Monday, July 26, 2010

Inspirational Quote of the Day.

Or the week. Month. Lifetime.

This wonderful vital force that was articulated by the music was really about corrupting every form—it was about advocating kids not to wait to be told what to do, but make life up for themselves, it was about trying to get people to use their imaginations again, it was about not being perfect, it was about saying it was okay to be amateurish and funny, that real creativity came out of making a mess, it was about working with what you got in front of you and turning everything embarrassing, awful, and stupid in your life to your advantage.
Legs McNeil, when asked to define "Punk."

I gloss over this once every few weeks—hours in a rough or guitar-laden patch. It reminds me to stay vital, to stop being ashamed—because if the Ramones did it, then so can you. Let's dress up & be stars tomorrow: so said the ad Joey answered, & so says the ink on my forearm.

Long live Punk Rock.


Today's Headphone Fodder:

Though perhaps not the best known figure of the '70s New York punk scene—in a time when Delia's sells Ramones shirts alongside fluffy pink skulls & stripe-y tights—Richard Hell left, dare I say, one hell of a mark. For a preliminary taste, I recommend the album Spurts: The Richard Hell Story—or, if you'd rather, a read-through of Please Kill Me: An Uncensored Oral History of Punk, where you'll find tidbits like this:

One night I was lying in bed thinking about her, how gorgeous and irresistible she was, and I remember thinking, I wish she was there when I got hit by a car. Then I could say to her, ‘Mimi, I’m dying, would you hold my hand?'

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Question.

A blip of a momentary interim post. I apologize again for my endless hiatus, but really: you try chasing after children 8 hours a day—sometimes even for an Overnight (I shudder at the memory)—& see how eager you are to pluck the keyboard strains.

There is, however, something that has been plaguing me. It's been gnawing at the edges of my consciousness since I first heard the offending song played over earbuds in the subway, then on every subsequent listen-through (though, for obvious reasons, there haven't been many)—& really, whenever my brain has the time (& volition) to take a break & turn to pop. It has befuddled & confused, perplexed & dare I say bamboozled—& now, it's time to exorcise my demons:

Why, for the love of all that is holy, does the Britney Spears song "3" list Peter, Paul, & Mary as its three threesomely names?

I mean, of course, after listening to the song at all—or viewing this lifeless excuse for a video—most of the words in that question seem to fall away, leaving one big looming "WHY?" Really now: there are about 157 problems with this song—the amateurish deep voice echoing in the background, the trashy-lewd premise, the insertion of a moan in place of "sex"—but most egregious & most careless is the lyric issue: the issue being, they are painfully stupid. As if Faith Hill hacked up a hairball, or Ryan Seacrest blurted them out during his conversion therapy. So. Fucking. Dumb. As to boggle the mind. I mean, really now, let's take one of the more ridiculous lines to task:

Living in sin is the new thing.

Is it, Britney? Really? Because there are several hundred thousand corpses left over from the Spanish Inquisition who may beg to differ. Perhaps if we hop forward a few hundred years, we could talk to some Antinomians. Maybe even zoom ahead to the underground clubs of the '80s & '90s—results of the sexual revolution that flowed right alongside your three favorite folksingers. My point is not that a pop song need be a history lesson, but that every source in which words are spoken should stray from asinine generalizations, no matter how alliterative. (Also, how sick is it that in the edited version—the one showcased in the video above—this already frustrating line was altered to "living like this"; that someone in marketing thought a mere mention of "sin" would tank the song's sales. Someone, please—I dare you to deny we're slipping into a theocracy.)

But back to my main point—that is, the naming of '60s folk trios—because this one is an easy fix. Three names. That's all you need: in a threesome, there are three people, & therefore three names. Any three names would, in fact, have been better than Peter, Paul, & Mary: they sang "Leaving on a Jetplane," for fuck's sake! "Blowin' in the Wind"! "Puff the Magic Dragon"! They are perhaps the least inherently sordid human beings possible—& not even really in an interesting or ironic way.

What I mean is, if she (oh, who are we kidding: her various publicists & lyricists) were interested in sullying the sacred—perhaps to live better in sin, as I hear it's the new thing—why not pick three biblical characters who didn't sing folk songs, who actually interacted in a way that could be spun lewdly? (The Three Kings, anybody?) & honestly, if you're going down that road, you have THE FREAKIN' HOLY TRINITY staring you right in the face.

There is, of course, the distinct possibility that the people who barfed out this song at coke o'clock on a Tuesday just couldn't think of another trio ending in "-ee" to fit the syllable count. I have taken the past minute & a half to come up with some examples:

"Athos, Porthos, Aramis" (If pronounced Frenchly.)

"Heaven, Hell, Purgat'ry"

or, the perfectly innocent: "Jack, Jill, & Britney."

Any of those—or, really, anything at all—would have been better than what stays, etched into the fiber of so much cheap plastic. Because really, Peter, Paul, & Mary are just awkwardly tepid—not sexless, but not sexy—& therefore an exquisitely poor choice.

That is all.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

You Don't Like Rock 'n' Roll—Hunx & His Punx.

I am obsessed with this song—& its video. Not only does it combine every pop culture facet I adore—cheeky, punky (in the original sense), straight out of a John Waters movie—but it's also catchy as all calamity, while being simple & basically perfect & speaking the motherfucking truth: You don't like rock 'n' roll, & I don't like you, indeed.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Bats Have Left the Belltower; the Victims Have Been Bled.

[ Full disclosure: work has kicked up again—another summer spent combatting attention deficits with Photoshop & camp songs from 8-4 daily—which means that I have significantly less time to spend perusing the web for news, pop or otherwise, to expound upon. As a result, my beloved Blogling has gone neglected as of late, & may very well again in the coming weeks. For now, though, let me at least keep the embers alive with a quickly compiled pondering.

&, before we begin, in the theme of full disclosure, I will just say this: I do not like vampires very much. In fact, I was actively terrified of them as a child, sleeping with my blanket tucked up around my neck until I was far too old. Every one of my recurring nightmares somehow involved vampires, who usually appeared on escalators for whatever reason, chasing me as I struggled in vain to run—stuck in time-molasses, as you so often are in dreams. Even today, I have a hard time appreciating Ye Olde Vampire Films (Bela Lugosi & all), uninterested by their bodice-ripping, their simplistic plot. I mean, what good is a villain you already know how to beat? Sunlight, stake through the heart, cross, holy water, garlic, & on & on—Eddie Izzard does a particularly hilarious routine on the subject. The one potential exception is The Hunger, but it includes Bowie—& besides, how could anyone cast off so brilliant an opening sequence? Of course, all of this is subjective, personal, Freudian, what have you; I apologize for my inherent bias, but that said, let's continue with our more relatable Big & Important Cultural Pronouncements. ]

While computering about in the open dining room/kitchen of our new apartment, I was accidentally treated to the last 10 or so minutes of True Blood, HBO's stab at this ubiquitous vampire craze—a show that my stepsister deems "brain candy," but nevertheless watches religiously. (I can relate: L Word, anyone?) Bearing in mind that I've only witnessed these scant few moments; that I've been watching (& writing about—coming soon to a Blog post near you...) The West Wing, which is like a macrobiotic diet for the synapses; &, moreover, that I'm particularly disinclined to enjoy this whole vampire thing in the first place, my preliminary take on the show goes something like this: Um, what the fuck—?

To put this into perspective, here is what I saw:

1) Anna Paquin with a jet black bob—which should just not happen.

2) This guy sprouting fangs, biting into his own arm, then slowly moving it over multiple trays of shot glasses, letting the blood pump freely from his open wound into serving-size portions.

3) A ritualistic maiming, in which a near-naked woman—cloaked only in a large fur coat—gets voluntarily burn-branded, howling in pain while about 100 Central Casting Redneck Men cheer. (These men went on, of course, to morph into wolves—because what is derivative vampire fiction without derivative werewolves? Though I'm told in the modern idiom, they're actually more like Limited Shape-Shifters; their transformations are voluntary, not lunar. & so is the mythology castrated once more...)

This latter parenthetical grumbling—which was unfortunately not so parenthetical when I confronted my stepsister & her friend about how entirely bizarre I found what I had just seen—sparked a train of thought that's been unravelling in my head for some time now, ever since Twilight fandom reached its impossible fervor:

Why vampires?

As exhibited by my previous dissection of werewolves, I'm of a mind that most cultural phenomena—or, at the very least, mass-fanatic devotion to a particular mythical creature—stems from something inherent in its backstory, some basic kernel that folk of a certain place & time find alluring or cathartic or helpful. So, with mind open in full, I ask: what is it about vampires that sells so well?

First, I think it is important to outline the key features of the vampire: He is undead—like a zombie who retains mental status—& in order to stay even half-alive, he must drink the blood of the living by biting them in the neck with his pronounced fangs. Those on whom he preys—traditionally, helpless, swooning women—are thereafter doomed to a similar fate. Moreover, he can't go out in the sun, nor can he touch holy things, & is bummed out by garlic (why, no one is quite sure); in days of yore, he had a proclivity for big black capes, hailed from Transylvania, & was bested only by a stake through the heart.

Though these current popular iterations of the myth are sufficiently modernized—including sparkly daytime excursions & use of the Unholy to advance a Christian agenda—the basic tenets of our Count Dracula still remain, spattered across every media outlet: the bloodlust, the swooning, the fangs. In my mind, there are three main reasons as to why; they are as follows:

1) Zexy, Zexy Bad Boys.

This is the answer my stepsister gave when prodded: that vampires are the ultimate Bad Boys. & I agree: unlike the (original—none of this animagus whatnot) werewolf, the vampire is always fully conscious of his actions. He doesn't black out or transform somehow in order to conduct his specific brand of violence: he just can't help himself. Bad Boys have been around since the beginning of time, & unfailingly, no matter what form they take, they are always the hottest—rebels alluring with or without their cause. It's Jess over Dean, J.D. & his murderous agenda: people who knowingly flout the law are desirable, intriguing, strong—sexy.

In the case of vampires, though, there are two sides to this most attractive of coins: On the one hand, the vampire can be a powerful symbol of Lust—dangerous, wrong, but fundamentally uncontrollable. In this way, he's almost like a porn protagonist; regardless of flimsy, extraneous plot, he will succumb; it's inevitable; it's in his ravenous nature. Even the act of biting an exposed jugular is unfathomably intimate; when one shucks away age, death, & garlic, the vampire can be read as a profoundly sexual figure.

However, for those still told by their family/religious community that sexual impulses are shameful & dirty, the vampire becomes the ultimate masochistic guilt-rehash: the sympathetic undead protagonist does everything in his power to keep from biting the woman he loves, but in the end, he just can't help it. He perpetrates violence, ruins lives, all because he failed to control his urges. There's often something very sexy to be gleaned from the Wrong, but it is, of course, always easier to read it as is; without nuance, without willingness to partake in the dark, vampires remain the villains—lurking just around the corner, waiting to prey on our latent desires.

& this is why I think Twilight works so magnificently in the razor-thin venn diagram between Unholy Smut & Mormon Morality Tale: because while the very act of vampirism is sexy, it also lends itself brilliantly to cautioning against Unbridled Passion. (Or even sex before marriage: keep in mind, once you're bitten, you can never go back.)

2) Lady Masochism.

More potent, even, than the sexual shaming that these vampire tales can inspire is the bizarre brand of male-to-female nonconsensual S&M that seems to be at the core of the concept. While there are, of course, plenty of lady bloodsuckers stalking the fictional streets, the basis of the myth is in Sir Vlad the Impaler, & the predominantly male cast of True Blood, as well as the predominantly male Edward Cullen—& his predominantly male-attracted fan base—allow me to feel comfortable claiming that the Platonic incident of vampirism is between a male aggressor & a female who may or may not be wearing a flowing white nightgown.

Yes, indeed: the bodice has ripped, the fear-crazed maiden has fainted into the arms of the beast, he plunges his fangs into her lily-white neck—& somehow, she ends up satisfied, vampirized herself. She is quite literally converted into finding this previously undesired act pleasurable, left wanting to do it again & again. I don't mean to sound alarmist, but the traditional vampire myth reads not unlike those creepy, rape-y manga stories (or Ayn Rand novels), in which a woman is bound & forced to have sex, only to find that she Really, Really Likes It.

So, why on earth would such a story structure ever be so popular, you ask? Well, as far as I can tell, it provides assurance for the gentleman that his ladyfriend doesn't really mean it when she says no; those who fantasize about aggression can indulge more & more in the notion that they don't need to go through the song & dance of finding a consenting partner—that either way, once it's all over, she'll have enjoyed herself. Meanwhile, in a sexual culture that tends to count Unilateral Man-Pleasing as a basic foot in the door to any kind of relationship, sexual or otherwise, it's not too hard to believe that women would draw some comfort, some hope from watching a woman converted into enjoying a fundamentally unenjoyable act. It's the perpetuation of one of the great sexual myths, wrapped in a fun, gory package.

3) Mass-Produced Freaks.

Sex & violence aside, there is, I believe, a third piece to the puzzle—one that manages, of course, to trammel up Gaga in its wake: that vampires are freakish beings of counterculture, & that's currently seen as cool. As far as I can tell (having been a bit too young to process for much of the time to which I refer), there was a surge in the late-80s-through-90s of what I like to call the Paint-Splattered Revolution, in which Underdog Stories of Weird Kids Triumphing were a dominant part of young adult media. I can confidently say, at least, that after partaking in My So-Called Life, She's All That, Empire Records, Cry Baby, Pretty In Pink, Go—& who could forget Buffy the Vampire Slayer?—it became clear to me that having all of the attributes society told you were right was a fool's errand, that being blond & toting pompoms would only lead to a humiliating downfall; the goal became to Stand Out & Make Art—or, in a pinch, an Empowering Speech About Standing Out & Making Art. There is an extent to which, at least in the eyes of a generation raised on Freaks & Geeks & Mean Girls, the desirable state is now that of the Outcast—only in name, of course.

The only problem with this Everyone Is a Freak movement is that, quite simply, not everyone is; not everyone feels organically compelled to express themselves through bizarre clothes or artistic pursuits, & of those who do, only a small (& fiercely proud) percentage choose to appropriate the occult as part of their identity. I tend to think of a particularly excellent South Park episode, in which all four members of South Park Elementary's goth population express their utter horror at the stupidity of Hot Topic-slathered "vampire kids" who drink tomato juice like it's blood & come up with foreign-sounding names for each other. They recognize the hypocrisy—the commercialization, the trendiness—of this mainstream dip into their cultural niche & spend the episode being rightfully indignant when mistaken for the various poseurs.

& it's here that the inherent paradox reveals itself: once something becomes popular, it can't rightly be called Counterculture. As with the vampire/werewolf myths themselves, the very Otherness that makes vampirism so alluring falls away in its massification, leaving only bloodless rehash, empty symbols emptily miming.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

Bela Lugosi's Dead—Bauhaus (as seen in The Hunger).

I'm sorry. I can't not. It's just such a damn good song—& this sequence is truly incredible. When I grow up to be a famous music video director, my first act shall be to make an homage.

Friday, July 2, 2010

May-June Round-Up.

Today, I was searching for a good birthday video to send a friend, while also basking in the glow of a Friday paycheck & thinking somewhere in the back of my brain about the beginning of a new month—&, somehow, the elements coalesced: I decided to do a Music Round-Up of this Blogling's recent backing tracks, while also adding a new (transcendent, brilliant, I'm jittering just thinking about it) song. So, here goes:

& now, 20. All the Young Dudes (Live, David Bowie's 50th Birthday Party)—David Bowie ft. Billy Corgan.

"I don't know where I'm going from here, but I promise it won't bore you."

Words to live by, indeed. God, I love him so much.

Someday (soon), I'll do a Bowie-gush entry—but until then, I hope you can sate yourself with the May-June 2010 Mix. Enjoy.