Friday, May 28, 2010

Three (well, two) cheers for Andy Samberg.

Though it's widely understood that SNL is now a decrepit, limping shadow of its former glory, I offer these two videos—one of which is really, genuinely funny, the other of which made me understand what anyone ever saw in Julian Casablancas—as proof that while Andy Samberg is around, they still have a fighting chance.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

This was a free download on iTunes forever & a day ago, which I would play on repeat for hours— between re-re-watchings of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert & copious cherry Jello cups stacked into castles while shirking "family time" in New Jersey. Now, New Jersey has come to us for this weekend's festivities (a wedding—high heels, garnished olives in bowls) & though the desire to escape hasn't quite hit yet, that doesn't mean this song has lost its healing properties—curled in a ball in bed, watching a moth beat senselessly against my window. Simple, short; shoulders clench & swell. Perfect.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What We Watched For: The Big Angry Lost Post, Part 2 of 2.

[ NOTE: This post contains spoilers—both in the sense that it reveals certain details of the Lost finale, & that it will probably leave you with a negatively-tinged outlook on the show, life, & the pursuit of television-fueled happiness. ]

Previously on What We Watched For:

("... the Dharma Initiative, which I assume is a club for facist yoga enthusiasts...")

Or, more accurately:

Also, this:

("If I f— him, he's not ever going to be the same again.")

All right, enough stalling: This post has been hard to write, because I just feel so thoroughly drained from the whole phenomenon—the 4.5 hour event that was this past Sunday, plus the 4-ish hours my friend & I spent afterwards in my living room, mourning & ranting & generally parsing so intently that I felt like I talked it all out of my system—such that to revisit it would be too much, would stir up the sting of true disappointment we tried to discuss away.

But I promised—to my (one hand's worth of) Readers & to myself—& it's gotten to the point where I have other potential entries pre-written & backed up, so here it is—if disingenuously, because all I really feel is numb & more than a little duped.

Another friend & Lost viewer—the one, in fact, who enabled my first viewing of the show—sent me this video:

... which is basically the fan-but-not-fanatic's version of The Official (Lostpedia) List of Unanswered Questions. Out of this brilliantly orchestrated soup, all of which I think are spot-on, jump a few that really bugged me. Also, I've provided my own answers, because according to Darlton, I ought to be able to enjoy guessing for myself. Because that's fun & productive. (...)

Why can't women on the island have babies, & what does this have to do with anything?: I mean, come on! This was such a big deal in the first few seasons! It's the whole reason Juliet even existed as a character! (Except, you know, to be a muted-voiced killjoy—& to give Sawyer someone to bone while Kate was in a different year.) This really ought to have been addressed somehow in the explanation of Island mystique. Instead, the "answers" featured a Superbirth, in the unexpected arrival of magical twins (Jacob & the Man in Black). Weak, Lindelof.
Anneliese's Explanation: Ben Linus personally attempts to ritually impregnate the women of the island & is unwilling to accept that he is infertile / has demon sperm.

The General Bundle of Walt Questions, AKA What was his deal?!: Really, they made such a point of highlighting Walt's magical magicalness in the beginning—but then, suddenly, he pubesced & was worthless to them. Which I just don't get: children in the real world grow up, too! (She says, thinking of her ever-testosterone-fueled 13 year old brother.) Was there something important about his being the tween messiah? & could they not foresee that the show was going to run longer than they could keep a child actor in suspended animation?
Anneliese's Explanation: It was, in fact, Walt's Cuteness & Smallness that were going to save the Island. In the head of the statue of Taweret, there is a cockpit just big enough for someone Walt's (original) size—because we all know that the statue was built by the Munchkins when they came with Henry Gale in his balloon—& when the statue is controlled through that cockpit, it becomes a Weapon of Robotic Destruction, with the sole purpose of taking down the Smoke Monster. But, as soon as Walt grew up, they couldn't use this sweet ending, so they just booted him off the show.

Wasn't Sayid's soulmate Nadia?: The answer is, yes. His love for her was, in fact, his only character motivation ever. When Desmond brings Sayid back from the dark side with his speech about love, he is talking about Nadia; when Sayid has to perform terrible deeds in the name of love (in Flash-Sideways or otherwise), he performs them for Nadia. His three-episode fling with Shannon was just that—an island romance, the ultimate "because you're here" hook-up—until Shannon got killed off for being one-dimensional, & everyone happily forgot about the mistake of a character she had been, including Sayid.
Anneliese's Explanation: The actress who plays Shannon had one episode left in her contract; they promised her, when they killed her, that she could come back for the finale.

Why don't the rules of time travel apply to Desmond?: By which I take our avid questioner to mean, why doesn't Desmond also flash through time in Season 5? Though the answer to that specific question probably has something to do with his anti-electromagnetic superpowers, I choose to extrapolate from that another question: what the hell happened to everyone else on the plane? There were thirty-some survivors, right? All of those extras bumbling around on the beach in Seasons 1 & 2? Did they jump in time, too, like Rose & Bernard? If so, where the fuck are they?
Anneliese's Explanation: Every time Desmond says "brother," the Smoke Monster kills a kitten; their vengeful ghosts keep him stabilized in time. As for the other people, I like to imagine that, from the start, they had their own leader, their own token girl, their own funny fat guy—except instead of an ass-backwards, non-mystery drama free-fall, they're happily filming a sitcom on another part of the beach.

If the Smoke Monster can't leave the island, & was zombie-Jack's Dad, how does Jack's Dad appear at a hospital in L.A.—& on a freighter? How did the Monster get into Jacob's cabin?: No one has any fucking idea. I mean, really. Especially the freighter—because maybe Dead Horace telling Locke to go to the cabin was actually the Smoke Monster impersonating Dead Horace, & maybe it was the Smoke Monster's cabin all along... But then what was that shaking chair all about? & still, this doesn't explain how Christian was able to appear to Michael on the freighter—whether he was a version of the Smoke Monster (who can't travel across water) or a ghost (who only exist on the Island itself). [Note: I just read that last sentence & am now seriously contemplating Seppuku. Talking about this show makes you sound crazy.]
Anneliese's Explantion: Christian Shephard is the Lord God Almighty (or, you know, the Christian Shepherd), & his only son, Jack, must sacrifice himself for the sins of mankind. [Links to THE Spoiler.] This theory is subtitled as, Lost Sells Out to the Christian Right—or, in a previous draft, Lost Writers Are So Up Their Own Asses That They Don't Understand the Implications of Having Someone Named Christian Shephard On Their Show, Let Alone Making Him the All-Knowing Messiah Whose Son Dies For the Good of Man, & Who Leads People Into Heaven—Which Is Located In a Church, No Matter How They Try to Dress It Up Like a Buddhist Synagogue.

If both of Daniel Faraday's parents are British, & he went to Oxford, why doesn't he have a British accent?: No, really.
Anneliese's Explanation: I got nothing. This was just extremely poor planning on their part—or, rather, empirical proof of a lack of planning.

Why does only one specific bearing get you off the Island? Why do those returning to the Island need to recreate the circumstances of their first arrival? Why can they move the Island? Why did they move the Island? What the fuck is this island?! & what, for God's sake, are "the Rules"?: The first rule of the Island is, you don't talk about the Island. The second rule of the Island is, you don't talk about the Island. Especially in the finale.
Anneliese's Explanation: Look, I can theorize 'til I'm blue in the face about Taweret being a battlebot, postulate about a rain of lollipops that falls on the Island every Sunday at 4—but is only visible to those who believe—& still, it won't do me any good. I can never pretend to know what I'm talking about, nor can I even come close. Because this show is an insular, short-lived piece of badly constructed fiction. Am I the only one who finds it wildly presumptuous that they chose to explain the mysteries of the afterlife, but not their own goddamn magical Island? In the discussion of What Is Yet to Come For Us All, there are thousands of years of musings & tradition we can use to speculate, & perhaps Lost could be commended for raising/adding to the debate—but not when it comes at the expense of delving into their own "mythology."

& this is what I find most insulting: the perpetuation of the show's greatest myth, that somewhere behind his superhip glasses & supersmug leer, Damon Lindelof has this whole working idea of what the Island is—but, because he presumes we wouldn't want the mystery spoiled, he has only shown us a slice. Of course, this is 1) not true 2) stupid 3) so clearly false as to boggle the mind—

"But wait," my friend sagely stopped me, just before the smoke (Monster Inside All of Us—it was one of those dumb Verizon things) began to waft from out my ears. "Wait. Pause. What did we like about the show?"

His question took me totally by surprise; there was so much to hate about this bullshit excuse for a finale, how could he even ask—? But then I remembered: hate & love are just two sides of the same coin (or Othello piece, to keep with the spirit of the show). If I really cared nothing for Lost, why spend so much time talking about it—or writing about it now, for that matter? Something about this show intrigues me—or at least it did, once upon a time, & that's worth acknowledging.

So, in an unprecedented turn, here is What I Ultimately Liked About Lost:

1) The so-seeming Gods of the Island are subject to human error. As Jacob says first & foremost when trying to explain, "I brought all of you here because I made a mistake." I've always preferred depictions of the human quality in the divine, à la the Greek pantheon. So, well done there.

2) In that vein—though I'm pretty sure that this is just me, & the Island was definitely supposed to be important & special—I'd like to think that its magical magicalness was in question, perhaps because they didn't explain it. Though we're told a few times over that the world will end OMG if the Beautiful Light That's Inside Every Man goes out, when it does, the only thing we see happening is the Island itself falling apart. It is, in that (& every) sense, a self-perpetuating phenomenon. Unclogging the Sink Drain of Hell could ultimately be inconsequential to the rest of the universe; Jack could very well have died for nothing. Still, in the final moments of the show, he looks up at the plane taking off—a plane full of his newfound friends who are now flying to safety—& he smiles: he has made his own "meaning" by making meaningful human connections. This moment was, to me, far more effective than that overblown Purgatory-Meets-Virtual-Reality subplot.

3) They explained where Vincent went—& he lived.

So, fine. I'll stop complaining. I won't go over how wildly idiotic & trite those Love Connection moments were; how I was basically right about the kung fu movie showdown between Good & Evil; how the moral of the story was ultimately that being in a successful heterosexual couple is the key to Heaven—or, at the very least, that being in a plane crash is a reasonable cure for loneliness. It's just not worth it anymore.

Because I think we can all accept that the finale was really fucking lame & disappointing without having to dwell on it much longer. So, let's acknowledge the good & the bad—in defiance of that black-white divide—& realize that though the show's end was stupid & preachy & poorly constructed, we can still take its main teaching on into later life:

Never Get This Into a Single TV Show Ever Again.

So, now, on the count of 108 (=4+8+15+16+23+42), let's all shut our eyes to this six-year "Made you look!"—& really, truly let go.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

I saw HUMANWINE at the Middle East this past weekend: transcendent, to put it mildly. They played all of the songs I hoped for, rendered songs favorite I had forgotten about, rocked everyone to their core for over an hour—the Platonic ideal of a concert, really. What wonderful, wonderful performers—especially Holly, of course, whose voice sends shivers through my skin, plucking up goosebumps & quaking at the spine. She is, by far & away, one of the greatest female vocalists out there, just as her band is one of the best to see live. This song, in particular, was one of the ones I never really separated from the pack before, but now I can't seem to stop humming it—or watching this live version on YouTube. One set of lines I find particularly beautiful:
& I tore up my arms, made them like wings /
They could have been anything.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A (Jaw-droppingly Offensive) Commercial Break.

[ Consider this your commercial break between Lost-splosions. ]

I mean... Okay. There's just... My brain is atrophying slightly. (...This kind of thing is actually on TV?!...)

Right now, here's what I've got. There are accent problems:

1) Bourbon is a kind of whiskey that comes exclusively from Kentucky; why, oh why, is there an Australian man hawking it?

2) The Girlfriend is a stuttering foreigner, with a just-past-basic grasp of the English language—the implication being, of course, that The Girlfriend uses her mouth primarily for activities other than communication.

&, all right, a slightly more collected effort: Perhaps the most interesting/objectionable aspect of this commercial is that The Girlfriend "doesn't care" about the whereabouts of her boyfriend, the fidelity of her boyfriend, the affection of her boyfriend... Really, she could give more or less of a fuck (which is, I imagine, entirely what she deals in). Ultimately, according to Jim Beam, the ideal girlfriend is essentially a blow-up doll with a pulse. Of course, there are about a billion ways in which this commercial deepens sexist trenches across the board—but, for me, this is the most disturbing part: that anything might be recognized as "funny" or "so true," in which a man's ideal of a female partner is little more than a special-edition Fleshlight.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What We Watched For: The Big Angry Lost Post, Part 1 of 2.

If you have never seen Lost before, never feel like watching Lost, frankly just don't give a damn—but would, at least, like to understand where my head is right now—just watch this sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus, in which you, the viewer, are Eric Idle, & Damon Lindelof, Lost producer/writer, is John Cleese:

Now. Before I even begin to consider the rest of this post, I must calm my nerves, which have been running high (& threaded with bile) since "What They Died For" aired this past Tuesday night—or, really, since "Across the Sea" & its whole bundle of fun. I can only imagine you feel the same, so here is a video of the world's most adorable animal being tickled. (I mean, really. It's debilitatingly cute. Like, able-to stop-armies-in-their-tracks cute. This could easily be used for evil.)

Better? Okay. Here's how this is going to go. This post was written—in my scant spare time not poring over Lostpedia & listening to back-episodes of The Official Lost Podcast, of course—between last Tuesday's stomach-pitting letdown, "What They Died For," & what promises to be a free-fall through space-time into a deep, fiery Hades (maybe literally?) this Sunday night.

Part 2 will be written post-finale, to see how my predictions, hopes, fears, etc. pan out—& to say some closing words on the series as a whole (AKA, to decree, once & for all, whether it was really just a colossal waste of everyone's time).

(On that note, I would like to take this time to formally thank all contributors to the Lostpedia, as well as express my deep personal regret at your anticipated mass-suicide on Monday morning. Please, for the love of Jacob, go out with dignity: do not drop your dynamite / electromagnify yourselves / otherwise lose your plot-usefulness in groups of 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, & 42.)

In all seriousness, though, Lost-fever—we in the business (of being inside my head) call this "Dharmageddon"—is sweeping the nation. Many nations, in fact, as I learned on the aforementioned Podcast, in which Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof butcher the pronunciation of names from all over the globe—Romania, Kazakhstan, Canada. Each write-in gushes—simply gushes—over the show, expressing fandom that extends to near-disturbing heights: they consider skipping proms, canceling weddings, all for fear of missing the upcoming finale. I mean, my friend & I had a running joke that we would come to our two-person viewing "party" dressed up—I as Sideways-Timeline Desmond (who is even more of a badass when in a parallel universe), he as the Smoke Monster—but it's already been done! A woman on the Podcast describes her boyfriend's plans to party down dressed as the Monster, the Man in Black, & all of the people he has impersonated—what she calls "the Full Smokey" (which I pray to God is nothing like The Full Monty; Dr. Manhattan's cyan wang was a sufficient dose of CGI man-parts, thank you). Meanwhile, while we anticipate a slow, bitter descent into oblivion with the "This Sip Represents a Bullet Through Your Heart, Damon Lindelof" drinking game, we apparently have many more (inter)active choices at our disposal.

This show is more than just a passing brainteaser for some people. This is real. This is a cultural event from which people could manifest real problems (another shout out to all my will-drafting brothers at the Pedia), &—here's the kicker—it's poised to be dreadful. Here's why:

I return to the aforementioned Monty Python sketch—which was intended as a throwaway joke, but which, upon reviewing, turned out to be a frighteningly apt allegory for the entire series. Yes, the bunny is Charlie, the meaningless sacrifice—but most importantly: John Cleese (Damon Lindelof, hater of "whom") consistently leads the Eric Idle character (you) to believe that something really weird is going on—which it sure seems to be, with ever-complicating villains & double-crosses & sheer bizarreness—right up until the end, where we realize the misdirection was all for naught. Eric Idle knew what was going on from the very beginning: that is, nothing special.

Because there has been some real sleight of hand here—or, rather, some flat-out, Cleese-style denial—as to the intent & the process of this show: while it is clear (or, at least, not provable beyond a reasonable doubt) that Lindelof & Co. had certain wildly general aspects of the series planned from early on, the utter fiction that they had Matthew Fox (among others) purporting—that there was a clearly-structured multi-seasonal arc—was just that: a ruse. A con. The dazzling flash of $100 bills we "weren't exactly supposed to see."

This was, of course, a brilliant way to ensnare viewers—especially the smart ones, the kind that will make a Wiki page & analyze every camera angle. Every cliffhanger, every bizarre plot point was leading somewhere; it was a puzzle you were asked to slowly, ever slowly, piece together. Once this set-up was in place, it didn't matter one whit what happened onscreen—I mean, for fuck's sake, there was a giant mechanized monster made of electrically-charged smoke, & we still tuned in wide-eyed, waiting for the day it would finally make sense.

This kind of bullshit-credence power must be a real high; over the third & fourth seasons, the implausible twists just got bigger & bigger—which only ensured they would be increasingly impossible to one day explain (e.g., "He wants us to move the Island"). I can just see Lindelof & Cuse, sniffling & bloodshot in the writers' room on a Wednesday late-night, traces of the "magic box" dusting their days-old stubble, hands lightly twitching over scribbled pages of ideas ("Rose & Bernard were the polar bears all along"; "Desmond can fly") as they egg each other on, mumbling "We can just explain it later. Yeah, totally. We'll get to it in season seven."

Now, like recovering addicts, they bristle at any mention of their former recklessness—as emphasized both in their exasperated podcasting & stark plot. There just isn't enough time to tie up the ever-unraveling ends set loose early on, & they know it, & they're embarrassed—or, in Lindelof's cocky wheeze, more like indignant. When prodded for "answers," they respond:
Cuse: Basically, there are rules, but there is not going to come a time between now & the end of the show where some character is going to sit down with all the characters & say, "All right, let me break it down: here's a chalkboard, here's a list of the rules, 1-10, that govern what exactly goes on on the Island." ... Some of them will become clear; others, you as an audience member are going to get to speculate about.

Lindelof: Yes, for those of you who feel like you need to see that scene, please rent The Matrix Reloaded, & watch the scene between Neo & the Architect. & when you watch that scene, & when you wake up—

Cuse: You will understand why we did not put it in Lost.
—Official Lost Podcast, 5/7/10

In fact, what we understand from this discussion is that these two are just not very talented writers. A scene like the one described—short only a chalkboard—does, in fact, appear in "What They Died For," as Jacob calls the four remaining candidates to a fireside Q&A; Cuse & Lindelof believe, for whatever reason, that their show must present all or nothing, mystery or Powerpoint—black or white—when, in fact, good writing (much like life) does not function this way. As the season wheedles down to its final moments, I fear that their Manichean chokehold will prevail, will culminate in some kind of showdown between "Good" & "Evil"—while I wonder, still, where my Man in Gray has gone, & if perhaps he could work explanations into dramatic scenes or plausible sentences.

In that vein, recent Lost promos featured a clip of that terrifying little song Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka sings/screams as his boat rockets through the hallucinatory Tunnel of Your Worst Nightmares.

This is, in some ways, an apt choice—because at this point in the series, thanks to the hundreds of yanked chains on which they drag us through to Sunday, "there's no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going." (But not in a fun way.) There are, of course, even more ways in which this reference is entirely unfit. This scene in Wonka (which, by the by, scared the bejeezus out of me when I was a wee one) is all about exposing the darkness that lurks beneath the light, that is contained within; there is no sweet without sour, no jolly candy factory without lurid imagination—no good thing that is truly untampered. Except, you know, the Magical Light That Is the Heart of the Island.

In fact (we realize, reluctantly), contrary to Wonka's deluded mumblings, we all have a very good idea of where we are going: the Man in Black is Evil—the noun, the big cheese himself—& the Island is supposed to keep him corked from the world. He wants out, Jack wants him dead, & there's a Source of Light That is the Good Inside Every Man just waiting to be called upon in maudlinness.

Gone are the days of Dharma. The Black Rock. The Others. Gone is token scientist Daniel Faraday to ground the stupidity Deus Ex Machina strange happenings of the latter seasons in equations. In fact, I would imagine that viewers brought up on the sci-fi-science of the early seasons feel not unlike lurking apostle Richard Alpert, in one of the few potentially viable episodes of the season: wanting desperately to end that which suddenly reveals itself to be purposeless.

More, even, than this born-again 180 to dreariness & "fate," I miss the real depth & exploration of character apparent in early seasons—the flash-backs that breathed life into each castaway, illuminating their current actions, their motivation, their particular animus. As the series wrapped ever-further into its own mystique, these flashbacks fell by the wayside—in favor of Flash-Sideways, flashes through time, etc.—as did the tangible sense of character that came with them. What was once flesh & bone has dwindled to hollow sketch, caricatures lifelessly puppeted through their old plot patterns (e.g., "I am a bad man who will do anything for my lost love"; "I am a double-crossing, power-hungry bastard"; "I have little to no personality & do nothing but 'run away'"). Nuance, too, fell away with the introduction of the black-white divide; Sayid, once the paradoxically sympathetic torturer, becomes a psychopath who must redeem himself with martyrdom.

Worse, though, are the characters who divorce entirely from their former/intended selves in service of putting some slapdash bow on this tangle of thorns. I call upon a particularly facepalming example from Mr. Lindelof:
"So, here's the thing. Faraday basically said, 'If you blow up this bomb, the Hatch never gets built; if the Hatch never gets built, Desmond never forgets to push the Button; & if Desmond never forgets to push the button, then there's not an electromagnetic event that crashes 815.' What he doesn't take into account is that, as a result of detonating a nuclear device in 1977, that might create some other changes in people's lives. If you step on a butterfly & there are, like, massive changes, imagine what would happen if you were to detonate a nuclear bomb!"
—Official Lost Podcast, 2/3/10
Right. Because it's highly plausible that a cutting-edge, savant-like physicist wouldn't understand a phenomenon featured in an Ashton Kutcher movie. His credibility is, it would seem, yet another sacrifice to these Escher-ish methods of plot construction, in which explanation comes later to prove it existed beforehand (e.g., "Adam & Eve").

When confronted with any discontinuities or dead ends on the Podcast, Lindelof blusters: "I like to answer them like this: THERE'S A SMOKE MONSTER." By his reasoning, because they wrote pseudo-magical implausibilities into their show, any error—of production or storytelling—is given Carte Blanche; because they hamhandedly reintroduce longstanding mysteries, that means they had them mapped out from the get-go. It's backwards logic to justify backwards writing, & so the series continues its multi-season tailspin—which will culminate this Sunday, I'm sure, in an epic Hindenburgian crash. Let's just hope that we fans, marooned in bitter disappointment, fare somewhat better than our favorite castaways. (I am not putting up with any fucking polar bears.)

Didn't catch those last paragraphs? Let Michael Emerson & Josh Holloway sum it up for you:

(Side note: I want that Spanish announcer narrating my life, all day, every day. Everything would sound so scandalous & intriguing, even when set to elevator music...)

All right, gang. The time has come. Once more unto the breach, to strut & fret your hour(s) across the flatscreen & then, blissfully, be heard no more. Godspeed, gentlemen (& token Kate), & may the (electromagnetic) force be with you.

That said, as of right now, here is my prediction for the final moments of Lost:

As a Dragon-Ball-Z-style showdown of Jack vs. Smoke Monster reaches epic heights, with Light & Smoke & Island Blood (AKA, water; see Podcast 5/14/10) crashing all around—& probably some pleading from Kate, & a few manly tears from Jack, & comic relief from other few surviving characters (or, you know, the Whisper-ghosts). Just when all hope seems LOST... A close-up of someone's eye opening. Pupil dialates. Cut back: It's J. J. Abrams. "Honey!" he calls out to his wife, clicking on the bedside lamp as she reluctantly sits up. "I just had the weirdest dream. But it would make such a good show!" & then Ashton Kutcher pops out from under the bed & yells "YOU ARE SO PUNK'D, AMERICA. I TOLD YOU: ONE DAY, YOU WOULD LEARN TO RESPECT ME."

So, we'll see how it lives up to that.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

I am currently recovering from all of the brain/willpower this took with a classic album—one that was featured in the show, to my utter, utter, soul-crushing dismay—Iggy Pop's Raw Power, specifically

However, I think I ended up justifying that situation to myself: "The one light in this darkest of darkness is that it would seem that Sawyer listens to 'Search & Destroy' on repeat in his underwear whilst chugging Jim Beam. Which is great (& not unlike yours truly), but they had to blaspheme severely in order to achieve it."

Ultimately, I have chosen this album because, thankfully, there is nothing more to say than this: It is one of the greatest albums of all time. Iggy Pop was the godfather of Punk—& of all that is good in Rock 'n' Roll. Worship him, now—& get out your Lost-related frustration by fuckin' shit up along to a deliciously raw soundtrack.

Friday, May 21, 2010

"Looks Like an Alien, Sings Like a Diva": the One, the Only, Klaus Nomi.

Criticism & frustration abound on this sapling blog—& in my brain, as of late—but that doesn't mean they should. Here, now, is an entirely positive blip of a post about something (or, rather, someone) wonderful: Klaus Nomi.

"Créature asexuée, clown triste au physique d'extra-terrestre, enamouré de la Callas et d'Elvis Presley."

Before I was able to really unpack my brain as regards Ms. Gaga, when confronted by friends, I would flail my hands a bit & sigh & scrounge through my cluttered head for something resembling what I wanted to say, which often ended up sounding like: "She's just not good enough! It's been done so much better!" When pressed for examples, I of course jumped for Bowie (as the Lady does, herself)—& then we would debate for hours about the merits of imitation, & whether Gaga is performing a character or the character is herself, & to what extent that's even comparable to Ziggy or the Thin White Duke... & on & on.

Looking back, I think my overheated brain made the wrong choice for comparison, because Bowie is a plastic little enigma all his own, pliable to fame & cocaine & the darkness that seeps through the stones of Berlin—& Nomi himself, for a moment. (Oh please, oh please, skip to the end of this post. I can't wait anymore. It's too good.) Though I'm frustrated that Gaga isn't doing her glam predecessors proud (in a number of ways), I concede that it's difficult to line her up point for point with Bowie; I think that nebulous feeling of "It's been done better!" was coming more so from artists like Klaus Nomi—new wave force of nature, fiercely individual to the core.

If you have 90 free minutes someday, Andrew Horn's The Nomi Song is informative & lovely, an interview-style documentary about his rise to fame in late-70s New York—a place of misfits & artists, adoptive home of this "mysterious, austere, alien" little man with a giant Weimar bowtie & enough Vision to splatter the Sistene chapel. Watching him (painted to the nines in angular plastic, ghostly white nostrils flaring) as he warbles, delicate but steady, through a soprano aria—it's heartbreaking, transcendent, Lynchian, hilarious, & so delightfully unexpected as to make you stop & wonder, reconfigure just a bit. & that's what a real avant garde artist does.

He exploded operatic & pop convention; made a receding hairline look cool; was, briefly, & died too soon. Ladies & gentlemen, without further ado: Klaus Nomi—

(From Anders Grafstrom's The Long Island Four, 1980.)

(His cover of Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me," which serves as the "Gay Community Update Themesong" on The Rush Limbaugh Show.)

(A story about Nomi on the New York 10 o'clock news—"The future is now.")

(The original song from which the film derives its title, "The Nomi Song.")

&, finally, the piece(s) de motherfucking resistence—two doses of pure, unadulterated beauty & fabulousness slicing through the dark: David Bowie & Klaus Nomi performing "The Man Who Sold the World" & "TVC 15 / Boys Keep Swinging" on SNL in 1979.

(& the host is Martin Sheen!!!)

EDIT: This is a wonderful coincidence. & Nomi would totally kick Gaga's scrawny behind in a fight to the death. He would shatter her bones with a high C or sommat.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Couples Counseling: Me & Primetime TV Edition.

[Stick around / skip to the end of this mammoth post for some music links. Otherwise, gather your skirts, ladies & gents; bring a machete & your best khaki vest.]

As college was winding down, I had little time to keep up with the handful of shows I follow on Hulu—except Lost, of course, because to miss Lost is to volunteer for an aching phantom limb (we will revisit this soon, I promise)—but now that it's all fully wound, & I'm home in the 'burbs, I find myself with plenty of time to catch up on those other less pressing series. In this case, that means House, Modern Family, & Family Guy. What a surprise it was to see that, in one week, each show took on (or, rather, botched near-impressively) LGBT issues in its own special way, from conversion therapy to sexual reassignment surgery, even the simple act of a kiss goodbye—making me question, in my own special way, my relationship with each.

A slight spat in an otherwise solid, long-term deal; Fred & Ethel. (House)

I adore House—have adored it, unwaveringly*, from the moment it aired. (* We were on a break for Seasons 4-5; we don't like to talk about it.) However, this past episode wandered into iffy territory when it chose as its patient a man who recently attempted to cure himself of homosexuality with conversion therapy: aversion shocks administered while watching gay porn & even full-blown ECT (to fry the fairy clean out of him, I suppose). Though the episode ultimately presented most of the right points ("conversion" doesn't work & is physically harmful; gay men who marry unwitting straight women are just being cruel), the last we heard of the patient, he was still blathering on about how being gay or not was his choice—in an episode called "The Choice"—& how, if he wanted to make it work, he could.

Yes, perhaps this was all just a set-up for the slam-dunk of an exit line from his fiancée: "I have a choice, too," as she walked out. But it was a strangely lukewarm episode for such a contentious topic; so much time was spent weaving in & out of the characters' personal lives (a flaw left over from the Times We Do Not Mention; I've learned to live with it) that this "I still have a choice!" seemed like the final word on the subject—despite its contrariness to points raised earlier in the episode (albeit momentarily) &, most importantly, the truth. It seems almost like they picked a random gay issue from the list—& ended up biting off more than they could chew—just so they could finally give Thirteen some legitimate opinion, or at least something to do.

& let me just say this about that: featuring a bisexual woman—who is neither a teenage girl looking for attention, nor a new-age-y thrill seeker—prominently in a primetime drama is definitely a positive step. However, the fact that she's a fairly annoying, uncompelling character who seems to have acquired a touch of the Foremans (i.e., "I have no motivation & am unbearably, sociopathically dull") is not. Ah, well. "We can't have everything, I suppose," I sigh, as House & I tuck in for the night, with our wooly nightclothes & maybe a glass of wine, getting out our reading glasses, crossword puzzles... We'll live to fight another day.

That one nagging issue you just can't keep quiet about anymore. (Modern Family)

... except this time it's not socks on the floor, or leaving the seat up, or saying "BOO-YAH" too often (or, at all)—it's the trend of homosexual rendered asexual, crystallized in a moment I didn't even notice the first time through. See, I'm usually playing Free Cell whilst Hulu-ing & am therefore apt to miss chunks of visuals at a time; I had no way of knowing—nor would anyone expect—that when I heard two couples each parting ways, the screen would show only one pair kissing goodbye, while the other was relegated to a platonic hug. This is especially frustrating, of course, because the hugging couple was Mitchell & Cameron, the adorable & hilarious—but fascinatingly sexless—gay couple on the show.

I mean, most of my opinions on this matter are essentially a rehash of James St. James's (whose post first brought it to my attention), but I'll just say this in addition: up until this clear & present, undeniable "we give the gay couple special treatment" moment, I actually really respected Modern Family's depiction of a gay marriage (or, well, gay long-term partnership; we still haven't quite surpassed that hurdle). I remember hearing somewhere, sometime—& agreeing with, essentially—the idea that what (stodgy congress)men are really afraid of in regards to gay marriage is the thought of gay sex, & that therefore their nay-saying is actually misdirected, because the best way to stop two people from having sex is to make them get married. I saw Cam & Mitchell as a potential illustration of this point—a depiction of a couple that, similar to the show's long-term straight couple, Claire & Phil, had simply put sex on the back-burner in favor of raising their recently adopted daughter, Lily. They were a calm & measured portrait, a very spoonful-of-sugar, "They're-just-like-us!" for instance, which I thought had the potential to be both respectful & useful in the often scathing social/political frenzy.

My enthusiasm waned, of course, the longer their celibacy went on—when the Valentine's Day episode showed the two straight couples going on sexy dates, while the gays were sent to a Friendly's to resolve a preteen (heterosexual) love debacle. This hug vs. kiss was really only the final straw in a long-time-coming backlash for the openly homophobic ABC. I really hope they come to their senses; the rest of the show is delightful, & I would hate it if Modern Family & I had to break up over this—but it's kind of getting to that point.

The whirlwind affair that never seemed quite right, à la Rebecca. (Family Guy)

My romance with Family Guy began rather recently, when I needed something light & inconsequential to balance a burgeoning workload—& ended in flames, as so many do, when the skeletons leapt from out the closet (/the sea), & I realized that they kind of meant all of those objectionable jokes. Or, well, maybe not all—there are plenty of shock-for-shock's sake cutaways. But on the most recent episode, "Quagmire's Dad," the one recurring joke seemed to be "OMG TRANSSEXUAL PEOPLE EXIST OMG," without any of the comic twist or irony for which I waited in vain.

See, I had actually kind of grown to like Family Guy, even having seen (my much preferred) South Park's spot-on lampooning, after which it's absolutely impossible not to hate the show just a little bit—or, at least, not to view it for what it is: a series of funny-offensive one-liners strung together by a teenage boy who's had a little too much Red Bull (&/or, manatees). Still, when that's what you're looking for, Family Guy is ready to supply—& there's no denying it can be a pleasant viewing experience. In fact, in the case of the controversial 150th episode, the writers chose to do without their precious cutaways entirely, & instead presented an entire half hour of Brian & Stewie passing time while trapped in a bank vault, conceived almost like a one-act play. The episode even ended with a half-maudlin, half-touching meditation on suicide & the value of friendship; this zany, attention-disordered comedy cartoon, which only minutes earlier featured jokes about shit-eating, turned successfully dramatic for a beat. I was wowed, almost ready to take my fandom to the next level. It was our Manderley, before crazy Mrs. I-Keep-Her-Underwear-On-This-Side came & burned it all down with this really, truly awful episode.

I mean, at least when they were presenting potentially problematic gay images before, it was (more often than not) in service of some grander satire: for example, this clip in which Brian & Stewie attempt to get out of the army by loudly proclaiming how gay they are. In the case of "Quagmire's Dad," whose eponymous character changes from "Dan" to "Ida" over the course of the episode, there is no grander point; they are directly commenting on (or, rather, mocking tactlessly) the mere fact of transsexual people, & doing it in perhaps the most offensive—but apparently most popular—way: with vomit. Unfortunately—tragically—frustratingly—upon seeing Brian puke for a high-comedy length of 30 full seconds after realizing he slept with a transwoman, I was able to call to mind several other pop culture touchstones that depicted a similar response:

For example, in his "short story" (though I prefer the term "dick-swinging shitrag"), "The Most Disturbing Conversation Ever," Tucker Max relates a night in a gay bar—where he is totally okay with all the gay dudes, even when they start to come on to him, because he's, like, Tucker Max—& where he also receives "the biggest, most disturbing conversation bomb EVER DROPPED ON ANYONE EVER," which is (you guessed it): "I bet you've already slept with a man." The person baiting him lists a number of characteristics—tall, big hands, some sexually explicit dealbreakers—enough to convince Tucker, such that he wails "FUCK THIS!! NO FUCKING WAY THAT I FUCKED A MAN!!" "WHAT IN DEAR GOD IS HAPPENING??" &, of course, our favorite standby, "I AM GOING TO VOMIT."

For another, I call back to a movie from my childhood: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, in which the major, case-solving twist is that a hardass female police chief (with whom Ace has been intimate) is actually the male culprit. Surprise! The not-so-subtle joke in this scene of policemen spitting & tongue-scrubbing post-reveal is, of course, that she has canoodled with all of them, & they are now attempting to ritually cleanse themselves of this horror, just as Ace did—though unlike him, they don't have a plunger to induce that precious vomit to flow.

This phenomenon fascinates me (enough to go on a full-on tangent in its name) because it is so revealing about the men with their heads in the toilet—& the men & women who wrote them into being, who laugh at their plight. (Though Mr. Max is, as usual, only accountable for himself.) I mean, this predicament—realizing you slept with someone who was born male—is so deeply frightening to some men, far more so than I would imagine. Max's short story even includes a midway disclaimer:
"WARNING TO ALL GUYS: You might want to stop reading here. The ensuing conversation I am about to recount prevented me from sleeping for a full two days, and has permanently and irreversibly scarred me. Save your psyche while you still can."
Meanwhile, the Family Guy folks equate transsexuals & sex offenders: "When they move to a new place, they're supposed to notify the neighborhood!" Brian screeches, horrified, hands Macaulay-Culkined. (What wit! What a giggle! Am I alone in nominating a certain former presidential candidate to their writing staff?) To these men, transwomen are scary, predatory deceivers who scar irreversibly. For fuck's sake, why?

The catch is, it seems, in this "deception." None of these men mind (&, in fact, are all depicted as enjoying) their trans-hookups—until they realize that they were "duped," of course. This proves, irrefutably in my mind, there is such a thing as senseless, macho pride—& moreover, that their real problem with the whole situation, what induces the technicolor yawn, is the mere thought of having slept with a man, regardless of the fact that was not their experience.

This, my friends, is the secret-wife-in-the-beach-house of this show—& many others, & many actual men who are "totally cool with gay dudes," until they aren't, until they might (gasp!) be one, ipso facto. I will never go back to Manderley—& I encourage you to do the same.

In closing: Networks, treat your gays better. It's 2010, for fuck's sake. Be an instrument of change, not a vestige of reactionary "values." Get on the good guys' side; we're going to win this one.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

(The title of this song is entirely coincidental, I promise you—but it does sync up wonderfully.)

I first saw the Cold War Kids about two years ago when I was visiting a friend in Chicago; I bought a ticket (a pair, actually—it also marked first scalping mission) on faith, which turned out to be a fantastic decision. If I had to define what I think "modern Rock 'n' Roll" should sound like, these gentlemen would definitely fall under my umbrella: scratchy & exposed, rough but clever, dynamic, plain, head-nod-danceable, flesh-invading. (Other recommended tracks include "We Used to Vacation," "Hang Me Up To Dry," "Something Is Not Right With Me," & "Tell Me in the Morning.")

I saw them again this January at Terminal 5—went alone, in the end—&, again, it was the right choice. They gel perfectly; music rockets from their hands at just the right vibration. & now—though they sing of summer ending, when mine has just begun—that first haunting piano note, again & again, slithers underneath my skin & reminds me that this too shall pass, but not without some righteous indignation.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Today Miike Snow, Tomorrow the World.

Remember LiveJournal? I'm guessing that if you were a (pre)teen in the burgeoning internet age (late nineties, early aughts), the answer is yes, even if you won't admit it. Well, for those either actually unaware or in repressive denial, a LiveJournal was somewhat like a Blog, but even more like a technological sieve that made sure only the most ridiculous, overemotional, this-will-read-badly-in-print aspects of your personality were broadcast into the universe (or, more likely, a small circle of LiveJournaling friends). However, there was one feature that I liked: at the top of every post, right below the drop-down list that let you characterize your mood with an adjective & corresponding smiley face, there was a "What Song I'm Listening to Now" box. That was something I took to like a spastic, speed-crazed duck to water; I would write entire entries just so I could post a song title. (Actual example of a full post: "I took my toe ring off.") Why I didn't catch on & just write about music, we will never know. (Give me some credit—I was 14.)

Anyhow, I've decided to resurrect this feature in the Blogosphere, only now it'll go at the end of the entry (or on its own, as needed; the addition of this whole explanation bit proved too much for my lengthy forthcoming diatribe). See, I don't think I have the savvy / time / disposition / wherewithall to write a "music blog," but since a sickening amount of my time is taken up with the wearing-out of CDs & mp3s & endless pairs of headphones, I figure music merits at least a bi-weekly-or-so written tribute on my part. That said, the latest track gracing my speakers is:

I know—I know. It's unlike me—& therefore a potentially weird choice to kick off this series—because it's a prime example of that annoying kind of song people mention when trying to pretend they have better taste in music than they actually do. (Read: I got it on a free download from SPIN magazine, "SPIN Presents AUSTIN POWER: Best SXSW Bands 2010!") But try not to judge; really give it a listen. Or, if the blipping, fading, dream-techno thing isn't your favorite, here's an acoustic (piano) cover by Sky Ferreira. For my part, I prefer the original. But I also like the cover. & here's why:

The reason this song has catapulted above the rest, why it seeps through the crack under my door at 3 AM despite my best-suppressed strums (E, A, C#m on a loop, for my fellow amateur guitarists), besides the fact that it's wonderfully catchy, is because its chorus is one of those sets of simple words, strung together, that are somehow more right than anything else. Previous examples include: "Look at this tangle of thorns"; "Let's dress up & be stars tomorrow"; "Poets are damned but they are not blind, they see with the eyes of angels"; & now,
I change shapes just to hide in this place,
but I'm still, I'm still an animal.
Nobody knows it but me when I slip.
Yeah, I slip: I'm still an animal.

Because, in my mind, this is a descalingly human notion: I'm the admissions mistake at my big, fancy college; I'm the lame, ignorant one in my group of friends; I'm the anomaly, the broken-brained, the dirtier—& when will they all find out? You might recognize it as the favorite trot-out of every middle school guidance counselor: "All of those popular kids, they're just as insecure!" No one really knows what they're doing; everyone thinks themselves wrong sometimes. & I really do believe, having caroused with (& been) people on both sides of most lines, that this is true: "Everyone has their cross to bear," as Mama used to say.

So, when Sky Ferreira—who is gorgeous & über-cool in that kind of cocaine-chic, ripped-up, polaroid camera way—sings this song, it's easy to think, "Well, yes, in the context of those without a running tab at American Apparel, you might be out of place"—but more than that, you wonder if this beautiful little slip of a girl feels like the odd one out in fast-spinning L.A., like a projection of what she thinks we want, somehow not quite right.

This is why I like the "mainstream" version even more: I imagine all the beefcake jockboys bopping & fist-pumping in the clubs, the spraytanned, bleach-brained fembots gyrating—all singing along, secretly thinking, "Yes, it's me, I'm the wrong one here. I'm the one that doesn't make sense—I slip—I'm still an animal."

For the debut of a feature sprung from my adolescence, here's a song that brings out the adolescent hiding in all of us. Bon apétit.