Tag Archives: Ann Powers

Tea With Chris: The Past Isn’t Past

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: These photos of abandoned suitcases from an insane asylum in New York state exist somewhere between social history and a thoroughly depressing short story.

Carl: Somebody this week (apologies, I’ve lost track of who) reminded me of this 2004 column by Josh Kun about diasporic Uruguayan-Jewish musician Jorge Drexler, who wrote a song imagining himself Polish in the Holocaust, and then when that song was misappropriated by Israeli nationalists, wrote another imagining himself as an Arab in Israel. It’s a little bit as if, after Ronald Reagan tried to ride the tails of Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen had responded by writing a new one called Born in the Republic of Cuba. Josh wrote:

Milonga del moro jud’o would have been provocative at any point in the Israeli/Palestinian past, but with lines like ‘I didn’t give anyone permission to kill in my name,’ it has an added urgency in the wake of the Sharon administration’s assassination of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin in the name of ‘self-defense’ and ‘the war against terrorism.’ Both justifications are misnomers. Self-defense is hard to argue in a fight between aggressors set on each other’s decimation. And Sharon’s war is less a war against terrorism and more a war of terrorism, of terror begetting terror, blood begetting blood, of living and dying by a sword that you won’t let go of. …  When he sings, ‘There’s no death that doesn’t also hurt me,’ it’s not the vitriolic condemnation of a politician but a poet’s sad statement of what ought to be a self-evident truth.”

Sadly, change the names in that paragraph and the sentiment is equally applicable to this week. Here is the song.

This manifesto from a group of infuriated, frustrated young people in Gaza is much less gentle in tone but equally alive to self-evident truths. (The Guardian has some background.)

Healing balms are to be heard in this vocal bath from Isla Craig, or in these Basement Tapes (with ukelele, found sound and vocals) from Karinne Keithly. (Help her make more here.)

Meanwhile, on the much-more-minor-skirmishes front, a lot of people in my Internet bubble were frustrated with the tired, well-meaning but wrong-headed piece by Princeton professor Christy Wampole in the New York Times last week about “hipsters” and “irony.” Hardly worth talking about except for this generous, broad-minded response from (who else?) Ann Powers. A highlight:

“Beyond economics, the thrift-store lifestyle and its more recent booming variant, artisanal culture, forges a link with history for young people with shaky cultural family ties. Snicker as you bite into the lovingly prepared poutine you bought from a truck, but also recognize that learning hands-on stuff, like food preparation or knitting or even mastering a fixed-gear bike, offers people a path out of the maze of chain stores and cold cubicles that dominates our daily lives. That path can lead to a mirage: Romanticizing the past is a convenient way to avoid its long-embedded problems, from racism and sexism to the drudgery of many working people’s days. But insofar as these activities involve the body — moving in time-honored ways as you try a classic dance step or chop some wood — they can fix an alienated relationship with tradition, forging a link that’s personal and real.”

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Tea With Chris: Ill-Advised Advice

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: My favourite lines from the Trina remix of “Actin’ Up”: “fuck boy, I mean fuck boys,” “suppress his face til he asphyxiate,” Na’Tee rhyming “diva” with “PETA,” “wreck your favourite rapper and replace him,” the background cries that sound like somebody sampled Ragnarok.

Carl: I was excited today to see this news from Quebec, which is not only the rare case of a triumph for a progressive protest movement but also apparently a scoop for my journalistic alma mater. Way to go, former-me’s of the future-now.

Rachel Giese encounters her kid’s narrow-minded, anti-gay teacher and instead of just striking back, reflects on the riskiness of education itself, and that every family has horizons it’s afraid to see expanded.

A day in the life of an independent musician in this supposedly fantastic era for the DIY artist.

Who doesn’t love self-help? Who doesn’t love absurd artifacts of past social mores? The two come together on Obsolessons, a blog devoted to the ill-advised advice of yesteryear.

And finally, we can’t all have long conversations with Bonnie Raitt. But we can all listen to Ann Powers have one.

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Tea With Chris: Bad Mirror

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

Chris: This is kind of eerie. I like that his uniform appears to be pink, though.

“The deputy leader of Sunderland City Council said she hopes Margaret Thatcher ‘burns in hell’ on social networking site Facebook.” My dad’s hometown! “Social networking site Facebook”!

Send a suggestively blank email to Eileen Myles (well, okay, to her publisher) and she/they will give you something good.

Like Carl, I’m going to indulge in a bit of self-promotion: Godard films as R&B songs.

Carl: Quick! Today’s the last day Toronto artist Seth Scriver and Vancouver’s Shayne Ehman are raising money to make the second half of their autobiographical cartoon Asphalt Watches, about driving across Canada in sweaty-little-monster form. Check out the preview on Indie Gogo and I think you’ll agree you want to see the rest.

This syllabus is a very useful resource for any teacher who wants to address issues around the Occupy movement, or anyone who wants to do more independent reading on same. The course itself presents some interesting anthropological-pedagogical-political issues: The professor seems to be asking the students to take part in the movement for a grade. How would other activists feel about that? How about other teachers and students? I’m not against it – it’s not a mandatory course, after all. Just intrigued. Her argument: “As a class, we will have scrupulous contingency plans in place for each field visit, including buddy-systems, phone trees, and meeting places determined in advance. As a regular participant in the Occupy movement, however, I can say with absolute certainty that there is no foreseeable risk in teaching this as a field-based class. On the contrary, the risks of disengaged scholarship seem more profound.”

Dept of Self-Promotion: Ann Powers, Daphne Carr and I were asked to discuss Simon Reynolds’ much-praised Retromania book for a panel discussion on Bookforum. That was a couple of months ago, but the results just went up on the website this week. When we had the exchange it seemed like we were the only negative voices on the book (I also wrote about it on Slate last week). But now other dissenters are starting to surface, too.

Now, what kind of cultural recycling is this? “HI!! JACK! You’ll find your fortune in Chinatown! … Your love is broken into Five Easy Pieces!”

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Tea With Chris: Sofia Cosplay

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

Carl: Psychoanalyst-essayist Adam Phillips, one of my favourite writers, talks to human-rights activist Sameer Padania: “This is where an information culture counts against us. People need to be educated into believing that evocation is more important than information. If we could bear listening to people, without trying to understand what they’re saying, we would get more from them. Effectively, psychoanalysis listens for the incoherencies that are saying more, or something other, than the coherences. It’s got something to do with the musicality of people’s voices and intonations; it’s a form of listening that’s less hypnotized and distracted by their coherences.”

Your call: Is Kate Bush’s new album, as my friend Ann argues here, “just what the best of Bush’s work has done since she burst on the scene, Spandex bat wings flapping, at the dawn of the New Wave era. It melds extravagant tales to unconventional song structures, and spirits the listener away into Bush’s distinctive hyperreality”? Or is it, as my friend Patrick has found, “feeble, empty, mindlessly repetitive, adolescently self-indulgent and, more than anything else, boring. … How does a great chef come to offer the world cold hot dogs in his own restaurant with a straight face?”

Tom McCarthy, author of The Remainder and C, eulogizes the communications theorist Friedrich Kittler, author of Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, while lovingly lampooning his acolytes, actually known as the Kittlerjugend. Tribute and travesty at once, it’s a ticklish balancing act, but McCarthy finesses it.

What would Kittler have to say about this? Christianity, remixed as crypto-postmodernist poetry. (Thanks to Sasha Chapin for the diversion.)

Chris: Rich Juzwiak judged a child beauty pageant and the resulting essay is amazing, venturing into this demimonde of flattery, rhinestones and outlandish performance with the perspective of a temporary insider. He ends up demystifying the pageant circuit’s notoriously strange image somewhat, but one can only do so much: “The weirdest celebrity emulation was Sofia Coppola, as brought to us by a child in the 11-13 group named Courtney. Her dress looked like an old-time director’s slate, bordered in thick, diagonal black and white stripes and featuring a blank template on the chest (‘Movie: ________’). Clearly, someone had found this and thought, ‘Who’s a reasonably young, attractive, brunette, gawky director? Oh right. You’re Sofia Coppola.’ She danced around with an actual slate to a disco version of ‘Hooray for Hollywood,’ much as I presume Sofia Coppola does on her days off.”

Five facetious future literary movements, from noird to salvagepunk.

Jessica of the K-pop group SNSD does not fuck with cucumbers.

Oh, Frank O’Hara.


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Tea With Chris: Holy Halo, Batman

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

Carl: In a week that felt at once slow and frantic, I found this montage of Robin’s “Holy ____ ” exclamations from the campy 1960s Batman series a kind of giggly meditation vehicle – with a poetic rhythm that reminded me of Allen Ginsberg’s “America” (“America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?”) or more directly of this passage in Howl: “The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy! Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an angel!” Or at least, in this case, Batman is.

The sinister silliness of America and of Toronto this week were best encapsulated, among many commentaries, in a Toronto Standard piece by Ivor Tossell that suggested a perfect name for the style of political sabotage both the Republicans in Congress and the Rob Ford administration here at home are indulging right now: Uncompetence.

Most of Erroll Morris’s films are distinguished, among the documentary field, by not striving for of-the-moment relevance, for what journalists call a “peg,” but taking up subjects that are slightly out of time and have an inherent gravity, an intrinsic fascination. Still, he has to have been tickled, as the Murdoch scandal-sheet empire was going up in flames, for this to be the week that he was releasing a movie called Tabloid.

But is silliness always sinister? Ann Powers on the NPR music blog kicked off a debate this week, not so much about whether the widespread resentment of the Black-Eyed Peas is warranted, but why it is so virulent and out of proportion to the seriousness of the offence. There were a lot of responses but the most thoughtful to me was this one by Chris Burlingame: “When you dismiss a type of music because it doesn’t appeal to people exactly like you, you can resent it more when you find out just how many people out there that aren’t like you (hint: it’s a lot).”

And sometimes of course silliness is sublime. Check out this early, failed pilot by Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Robbie Coltrane and friends (you can skip the prefatory verbiage if you prefer), which manages to send up sci-fi movies, popular science-history TV magazine shows and dystopian fears – with a serious undercurrent about the dangers of genetic engineering. If only I could go back in time through the Crystal Cube – and get more episodes.

Chris: I love this anecdote unreservedly: “The swords were taken down and the desk was in mid-move when Patton flung open the door and walked in. His rage was instant and fearful. He screamed at the top of his voice, ‘What do you think you’re doing, you unspeakable Hollywood bastards!’ This was only the beginning of a flow of invective of which Blackbeard the Pirate would have been proud. George [Cukor] sighed deeply with resignation. He was not at all frightened. Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo—he had dealt with tantrums all his life. He walked over to the general, who was now nearing the fortissimo apex of his wrath, and put his arm around the shoulder with the four stars on it. ‘Now, General,’ he said, soft-voiced and persuasive, ‘are we going to be silly about this?’”

Inspired literary remix no. 1: a scientist named Dan Warren carefully edited the audio version of Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father to create narration for a made-up creation myth.

Inspired literary remix no. 2: Brian Joseph Davis’ Consumed Guide, a long prose poem distilled from 13090 record reviews by Robert Christgau. Like their source and their surgeon, the seven thousand negative words are often scathingly funny, but there’s another pleasure here too: the vivid tactility of Xgau’s descriptions, an overdose of style and verse.

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Tea With Chris: Florizona –> Torontopia

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

Chris: Back in grade school, the George Grosz drawing that I came across in a textbook rattled me more than anything this side of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The sheer ferocity was disquieting. I mention it because a Grosz design is featured in this arresting collection of Weimar-era book covers, images of industrialism, intrigue and distorted forms from a world on the cusp of annihiliation.

Bill Blackbeard, who passed away last month, saved innumerable pieces of comics history from mouldering decay. Here’s how, and why.

This is not Vince Foster. This is not Swiftboating. This is the dude who passed health care reform as ‘the biggest Affirmative Action in history.’ This is the whitey tape. This is ‘you are an Indonesian welfare thug.’ This is the host of ‘Celebrity Apprentice,’ questioning the intellect of the past editor of the Harvard Law Review. This is the scion of inherited money as populist, and the scion of a teen single-mother as elitist. This is, if you were white, you and the black dude who came before wouldn’t be here. This is we don’t believe you. In other words, this is a racism of the bone.”

Carl: It’s a bit ridiculous how often I bring Ann Powers to tea, but she’s now officially writing and broadcasting for National Public Radio now, and she’s had an especially prolific week. But her fine piece about “lifer bands” – the ones you stick with for decades – stands out especially because it’s about the ever-underappreciated Silos, who’ve got a new album out called Florizona, with this lead single, “White Vinyl,” which is simultaneously hilarious and genuinely sexy in a way that’s very tricky to pull off:

That video confused me a little, because the level of artwork done for it seemed to be disproportionate to what one does for a video, especially for an indie band. But then I discover it was actually a wholesale import of the art by photographer John Eder (who actually cowrote the song), from his book, Florida House (that link on the title should get you to an online flipbook of the whole thing – if it doesn’t work you can get there through the “Portfolio” link on his site), which tells plainspoken tales of growing up in south Florida in the 1970s, with tons of Eder’s work in a vein that I might classify as Googie-Photoshop Expressionism or something. Checkitout.

Type Books, which is just short of being the only remaining independent bookstore in downtown Toronto, is having a birthday party featuring “pop-up” readings from 18 writers tomorrow. You should pop in.

Simple idea but the execution is perfect: Way funnier than I expected.

But the main thing I did this week was write this piece, primarily of local interest. You may want to avoid if you acquired an allergy to the term “Torontopia” in the past decade, but I am hopeful that it recharges and redirects the conversation on some level. Maybe more to follow in the future.

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Temporarily decamped (to the Slate Music Club)

by Carl Wilson

I won’t be posting an original piece here on B2TW this week because I’m busy beating the dead horse of 2010 music with Ann Powers, Jody Rosen and Jonah Weiner over at the Slate Music Club. I posted my list of 50 picks – 25 albums, 25 singles, however you define those terms – this afternoon. (I’ll put the raw-data long list up on my own site Zoilus later in the week.) But rest assured that with that step out of the way, the talk from here will get more wide-ranging, disputatious and refreshing – it’s mainly a What Did It All Mean discussion, not the What’s On Your List And Why Isn’t Your List More Like Mine kind. (Though you bet it snaps right back to that kind in the comments.)

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Tea With Chris: Carl Goes Gaga

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

Chris: America’s vast atomic-weapons project didn’t just keep scientists and military men employed during WWII. There was also a “secret corps” of photographers and filmmakers who recorded each apocalyptic nuclear test, as described in this fascinating New York Times article. I enjoy the absurdity of exhaustively documenting a top-secret program, but what really sticks in the mind is that photo of a bomb’s destructive climax, its explosion filling the sky like an anti-sun.

From the Times again, and Roy Edroso, this obituary…well, just read the lede: “Michael Burn, a British journalist and author whose eventful life included an early flirtation with Nazism; a daring commando raid on the fortified port of St.-Nazaire, France; imprisonment in Colditz Castle; a love affair with the British spy Guy Burgess; and a timely intervention in the aftermath of World War II that saved Audrey Hepburn’s life, died Sept. 3 at his home in North Wales. He was 97.” Nicely done, captain.

Margaux: A recent THIS AMERICAN LIFE hour long audio episode about one police officer against many other police officers. Scary.

Carl: In The Times this week, Camille Paglia used Lady Gaga as a meat-covered club to beat the young with, in classic boomer fashion: “Generation Gaga doesn’t identify with powerful vocal styles because their own voices have atrophied: they communicate mutely via a constant stream of atomised, telegraphic text messages. Gaga’s flat affect doesn’t bother them because they’re not attuned to facial expressions.” Oh, and these autistic automatons don’t like sex, either. (As a friend said, if young people actually were turning off of sex, that would be kind of interesting. Too bad Paglia made it up based on nothing but condescension.)

The mess wouldn’t be worth mentioning except that the wonderful Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times has gone on to seize the occasion to open up a much more inquiring, engaged conversation about the variety of ways women confront and cope with sexuality in today’s music.

In her 40s herself, Powers makes sure to incorporate a voice from the generation under Paglia’s fire, 24-year-old guitarist/violinist Amy Klein of punk band Titus Andronicus, who finds herself in a sense reinventing 1990s riot-grrrl feminism to reassert her right to rock. But Powers also finds much more to consider in Gaga’s eroti-cabaret enigmas: “The truth is, sexuality in pop can’t be pushed aside, or ever exhausted. It’s the main force and subject of the stuff. … The most exciting pop stars, male and female, negotiate this shifting ground and help us understand it better. In the 21st century, this means confronting limits that often seem invisible…

“Woody Guthrie famously wrote This Guitar Kills Fascists on his battered instrument. Gaga turns a bra into a machine gun; [Katy] Perry, always sweeter and more capitulating, spewed whipped cream out of hers. Could it be that the urge female pop stars feel to turn their revealing costumes into weapons is an attempt to instrumentalize sexuality, to foreground and even problematize the fact that it’s the force that moves these women forward?

“Lady Gaga is the most sensational player in a wide field of musicians still struggling to comprehend and express the connections between sexuality and power. Rather than being emotionally impoverished and sexually burnt out, they’re exploring how old feminine paradigms (and masculine ones, within the work of artists such as Eminem or Kanye West) empower and constrict in an age of technologically assisted identity flux.”

By the way, a few people have pointed out that Canadian artist, Jana Sterbak, came up with the whole “meat dress” idea 20 years ago, though of course a flank-steak gown does not read the same hanging from Gaga’s shoulders as Sterbak’s “Vanitas” did hanging in the National Gallery in 1991.

Still, it seems like no one quite recalls what a huge stink (sorry) it made at the time: Along with the outcry over the $1.8-million the Gallery paid for Barnett Newman’s ab-ex painting “Voice of Fire”, the “flesh dress” was almost Canada’s equivalent of the contemporaneous U.S. “culture war,” anti-National Endowment for the Arts furor, when the right wing went after Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, Karen Findley et al for unashamedly seeking new ways to mobilize and upturn sexual (and other) mores. Amid the dismissals and denunciations raining down on Gaga, that seems worth remembering.


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