Monday, August 31, 2009

My second favorite invention of the new millennium... Wikipedia.

(My first favorite is TV shows on DVD.)

I was reading about the band Love on there, and first of all came across this crazy fact: "Bryan MacLean died in Los Angeles of a massive heart attack at age 52 on December 25, 1998, while having dinner with a young fan who was researching a book about the band." Must have been insane for the dinner partner.

More importantly, I came across the hilarious pairing of article and image that we find here. In the event that someone makes the mistake of changing it, a description of it follows in hidden text so as not to spoil the surprise. Highlight (or maybe copy and paste) to read: it's an article about a Love tribute album but the image with the article is the cover of Toni Morrison's novel Love.

More funny: "By this stage, Love were far more popular in the UK, where the album reached #24, than in their home country, where it could only reach #154. Love, did, however, have a strong following in the U.S. at the time among cognoscenti of the cutting edge." Cognoscenti of the cutting edge. It cracks me up whenever Wikipedia suddenly bursts into exceptionally purple prose.

Then I was curious to see what Wikipedia had to say about purple prose, but then as I entered it into the search field I saw "Purple People Eater" suggested, and I had forgotten about that song, so I went there instead, where I learned that Thora Birch was in the 1988 movie named after it. How the hell old could she have been in 1988, I wondered, so I went to her page (she was six--she's my age!), where I learned, craziness: both of her parents were in Deep Throat. Her mother is Carol Connors. Weird!

And, for final hilarity, this sentence from the introduction to her article, emphasis mine: "Since the 1990s she has moved on to more mature roles, in films such as American Beauty (1999), Dungeons & Dragons (2000), and Ghost World (2001).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

River Deep - Mountain High

While preparing that previous post, commemorating the passing of the world's greatest songwriter, I came across this video of Ike & Tina performing "River Deep - Mountain High", the perfect song Ellie Greenwich wrote and Phil Spector produced for them. It's possibly the most amazing video I have ever seen. Watch it. Even if you're the type to skip over videos (you still there, Megan and miriam?), watch it. You really, really won't regret it.

Ellie Greenwich

All day I've been trying to find something useful to say about Ellie Greenwich, by far the most important person who died in late August of 2009. I've been hit surprisingly hard by her death, considering that as far as I know she hasn't done much of anything (in terms of public music-making, that is) since singing backup for Blondie and Cyndi Lauper in the late 70s and early 80s.

If I were going to pick a single favorite songwriter of all time, it would most likely be her. She's certainly the best of the Brill Building geniuses. Her songs are always a brilliant mix of joy and pathos, in varying degrees (and it's sometimes hard to see one or the other of them, but there is joy in songs like "The Train from Kansas City" and "He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)", just as there is pathos in "Chapel of Love" and "Da Doo Ron Ron").

The pathos often arises from issues that weren't supposed to be discussed in pop hits of the early and mid 60s (but of course frequently were), like how shitty it is to be poor ("When I was a little girl I had a ragdoll/The only doll I've ever owned"), or how shitty it was to be a woman then ("He makes me do things I don't wanna do/He makes me say things I don't wanna say"). The narrator's voice in these songs isn't usually aware of these issues, but the song always is. Lesley Gore's character may not know what to do about her man who's been cheatin', but "Maybe I Know" does, and Ms. Greenwich and the listener share in the heartbreak of powerlessness.

I haven't even mentioned "Be My Baby" yet, and that's because there is nothing to say about it. If I have one favorite song, if there is one song that's objectively the greatest song in the entire world, it's "Be My Baby". It might feel like divine revelation, but Ellie Greenwich wrote it.

Some of her less well-known songs:
The Shangri-Las, "The Train from Kansas City"
The Exciters, "He's Got the Power"
The Crystals, "He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)"
The Ronettes, "I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine"
The Shangri-Las, "Out in the Streets"
Blondie's early demo cover of "Out in the Streets"
And the great lady herself: Ellie Greenwich, "You Don't Know"

(If the formatting or sound on these mp3s is weird or subpar, I apologize; I found them quickly online so I could post them here. I have most on CD or record.)

Ted Kennedy

It's quite a spectacle, seeing all these liberals fawning over royalty for dropping a few scraps off the table.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Enough, Pitchfork!

They're at it again. This time about Radiohead's Amnesiac:
The strains of paranoia that had run throughout Yorke's songs for a half-decade came most sharply into view on album closer, "Life in a Glasshouse", which oddly seems to predict the post-9/11 Bush administration's misguided warmongering (in Iraq), belief that patriotism is equated with obedience, and willingness to trade liberty if they believe it will bring security. The only song on Amnesiac recorded after the release of Kid A, it would also have been the only song recorded after the election of Bush, and with its stately, funereal New Orleans jazz arrangement it provides an earthy, traditional close to the forward-looking Kid A/Amnesiac.

You know, Pitchfork, it can't keep being so "odd" that all these people keep predicting the future. At this point you either have to conclude that precognition isn't unusual or they're not predicting the future at all, but rather describing the present. Doesn't take all that much of a leap to get there, and you don't need Occam's razor to tell you which one is true.

I guess I do have them to thank for the fact that I'm listening to the album now. So, uh, thanks? Of course, I listen to it anyway sometimes.

PS Radiohead is British.
PPS When is warmongering not "misguided"? I like the parenthetical "(in Iraq)". After all, if we call all of Bush's warmongering "misguided" that might imply that Obama's expansion of Af-Pak is something less than visionary hope and change!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Hey, don't force it--you could shit your pants.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I was just looking at David Cicilline's wikipedia page (because what else am I gonna do at nine o'clock in the morning on Sunday, go to church?), and for some hilarious reason this picture goes with the "Political future" section:

That's Cicilline with Cliff from Cheers at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, although at first I looked at it and was like "Oh, does the mayor have a boyfriend all of a sudden? Last I knew he just hung out with a creepy entourage of dissipated dudes of various ages who sleazily hit on every guy they see."

So anyway, then I clicked on the link to Cliff from Cheers's page, and this is the main picture there:

As Kerry said, "It's like they're exes, and Cicilline is still hanging on, but Cliff is trying to snag someone new. But the only good picture he had was that one of him and Dave from the film festival."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I'm not finished

You know, I don't think I even came close to fully describing what makes me ill about Pitchfork's "B.O.B." write-up.

Working backwards, with the same quotes I used last time. The whole "painted black" thing. Regardless of the insanity of implying that Obama is Good For The Blacks, what, exactly, was the writer (Stuart Berman--which, by the way, is this the same Stuart Berman who's associated with Broken Social Scene? Because that would be hilariously perfect) trying to claim about the flag on Stankonia's cover? Is it that it somehow predicted Obama? Or maybe a plea for a Black president? Or what? Because to me it's always been black-as-in-mourning. As in, look at the death the American Empire has caused. "Burn, motherfucker, burn, American dream". And the "joyous denouement" of the song--which is not, personally, how I hear the end--what? What the hell is Stuart saying? "Oh boy," thought Big Boi and André 3000. "One of these days, they might let us have a Black man in the White House. Let's make some joyous music to indicate how we will feel on that magical day." Come on.

And the middle quote, the "warmongering evangelicals" bit. Again, this hipster fuck Berman is denying Outkast their right to observe and be outraged by the world as it is rather than as it will be. They are not "inaugurating" anyone. Again, what does he think the song is about? An eerily accurate prediction of the second Bush administration? A belated retrospective of the first? What the hell makes him think that? They aren't looking into a crystal ball, and they're not putting their song behind glass as a museum piece. It was about the present, about the world it was created in. That it remains relevant is testament to the clarity of their vision, it's true, but it is testament far more to the continuity of the American imperial project.

And, lastly. The opening of the godforsaken paragraph. "Bombs Over Baghdad", we're told, was a phrase that sounded "oddly anachronistic in 2000". Now, let's pretend for a moment that Stu's pig-ignorant assumptions are true. American bombing of Iraq stopped at the end of February in 1991. Then, once Clinton took office an era of peace broke out all over the world, and all was joy and happiness. Sadly, the evil Bush family retook control of the Oval Office, and the world was plunged into darkness only to be relieved by the hip Blackness-synonymous-with-progressivism of Obama.

Even if all this were true* then what Stewey Baby is saying is still disgusting. Look at it this way: imagine if right now, in the second half of 2009, some artist beloved of Pitchfork (doesn't matter if it's Vampire Weekend or Jay-Z or Dan Deacon or Outkast again) puts out a song called "Planes in the World Trade Center". Now try to imagine a Pitchfork writer saying that that title seems "oddly anachronistic". You can't, can you?

Well, American bombs have helped to kill three orders of magnitude more people in Iraq than were killed in the 9/11 attacks. Oddly anachronistic? I say it again: fuck you, Pitchfork.

*And, incidentally, if this view of American government were actually accurate, surely it would imply that our system is fundamentally broken, wouldn't it? If just exchanging one person, the president, for another can wreak so much havoc over the world, shouldn't we change our system to one that's more stable? Hell, let's make Obama king. After all, all we need is good people with power, not good structures of power.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ahistorical fucking jackasses

So Pitchfork published their top twenty today (the link is to the top 10 page because that's what I'm talking about here), and by and large it's less repulsive than the rest of the top 500. Fairly decent song choices, many of which ("Get Ur Freak On", "Crazy in Love", "Idioteque") I can 100% get behind.

Then we get to #1. The song choice itself is pretty great--"B.O.B." by Outkast. I don't think I would say it's the best song of the decade by any means, but it's an interesting and surprising choice (good from the point of view of a long article leading up to a denouement, like this one), and, most importantly, it's an extremely good, important song.

So, we're good. But then those dipshit, elaborately ignorant writers have to act clever, and things go downhill extremely fast.
Appropriately, the contemporary hip-hop act most in tune with the Afro-Futurist philosophies of Sun Ra, George Clinton, and Afrika Bambaataa, wound up effectively crafting a fast-forwarded highlight-reel prophecy of what the next 10 years held in store. The title-- aka "Bombs Over Baghdad", a phrase that sounded oddly anachronistic in 2000, sadly ubiquitous two and a half years later-- is only the start of it.
Are you hearing this? Not only are you entirely unaware of anything in any way related to what you're talking about, fuckhead, you're completely missing the central point of the song you're supposed to be praising above all others from the past ten years. Namely that when it was written, recorded, and released, we were bombing Iraq constantly.

Outkast wasn't formulating some kind of hypothesis that we might bomb Iraq at some point in the future. They weren't being "futurists". They were being reporters. You would know that if you weren't focused on your pretty delusion that the Bush administration was some kind of deviation in the course of American history rather than just another part of the continuing bloody story of our imperialist adventures all over the world. You would know that if you did one second of research. You would know that if you actually had any interest in being part of an alternative independent press. You have a responsibility to know that because your tax dollars, and mine, have directly caused the deaths of multiple millions of Iraqis over the past twenty years. Oh--sorry. Am I not supposed to mention the 90s in an article about the 00s? Is that what's going on here? Anything that happened the previous ten years doesn't count, whether in terms of music or the mass murder that music is responding to?

Here's a question for you. Who killed more Iraqis, Clinton or Bush? The answer: your guess is as good as mine, unless of course your guess is that it isn't close. It is a fact that Clinton's policies killed many hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children alone, which Madeleine Albright referred to as a "price" that she considered "worth it".
In "B.O.B"'s booty-bass blitzkrieg, we hear...a bloodthirsty gospel choir inaugurating a presidential administration of warmongering evangelicals.
Considering that the Clinton administration was just as warmongering as the Bush administration (but better at framing it for liberal consumption), I have to assume that what really upsets you here is the "evangelical" part. And if you really think that Bush is somehow quantitatively worse than Clinton because he thought God was telling him to kill rather than Wall Street (which is itself a pretty debatable proposition), well, I don't even know how to hold a conversation with you. Dead people are dead, no matter why you killed them. (This is of course also ignoring the issue of how creepily religious the rhetoric Clinton and many members of his administration often was.)
We hear four minutes of utter fucking chaos yielding to a joyously optimistic denouement (a point reinforced by the Stankonia cover's re-imagination of the American flag, which anticipates a White House set to be painted black).
Oh please. Painted black by a man who regularly gives speeches chastising Blacks for poor behavior (also known as "trying to survive in a world that tries to murder them every day"), who threw his own pastor under the bus for being insufficiently Uncle Tomish? Painted black by a man who pretends to withdraw from Iraq while leaving enough troops there to ensure that we can continue to inflict terror on the people at will? Painted black by a man who waited only two days after his inauguration to start killing Pakistani children? Painted black by a man currently trying his hardest to create a new health care system even more harmful to the poor and middle class than our existing system? Painted black by a man who only cares about racial profiling when it (debatably) happens to a rich man who was not appreciably harmed by it, as opposed to the people imprisoned and murdered by police every day?

Yeah. "B.O.B." is about how much Republicans suck and how much the Black man loves his Democrat massa. Fuck you, Pitchfork.

Something I noticed the other day

Gaggles of geese sound like Terry Riley.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pitchfork, Vampire Weekend, Dan Deacon: The Unholy Trinity

[Note: I, Ethan, composed this essay, but most of the material comes from a conversation between me and Chris, who deserves equal credit for it.]

I don't know why I want to hurt myself, but I'm reading through Pitchfork's ludicrous list of the "best" 500 songs of the decade. They include the occasional genuinely good song, but all that does is reinforce to me the ridiculousness of the ordering scheme. Are you really trying to tell me, editors of Pitchfork, that The Darkness's "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" is in any way better than Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around"? You put "Pass That Dutch" at #291, and then try to tell me that Feist's "Mushaboom" deserves to be #103? Coldplay's "Yellow" and Jim O'Rourke's "Good Times" are so close to one another that the fact that "Yellow" is ranked higher is even more insulting that it would be otherwise. None of this is surprising to me, coming as it does from Pitchfork, the internet's original home for precious idiocy, but my mind has kind of been paralyzed by its encounter with other minds that can simultaneously be aware that Burial's "Archangel" is a great song (which it truly is) and also think that Modest Mouse's "Float On" is better.

Perhaps the most delightful thing about the list is its ability to rekindle some old passions of mine that I had forgotten about, like how entirely fucking awful Vampire Weekend is, and how even more entirely awful their critical reception has been. Pitchfork put "Oxford Comma" at #191 (admittedly far lower on the list than I would have expected, but still, to pick a relevant example, 195 songs higher than #386, Konono No. 1's "Paradiso"). What they wrote about it inspired me to give the band one last chance. Here's what they said:
There's plenty about "Oxford Comma" that screams "Kitsch!": that Lil Jon shoutout, the fact that Vampire Weekend, already with a reputation for overbearing bookishness, wrote a song ostensibly about grammar. But "Oxford Comma" is compositionally brilliant; clocking in at 3:15, it's a microcosm of momentum-building, beginning with a slow thudding beat before, in short order, ramping to its double-chorus finale, resplendent and victorious without ever being angry or loud or fast. Montessori, finishing school, whatever it took: "Oxford Comma" is well-mannered punk rock.
Now, most of those absolutely ludicrous claims struck me as obviously false and safely dismissed, particularly the "punk rock" bit. People say this a lot, and it's a complete fucking mystery to me. Vampire Weekend is not "punk". Vampire Weekend is Paul Simon, but even wussier. Paul Simon would never be described as "punk". If Vampire Weekend is "well-mannered punk rock", everything might as well be fucking punk, so long as you put an appropriate modifier in front of it. Ciara is urban punk rock. Toby Keith is country punk rock. Britney Spears is prefab pop star punk rock. ABBA: orchestrated Spectoresque disco proto-punk rock. Ladysmith Black Mambazo: delicate, bubbling Afro-punk rock. Steve Reich: process punk. Pitchfork: Meta-journalist-bullshit punk.

So I was fully prepared to just pass over and let Pitchfork be the worthless sputum I already knew it to be, but two words brought me up short: "thudding beat". The song I remembered contained nothing that could conceivably be described that way. But surely such a simple descriptor couldn't be so hugely inaccurate, could it? So I plunged into youtube and, shudderingly, searched for "Oxford Comma".

And fuck you, Pitchfork. "Thudding beat"? Please. Might as well say Anna Nalick's "Breathe (2AM)" starts with a thudding beat. And yet, at the same time, thank you, Pitchfork, because the sheer monstrosity of Vampire Weekend is on such a level that, when one has not directly faced it in some time, it seems impossible, exaggerated. It is not. I'd go so far as to say that the only thing in the entire world that's worse than this song, aside from the Barenaked Ladies, is its video. This is of course equally true for every other Vampire Weekend song. Every one of their songs has the ability to become the worst thing in the world simply by being played, and the experience of listening to them is incomplete unless accompanied by looking at their smug fucking faces and having extremely vivid fantasies doing severe violence to them. Every cell in my body screams for murder when I encounter them. Seriously, if I had any member of that band in front of me and knew I could get away with it, I would inflict a great deal of pain on him before I let him die. The only thing I would stop and consider would be methods.

"Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" didn't make the list (unless they're holding it back for the yet-to-be-revealed top twenty, which is entirely fucking possible), which is really too bad because while each of Vampire Weekend's songs is a perfectly manufactured summary of everything that is wrong in the world, that one is quite possibly the most perfect. I mean, I don't need to say anything about how absolutely, irredeemably repellent that title is, do I? It's obvious? OK. And here's something to try if you have the stomach for it. Watch the video. Not the whole thing. Start at around 1:20, and trust me, you will vomit at 1:35. And, ridiculous as the girl in the video is, I get really pissed off on her behalf during the scene immediately following. Leave her alone, dudes. I emphasize "dudes" because they are dudes in the fullest sense of the current use of the term.

Vampire Weekend is both the sound and the look of entitled privilege, distilled to its purest form. The fact that it takes from African music just reinforces that.

And, again, why the critical respect? They are such a folk jam band. They might as well be Guster. As a matter of fact, they are exactly Guster, except more entitled and smug, less clever and catchy. This is of course saying very little. But hey, at least Guster tries to sing threateningly about joining the Hare Krishnas instead of fucking Oxford commas and Cape fucking Cod kwassa kwassa. It's amazing, the power this band has to enrage and confuse me, more than just about anything else in the world today. Of course it's not so much the band itself, which in isolation is entirely unexceptional; it's the reaction people have to them. If they were passed off in an even remotely reasonable manner, I would not even consider them for a second. I would look at them, say "ew," and then move on. They are such an atrocity that their positive reception just completely blows my mind. In all honesty, shitty crap like Nickelback deserves more praise. I'd rather hipster media swoon over Vertical Horizon than Vampire Weekend.

Moving on, after significant amounts of trauma that are less interesting to talk about, we reach #149, which is Dan Deacon's "The Crystal Cat". One of Pitchfork's excretions wrote a whole paragraph in praise of this song, but I am not lying when I tell you I was incapable of reading beyond the third sentence. This is what I managed to get through:
What a lonely, lonely sound. Dan Deacon's shows are about the high of communal experience-- about surrendering your ego to a crush of overheated strangers. But his music is solitary.
What the fuck are they talking about? This is patently ludicrous. My only theory is that this is one of the longest, most complicated typos in history, and that what the writer meant to say was something more like this:
What a bland, bland sound. Dan Deacon's shows are about standing back and watching, mystified, as morons dance insecurely, each hoping to impress more than the rest, each failing as they flail about wildly and idiotically. But his music is just boring.
Dan Deacon's music isn't about surrendering your ego or communal experiences or loneliness or any of that nonsense. Dan Deacon's music is about video games and swirls of color most sensible people forgot about sometime after the age of seven. It is the height of pretentious, spazzy shit mistaken for spirituality by hipster ninnies. People try to act like he's got some kind of claim to great art because he has a degree in electroacoustics. Big fucking deal. Condoleezza Rice has a PhD in political science, and she still managed to be a pretty good approximation of an evil moron. Even she would presumably know better than to name a release Twacky Cats.

I was just mentally preparing a big long final paragraph about how in addition to their often perplexingly awful taste in music, the Pitchfork reviewers are the single most incompetent gaggle of writers ever to be collected in one place, but then I remembered the last sentence in their paragraph about The Killers' "Mr. Brighstide" (which entirely non-notable song, incidentally, is apparently the 72nd best song released between 2000 and 2009, which would be an alarming prospect if not for the fact that it is entirely untrue). This one sentence, particularly coming at the end of an entry, says more about their awful writing than anything I could ever dream of saying myself. This is the one-two punch, the slam dunk that some writer whose name I don't want to look for (because it would involve me seeing the paragraph it's attached to again) saw fit to end his tiny masterpiece with:
Rampant melodrama is their BFF.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Re-watching Dollhouse

I picked up the Dollhouse Season 1 DVD set pretty much right when it came out and now have just started re-watching it. (I still haven't seen the aired finale or either of the two unaired episodes yet, but I've seen every other episode.) One thing that strikes me is that the studio-mandated "six pilots" structure that marred the first half of the season is actually more effective in retrospect than I thought at the time.

The fact that we in the audience have to be repeatedly re-introduced to the show's basic conceit (which, while great speculative sci-fi, is not at base all that complicated) in a way mirrors the central metaphor of the show, namely that we are all actives and human society is the Dollhouse. Fox, one of the owners of our worldwide Dollhouse, is essentially programming us every week to know what we need to know to understand the show, and apparently assuming, as Echo's manipulators at the in-show Dollhouse do, that we will be "wiped" at the end of each one and need to be re-imprinted next time.

Additionally, the constant reiteration of the concept of the show in awkwardly-written exposition is a neat little metanarrative echo* of the scripted exchange that Topher greets the actives with after each wipe, to ease them back into the tabula rasa state:

"Hello, Echo. How are you feeling?"
"Did I fall asleep?"
"For a little while."
"Shall I go?"
"If you'd like."

Not all that different from "Why don't you ask Echo? OH RIGHT SHE CAN'T REMEMBER" over and over and over.

Now, I'm not trying to be one of those overzealous fans sticking up for every single flaw in his God-Whedon's work (I reserve that kind of fan behavior for David Bowie--Never Let Me Down has redeeming qualities, I swear--and anyway that kind of fan hates Fox for making Whedon do this to Dollhouse, which, OK, I kind of do too, end paretheses). It just struck me that, while it's irritating to deal with the slow pace of the first batch of episodes leading up to "Man on the Street", there are some useful and interesting aspects to the enforced structure that really only become visible when watching the show quickly, for a second time, on DVD. Yet another case of the same material becoming entirely different when experienced in a different format.



I think it'll be good for me to start this up again, so here I am. No idea how long it'll last. I'm not working at the moment, so I've got a type of time that I hopefully won't have for very much I guess we'll see. Anyway, I have ideas and things I want to get down from time to time, so I'm gonna put them here and pretend that's productivity.