Monthly Archives: May 2012

Tuesday Musics: “Winter Solstice” by Cold Specks

by Carl Wilson

From the fantastically titled upcoming album, I Predict A Graceful Expulsion. I appreciate that a song with this title has such a springtimey video. Also that like a lot of current hits this song is so sparse on chord progression, but unlike them also restrained in vocal expansion and other gestures. Perhaps another day it would strike me as stingy. Today it feels like it wants to help me think more clearly. It counsels patience, but it’s not making any promises.

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Little Boxes #92: Dog Bites Thing

(from Horrible #1, by Zach Worton, 2012)

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Friday Night Pictures – cloudy day mural at Trinity Bellwoods Park public pool



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Tea With Chris: Purpled

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Thursday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: I tried to find an mp3 of this new Adiah track (see also: last year’s “Drumz,” summer in a low-fidelity Youtube clip) and all I got was Sarah McLachlan.

The Comics Journal published a number of tributes to Maurice Sendak, both textual and visual. I love Michael DeForge’s illustration:

As I discovered last weekend at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, DeForge is also working on an all-Prince comics zine, to be printed in purple ink on lavender paper. He’s made a companion Tumblr called Purplish, one song a day by Mr. Rogers Nelson or his Minneapolis courtiers.

Carl:It’s kind of amazing that “culture shock” was ever not a commonplace idea, but it turns out that it was developed from a casual term to an actual theory only in the 1950s – by a man who might have gotten the idea from his upbringing in a breakaway Finnish-Canadian communal cult (give or take a little free love) in British Columbia.

“Mumblecore” has to be the stupidest genre label that’s stuck in the past decade (except maybe “mommy porn”). Nevertheless I am exciting about going to see Joe Swanberg present some of his movies in person in Toronto this weekend.

Old-school mumblecore? John Ashbery reading in NYC in 1952, when he was not yet 25. But actually, scratch that: Turns out the younger Ashbery hadn’t yet developed the gently murmuring tone he reads in today. There’s definitely a “listen up!” in his tone. A “whaddya think of that?”

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Mad Men, Girls and Englishmen

by Carl Wilson

Out of proportion to all sanity, my personal version of the Internet (overpopulated with pop-culture overanalyzers) has been preoccupied the past several days with the (reportedly $250,ooo) appearance of the actual Beatles recording of “Tomorrow Never Knows” on Mad Men, its plot function, its true role in the music of 1966 and what a “quasi-hip … inventive, highly competitive trend-chaser” like Don Draper really would have made of it.

Obviously not a world-shaking discussion, but maybe one with a bit more relevance than at first glance. Draper’s character was quasi-hip (screwing around with a bohemian Greenwich Village girl, checking out Antonioni pictures, reading Frank O’Hara, though always a little befuddled by them) in the late 50s and early 60s. It was useful to his profession and it satisfied some of his own restlessness and curiosity. But then things accelerated. In Sunday’s episode, he thought he already knew what the Beatles were about, because he’d had a handle on them a year or two earlier as a particularly inventive teen-pop band. That’s not an unreasonable expectation most of the time – two decades later, if you had a pretty good idea what Thriller was, you weren’t deeply clueless if you didn’t pay close attention to the differences in Bad. But in the mid-sixties, the centre of generational gravity was sliding much faster, and the quasi-hip Draper of his mid-30s becomes unfairly, upsettingly much older – the “Mr. Jones” Draper of 40.

Thanks for the screen captures to Tom & Lorenzo.

As the show slips from the “forgotten Sixties” in which it began to the familiar later Sixties of a million TV specials, it hazards losing its subtlety and surprise. (This season has compensated by broadening its set pieces, and I’ve personally enjoyed that, but the risks are all visible.) But perhaps not if it keeps its attention on another allegorical level – when it comes to that kind of generational-shift velocity, I think the equivalent is the period we’re in right now. It’s one of those times when looking away for a year is like missing half a decade.

For one thing the “millennial” “echo boom” is the largest demographic group since the Baby Boom, by far. So it’s got that parallel momentum. But of course its salient cultural mover and marker is not music nearly so much as technology – “When did music get so important?” Draper asks, just as I often find myself asking, “When did music get so much less important?” – because the young adults coming of age now are the first really to grow up with the Internet. As a relative Don to their collective Megan (his much younger, hipper wife), I haven’t quite yet encountered my “Tomorrow Never Knows” watershed of bafflement, although I do suspect that the broader significance of Tumblr will always elude me. But I see it nearing.

Indeed, I think it’s one of the things going on with the comparable way-too-much-talked-aboutness of Lena Dunham’s Girls – that beyond the legit (but also sexist-double-standard) complaints about its white, wealthy, urban privilege, there’s also a disconnect between many observers and the part of the culture that it’s coming from.

In the way that someone of Draper’s generation was dumbfounded and annoyed by the boomer kids’ blithe shrugging off of dutifulness and pragmatism, I think some of Girls critics are having trouble distinguishing between the privileged part of its aesthetic and the part that’s really about being post-privacy and about navigating a life in which you are always already over-exposed. Or about being aware how fast things are going and having an undignified kind of haste about getting ahead of that curve. It reads as narcissism, in both cases. And youth is always narcissistic (although it is also often generous).

That’s why Girls compels me, even though I don’t find most of its jokes as funny as some viewers appear to. (It works better for me as a skewed drama than a comedy.) And it’s what I hope Mad Men could use its time exploring rather than running down the clock with swingin’ Sixties cliches – the other side of the Sixties myth: the pain of adjusting, the melancholy of being left behind, the Zen of giving up on being cool, the possible benefits of getting very confused, the rehearsal for mortality that is falling out of touch. That’s an understatement worth making.

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Tuesday Musics: “Ban Marriage,” The Hidden Cameras, 2003

by Carl Wilson

Dedicated to Barack Obama and the state of North Carolina: You know, there are much more radical stances than the one you’ve been finding so difficult.

And as I looked him in the eye, I heard my best friend cry
That we aren’t fools to fall in love, but let coupledom die.

(All: Sorry for the belatedness. It’s not really Tuesday.)


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Little Boxes #91: Pollination

(Beedrill by Jane Mai, 2012)

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Friday Pictures – Adam Yauch, Fight For Your Right (Revisited) video, full length / Beastie Boys


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Tea With Chris: A Kitten Head Struggles Out of Your Face

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Thursday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: The young poet Patricia Lockwood, who often commits her funniest textual sprees in the logographic asylum of Twitter, is one of my very favourite people on the Internet. Her neverending “sexts” series uses the most lizard-brained form of erotic communication as a platform for rampant surrealism and sinuous hookups between cultural detritus. (I’ve written a bunch of my own – she was one of the people who made me want to do weird comedy myself recently.) This clip below is the first time I’ve seen her reading her work, and I love how much her voice sounds like the one that’s cut off after two or three sentences, right down to explaining a mutual fixation, Animorphs. “Tweens, turning into animals, having powers.”

Carl: I’ve had a busy month and haven’t been keeping abreast of former Canadian Idol finalist Carly Rae Jepsen’s slow conquest of the world. I’d heard her stutter-step teasing hit “Call Me Maybe” a bunch of times, enjoyed the cute video, and thought little more of it. Luckily, my friend, the ever-keen-eared and expansive musical humanitarian Ann Powers, has been paying attention to the way that a pretty casual same-sex-crush joke in the video has turned the song into an improbable vehicle for guys on YouTube to kid around about their masculinity, in a way that seems like a signal that big parts of our culture are finally getting over the idea that homophobia is somehow the root and foundation of being a man. Ann’s post is also packed chockablock with links, so be prepared to lose 45 minutes or so in giddy (mostly) pleasure.

Likewise, even if you’re not a media person, this Tumblr about what being an editor is like a lot of the time is, as a friend said, “just a fantastic collection of gifs, under any circumstances.”

The Toronto Standard‘s out-of-nowhere ode to the singing saw was particularly endearing for recalling the brief halcyon period of James Anderson’s Singing Saw Shadow Show, one of the sweetest “why not?” atmospheric projects I’ve ever been lucky enough to witness   from start to finish.

Evan Kindley has a piece in the LA Review of Books that very thoughtfully, actively and critically (if occasionally fannishly) engages with Jonathan Lethem’s new book about the Talking Heads’ Fear of Music in the 33 1/3 series. Along the way he asks some interesting questions about the album as a (dead?) form, about fandom and narcissism, and about Asperger’s Syndrome as an aesthetic but potentially also an ethics. (Conflict warning: I am briefly mentioned in this piece, but I don’t know Evan.)

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Lynn Crosbie – Life Is About Losing Everything

by Margaux Williamson

I’ve had the good fortune of becoming friends with the writer/academic/cultural critic Lynn Crosbie in the past few years; I have been a fan for much longer. Though she is famous for many things, there was something about her weekly column in the Globe & Mail that I needed and have always paid close attention to. In retrospect, I think, in some ways, her column was teaching me how to talk.

I remember, when I first started reading it years ago, I was living in a gloomy basement by the Leslie Spit and finishing George Elliot’s novel Middlemarch. Middlemarch has an unsual narrator – a narrator that is sometimes omniscient, sometimes addressing you directly, and sometimes trapped within the knowledge limitations that a typical literary character (or human) often has. The confidently wandering nature of the voice, to where it needed to go, was both thrilling and strangely subtle, both reckless and completely masterful. It was a hilarious voice to have in a novel where the main story arc involves an earnest and intelligent young woman, Dorothea, who wants to use her limited powers on this earth to aid the middle-aged Edward in finishing his great work The-Objective-History-of-Everything.

*SPOILER* (Edward turns out to be not-such-a-big-genius.)

I felt an actual sadness in letting this strange voice of Middlemarch go when I finished the 1000 pages. I’m a slow learner and sometimes 1000 pages isn’t enough to understand  a new thing. I remember feeling grateful that Lynn Crosbie’s column came every week – her deeply human and masterful voice was just as thrilling to me as George Elliot’s had been. I think Lynn Crosbie’s column helped me to learn, slowly and in my bones, that speaking clearly, from where ever you happen to be standing, with the information you happen to have, accepting of flexibility and imperfection, can be a thousand times deeper and more useful than the boring tomb of carefully constructed cliches that Middlemarch’s Edward hoarded and handed down with shaky authority from that fancy desk he had in his study.

In Lynn Crosbie’s column,  there are no qualifiers, there is no fear, there is no condescension, there is no sense that the topics or subjects aren’t heavy enough or in the proper location for the world’s spotlight and respect (or respectful wrath!). She is always just getting down to business, starting or participating honestly and earnestly and humorously in a conversation that she is invariably an asset to.

I was thinking about Crosbie’s work recently (and its effect on me) because, in April, I read her new book of poetic prose Life Is About Losing Everything. Though is about that, about losing everything, when you look up from the book while riding on Toronto’s Dufferin bus, everyone and everything looks so much more valuable.

Though I know her work very well, I was still kind of amazed at both the depth and the strange brightness of this book. Her heavy talent and heavy intelligence somehow makes her genius seem so light and natural. Maybe in a way it is, and it’s the living that’s so hard. It’s written in short chapters, and involves my always-favourite art project: how to take the bones of loss and meaninglessness and make meaning.

It is my favourite book of hers so far. I’ll be co-hosting the book’s launch, under The Production Front, along with House of Anansi Press at The Mascot on May 10th.

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