrades them.
Amelia: Anyway the course kind of sucked, but I do think that kind of dialogue needs to happen, ideally before third-year university. Especially if we want to make dance relevant
Amelia: HELLO! Here it is, dance is relevant and happening in people’s lives
Amelia: Why aren’t we talking about it? Here is dance! The people are dancing, it is happening in front of you and we won’t put it in a university
Amelia: Hip hop and other arguably ACTUAL contemporary dance forms don’t go to university
Amelia: There’s a variety of reasons behind all of this, but why not start studying, at least on a theoretical level, the fact that people seem to be dancing and dancing with each other again?
Amelia: You can learn how to do this on Youtube for chrissakes, I don’t know if dance has ever BEEN more accessible.
Chris: I love that the California Swag District music video shows this diverse multitude of all races, assembled to learn the Way of the Dougie
Chris: I even love the NAME “California Swag District” – it sounds like a faction in some post-apocalyptic dystopia, or a separatist enclave. That’s a good look.
Amelia: fashion blog
Amelia: So where the hell does the name dougie come from
Amelia: and also until I watched the video I kind of assumed for some reason it was pronounced “doogie” maybe because of “teach me how to BOOgie”
Chris: I have no idea where the name originally came from
Chris: Would it be too much to dream that the Dougie is also a person?
Chris: a Swag Elemental
Amelia: Father of Swag
Chris: This appeared in Google Reader the other day:
Two memes in one!
Amelia: Okay I have to write a stupid paper for a stupid class I don’t care about
Chris: There’s one last clip I should show you
Chris: It’s…arresting, if nothing else
Chris: Maybe that’s the best way to measure when a teen dance craze has reached mass awareness: middle-aged TV anchors awkwardly doing the moves.
Amelia: Ha, hilariously I’m being made to sit through a 15-second Diane von Furstenberg sunglasses ad using knockoff SATC background music featuring a real Carrie Bradshaw type getting into a Manhattan cab
Amelia: It’s like the twist
Amelia: THIS IS THE BEST
Amelia: I think York Dance wants me to say something about the equalizing qualities of dance, universal language etc., but whatever that’s kind of not worth talking about, I mean, I can’t describe it any better than that video shows it
Amelia: Dance, it’s like so beautiful or something
Chris: I’ve never liked Wolf Blitzer more than I did watching that clip
Chris: Or liked him at all, really
Amelia: See? Beautiful.