Tag Archives: Pet Shop Boys

Tea With Chris: ‘Help! I Ate My Own Vagina!’

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: After the wan enervation of their last album, Elysium, the new Pet Shop Boys single “Axis” comes on like somebody jolting up from sleep: relentlessly propulsive, a coruscating pulse, with only the merest vocal presence from Neil Tennant himself. More singing would just complicate the sensation. “Why don’t I use the synthesizer, which is the sound of the future?”

“Because you are a woman, and you feel feelings, you must draw some giant, oversimplified conclusion. You must have blandly down-to-earth protagonists, you must have lovable mommies hugging lost kittens, you must have rainbows and sunbeams spewing out of your ass. They’re going to coach you into writing something you’re not entirely sure about, something you would never in a million fucking years read yourself (if you had free will, which it sometimes seems like you don’t), and they’re going to tell you it’s pure genius. And even though you still might see your piece or essay or snippet of prose as “literary,” they’re going to stick an incendiary headline on it (‘Help! I Ate My Own Vagina!’) and it’s going to be an internet sensation, and you’re going to feel Bad with a capital B about it.”

Carl: I was recently in the Andalusian province of Sevilla, but didn’t visit (or then know about) the town there that is apparently its own small-scale experiment in utopianism that recalls the anarchist hopes of the Spanish Civil War. Compared to the unemployment-ridden Spanish economy in general, it seems like it’s thriving, although the comments on this story throw not-unexpected doubt on the mayor’s domineering style and perhaps cronyism. Still, any such real-life testing of social potentials and economic alternatives is exciting in a world so ahistorically convinced that one model fits all.

For a hilarious illustration of said model’s deep contradictions, you could do no better than Kathleen Phillips’s character monologue as a high-school guidance counselor who sees her job as an excuse to do “sweet fuck-all.” 

The luminous writer Paul LaFarge brings a similar mixture of laughter and queasy undertones, but a lot more fucking, to these “scenes left out of Henry James’s The Ambassadors.” I thought it was really funny at first, and then it started to wear thin, and then it became unexpectedly meaningful. I haven’t read The Ambassadors, so that’s not a prerequisite, but you likely have to have swallowed your share of James one way or another. Oh dear, that last part sounded like a line from the story.

And finally something for which I’ve been lobbying for years: The Experience Music Project in Seattle has got a bunch of videos online of lectures from this year’s mini-Pop Conference. Douglas Wolk’s talk on very, very short songs is one not to miss:

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

Teach Me How to Boogie #3: Morris Dancing

by Chris Randle

A few months ago, I gave my dad a burnt CD for Father’s Day. It was an old compilation I’d stumbled across online: BBC’s Folk on 2 Presents Northumbrian Folk. Northumbria (or Northumberland) is the region in Northeast England where he grew up, and its location on the country’s symbolic map is akin to Quebec’s position in the Francophonie: not just poor but tacky too. The much-mocked dominant accent seems to lilt and burr at the same time. The landscape is windswept, sparsely populated and severe; one of the most popular tourist attractions is the wall Emperor Hadrian built to repel the local barbarians. It might be projection, but I sense that my dad still feels some ambivalence about the place. Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, who was born two years later and a few miles away, wrote a song about the Newcastle Catholic school he endured: “This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave.”

The gift delighted my dad, though, and now it fascinates me. One of its strangest tracks is “The North Walbottle Rapper Sword Dance” – not, sadly, blue-eyed snappin’ but rather a Northumbrian variation on the English folk tradition of morris dancing. While the LP’s field recording sounds like a series of rapid-fire clatters and inscrutable calls, these directions for the North Walbottle version show how intricately rapper routines are structured. Several years ago I traveled to a church in Toronto’s east end semi-regularly for the English folk dances held there, and in the beginning I marveled at their heavy regimentation. But the friend who introduced me to the whole thing had grown up amongst morris men, and those guys are yet more rigorous about their crafts (choreographic, communal, libational). I blearily watched a few of them lock swords at dawn one May Day, equally theatrical in their way as the goths playing pagan nearby.

Like Christmas, Thor comics and lots of other fun things, morris dancing itself is often believed to have pre-Christian origins. When did you ever see so many people wearing bells outside of The Wicker Man? According to John Forrest’s History of Morris Dancing, however, the earliest recorded reference to any moves by that name is from 1458. Forrest writes: “Almost as soon as the idea of pagan origins was developed, competing hypotheses emerged, based on very different agendas. The classicism of the seventeenth century, for example, sought an origin for morris in classical antiquity, the commonest hypothesis being that it was invented by Pyrrhus, son of Achilles.” A Moorish antecedent was mooted too;  even before mass culture, some paranoiacs viewed popular entertainments only as corrupting “miscegenation.”

The mythic pagan origin of morris feels right, at least. The dances are redolent of an ancient, ley-webbed England, a land where some druid might bless the harvest by dragging his sickle across your throat. The fact that this place is mostly imaginary doesn’t preclude its potential vividness. Scotsman Grant Morrison included stray references to villainous Morris Men in a recent Batman & Robin storyline (along with a much more prominent Northumbrian rogue, King Coal), inspiring one of the bloggers at Mindless Ones to write: “They are inescapably creepy…it is clear even to children that their treasured accoutrements and mannered, over-rehearsed and curiously arrhythmic movements are intended to carry meanings readable only by other Morrises, and the darkling gods of yesteryear themselves…Their ossified yearning for a lost, or probably entirely invented and phantasmic Merrie Englande, also feeds in to discourses about cultural conservatism, purity and superiority that personally makes me feel uncomfortable in a very concrete  and political way.”

Yet an invented past doesn’t have to be a purely reactionary one, in morris circles or any other ones. Sunderland, my dad’s hometown, is intensely proud of its industrial history, the shipyards and coal mines that were long since hollowed out. There’s a monument in the shape of a miner’s lamp outside the local football stadium. My dad is an unsentimental man, though, and I bet he prefers the slyer version of this story from “In the Bar Room,” another Northumbrian Folk selection: “In the bar room, in the bar room, that’s where we congregate / To drill the holes and fill the coals and shovel back the slate / And for to do a job of work, why I am never late / That’s providing that we do it in the bar room.” If we can’t erase the traces, we can always smudge them.

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Filed under chris randle, dance, music