Tag Archives: drugs

Tea With Chris: The Reprisalizer

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: In a previous TWC I made a nomination for the greatest tweet ever, the pinnacle of the medium. This one isn’t quite its equal, but it does have a certain beautiful simplicity.

Matthew Holness, best known for the brilliantly awful BBC3 series Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, apparently has a film forthcoming: “YOUTH WAS GATHERING IN WESTGATE. CROAKY-VOICED LOAFERS, BLOCKING RIGHTS-OF-WAY AND ANNOYING WAR VETERANS.”

Lest any high-concept meta-jokes go uncracked, someone recorded a hardcore 7″ from the perspective of McGruff the Crime Dog. As Bill Kennedy observed on Facebook, this lyric could be an unwitting tribute to the project’s spiritual Ian MacKaye: “Just because something is safe to use one way / Doesn’t mean it’s safe to use another way.”

Carl: “#Moccupy“: Occupy Wall Street occupies Law and Order: SVU set version of OWS. Police raid it and can’t tell which are real barricades and which are fictional (now they know how we all feel). Protesters chant, “NYPD doesn’t respect Law and Order.” There is almost nothing I could say about this without ruining it, except: Slow. Clap.

I don’t usually do this, but, even though I was the editor on it, my highest recommendation of the week truly is the two long narratives and accompanying lovely photography and other material in this project about an effort to change the lives of “untouchable” girls (yes, caste still exists) in northeast India, by one of The Globe and Mail’s two or three most invaluable talents, my friend Stephanie Nolen.

In lighter feminist reading: You may well disagree with everything X’s Exene Cervenka says in this interview but you’re likely to be highly entertained by her right to say it.

In still-lighter, and hardly-at-all feminist, entertainment: This video the cast and crew of The X-Files apparently made as a birthday present is like a Rosetta Stone of ’90s culture, with an absurd number of ridiculously enjoyable celebrity cameos. It is only slightly undermined by the fact that, as later events were to make clear, its central premise is flawed: It seems highly likely that if you’d told him “love me,” you would have gotten nothing but an affirmative from David Duchovny.

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

The Bands that Don’t Reform, by Antony Harding and Darren Hayman

by Carl Wilson

Hefner, in their salad days, with singer Darren Hayman at left, drummer Ant Harding second from right.

I’m beavering away on my lecture for next week’s 2011 Pop Conference in Los Angeles, where both Chris and I will be presenting among tons of other prominent nerdz. I’ll be schematizing the various ways artists have violated or repositioned the “fourth wall” in their music and how that may or may not relate to reality TV, creative nonfiction and other recent phenomena. I’m not sure if this example is going to fit into the talk (it’s a bit slight) but it tickled me to stumble across it.

Darren Hayman (last seen on B2TW posting a song a day in January) has just put up a single that he recorded with his ex-Hefner bandmate Antony Harding a couple of years ago, “The Bands that Don’t Reform.” The meta-reflexive-whatchamacallit of the project is evident in the title, of course: Here are two members of a band that’s not reforming nevertheless semi-reuniting,  and flirting with the subject in an era when many groups of their ’90s vintage such as Pavement and the Pixies were getting back out on the road to finally get a payday proportionate to their reputations.

But the wink gets more strobe-like in velocity on the very pretty song itself, which turns out to be the story of a couple in the throes of disillusion: “Something here ain’t right/ I loved you at first sight, so why don’t I love you tonight?” They run down all the traits that are driving them apart and reach out in desperation (“tired of getting no sleep”) to “count the things we both believe,” of which there seems to be only one: “We love the bands that don’t reform.”

It could read as a pretty thin joke about a couple of those aforementioned nerdz realizing that they only have their petty music-fanatic dogma left in common, but there’s a second, more bittersweet layer: If they don’t think even the relatively minor business of a rock band trying to reunite has any hope of a good result, then why are they trying to glue together a couple of split-up hearts?

These scenarios seem to melt into each other as the song goes on; many details involve driving from place to place and having mishaps (though also seeing beautiful scenery) like a band on tour. As they explain elsewhere, the love story is a camouflage: The song is about how “they were both crazy when they were in Hefner,” and aren’t crazy anymore, and so won’t ever take the chance of starting that project up again.

Which is another mirror-within-a-mirror: In the song, they’re the audience not wanting their favourite bands’ selfish profit- or glory-seeking to spoil memories of things past; but behind the half-opened fourth wall, they’re musicians with private reasons not to reunite though their fans persist in wanting them to.

Although they don’t say reunite; they say reform, with its other meaning of  shedding bad old habits, becoming a healthier, more law-abiding citizen, not crazy anymore. So the song whispers under its breath, “You don’t want us back like that, anyway, reconstituted as some bland grownup working unit. You want us crazy.”

As Bill Hicks once put it, “When did mediocrity and banality become a good image for your children? I want my children listening to people who fucking rocked! I don’t care if they died in pools of their own vomit! I want someone who plays from his fucking heart! ‘Mommy, the man Bill told me to listen to has a blood bubble on his nose.’ Shut up and listen to him play!”

On the other hand,  Bill Hicks is dead, and while it was cancer not the drugs and alcohol and cigarettes, it may be his own reform came too late. Besides, Hefner were never exactly the trashing-hotel-room types; they were the critics’-darlings-who-look-and-sound-like-critics kinda band.

So this song sees both sides, tells its ambiguous story with a loping, lullaby-like lilt rather than a Hicks-like roar. They still play from their hearts; those hearts are just calmer, and heavier, now, and they play them as they lay, and let sleeping bands lie, in both senses of the word, as we ought to expect by this point.

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Filed under carl wilson, lectures, 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

Get Him to the Greek (2010) – written, produced, and directed by Nicholas Stoller, starring Russell Brand

by Margaux Williamson

(I watched this one night on my TV when I couldn’t sleep. When it was over,  I watched the good parts again. Before I saw it, I mainly knew that the movie had something to do with drugs and with Russell Brand and Jason Segel – which all sounded like a pretty good idea. It also seems promising when a Judd-Apatow-produced movie involves at least one “handsome” man or at least one “unattractive” woman. It is not the male handsomeness or the female ugliness that I crave, but the lack of sexual desperation that slightly alters the typical equation for women in these movies. I am not suggesting that Jason Segel is the “unattractive” woman in this scenario – especially since he is not in the movie but had some small part in its creation.)

This movie has a really good drug climax. A good drug climax is funnier and more complicated than a car chase climax – though it is less mobile. It’s the people’s brains that are speeding ahead while their bodies lag behind with all the wrong gestures. Sometimes the struggle is in becoming (or pretending to be) comfortable or sane. When comfort and sanity are wildly out of reach, the struggle to have them or to emulate them is an understandable goal, but it is always a disastrous one. We watch the characters grasping for the best (and least humiliating) understanding of what is actually happening in a specific situation. There is often much stating aloud of obvious facts or important questions – a crucial act of basic communication between friends during perceptual confusion and emotional vulnerability.

In Get Him to the Greek these communications come out like – “Why is Moby whipping us?!”, and – “Let’s go jogging.. Please! For our friendship”.

Though this great climax is brief and glorious, “Get Him to the Greek” is a three day journey. It begins with a music company employee Aaron Green (played by Jonah Hill) going to England to retrieve Aldous Snow, a rock star (played by Russell Brand) who is in a slump. Green is to bring Snow back to Los Angeles so he can perform at a concert. The concert will mark the 10 year anniversary of Snow’s most celebrated rock concert that took place during his career peak. The CEO of the company Green works for is Sergio Roma (played by Sean Combs whose role in the drug climax was a drug movie triumph).

Snow is the kind of artist who doesn’t sleep, is capable of a complicated intelligence, engages in kindly care-taking after drugs have been ingested, and, as much as he gets himself and his art right,  also occasionally gets it wrong.

The art he gets most wrong is a song and accompanying music video called “African Child”. We are shown the music video right in the beginning of the movie. The video involves Snow as a pale Christ figure dancing in an African village. The real life fears of art-making are taken here to their pleasurable extremes. Not only does the music video fail to save Africa, it fails to even entertain the masses, and it is described again and again by the media throughout the movie as one of the worst things to ever have happened to the continent.

After this flop, discomfort ensues, the love of his life Jackie Q, who is also a rock star (played by Rose Byrne), splits, and Snow awakens a 7-year-sleeping-beast-of-a-drug problem. Green finds Snow in an apartment above the River Thames living with his mother and an assistant. Everyone is immediately irritated by Green, but things ease up a bit.

The movie’s narrative suggests Snow’s great abuse of Green on the journey. And though there are plenty of obvious sadistic aspects to Snow’s typically annoying rock star character, it is very difficult not to empathize with Russell Brand and his face. He seems to not have a line of self-pity in there. The less obvious sadistic traits of Snow’s character are surprisingly nuanced. They mostly come with Snow’s selective use of the word “selfish” – as in: “Don’t go to sleep now, it’d be selfish”, or the alternative “Let me go to sleep now, don’t be so selfish”.

The absurdity of the grand drug climax works best if we have also been in touch with reality. We see it most clearly somewhere in the middle of the movie, in a brief scene where Snow calls his ex girlfriend, Jackie Q, early in the morning. In the shot, we see Green (the man there to guide and guard Snow against himself) passed out on the couch – slayed from a night of debauchery and perceptual confusion. Snow, not sleeping, is without a conscious keeper. “Are you alone?” Jackie Q asks Snow. “No” he answers,  “I’m with some affable nitwit”.

The scene is still quite silly, but it is also quiet and carries with it a slightly unpleasant consciousness and a deep longing for human connection. Here in this very small and undramatic moment, we all, all of us together, understand the very same stupid, painful, obvious, unavoidable thing.

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Filed under margaux williamson, movies

Little Boxes #16

(from Superfuckers #3, by James Kochalka, 2006)

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Filed under chris randle, comics

Little Boxes #14

(from Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu Vol. 1, by Junko Mizuno, 2009)

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