Monthly Archives: October 2012

Carl’s Tuesday Musics: Tom Waits, “Come On Up to the House”

The songs that come to mind today, amid the storm news, are about offering shelter to those in need, such as this song or that one. Finally I settled on this one. Keep each other safe and warm and, if possible, laughing.

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Little Boxes #114: Frog-Man of the Apocalypse

(from BPRD: The Black Flame, script by John Arcudi and Mike Mignola, art by Guy Davis, 2006)

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Margaux’s Friday Pictures – Hermaphroditus asleep (2nd century AD) artist unknown / mattress sculpted by Bernini (1619) / at the Louvre

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by | October 26, 2012 · 10:00 AM

Tea With Chris: Controlling Forces

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:

Margaux: A great, rigourous article by Lynn Crosbie about the Joker in the Christopher Nolan movies and cinematic/real-world violence. I had been a little bit irritated to see recently that The Dark Knight Rises was still playing at the multiplex. I saw that movie with Chris and Carl, which was fun, Carl continuously shaking his head throughout. But the movie, which is filled with so much thoughtlessness and conservatism,  seemed like it was written by two guys in a room – two guys who don’t have the kind of friends who like to read screenplays and give good feedback. You’d think you’d be able to pay a lot of people for feedback with 300 million dollars. Maybe that’s why everyone in the movie was talking so quietly.

I just read another good rigourous article this morning by Kao Kalia Yang about her trouble with Radiolab. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s really interesting.

My friend Mark Grief over at N+1  will soon be releasing a book called The Trouble is the Banks: Letters to Wall Street. The book is edited together from letters written by Americans to bank executives and directors. In Mark’s words: “I was determined that once we made this book, we would try to put it into the hands of those bankers, and also every Republican and Democratic politician who needed to hear these citizens’ words”. You can pre-order the book here. “Any profits from this book (and all your donations) will go to getting this book to people who need the call of conscience or inspiration, or will be re-donated to campaigns for economic justice, debt relief, or charity.”

Speaking of controlling forces: people’s fear can be very, very funny – best scared bros at a haunted hause of 2012.

Carl: I want to second Margaux’s endorsement of the Yang piece on Radiolab. It’s a really instructive parable of how people with good intentions can go deeply wrong, or perhaps better put, how people who think they always have good intentions can acquire bad intentions and refuse to admit it.

Speaking of well-intentioned, I don’t remember when I first ran across Free to Be … You and Me in my life. I certainly knew a couple of the songs (for better or worse, “It’s All Right to Cry” got down deep) but I think they were second-hand, via Mr. Rogers or something. We didn’t have quite the sophisticated liberal-feminist connections in Brantford, Ont., to bring the news from NYC, and by the time it likely did reach there I was too old. But I know a lot of people for whom it was kind of a childhood bible, and though I laugh at its hippie earnestness a bit, I like how those people turned out. Reading Dan Kois’s 40th-anniversary retrospective series in Slate is illuminating, primarily as a reminder of how we’ve forgotten how big a part of second-wave feminism was concerned with child-rearing issues. Looking at Kois’s evidence, it seems to me like the revolution succeeded in loosening up the strictures of girlhood somewhat, but that boyhood remains a lot more narrow than the Free to Be types hoped. That doll-play is still verboten, for instance. You might argue that this was because boys were boys and already had everything they wanted, and that’s what male privilege means. That’s not quite how I experienced it as a not-so-gender-conforming boy (see my previous post), but that might not be quite so solvable a syndrome, for the outliers.

Yet if that’s true, why does it feel like we now have a couple of generations in which so many women do seem to have a more expansive, inclusive view of the world and yet feel faced with an unending parade of trolls and rape-culture douchebags? Is this some unstoppable biological or cultural gap, or could it just be that there’s a lot more boy-rearing revolutionizing to be done? Not sure, but revisiting a point when people were super-hopeful, perhaps even foolishly hopeful, feels valuable in that light.

Otherwise I am just following election news and thinking about everything they don’t talk about. Sigh.

Chris: A few days ago I was thinking about how somebody began their year by trying to make “babu” catch on as a rap neologism. “You’re my babu, my baby and my boo.”

Jason draws Nancy of Nancy a la Lynch.

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Filed under carl wilson, chris randle, linkblogging, margaux williamson

Tell It Slant: Of Pink Boys, Masters, Muppets and/or Men

by Carl Wilson

There’s a recent essay by a person I know a little bit, the poet and critic Stephen Burt, called “My Life As a Girl,” in which he explores a twilit place in the gender continuum – that he likes to wear women’s clothing sometimes, but only sometimes, and doesn’t feel like he is a woman, but maybe that he’d wish to be one, at least sometimes. (That’s him above.) He muses that he is a grownup version of the “pink boys” that the NYT Magazine wrote about in August (that piece is well worth reading too).

I liked Stephen’s essay the way I like anything that tangles up the strings of the either-or. In the movement to recognize trans-people’s identities, as I think generally happens when there’s a breakthrough of recognition, realignments of categories, there’s a tendency to talk as though the boundaries are fixed and definitive. This is often necessary, in order to make practical demands or simply to establish some clear space. But there’s also some losses and diminishments that happen there, at least temporarily. “My Life As a Girl” reminded me of the way “queer” was used more in the 1990s to put forward the skewed inbetweenness of much of life and identity. No matter how you define yourself, you have a queerness to you, and Stephen’s piece really vividly challenges us to honour that – to “tell it slant,” as Emily Dickinson advised.

I most identified with the section in which Stephen talks about his attraction to “twee” music, an indie-pop subgenre in which “nobody wanted, or tried, to be a real man.” In my aesthetic life, I’ve often embraced the apparently weak and girly, or at least the brazenly non-masculine – poetry, soap-operatic melodramas and miniseries, the fantastical, and so on. But as I’ve aged I’ve been drawn more to varieties of realism than I once was, and some of that tweeness has definitely drained away. I appreciated having the frillier, featherier part of my taste tickled by Stephen’s story.

Two very different movies I’ve seen lately touched a similar nerve, both of them through music. (And note, I’m going to “spoil” things about both, so if that kind of thing raises your umbrage, act accordingly.) The first is The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest epic, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix squaring off against each other in a life-duel – it’s a mentor-student relationship, a father-son one, and finally a suppressed love affair. That’s hinted at in various sequences in the movie but only fully acknowledged in their final scene together, when the Master sings “Slow Boat to China” to his wayward ward, shakily as a confession, almost an apology – that perhaps if he’d admitted his infatuation earlier, their dealings with each other needn’t have been so violent, one long wrestling lock between two scorpions.

The story is hypermasculine, although ultimately the most powerful person in it is a woman, Amy Adams’ beautifully controlled performance as the Master’s vigilant wife, who by seeing through the absurdity of the boys’ games is able to turn them to her advantage, at least as much as her subservient position allows.

Like Anderson’s last film, There Will Be Blood, it’s about (among many other themes) the way that blinding your heart to the queer fractures in your self can be fatal, though how deliberate the resulting annihilation is (“fast living, slow suicide”?), it’s impossible to be sure.

And then there’s another recent Amy Adams movie – the one with Jason Segel, songs by Brett McKenzie (Flight of the Concords) and a whole bunch of muppets. And the Oscar-winning song, “Man or Muppet.”

There’s another male dyad here, but this is the triumphantly queer, comic version in contrast to The Master’s tragic one.

The queer hinge in the whole Muppets movie is Jason Segel’s relationship with his “little brother,” a muppet named Walter, who is small, asexual and childlike. It’s amusing throughout the film that the fact that his brother is a muppet a tenth his size has never given Segel pause until now, and what to make of that is  unstable – at times it seems Walter might have some kind of developmental disability, or has somehow been traumatized (the absent parents, perhaps).

But the emotional crux of the plot is that Walter has to separate from Segel to take his place in the muppet world – a very queer storyline, about moving from birth family to chosen family, which Walter manages in a beautifully campy gambit I won’t give away. And Segel, meanwhile, has to separate from Walter to vouchsafe his hetero-masculinity with Adams, in line with the “manchild to family man” arc of a lot of the Judd Apatow-style, non-puppet-musical comedies that Segel’s normally in. (That said it’s worth mentioning that Adams’ very girly character is first seen repairing a car and later proves to be a master electrician.)

But the “Man or Muppet” song serves, in what might otherwise be a very rote story, to acknowledge and mourn the double-edgedness of that choice, with both Walter and Segel singing about their mutual queer-identity crisis into mirrors where the muppet sees himself as a man (Walter sees the actor who plays the Aspergers-savant case Sheldon on Big Bang Theory) and Segel sees himself in muppetface (which is at once funny and unheimlich). But the trick is in the chorus when they sing: “If I’m a muppet, then I’m a very manly muppet,” and “If I’m a man, that makes me a muppet of a man.” For all kinds of practical, life-map kinds of reasons, or at least in the eyes of Hollywood, you may have to make some socially legible choices around sex-gender identity as an adult, but you do need at least the leeway to affirm, the way Segel does at the end: “I’m a muppety man/ That’s what I am.”

(unfortunately I can’t find the actual movie clip, only the official trailer-ized one, in which other scenes from the movie are cut in – it doesn’t quite have the same effect, but you’ll get the idea)

… Otherwise you may end up confining your true self in a ship in a bottle, drifting so slowly it will never reach China or any other port, all by itself, alone. By contrast, Segel and Walter’s duet, like Stephen’s essay, is a true anthem for the Ambiguity Liberation Front.

PS: The muppet movie’s other delightful little ode to wholesome perversion is “Me Party” sung in a similar dissociated-duet by Adams and Miss Piggy, which includes a nice little Chaplin tribute, and gleefully owns up to its onanistic subtext in its final line. Adams just shines.


Filed under carl wilson, literature, movies, music, other

Carl’s Tuesday Musics: Tim Daisy & Patrick Breiner

by Carl Wilson

I spent this weekend listening to a fair bit of music in Chicago. If you’d told me in advance the best thing I’d see would be a solo drum set, I wouldn’t have believed you. But it was: Tim Daisy, mesmerizing at the cozy Hungry Brain. I don’t see any solo videos online but you can get a good glimpse of his moves in this duet piece with Madison, WI, saxophonist Patrick Breiner.

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Little Boxes #113: The Blot


(from “Lunatic Lovers” by Suehiro Maruo, date unknown)

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Filed under chris randle, comics

Tea With Chris: Cosignatures

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: Andrew “Noz” Nosnitsky considers the class stratifications in and around rap right now, where a small elite of mainstream stars dispenses favour via cosigns and commercial album sales bear a decreasing correlation (but increasing white-and-middle-class skew) with actual popularity: “It’s a gentrification of taste. Kids with disposable income on the outer perimeters of the culture are dictating its direction because they posses the income to displace the demands of the proverbial hood.” Also, great use of the word “fanute.”

Vladimir Nabokov, yearner for proto-emoticons.

Margaux: Physicists May Have Evidence Universe Is A Computer Simulation –  fun to imagine that the time-based medium of our specific simulacrum is constrained by what typical narratives are always constrained by: time, meaning, conclusion.

Speaking of bad narratives, I’ve been listening to an audio book of Jane McGonigal’s Reality Is Broken. The idea of the book is that video gaming culture makes people feel so vital and engaged that when they stop playing games and return to real life, real life seems broken. The book proposes making the narrative of real life a better story. Or at least that’s what it seems like it’s about so far. Jane McGonigal argues that hard work (in a video game) is more fun than fun. That made me feel pretty smart since I’ve never liked to have fun. It’s pretty hilarious listening to this book on my headphones while walking around town – the book came out last year, but it feels like it came out next year – like bizarre, banal and practical discussions from the not-so-bad, not-so-good near future.

This conversation between liberal actor Alec Baldwin and conservative journalist David Brooks seems way less phony than all this 2012 American presidential debate nonsense. That’s probably because actors are good at making things seem less phony, that’s their number one job. Maybe it should be a rule that only respected or semi-respected actors can become president. Maybe that would make The Movies better.

Speaking of The Movies, I just saw two great ones last night by legendary singer/model/filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin at the Imaginative Film and Media Arts Festival (lots more happening at the festival in Toronto till Oct 21). The first movie was the 1971 short (and Alanis Obomsawin’s first film) Christmas at Moose Factory. The 13 minute film is made from footage of children’s drawings about what Christmas is like at Moose Factory along with the voices of the children talking about their drawings. The structure is smart and simple and captivating. It’s filled with gentleness, curiosity and love. All the good things.

The second movie was Alanis Obomsawin’s most recent The People of the Kattawapiskak River, a documentary about the state of emergency called in Northern Ontario in 2011 by Theresa Spence, the chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation. That is very painful subject matter but the movie has a similar feel to Alanis Obomaswain’s first movie – with love and strength and humour always close at hand. It was interesting to have her oldest movie and her most recent played together. You could see the consistency of her specific way of seeing things, even from movies made 40 years apart.  It was interesting to see that both movies functioned completely as whole works of art  and also as whole works of activism without sacrificing either category. It was good to be reminded that love and patience can be tremendously political.

The Bloor Cinema in Toronto where it was shown was packed with a rowdy and diverse audience. People from all backgrounds cheered and jeered and laughed along with the movie – with tears mostly coming during the moments of impressive strength and optimism.  Even with all the horrible problems they’re having, it was easy to see from the movie that the community featured is a very special one. It was nice to “meet” all the people who passed by on the screen. One of the people was a lawyer who fought in court for the people of the Attawapiskat Nation. I can’t find her name on the internet, but I would fight for her to be president. The movie was in two episodes, like two episodes of a television program. I’m not sure if more are to be made.

During the Q&A, Alanis Obomsawin talked about how, while taking pictures at a construction site in the reserve, she was told repeatedly and by different people that she was in the wrong place, that she needed to leave. She laughed on stage as she talked about how she just smiled and agreed, but didn’t leave until she was finished doing what she needed to do. Maybe it’s that kind of serious playfulness that accounts for the main feeling that the movie left you with – that there is lots to be done, lots of new ways to go about things, that the hardest things are manageable, that everyone can play a part.

Maybe that serious playfulness can be credited for making Alanis Obomsawin appear to be the most beautiful, and youthful, 80 year old I have ever seen. As I was leaving the after party around midnight, I noticed that she was still dancing.

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Filed under carl wilson, chris randle, linkblogging, margaux williamson, movies, visual art

Margaux’s Friday Pictures – Sassetta (Stefano di Giovanni,1392–1450)



St. Anthony Beaten by Devils


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Carl’s Tuesday Musics: “Big Brown Eyes,” The Old 97s: Then and Later

The Old 97s at Local 506 in Chapel Hill, NC, July, 1997.

The Old 97s at Cactus Music, Houston, TX, Oct. 2010.

In Chicago this weekend I’m going to catch one of those “90s-band-plays-all-of-beloved-album” shows, in this case the veteran alt-country band The Old 97s, doing 1997’s Too Far to Care. It’s easy to feel embarrassed about attending these sorts of things. Nostalgia is so shame-ridden and uncool. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting some musical company as one grows old, or as I like to put it, “careens sidelong toward the grave.” Especially when the band isn’t re-forming as a cash grab but has remained a going concern. It’s no more embarrassing than pretending we’re still just as young, that time hasn’t passed, that we have no memories. So long as  wallowing in them is not all we do.

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