Tag Archives: Dan Bejar

Tea with Chris: ‘Is Your Hate Pure?’

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: Uugh. James Cameron, director of faux-moral movies, buys a lot of land in another country. This seems so real-wrong. Are people really still allowed to buy land?

A video of how your environment can affect you!

This is such a weirdly entertaining article on the Occupy Wall Street Summer Camp by Alan Feuer.  When there is not an intoxicating swell of action, patience and humour prove nourishing .

The teenagers of the Torontonians and the art company Mammalian Diving Reflex (with Darren O’Donnell in the mix) are having a sleepover at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel on the night of August 10th. The event is called Dare Night: Lockdown, sleepover with one eye open – An all-night horrifying sleepover dare-filled lockdown night. These aren’t the boring old-fashioned art days where the artists on stage challenge the bourgeois audience with difficult ideas about how culture should be and send that audience home so they can think about that. These are the new days, when the artists simply change all the rules for one night (or in this case 17 hours) and the audience job is to endure a new world. I can assure you, as someone who sometimes hesitates to “participate” in art, other than probably being completely delighted, you’d also probably be completely safe here. Sort of. Maybe. Begins August 10 at 7 pm, ends August 11, 12:00pm (17 HORRIFYING HOURS!). Free.

“This is the way the world ends” – A thoughtful article from Terrence Rafferty on the new crop of unheroic apocalyptic movies. My favourite: “Humanity is about to expire, but this time it’s personal.”

Carl: I don’t know why but my teacup is overflowing this week.

This account of the “increasingly bizarre and beyond logic” trial of the Pussy Riot art-activists in Moscow is at once entertaining and appalling. Another perspective on the case comes from Natalie Zina Walschots, who writes about other cases of prosecution of heavy-metal musicians who “stand in the sacred heart of things and scream.”

Here is Jacob Wren doing his own screaming as he generously blogs his novel in progress, Rich and Poor. The kinds of issues Jacob likes to masticate – class, violence, money, art, complicity – are also the meat of this conversation between art critic Martha Buskirk and Alexis Clements of the “Hyperallergic” website, titled “Art’s Corrosive Success.” And another angle on the art world’s insular economy comes from Allx Rule and David Levine in this satirical attack on “International Art English.”

Two great foes of corrosive success (whatever other corrosions they succumbed to) died in the past week or so, Gore Vidal and Alexander Cockburn. Neither produced a masterpiece, except for their lives. Vidal, that terrible-wonderful patrician-queen walking paradox, is being feted everywhere. But Cockburn, who was a columnist for The Nation when I worked there (Vidal also had a long association with the magazine), is less widely remembered today. My favourite comment about him this week came from a friend: “He was the real Christopher Hitchens” – that is, the fearless and unkowtowing political critic and scourge that Hitchens set himself up to be but too often let down (as his former friend Cockburn lamented). Michael Tomasky’s appreciation is ambivalent but does get at what was important about Alex; his former editor (and a former mentor of mine) JoAnn Wypijewski’s more personal tribute gets at what was beautiful about him:

“Is your hate pure?” he would ask a new Nation intern, one eyebrow raised, in merriment or inquisition the intern was unsure. It was a startling question, but then this was—it still is—a startling time. For what the ancients called avarice and iniquity Alex’s hate was pure, and across the years no writer had a deadlier sting against the cruelties and dangerous illusions, the corruptions of empire. But, oh, how much more he was the sum of all he loved.

So let us celebrate our surviving scourges: Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury nailed one of the most neglected scandals of the current U.S. election season, vote-suppression legislation, with his historically acute series this month, “Jimmy Crow’s Comeback Tour.” And few have been paying heed while Canadian doctors stand up against similarly prejudicial bullshit on our side of the border, the Harper government’s cutoff of health care services to refugee applicants.

All right, enough. Now I have to go decide whether to make snack chips out of prosciutto or kale. Maybe I’ll mix them up together. Like a pussy riot! Like a pussy galore!

Chris: Terrible-wonderful patrician-queen and a gourmand-vulture too. When news of Vidal’s death emerged the first thing I thought of was Suddenly, Last Summer, the gloriously overwrought melodrama he worked on with frenemy Tennessee Williams (who once said of Vidal and Truman Capote, sounded both appalled and impressed, that “you would think they were running neck-and-neck for some fabulous gold prize”). Being a member of the cohort that learned about queerness from John Waters’ Simpsons cameo, this was the second thing: “Friends? Ha! These are my only friends: Grown-up nerds like Gore Vidal. And even he’s kissed more boys than I ever will.”

Dan Bejar explains a fair number of Dan Bejar songs: “I always loved music, but listening to rock seemed kind of gauche. It was not something that a human actually does; it was like some other world. The idea of it seemed very exotic.”

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

Tea With Chris: Vote Oulipo

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: Vibe‘s exposé of the venal rap aggregator WorldStarHipHop entertains and depresses at the same time – there are plenty of rich bottom-feeders online, but site founder “Q” must be among the most delusional, attributing his dubious achievement to a mystical revelation. Arianna Huffington would never explain her page views this cynically, though: “9-to-5 people love to see misery. People want to say, ‘I thought I had it bad, but look at these people.’ That’s what sells.”

Florida Republicans love restricting abortion rights, hate unhelpful legislative references to female bodies. So they’ve banned them too. Maybe a GOP representative is vying for Oulipo membership?

Light cones and “quantum financial products.”

Rich Juzwiak reminded me that I really need to read Hot Stuff, Alice Echols’ recent history of disco: “Echols examines gay macho (the 70’s trend that found gay dudes dressing butch to a stereotypical extent) as a mindfuck. Was it a way of balancing society’s expectations with gays’ innate humanity (allowing gayness to be tolerated as long as it wasn’t faggy), or was it more subversive, breaking the association of passivity and femininity with homosexuality, since so many man’s men-seeming dudes were taking it up the butt? Who knows? It’s so complicated! Echols ends the section with a quote from Guy Hocquenghem: ‘Our assholes are revolutionary!’ Yeah, that sounds about right.”

Carl: Margaux didn’t tell us she was working on a book, especially in such an awesome way.

Further afield, it’s sad to see LCD Soundsystem stop (and especially not to see them live this weekend, since I never have), but as Nitsuh Abebe eloquently limns in this New York Magazine piece, they’re doing it to leave the most perfect history behind them. The deftness of that gesture is like everything they have done – working with the ultimately mundane material of scenes and sounds and collector-ness but seeking the exact place in those subjects where they crack and let the whole universe in. Their humour, always double-sided, murmurs, “This would be bullshit, except that it’s my life.” And at that point the specific milieu ceases to matter, because that’s a T-shirt everybody can wear.

In a similar spirit, this is an obvious choice, but there’s nothing gained in clever ways to say goodbye.

Otherwise, if you are in Montreal tonight or any of these places, do whatever you must to catch the current Destroyer tour. (Except try to get in with fake ID when you are actually of age. Events witnessed last night told us that was a dumb idea. Get yourself real ID, okay?) There were people at the show last night who said they came prepared, even wanting, to dislike it, and could not. Freed of the need to play guitar by an eight-piece swirling horns-and-pedals-and-everything band, Dan Bejar becomes a whole other performer – not an extroverted one, quite, but a crooner who exudes relaxation and pleasure in the company of these people and all this sound, not to mention a healthy bang on a tambourine. If he’d done this a decade ago it’s hard to imagine how swish he’d be at it now, but fuck regret, the time has come. Also, the crowd last night was B-A-N-A… y’know what I mean. Gonzo excited. Their ironic moustaches were standing on end. Only one note: Soundmen, please keep keyboardist/vocalist Larissa Loyva’s voice higher in the mix. The duets are important. Not to pick nits. We Destroyer devotees are arrant knaves, all, believe none of us, but go thy ways to a clubbery, posthaste.

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

Destroyer Does Dad-Rock? Discuss! (Kaputt, Again)

by Chris Randle

Carl wrote a long post about Destroyer’s Kaputt last week, and on Tumblr there was much rejoicing: “Finally, commentary worthy of the album.” I wasn’t going to top that, so I decided to focus on the previous critical discussion around this obsession-forming record. Carl alluded to it: various writers bringing up “dad rock” like Roxy Music and Steely Dan, or fixating on Dan Bejar’s use of “cheesy” musical signifiers. (Rifle through the 800-posts-and-counting ILX thread to find arguments for and against those interpretations.) Why not test their theories on an actual dad? Mine was born in the early 1950s. Like Bryan Ferry, half of the Eurythmics and Kenickie, he is from Sunderland. The only Kaputt reference point I gave to him before putting it on was “Vancouver.”

Dad: It’s playing “Chinatown.”

Chris: It’s supposed to be!

Dad: It doesn’t sound very modern. It sounds like something you’d hear 20-30 years ago. The first two, especially the second one, were kind of Bowie-like. When I was growing up, you would call this “soft rock.”

Chris: His earlier records never really sounded like this – they didn’t have the sax solos or the trumpets. The closest one is an album called Your Blues, but its similarities also seem radically different because all the music was made with MIDI simulations. Even his voice is a little restrained here, when it’s normally very, uh, idiosyncratic. A lot of critics have cited later Roxy Music as a possible inspiration. Bejar himself, too.

Dad: Roxy Music had a bigger edge. This is more conventional, I would say, the music anyway. If you listen to the Roxy Music stuff, the guitar often sounds…jagged in some sense.

[Chris is relieved that his dad didn’t go for “angular”]

Dad: These lyrics are…interesting. “Wise, old, black and dead in the snow…Don’t talk about the South…”

Chris: They’re made up of text that the artist Kara Walker gave to him. Bejar returns to America over and over again in his lyrics, as a subject or a symbol, but I don’t think he’s ever mentioned race before.

Dad: It’s okay, but it doesn’t have that distinctiveness of a Bowie or a Steely Dan. Mainly I think because of the music, it’s too monotonous. They need a bit of quirkiness in it.

Chris: You mean, aside from the lyrics?

Dad: Some of the lyrics are quirky! Why is he singing about Melody Maker and NME?

[Chris tries to think of an answer that doesn’t involve the word “metacommentary,” gives up]

Dad: This sounds a bit different, it doesn’t fit with the rest of the album at all. It’s psychedelic and it’s like…LSD music.

Chris: It’s his disco single. Sort of.

Dad: I think this track was added to fill the record up.

Chris: The vinyl version has a 20-minute-long instrumental sequenced before this one, though! Maybe the hardcore fans just couldn’t get enough “Bay of Pigs.”

Dad: Quite good to listen to, overall. Some of the lyrics are good. It’s harmless, I would say. It sounded…languid. This 25-year-old throwback to jazzy soft rock. You never get the sense that Brian Ferry is just sitting around singing, it always sounds like they’re in a club or some other smoky, boozy place. [Bejar has said that he recorded some of Kaputt‘s vocals while lying around or “fixing myself a sandwich.”]

Chris: One review invoked the cover for Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies’ Man – it argued that Bejar is playing a similar character, this aging playboy who’s become a little wiser and faintly amused by it all.

Postscript: I’m not sure what conclusions to draw from this conversation, if any, but it is funny that lots of music nerds (myself included) hear jarring, almost toxic beauty in Kaputt when my dad just thought it was blandly pleasant. Épater that!


Filed under chris randle, music

Kaputt by Destroyer (2011)

by Carl Wilson

Two minutes into “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker,” perhaps the most-talked-about song on Destroyer’s new album, Kaputt, I start getting insistent tugs on my ear from this 35-year-old antecedent (the guitarist in the video even looks a little like Destroyer’s Dan Bejar):

“Lovin’ You” always bedeviled me, with its insipidly fluid bliss and its deeply dubious central assertion, “Lovin’ you is easy ’cause you’re beautiful.” Which makes me want to sing along with Dan on “Suicide Demo” (words provided by artist Kara Walker): “You’ve got it all … wrong. You’ve got it all backwards, girl.”

As the entire tradition of romantic lyric back to Sappho underlines in red ink, being in love with someone especially beautiful is generally not described as “easy.” Khaela Maricich (The Blow) once joked that “Lovin’ You” was the only song she could think of “just about happily being in love with someone and everything’s great and you’re just chillin’ there together”; she mimicked the way Minnie Riperton’s verses trail off into non-verbal babble as proof of how little you can say about that state, if it even exists and isn’t just a utopian lie we tell.

There’s a 1975 glibness in “Lovin’ You”‘s use of the word “beautiful” – yr beautiful, baby, don’t ever change, yr beautiful, I’m beautiful, we’re both so beautiful to me when U walk behind me as I gaze into this mirror naked, upper lip & nostrils caked w/ layer on layer of cocaine, & btw lines we come down on a half-bottle of Jack. Lovin’ U is EZ, when U can get it up tho that’s less & less often…

Less cynically, given its period context, maybe Riperton’s alluding to “Black is beautiful,” staking claim on that utopian story specifically for black men and black women together: given the wreckage slavery and racism have wrought on black families and relationships, an even more utopian, radical proposition than usual. (Worth mentioning here because, through [consensually] appropriating Walker’s words, this is the first Destroyer song I can think of that’s even obliquely about race.)

Like a lot of utopian slogans, “Black is beautiful” always had a difficult undertow: Did it mean that Black Power (as the Angela Davis/Huey Newton image  could imply) belonged to the young and fine, not the aging, broke-ass, wrinkly-mugged, poor, hungry or cranky? Many Sixties ideals were doomed to premature decadence because “don’t trust anybody over 30” tilted against the bodily, biological destiny of the radical subjects themselves.

On a simpler level, the hook of “Lovin’ You” always drove me nuts because of its implicit corollary: On the other hand, lovin’ you would be difficult-to-impossible, because you’re one homely mofo. I’m out of your league. What’s ‘easy’ for me has to flatter my shallow narcissism, the way those glissandos and flutes do. (NB this is the song saying this, not Riperton herself.)

So have at it: Is it easier to love the beautiful? In aesthetics this is the riddle of the Sphinx, with her upper lip and lower nostrils caked in layer upon layer of history, mystification, rejection and body glitter licked off the ski-slope bosom of a life model.

Alexander Nehamas has written, “Beauty is the most discredited philosophical notion – so discredited that I could not even find an entry for it in the index of the many books in the philosophy of art I consulted in order to find it discredited. … For it is the judgment of aesthetic value itself – the judgment of taste – that is embarrassing.”

Before Kaputt, Destroyer seemed a strong partisan of that discomfort, holding that the beautiful – the materially beautiful, the well-made, sensually satiating, seductive, limpid or opulent – is the enemy of love, or at best the frenemy: It wasn’t shut out – this wasn’t noise music; there were melodies, chord voicings, cadences resolving, singers going “ladada,” as well as mentions of pretty girls and Rubies – but those things came in for heavy ribbing and skepticism.

Kaputt’s closest precedent among Destroyer albums to now was Your Blues, his previous “farewell to rock” in favour of more butterfly-wings textures, but because the strings and woodwinds were MIDI simulations they came with their ironies programmed in, their “embarrassment” in Nehamas’ terms: With its laminated surfaces reflecting back the acknowledged tackiness of their prettiness and amiability, the record kept itself on the “right” side of camp (that is, the left side). Kaputt works without that hedge.

People who didn’t like Your Blues called it ugly, jokey, anti-musical, while people who don’t like Kaputt, like some members of the Polaris Prize jury at large, call it “wallpaper music.” Your Blues threatened you with gorgeousness barely enough to lure your feet to the trap door and your neck to the noose. Kaputt just comes on gorgeous and necks with you and leaves you to wonder whether you are now in Heaven or in Hell, or (forget it) Chinatown, Jake.

With an opening track titled for that interzone where all rules are suspended or reversed, we’re put on notice this is still Destroyer here, still Shiva among the aspects of the godhead– the trickster, transformer, prankster, Heath-Ledger’s-Joker of music, the lunging voice darting between levels of rhetoric. Did I ever tell you how I got these scars? – setting in spin a rotating display of mendacity: I got them on the Nile, rescuing Jews from Pharaoh; I bought them from a dominatrix at a hefty price; my mother kissed me too hard as a baby; they’re all self-inflicted with my K-Mart calligraphy pen …

“You terrify the land,” Bejar sings on “Blue Eyes.” “You are pestle and mortar. You’re first love’s New Order, Mother Nature’s Sun, King of the Everglades, Population One … I write poetry for myself, I write poetry for myself. (Oh, baby.)”

I write poetry for myself, so I let it get pretty silly, but for you I’ll make these crystal baubles of sonic costume jewellery, and you can wear them cockeyed or straight.

At last, Destroyer’s roguishness has lost all trace of brattiness. It’s the music of the rake, the seducer for whom the boudoir is the site of both sustenance and cosmic belly-laugh, a game of chance that – and this is both graciousness and ultimate manipulation – he flatteringly assumes his partner(/listener) can play with equally wised-up gusto.

It’s not just a change of style but a reassessment of stakes, as any alteration in an artist’s relation to Beauty has flat-out got to be. After a mid-period of what now looks a bit like a style outliving its agenda, Kaputt transports us to a plane where pre-emptive radical pessimism reconciles with the biological, with the body – which is to say pop music. After all, this is Bejar’s first record after becoming a father (a transition that for a while found him flirting with giving up on music altogether, as we heard on “Making of Grief Point” in 2010), and as he’s pushing 40.

The stakes used to be cultural life-or-death, even though death was almost certain to win; now the stakes are just plain life-and-death, and since there’s no “almost” in how that pans out, the only smart contrarian way to go is to put some life into it, some pleasure principle, some sensual consolation, while not ignoring the social friction, the bumps and scars (did I tell you where I got them?) that come from bodies shoving against each other to claim resources: “Kara Walker” aside even, there are more explicitly political jibes and japes on this Destroyer record than on any since the early tapes, or at least ones that aren’t transposed into jokes about monarchs,  aristocrats and/or the music industry.

The ingredients of the sound are post-glam 1970s like Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music, “Quiet Storm”-style R&B of the kind Riperton presaged (a lot of people, without mentioning “Lovin’ You,” have compared her voice to that of  Sibel Thrasher, the Vancouver soul-gospel singer whose frequent contributions on Kaputt finally bring counterpoint to all the female foils/projections that have dotted Destroyer lyrics), lovers’ rock like Sade, post-punk Nu-Romantic keyboard bands (the sound of Dan’s adolescence)… all post-radical musics for cultures in recovery and all involving  rehabilitations of Beauty, which after each failed revolution sounds so old and long-forgotten that its reappearance is as startling and exotic as a red-shanked douc.

Dave Hickey famously wrote (referring to Liberace) that “good” taste is just the residue of somebody else’s privilege, but that kind of taste can also be the residue of the radicalism of someone who might have borne your own name: a way of reincorporating, altered, what we once rejected and negated, not having known we might need it to survive the aftermath or at least the afterparty. Either way whether those efforts get received as good taste or bad depends upon where the observer stands on our ignoble effrontery in continuing on past a story’s designated end.

Most of those Kaputt influences were savaged by critics in their day, though they’ve retroactively gained cred in our own more ecumenical time. (Which suits Dan fine, as only a foolish artist keeps trying to stay “ahead” stylistically once they’re no longer young, when it’s time to stop trying to be novel and try to be better.) I think in particular of Greil Marcus saying, when asked about Anita Baker (a clear heir to Riperton): “I think Anita Baker is ridiculous. Any time you hear somebody bringing back this kind of genteel, effete black music – the same number the Pointer Sisters pulled in the early ’70s when they gave concerts with ‘Black Tie Recommended’ printed on the tickets – it’s an incident in class politics that has nothing to do with music.”

My friend John has frequently railed about that quote as the epitome of the white hipster critic’s inability to get behind materially underprivileged people’s rational aspiration to comfort, gentility, privilege, all that’s been denied them. John’s gone so far as to call it “hateful” on that level, but I’m more inclined to extend forgiveness for the letdown, Panther-sympathizer, revanchist perspective it comes from, however armchair and half-cocked.

What Marcus overlooks is that aspirational sounds can not only ring of the post-radical but of the post-colonial, decline-of-empire, will-to-justice. In that sense they’re all our recessionary peers: Outside the 10% who control the 50%, who can afford not to aspire now? And who at any time, pushing 40, is not aspirational in the impossible lottery of immortality, of restored youth, of even imagining having the will, much less the liberty to “chase cocaine through the back rooms of the world”? All music becomes aspirational given world enough and time, so you don’t have to call it retro, as you can always have your nostalgia in advance, a case of déjà-preview: That’s why instead of “yacht rock” or “dad rock” I prefer to call Kaputt “positive witch house.”

Kaputt can admit all those urges, and put them in quotes-within-quotes, without finding them justifiable. What’s interesting is how many people, aside from a few wallpaper-sayers, seem to get it: When I saw a Destroyer video on MuchMusic for the first time the other night, namely Dawn Carol Garcia’s ticklish video for the title track, I said in my Facebook status update, “2003’s head just exploded.” Maybe what people are liking is just the beauty, the glimmer of the production values, like the old folks at Sulimay’s. But I think they’re also liking the taste of poison within the sugar pill, that metallic edge, the familiarity of the bitter.

As Nehamas goes on to say: “Unlike a conclusion, [beauty] obeys no principles; it is not governed by concepts. It goes beyond all the evidence, which cannot therefore justify it, and points to the future. Beauty, just as Stendhal said, is a promise of happiness.”

A promise it has no intention of keeping, unless the promise is enough. Which it isn’t. Lovin’ Kaputt is easy, because it’s a beautiful loser, but beauty is only the beginning of terror, coolly declining to destroy us today. One more day. At a time.


Filed under carl wilson, literature, music