27 November 2006

On Weill and Nash's "That's Him"

Just fabulous. This image alone is all you need to know.
So, Kurt Weill, Ogden Nash, and S. J. Perelman wrote a Broadway musical for Marlene Dietrich about the goddess, Venus, doing her best with contemporary New York City way back during World War II. Dietrich toyed with them for months, batting them around like a semi-interested cat who knew the mouse's final outcome, until she finally rejected the project in the eleventh hour. This made Weill so angry that he cursed her out auf Deutsch, which is reportedly the only time he ever used his mother tongue after he moved to the States. Anyway, I told you that story to tell you this one.

"Say hello to Miss No-Talent."
It ended up that Miss Mary Martin, mother of Larry Hagman, got the role in One Touch of Venus, as the show came to be called. It's a light musical comedy with a wonderful score and a witty book that, as a reviewer in the current Kurt Weill Newsletter points out, contains the injunction from the goddess that the audience should "make love while they still can," at a time when the war's outcome was far from certain (the show opened in 1943). This is a context many of us, especially those in New York, can well understand; and we should also remember that to "make love" to someone can have many meanings, and especially in 1943 it could mean to woo, to flirt, to enjoy the presence of another, not just the crass suggestion of fucking. Wooing and the feminine side of it are neatly crystallized in a song that was (if memory serves, as it often doesn't) cut from the score [ed. note: it wasn't], the title song, "One Touch of Venus"--the final lyric goes: "With a little touch a damsel, a little touch of goddess, life can be a goddess-damsel cinch." If only we had lyrics of such adult lightness and witty blasphemy on Broadway now. But as usual I digress. I am here to discuss a different song, one of several show stoppers in this lovely score, and that's "That's Him."

Miss Mary Martin, being not arty, not actory. Sorry, I meant it the other way around.
There is a category of song written by men for women in love to sing and this is one of those numbers. Because of the nature of Broadway, American composers, and poets in general, the intersection of these categories often signals the presence of a homosexual in the mix. But not always. There are many showtunes sung by women disfigured by desire and not all of them are by Sondheim. His mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II, wrote a bunch (we also have Cole Porter and Blitzstein and Menotti to name some less-than-strictly-hetero lyric writers), but in this case we have Ogden Nash, who was a terrific light poet, who was married and had kids, and, as far as my terrifically light research is concerned, seems to have not been gay. But who knows? No one knows. After all, he never sucked my cock (as the Bankhead is said to have proclaimed once, so gloriously). So, let us, just for fun, assume he was straight.

In this song, Nash presents a portrait of Venus describing her love for a man in the terms a bourgeois urban lady would use, and it is a tight, loving portrait, in the final analysis, despite the insipid notion of love being like having your hair done by a fegeleh named "Antoine." Even this image is one of feeling more beautiful, feeling refreshed, feeling more yourself, or a better version of yourself, than you did before you paid someone to improve your look--surely we all can identify with this moment, as feminized as it may be. This is the least of Nash's lyrics here, and, as with any good song, it pays to read the thing closely, like a poem, which is what a lyric is, of course: "You know the way you feel when you smell bread baking": a consummate moment of sensual pleasure; "The way you feel when the fireflies glimmer": a gorgeous visual, evoking the twilight melancholy of childhood summers; "the way you feel about the Rhapsody in Blue": a description of love as listening to an example of the musical sublime; "He's like a book directly from the printer, you look at him, he's so commenceable": a more intellectual notion of the lover as an object to begin, an object to read; "He's comforting as woolens in the winter: he's indispensable": the beloved is like simple comfort in a cold world, but more than that, he is that with which you cannot do without; "You know the way you feel that you know you should conceal, the way you feel that you know you shouldn't feel": the deliciousness of being in forbidden love (and all love feels forbidden, somehow--one is not supposed to feel this way; it's always a bit of a secret), the deliciousness of not showing it to "him" or anyone else. But you can't help it.

These images accrue. And Nash builds them very carefully, even within his chosen conceit--note his cunning reversals seen, for example, in the first two stanzas where he takes us from the sweet sense, the taste and smell, of autumn to having one's hair done; then he shifts us from the comforting enveloping warmth of baking bread to the surprising cognitive dissonance of a toothache subsiding--the idea of bread and therefore eating and the pain of a toothache jars. He builds and surprises, he speaks to you directly: "You know the way you feel" he says to us over and over, like an intimate whisper in the ear. The song develops to these amazing moments where love transforms everything: "Wonderful world, wonderful you"--being in love makes everything better, makes the world wonderful. It's like love is similar to all these experiences until the pressure of the description explodes into the ineffability of wonderfulness. Love is and isn't all these things. In the final analysis, the description of love fails even as one struggles to make the experience concrete. This is how you have to approach the lyric because as you go deeper into the poet's logic, despite its irony, humor, and double entendre ("he's like a plumber when you need a plumber"?), the more beautiful and moving it becomes. The beloved is simple, satisfactory, commenceable, comforting, indispensable, but most importantly he is the way he makes you feel.

The simplicity of the comparisons, despite their middle-class origins, is a double window into the wartime, bourgeois, heterosexual, female mind and the hetero, intellectual, male mind that channeled it here. In the end, though appealing and evocative, even beguiling, the portrait of the beloved as a series of objects, feelings, goods, services, and moods, is still always Nash's fantasy of the mind that sees love this way, and with this frame the gentle mocking of the song becomes foregrounded. But we mustn't ever forget that this song also describes a third mind which is of the goddess, herself; and in this sense the song is a trap because while it offers a Venus domesticated by modern ideas and cultural conceits, at the end of the show she rejects the drudgery of the modern American housewife and returns to Olympus--or wherever she has gone to; she is just gone. But honestly, it could never be any other way, could it? And Venus comes to this realization in an Agnes DeMille ballet called "Venus in Ozone Heights"--a hilarious juxtaposition, or impossible environment for a goddess, to be sure. It is both, of course, which is the point and the joke of the show. Venus fell in love with mortals on a regular basis back in the day, with a certain amount of hijinks ensuing, as they tend to when gods dilly the dally with those who have no choice but to die (and who also don't, by the way, embody some overarching metaphysical concept, such as love). These stories often end with some sort of metamorphosis into a flower, or whatever. But what's funny about Venus in 1943 New York City is that 1) the guy she falls in love prefers his fiancée to Venus (at least, initially), and 2) the world has become a place that's kind of not so much fun for a goddess. 1943 is a bit too early for Betty Friedan (though it is the source of her critique of the feminine mystique) or Gloria Steinem, but no matter how powerful Betty Crocker was, in a grudge match with a pagan goddess, Betty will lose every time. So, in a frothy, fun musical hit, for the female audience member there is a disruptive double-aftertaste: you should enjoy life and love while you can (a pleasure denied anyone truly trying to be a good girl, but let's face it, Johnny's "over there"), and the knowledge that the bliss and joys of suburban domesticity are not just overrated but a boring, repetitive dead-end. In this way, an urbane musical diversion manages to look forward and backward at the same time, and so One Touch of Venus stands astride the faultline of American mid-century femininity. And with that, we return to Feminism, yet again. Somehow this musical is ignorant of Feminism, yet succinctly describes the conflict between the expectations and freedoms that mobilizes the critique itself and is thus outside and inside Feminism at the same time--it articulates the cause of second-wave Feminism (with nods here to Friedan). Of course, the show reserves the freedom of autonomy for a goddess, but since gods don't exist, we'll have to bite the bullet and imagine that those freedoms--that the freedom to choose between domestic servitude and, well, something, anything, else--might actually be imagined by real, mortal, American ladies. Huh. Imagine that....

Wait. Scratch that.

Quickly, there is another striking proto-Feminist moment in the show (at least one more, in my poor memory) that I feel the need to mention, and it occurs in a rather saucy song called "The Trouble with Women," a number sung by men about their frustrations with the fairer sex, as we are called on to call women. That moment is the final line of the song which states remarkably: "The trouble with women... is men." Boy, is it ever.

Okay, enough of history and culture, now I have a small amount of dish to share. A few weeks ago I went to the Spiegeltent and saw some cool performance that I won't go into here, but I ran into a friend there who had for some bizarre reason brought Mary Martin's autobiography with him. I flipped through the index and found One Touch of Venus, about which Mary had quite little to say--there was no real discussion of craft or other personalities besides Larry Hagman's mom, just the usual actor's all-about-me crap. But she did mention that when she auditioned for the producer she had learned "That's Him" and just grabbed a chair and sang it right at the guy in someone's living room. Then Mary declared that the producer told her he'd hire her if she promised to deliver the number the same way at every performance, and from the lip of the stage. And so she did. Flash forward to this week's Kurt Weill Newsletter and a little anecdote from Hal Prince reporting that Weill's wife, Lotte Lenya (who was in the original Cabaret and the original Threepenny Opera), told Prince that Martin didn't get the song, so Lenya asked Weill if she should show her how to do it. Lenya accomplished this by sitting on a turned around chair and that, she says, is how the staging was set.

Now, Lotte Lenya is well known for being a sometimes unreliable source for historical facts--some of it's "true," some of it's not, and we'll mostly never know (who cares?!)--but she is also known for being a terrific performer, and one who had a genius for minimalism. Enter Mary Martin who was still in the early part of her career, and I am inclined to believe the more seasoned performer, in this case (being Lenya). When it comes to a Weill song, especially one as delicate, disarmingly, and deceptively simple as this one, underplaying is always the right choice.

One last bit of dish. Hal Prince also mentions an exchange he had with Lotte Lenya backstage of Cabaret when she learned he was headed out to see Dietrich perform. Prince says: "And she said, looking into the mirror without a pause, 'Say hello to Miss No-Talent.'" I'm sure they're friends, now, in Show Business Heaven. This brings us full circle, back to the very beginning. A very good place to start.

And now for the song.

Here is Kurt Weill singing this amazing, heartbreaking piece. Once you've heard it this way, you can never unhear it again, though it omits my favorite, the last verse, alas. You can hear Mary Martin as well, after the lyrics posted below. Listen. Listen....

You know the way you feel
When there is autumn in the air,

That's him, that's him.

The way you feel when Antoine
Has finished with your hair,

That's him, that's him.

You know the way you feel
When you smell bread baking,

The way you feel,
When suddenly a tooth stops aching;

Wonderful world, wonderful you,

That's him, that's him.
He is as simple as a swim in summer,
Not arty, not actory.

He's like a plumber when you need a plumber:
He's satisfactory.

You know the way you feel
When you want to knock on wood,

The way you feel 
When your heart is gone for good:
Wonderful world, wonderful you,
That's him.

You could shuffle him with millions,
Soldiers and civilians,
I'd pick him out.

In the darkest caves and hallways
I would know him always,
Beyond a doubt.


Comes easily to me
Because that's he.

You know the way you feel
About the Rhapsody in Blue:
That's him, that's him;

The way you feel about a hat

Created just for you:
That's him, that's him.

You know the way you feel
When the fireflies glimmer,
The way you feel when overnight
Your hips grow slimmer:

Wonderful world, wonderful you,
That's him, that's him.

He's like a book directly from the printer,
You look at him, he so commenceable.
He's comforting as woolens in the winter:
He's indispensable.

You know the way the way you feel
That you know you should conceal
The way you feel feel that you really shouldn't feel:
Wonderful world, wonderful you,

That's him.

"That's Him" from One Touch of Venus. Music by Kurt Weill, lyrics by Ogden Nash, 1943.

* * *

And because Spotify allows me to provide one-stop research shopping, this track has Mary Martin singing "That's Him" with the gorgeous Weill full-orchestrations. Enjoy.

08 November 2006

The Nightmare Isn't Over; Now We Are Only Half-Asleep

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No matter how you interpret last week's election--whether as a referendum on Bush or the war or Republicans--the reality is that half the electorate still slumbers supernaturally, a Sleeping Beauty awaiting, I believe, the kiss from a handsome Führer. Darn, I’ve just turned my metaphorical screw too far because the truth is that these people want never to wake up and don’t even know they are sleeping. Such are the wages of letting your heart belong to Daddy. But as dramatic as the Democrats storming of the House and Senate was, one can't help wondering how much more dramatic it might have been if Diebold electronic voting machines had not been used. At least I can't help wondering that.

But we have to keep in mind that this election is not the end, or even the beginning of the end, but the beginning of the beginning. We have a lot of work to do to not only get this country on a better path but to understand how we ended up where we have been for the past six years--and we can't lay too much of the blame on the stain on this blue dress.

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But to watch the news last week had the texture of a dream, its own disconcerting unreality. Had we become so inured to the debacle that was Republican-led government that we could no longer imagine what it could be like otherwise? Almost. I practically wept as I watched Nancy Pelosi’s interview with Wolf Blitzer because she came across as so sensible and poised, and it had been so long since I'd seen a public official and not a commentator speak that way. And then watching Rumsfeld resign only brought flashbacks of the many agonizing times I'd endured his smug face saying whatever the hell it wanted on my TV. Go straight to hell, Don, do not pass go, do not collect 200 million dollars--there are going to be a lot of familiar faces there.

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But let us return to the specter, the spectacle of the blue dress, which hovers over us, haunts us, still, like a scare tactic with the sophistication of a Brady Bunch episode. We are stuck endlessly with this semen-spattered dress that never will go away. Never will ever, ever, go away. I said we can’t put too much emphasis on the blue dress in a piece that is about the emphasis on the blue dress because there were many factors that brought Bush into office, not just the national dismay at the image of the President of the United States unloading uncontrollably on a young intern’s dress like a randy old man. It really puts you in the room with them, doesn’t it?

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What is one to do with this horrible frock that changed the course of a nation? Let's look at it again. Doesn't this look like a piece of fabric, buttons, and belt that deserves the distinction of ruining this great nation? It’s not entirely true to say that, to hold this thing—oh God, how the belt and long sleeves kill the soul!—up as the main factor that caused people to vote Republican, but its value as a signifier is not just how it represents Clinton, but how it represents the electorate’s opinion of him. What I mean is this: we can’t erase the embarrassing car-back-seat fumbling that the dress represents, which is sex itself, as fact, as stain, but the apprehension of the signifier in the minds of the electorate is what is at stake here, and that is to say, in the context of that mind or those minds, we see how they see sex itself. So, in a strange way, the dress represents the electorate that voted in a Republican Congress in 1998 and a Republican President in 2000. Isn’t that queer?

Let's look at it again.

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This dress, this cum-stained dress, also represents a certain maddening function of the media, which is that the media goes after Democratic scandals with a vigor and venom that has always been absent from its coverage of Republican scandals. Is this because Democrats seem to either have more sex, enjoy it more, or get caught doing it more than Republicans? That is just a little joke. Lol! And so of course, the mind of the electorate is shaped by this media that, even in the New York Times, buries Republican scandals within the paper but rubs our faces in endless front page stories on “Whitewater” and this stupid fucking dress.

And this brings us to my final point, which is that the blue dress still haunts us because the last election showed that there are a lot of people still out there who are blue-dress voters. And is it just their revulsion for sex or are these same people the ones most easily scared by terrorism and its myriad invisible threats? And are they the same people who want the punishing Father-Führer? I think evidence suggests they are. But of course the blue dress voters go for the conservative Punishing Father because the randy Father of Enjoyment terrifies them so, which is to say, of course, that he turns them on.

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We are only half-awake--or half-asleep--in the midst of the Bushian nightmare because the half of the electorate that the dress represents are still out there, and they're voting, and the Republicans will continue to offer them candidates tailored to their fear, prejudice, and ignorance. This is why, as a nation, we are only half awake, and why we have a lot of work to do. In the original Sleeping Beauty story, when the handsome nobleman discovers the unconscious beauty, he rapes her, and she doesn’t wake up. Then she has his children. And she still doesn't wake up. Was there ever a more apt or disturbing metaphor for the American people? The challenge, which will never be met while corporations and lobbyists more or less set the agenda, is for the the Democrats or even the Republicans to offer us candidates that actually govern for the good of the nation and its people--a grave civic responsibility. I think that's what people were voting for last week because the corruption of the current office-holders had become too apparent. They won't get it. Alas, for now the kind of candidate of which I speak remains a Prince Charming in a fairy tale; nonetheless, one hopes, and I think that hope is what last week's vote revealed. And finally, until the day comes when semen-spattered blue dresses matter less than a politician's actual record of service, we'll continue to encounter avatars of Bush along the great road of american politics.

31 October 2006

A repost of a repost of a riposte: BigMuscle.com 4

Am I freaking your shit out yet?

Please don't read this.

This is the fourth in a series on BigMuscle.com, which began as a sort of running critique of BigMuscle on BigMuscle. Most people on that site didn't give a damn about what I was saying, but I got some nice comments on those posts from time to time, nonetheless. You could read the first posts for context, but in this fearful new online universe all the choices are yours. Aren't they?

Don't read the first and second and(slash)or third posts.

13 May 2003

The mouth is an eye. Indeed, the mouth is the first eye, before even the eye is the eye (and our language reinforces this: we "drink" others with our eyes, or more aggressively, we "devour" them with our eyes). For all intents and purposes, the mouth is the original orifice through which we experience the world, though intent and purpose are very confused for the infant, of course; it can be said that neither exist initially because there is only this unnamed thing called "Hunger," and the care-giver, who takes it away. It seems like a pure dyad. Who knows what it is like for the infant, who perhaps is only capable of seeing the care-giver through the eye of its mouth without ever knowing it, itself, exists. Is this why we sometimes only feel we exist when we see another, and why the gaze of another carries such power over us? One reason, anyway. If we feel we don't exist, perhaps seeing another is enough. Perhaps being seen is enough. And here we have returned to the gaze again.

But to stay with the mouth, the first interface, the place that teaches us most cogently about inside and outside, about hunger, nourishment, and never far behind (how can it ever be very far behind?) love: that intimacy of the mouth, that enveloping warmth of feeding, being surrounded by the arms and body of the care-giver, warm, and warmth flowing inside through the mouth, the mouth which sees before the infant's eyes can focus: this is love. And is this why when we press our lips to those of another we do it to show love? How very queer indeed.

19 October 2006


As you returning readers may remember, I disdain posting stories of a personal nature on this blog. I try not to but from time to time I do put them up, for several reasons, the most important being that I think it's funny. The story, I mean. But also that I state over and over my dislike of autobiography of any kind and yet still give into it every now and then--that; I think that's funny. The idea that other people could possibly have any interest in what I had for lunch is so alien and absurd to me, that... well, you know. Don't you? Fortunately, this text is not about today's luncheon.

So, there's this bar in New York City called The Phoenix. Its name refers to another, very famous bar tautologically called, The Bar, which opened in 1978 at 2nd Ave and 4th St. This place, The Bar, was a hangout for ACT-UPers and fellow travellers back in the day, and I have many stories, which I will not share here, regarding that particular establishment. Well, it burned in 1998 making for a neat twenty-year arc, and Fluffy, the Cat, the house mascot was never seen again. Did she die in the fire? No one knows, but a new bar rose from the ashes, if you will, as The Phoenix, up on 13th St and Ave A.

The Phoenix is a fun enough place, but the thing I loved about this bar was the graffiti, and one graffito in particular, which someone had taken the time to inscribe on the wall, in pen, on the left side over the left urinal in the "Men's Room," and it went exactly like this:
I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for one
moment only. I would like to be
that necessary and that unnoticed.
I can't help you if you think this scrawl describes something sweet and romantic, I was revolted by the sentiment from the day I laid eyes upon it. My friend, Kikkoman, and I loved this poemlet so much that a ritual began where whenever one of us took a leak and came back, we tried to work it into the conversation. You know, he'd come back from the bathroom and we'd talk about some guy I was seeing and what a pain he was, and Kikkoman would say, "I know exactly what you mean, I've dated lots of guys like that, but the thing you always have to remember in these situations is that I would like to be the air that inhabits you for one moment only. I would like to be that necessary and that unnoticed."

Graffiti fascinates me. What does it take for someone to remember to bring a writing tool (hopefully, a Sharpie permanent marker) with him into the toilet and for the express purpose of displaying a secret message to strangers? People write anything from song lyrics to movie quotes to political opinions to personal attacks to URLs to poems--for a while some enterprising person was transcribing lengthy passages of Baudelaire in East Village Men's Rooms, which was lovely. What is it about the public/private in-between space of the toilet that makes a person write? I understand some of the reasons, especially if you've been drinking:
a) personal anger ("Dave Mastrogiovonni is a fucking asshole!!!" or "Stan B. gave me crabs!")
b) political anger ("Fuck Bush")
These are a kind of public service announcement as people might want to know about Dave, Stan, and/or Bush. Then you have:
c) humor ("Fags suck")
d) art/quotation (Baudelaire)
e) commentary ("Whoever wrote this needs to get a life!")
The coda to our story is a real life example from this last category. Time passed, as it does reliably, and the walls of the Phoenix Men's Room were finally repainted, obliterating the years of scribbles and snide remarks. I think Kikkoman and I had a conversation at Phoenix that went something like this:
K: So, did you hear? They painted the bathroom walls.
L: No! Is it...?
K: Yes. It's gone.
L: Oh. How sad I feel.
K: It saddens me as well.
L: You don't have a Sharpie permanent marker on you by any chance?
K: In fact. I do. (Hands L. the Sharpie)
L: Will you cover me?
K: (Standing) Nothing would make me happier.
So, yes, gentle reader, imagine as Kikkoman and I crept down to the toilet, and whilst he kept watch (not that it really mattered), I reinstated the sacred text back into the approximate spot where it had glowed all those years. It felt exactly like putting a tiny Lego of the universe back into its proper place.

You realize by now how I felt a special protectiveness towards those scant lines of earnest drivel that I'd repeated so many times over the years. It is not that I had changed my mind about the content itself, which if anything had become more repellent with every thrilling repetition, but those lines had become an old friend to look for and find every time I took at slash at that bar. So imagine my irritation when I went to that urinal just a couple days later and found someone had written "BORING FAG" in huge letters over the text and not next to it, as dictated by tradition, with a helpful arrow.

What amuses here is that the original stood unmolested for so long, but the copy exercised some humorless twit so much that he had to deface this text with his much-less-interesting, wit-free remark. There are two kinds of readers for this little poem, those who agree with it and those who don't, and it took the erasure and reiteration by me for the message finally to find its mark. And die. Now that's comedy.

But I am sure you're quite bored with this little exposition on my favorite graffito, O Reader, so I'll close. But do me this favor next time you look at someone's bathroom scribble, remember that I would like to be the air that inhabits you for one moment only. I would like to be that necessary and that unnoticed.

16 October 2006

I Post Song Lyrics Sometimes: Northern Lad.

Yeah, it's Ophelia all over again

Tori Amos is a problematic figure in pop music . Her first album (though not actually her first), Little Earthquakes, somehow managed to stand astride the barrier between the personal (and therefore, the political, as in feminist) and the popular (as in pop). Strangely piano-driven, the songs still had a hook that grabbed people, both despite and because of the lyrics. But then the words were conveyed by the most wonderful instrument of her voice, which is one of the odder confections to be found on the charts in the last fifteen years. She gasps, she grunts, she takes breaths in weird places, she willfully mispronounces and extends words in order to make them fit the arc of the music.

People who don't know Kate Bush dismiss Amos as a Bush imitator instead of understanding that she pays a deep homage extending the crazy space that Kate Bush more or less invented in pop music at the age of seventeen. Bush is essentially a narrativist; she is almost always telling a story, often derived from literature or biography, but transformed by her own strange take on that tale and whatever musical idioms are nagging at her attention. They are both crazy, brilliant bitches, but the real thing that Amos learned from Bush, in a strange counter-intuitive reverse-alphabetical order, is that when you personalize your work it takes on a powerful universal application. If you're passionate enough about what you're doing and you have the capacity to realize that vision, you can approach a song as deeply embedded in the popular conciousness as "Landslide" (or "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or "
'97 Bonnie And Clyde") and take the most remarkable and personal ownership of it.

This song, "Northern Lad," was on Amos' fourth album. After
Little Earthquakes, she released her "sell-out" effort, In the Pink, which seemed so calculated and under-done compared to the earlier disc. Then she brought out Boys for Pele--the album art for which depicted her as a hillbilly woman burning a mattress in one photograph and suckling a piglet in another--a fearsome declaration of independence from the market that was only underscored by her use of the antiquated harpsichord. This is an album so intense that I cannot listen to the whole things in one sitting. The title refers to boys being sacrificed to a volcano goddess (as opposed to girls), and has provovatively titled songs including, "Father Lucifer," "Professional Widow," "Muhammad my friend," "Agent Orange," and "Putting the damage on." All good songs, but the album is so full of rage and forgiveness that it's almost unbearable. After this she released her first disc with a band--this from a woman who was content to be responsible for all the sounds in her music. It's a great album, containing the best and a some of the worst of what she's capable of and yet is a breakthrough. She pairs, implicitly anyway, a racous song about the undue, damaging influence of a woman on a man (it could be a woman, it couldbe anyone) called "She's Your Cocaine"--a terrific, funky number--with a song called "Northern Lad." I wish I had the ability to upload the thing [Ed. Note: I now can, and I have --Feb. 2014] so you could hear what she's up to since I find this one of the most canny and moving pieces of music I've ever encountered. I know, it's always difficult to hear someone else speak in absolutes of any kind, but you have to understand two things: the refrain has an earthy and sexual logic that astonishes: "If you could see me now, /Girls, you've got to know/When it's time to turn the page/When you're only wet because of the rain"; the second thing is the way she sings this. The tune builds in the most lovely subtle way so that by the time she repeats the refrain, it becomes the most mournful keening. Maybe it's the image of rain in the song, but her voice takes on this elemental aspect, like a storm hitting or breaking. It is the sound of a voice describing the sky filling with light, and she does this without the words but only the tone, the grain, of her voice, which dissolves from this incandescent cry of loss into a weeping tremulo. It kills me every time I hear it. This sound she makes is an example of the sublime.

And now for the song.
Northern Lad

Had a northern lad,
Well, not exactly had, but
He moved like the sunset
God who painted that (there).
First he loved my accent;
How his knees could bend.
I thought we'd be ok,
Me and my molasses.

But I feel something is(n't) wrong,
But (like) I feel this cake still isn't done.
And don't say that you don't.

And if you
Could see me now,
'Said if you
Could see me now,
Girls, you've got to know
When it's time to turn the page,
When you're only wet
Because of the rain,
Because of,'Cause of the rain,'Cause of...

He don't show much these days.
It gets so fucking cold.
I loved his secret places
But I can't go anymore.
"You change like sugar cane,"
Says my northern lad, well,
I guess you go too far
When pianos try to be guitars. 'N'

I feel the west in you, but I
Feel it falling apart too.
And don't say that you don't.

And if you could see me now,
'Said if you could see me now.
Girls, you've got to know
When it's time to turn the page,
When you're only wet
Because of the rain,
When you're only wet
Because of the rain,
Because of,'Cause of the rain,Because of,'Cause of the rain,'Cause of
The rain

"Northern Lad," music and lyrics by Tori Amos, on From the Choirgirl Hotel, 1998.

02 October 2006

I Fag Out Sometimes: Fashion

Rita. Not Rita. (Valentino.)

I wear clothes and I have what amounts to a personal style by default, but Fashion is not my forte. I appreciate it, don't really follow it, and tend to enjoy it as a simultaneously evolving and degrading network of signifiers where colors and styles refer to other things: images, cultural ideas and stereotypes, history, and other fashions and styles. This description probably seems needlessly cumbersome with the added advantage of being vague, but if we accept that "fashions" begin with high fashion--not just classic couture but the various big designers--and then disseminate over time out into cheaper, lower-quality, and less sophisticated hybrid permutations, then it makes a kind of sense. At least I hope it does. Other styles and fashions have subcultural, ethnic, and class markers, and don't necessarily depend on high design, though they may borrow from (or be inspired by) it from time to time. In fact, frequently the converse is often true and high fashion finds its inspiration in any number of style traditions or cultures, reshaping them, ironizing them, and otherwise converting the naive, banal, traditional, or declasse into "couture." Simultaneously, clothing and "looks"--let's say sensibilities--come in and out of "fashion" as designers work against, extend, or reject what came out in previous seasons; on top of that, it takes a year or two, usually more, for ideas and styles to work their way down to the Gap and K-Mart. This is why fashion is in a constant state of evolution and degradation as every season brings a new series of lines that are absorbed into the culture and then filter out--or better, metastasize--into other markets. So, while high fashion appears newly each season and thus redraws the field to some degree for the immediate present and the near future, the popular, diluted, and fragmented ideas from two to five years ago are finding their way onto shelves at the same time.

The fashion system I've been elaborating, or belaboring, is an undeniably reductive one. There is no monolithic "Fashion" handed down from the rarefied heights of the couture houses and the high fashion industry that decomposes into "bad" fashion as it is taken up--too late--by other, cheaper, markets. But some things--and, yes, I'm going to use "things"--hit hard each season, and others don't. The stuff that hits finds its way through specific, overlapping communicating media, most visibly, celebrities (media stars, politicians, the very wealthy, and events such as awards shows and First Lady appearances). The value of these "things" comes first from contradictory impulses where the people who can afford these items want either what everyone else is wearing ("everyone" here being an incredibly tiny and affluent percentage of the general population) or what no one is wearing. Also, specific "hot" designers receive special attention in the press--imagine a world where film actors were not asked "who" they are wearing as they file into the latest awards spectacle. The news and entertainment media's obsessive projection of this information into the world has fostered a most widespread awareness of trends and designers.

What interests me is the circulation of aesthetics, images, sensibilities, styles, periods, and philosophies in fashion; and, yes, I am focusing on the way couture becomes culture and decomposes in the world of the markets until it is slowly replaced by other decomposing trends.

There are other times to discuss the other "group-related" domains of fashion that are based on the
utility or aesthetic of ethnic, class, professional traditions which consequently change very slowly, glacially in comparison (an easy to spot example in the fast-paced "Fashion" industry are epaulets, which were borrowed from a military context, and reappear now and then on dress jackets, trenchcoats, and windbreakers). But out and among these other domains, exists the milieu of "everyone else" in a clothing-sense--we could call this a style without style because the main concerns are practicality and thrift. We speak here of the graveyard of fashion, where all trends end up and eventually die. They dwell here as a fossil record of the last few years of fashion, and you can read these trends fairly easily when you look at color, cut, ornament, and so on. The trajectory I'm describing is neatly summarized in The Devil Wears Prada when the Streep/Anna Wintour character explains that the reason Anne Hathaway's Gap sweater is the particular color of blue that it is derives from a conversation had five years previous in the very room where they stand.

Most people are fairly thoughtless about their clothing and generally go for the demure, standard, and everyday (which is to say the unnoticable)--this describes the legions of citizens, women, in the Midwest, for one example, whose choices in, and awareness of, fashion is quite limited. The fact that they really don't value fashion at all is the reason they can be said to have no style (whatever fossilized trends can be found in what they wear), because a real style is chosen, and what these people are wearing was chosen for them, as though the clothing industry were some monstrous mother dressing her fashion-hapless children. If clothing choice is a way of choosing a kind of identity, then the clothing Midwestern moms wear expresses no identity, because there is nothing individual about it.

For the individual, fashion must be used; style must be chosen. It is a system of play that sends a message of who you think you are or who you want others to think you are--and sometimes that decision changes on a daily basis. The truly savvy--and the kind of people designers watch for ideas--wear whatever they want. If everyone aspired to this level of play and sophistication, fashion might be no fun at all, because the thing that sets the wealthy and the savvy apart from everyone else when it comes to fashion is knowledge, access, difference, attention, and invention. Those with no style lack all these qualities.

SIDEBAR/ENDBAR: Fashion can be read in other ways, of course: for the ways it represents a larger cultural view of gender (flamboyance and flash are still largely reserved for the female of the species), for the ways it incorporates war as fashion, the ways it reiterates earlier trends in the name of "retro," and so on and on; because the turnover is so fast the domain is great and yet strangely finite. This reading, this semiotic, of fashion requires a longer view than what I mean to describe here. I speak not of signs, of ideas that have specific cultural referents, but of signifiers of images. A semiotic, which concerns meaning, is different from a genealogy, and the genealogical is what this discursis circulates about. Fashion is a history of surfaces. Fashion is the first guard, the avant-gard, the armor, of the self. Those who put on their armor every day know the value of this. Moreover and furthermore, this whole setup I've outlined is a useful metaphor for the way other systems work, like history, hairstyles, and genre television: the infectious movement of Fashion reveals the way ideas move generally in culture. And you thought Fashion was just stupid and useless. Silly, reader.

So, I told you that story to tell you this one. Congratulations on getting this far.

Through a series of circumstances I prefer to keep anonymous, I recently acquired an haute couture item that belonged to one Mary McCarthy. Now, I don't know what is more bizarre: that I have high fashion in my home, or that it was worn by that wonderful and acerbic essayist, critic, and novelist, whom no one knows about anymore.

I gave the piece to Jeph for his birthday, and it has still a pricetag on it, Minnie Pearl-style, from a gallery sale in which the previous owner thought, with advice, it would go for $3,500. Though it didn't sell and was given to me, most generously, I am fairly certain that the price listed is not far off from its "value," which makes it the most expensive, non-appliance, thing I have ever touched, excluding the Rosetta Stone (which is now under glass) and a van Gogh at the National Gallery (which is not). Yet unlike those precious items it lives with me. And not only is it valuable because it is a vintage piece of couture, it has Mary McCarthy's DNA on it. This is exciting. This is dramatic.

Let's discuss the piece for a moment: it is a gorgeous, cream, satin, double-breasted coat, made double-wide to be worn over a ballgown, or some other formal wear for women circa 1958 or so, one that has many, many petticoats. Moreover it was designed by Lanvin, the oldest of the Parisian fashion houses. The oldest. Mind you, it was not made by Lanvin herself, who was long dead by 1958, or her daughter, who was, and still is, also dead. No, this is a coat made by one of the most respected fashion houses in Paris, who take, or took, their heritage very seriously. But the fossils are evident in the make of the thing, in its very large satin-covered buttons, and the way it fits a dress that would never be worn today, outside of California where there is no need to wear overcoats on formal dresses, fabulous or otherwise. If I had a decent picture of it, I'd post one, but for now you'll just have to use your imagination. Instead, I offer these images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's costume closet of classic Lanvin. Enjoy. [See below.]

UPDATE. I took some crappy pics. It needs cleaning and pressing, but:

But you really need to see the large satin button detail:

And now, for the frocks.

Evening dress, 1939, Jeanne Lanvin (French, 1867–1946) Steel-gray silk taffeta embroidered with metallic sequins and pink beads. Gift of Mrs. Harrison Williams, Lady Mendl, and Mrs. Ector Munn, 1946

Evening ensemble, ca. 1934, Jeanne Lanvin (French, 1867–1946)
Black silk taffeta with metal plaques. Gift of Miriam W. Coletti, 1993

Evening jacket, 1936–37, Jeanne Lanvin (French, 1867–1946) Silver lamé with black fox trim.
Gift of Mrs. Leon L. Roos, 1966

Robe de style, 1924–25, Jeanne Lanvin (French, 1867–1946) Ivory and black silk taffeta
trimmed with pink and black silk velvet rosettes. Gift of Mrs. W. R. Grace, 1956

22 September 2006

On "Here's to the Ladies Who Lunch"?

1979: Dinah Shore sings Sondheim's "Ladies Who Lunch" with everyone's favorite full-figured gal, Jane Russell, who replaced Elaine Stritch in Company, so long long ago. Jeph found this one on YouTube, and exclaimed, "Oh, I love YouTube." And we do, for how would you or I ever know this existed?

You need to watch the wonderful amazingness of the film, but first, let's look at the "three-act play," as Stritch called it, of the song. It serves as the kinda a eleven o'clock number in the show, but it comes off more like an out-of-nowhere song like Weill's "Tchaikovsky" in Lady in the Dark. What to make of this song? Well, looking at it briefly it concerns:

1. The ladies who lunch
2. The girls who play smart
3. The girls who play wife
4. The girls who just watch
5. The girls on the go

Which might just be a five act play, depending on how you count. This heartless vivisection of New York City women includes its singer, Joanne, aka, Elaine, aka Stritch, most especially in the stanza about the girls who just watch, who get depressed, have a bottle of scotch or a vodka stinger (a repulsive drink, by the way), who disapprove, who jest, who don't move. But like the "Cellblock Tango" in Chicago, which Company predates by the way, the star is full-focus in the penultimate stanza, though in this song there is only one singer.

The brilliance of this song is that on first blush it comes off as a bitchy song written by a bitchy man for a bitchy woman to sing, but when you spend a little time with it, the number starts resounding with an enormous sympathy and a great melancholy. In a weird way, and quite unintentionally I think, it starts becoming a feminist song about the hardships of living under the sophisticated urban Patriarchy, a song of boredom or too much money and too much freedom, of not getting what you signed up for even when you thought you were too smart to really sign up for it in the first place. The anger in the song is quite clear, though articulated through clenched teeth, but when we ask from whence the anger emanates, the waters become quite deep and dangerous. Good job, Sondheim. (For a lovely cf. see "Every Day A Little Death" from A Little Night Music.) For now, we should just enjoy the words, as with PJ Harvey, as a poem, before the delicious Dinah Shore massacre. Watch for Shore singing this like a pop song--she's practically Perry Como with this--and Russell doing her best world-weary Stritch impression. I love Jane Russell, and she's a fuckin' trouper, but the asides here are spectacular. And she was directed initially, but not for this broadcast.

Oh. One last note. Years ago, I listened to this song and called a friend, Todd, in San Francisco, and said, "I think 'The Ladies Who Lunch' is about gay men," and he said, most wonderfully, "All musical theater is about gay men." I'll leave that for you to decide on either count. And now for the song.

The Ladies who Lunch

Here's to the ladies who lunch--
Everybody laugh.
Lounging in their caftans
And planning a brunch
On their own behalf.
Off to the gym,
Then to a fitting,
Claiming they're fat.
And looking grim,
'Cause they've been sitting
Choosing a hat.
Does anyone still wear a hat?
I'll drink to that.

And here's to the girls who play smart--
Aren't they a gas?
Rushing to their classes
In optical art,
Wishing it would pass.
Another long exhausting day,
Another thousand dollars,
A matinee, a Pinter play,
Perhaps a piece of Mahler's.
I'll drink to that.
And one for Mahler!

And here's to the girls who play wife--
Aren't they too much?
Keeping house but clutching
A copy of LIFE,
Just to keep in touch.
The ones who follow the rules,
And meet themselves at the schools,
Too busy to know that they're fools.
Aren't they a gem?
I'll drink to them!
Let's all drink to them!

And here's to the girls who just watch--
Aren't they the best?
When they get depressed,
It's a bottle of Scotch,
Plus a little jest.
Another chance to disapprove,
Another brilliant zinger,
Another reason not to move,
Another vodka stinger.
I'll drink to that.

So here's to the girls on the go--
Everybody tries.
Look into their eyes,
And you'll see what they know:
Everybody dies.
A toast to that invincible bunch,
The dinosaurs surviving the crunch.
Let's hear it for the ladies who lunch--
Everybody rise!
Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise!

"The Ladies Who Lunch," music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, from Company, 1970.

And now for the film.

But for real: Elaine Stritch:

19 September 2006

Hollywood Commie Love Story: Reds

It says a lot when we see the guy's face but not the lady's 
in a historical romance movie poster....

Turner Classic Movies showed the Warren Beatty motion picture, Reds (1981), last night, so I tuned in to see what all the fuss was about. The movie came well-recommended, and as far as I know, Beatty has the distinction of being the only man, the only person, besides Orson Welles with Citizen Kane, to be Oscar nominated for writer, director, producer, and best actor for the same film (and Beatty had done it before with Heaven Can Wait [1978], so he's the only one to pull it off twice). I like Beatty and I like his movies, though it's funny that after all his acclaim, he still seems to have a weird reputation as a pretty boy. It isn't easy to live down a face like that, I guess.

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So, what's Reds about? Well, it concerns two people you've probably never heard of, and a couple others you might have. Beatty plays Jack Reed, a radical, American journalist, labor advocate, and later, Communist to Diane Keaton's Louise Bryant, an early feminist, Marxist, and writer. Heard of them? I didn't think so. The film is first and foremost an epic love story, and in that sense it is hugely successful as Jack and Louise follow each other across the world as they lose, find, lose, and find each other. Much of this is really lovely, though some arrives a bit over-done for my taste. The second major, and overlapping--competing--narrative concerns early 20th century politics, Communism, and the 1917 Russian Revolution, because, you see, Reed and Bryant were in Russia when it was all going down while reporting on the revolution and its major players. After returning to the States, Reed became a delegate from an American Communist organization and died in Moscow in 1920. He is the only American honored by burial at the Kremlin.

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Our leads. (There's a terrific shot in this scene 
on the train where Keaton looks like Louise Brooks.)

It's great, exciting, epic stuff, and the film covers a lot and is long (194 minutes), but probably needs to be a little longer in order to fill in a few historical and emotional holes. The problems I have with the film have primarily to do with Beatty and Keaton and I'll start with Keaton. She plays Louise Bryant as a dilettante who grows into a committed writer and intellectual--fine. But she comes off as a whiny bore for most of the first half of the film, espousing free-love when she wants to bed Reed's friend, Eugene O'Neill (played by Jack Nicholson in a complex performance), then throwing a ridiculous tantrum when she hears Reed has slept around too. Maybe this is historically accurate, maybe she was directed this way--who can know for certain--but it reduces the Bryant character to an unsophisticated, nagging pain, always annoyed that Reed is off doing political work when he should be with her. The incoherence of the character is only resolved at the end when she makes an arduous, and illegal, journey to Russia to be with her man. I don't mean to suggest that Bryant should have been more likable in the film--more the opposite--I feel her convictions and motivations should be more consistent and convey the vibrant, brainy woman she appears to have been. (Side bar: we get some of our info about Bryant from interviews with Reed's living contemporaries that brilliantly punctuate, and puncture, the film narrative. This device strikes me as the most interesting feature of Reds and serves to position the events in history, even while it unravels the film's portrayals of Reed and Bryant.)

Maureen Stapleton as Emma Goldman

My other gripe about Keaton, is the way her acting conveys the politics of her character in the film. Only Maureen Stapleton really offers a sustained portrayal of political conviction as the anarchist, Emma Goldman--she won an Oscar for it, and she's terrific: sardonic, tough, utterly committed, and fierce. Keaton, on the other hand, gives a long speech at Nicholson where she just rants at him, and when she takes a breath, the whole thing falls apart, as if she were only trying to get through it. As I watched, I thought, is this a speech from someone who believes what she's saying, or a performance of what someone thinks conviction is supposed to look like? Obviously, I believe it's the latter, and especially when you compare it with anything Stapleton does--and almost all her onscreen dialogue is of a radically political nature--because she acts circles around Keaton here. Where Keaton blasts through her lines as quickly as she can, Stapleton modulates, punctuates, and colors, as though what she were saying didn't all signify the same thing, which is how it feels with Keaton. Thus Diane Keaton almost always comes off as politically naive and a crass ideologue, which isn't moving or involving, and makes Bryant's politics seem flat, not passionate. The exception that proves the rule occurs in Bryant's scene before Congress--here, Keaton is restrained, wise, and sarcastic, which suits the character immeasurably.

Love triangle-y

Beatty has a similar problem, and his Jack Reed just seems to repeat himself without displaying any of the charisma we are told that Reed had as a public speaker. I know Beatty had his plate full as producer, director, and star, but the part demands more than the attitude of political conviction--all we really get of Reed is that he was a hard-worker, and all his real passion is relegated to the love relationship with Keaton. Because Reed's radicalism is meant to complicate, and be at some odds with, the love story, the muted nature of Reed's politics and Beatty's performance throws the film off balance. Clearly, this wasn't Beatty's intention as the movie is structured around the back and forth of love and politics, which again only "works" when Bryant throws her lot in with Reed entirely in the final chapter. This sort of politics vs love/work vs domesticity/male vs female matrix could only be written, as far as I'm concerned, by a man. This, for lack of a better word, gender bias accounts to some degree for the way Bryant appears--incomplete, inconsistent, vacillating, and hysterical--for much of the film, and therefore Stapleton's Emma Goldman rises as the spectre of what Bryant should or could have been, which I think is both an intentional contrast in the script, and a kind of return of the repressed in the Bryant character; a repression that occurred in the way she was written.

Stapleton died this year at 80, by the way.

Beatty's acting demands one last note about how he often resorts to a comic reading of a scene, line, or reaction. I'd need to look more closely at his work in other films, but here it comes off as a crutch, a short-hand to make Reed sympathetic, and perhaps as a conscious foil for Beatty's own good looks. I'll only give one example: Reed and Bryant's Moscow flat has a crystal chandelier that hangs a little low for Beatty's Jack Reed (Beatty is 6'2"), and he hits his head on it every time he passes by it, and reacts comically every time as the crystals tinkle distractingly. Twice, this would work, but after that, even the most absent-minded professor would remember to duck or do something, anything, differently. Nuff said.

So is Reds any good? Yes, I think it's a great, wonderful film--though uneven here and there and a movie whose project and execution are at odds with one another. In short, Reds is an important, American film that is absolutely worth seeing. I cannot leave unmentioned the spectacular photography by Vittorio Storaro (a Bertolucci DP who has received well-deserved recognition for his work on films as different as The Conformist, Apocalypse Now, Dick Tracy, and The Last Emperor), which locates simple, intimate rooms; huge, frozen landscapes; moody, crowd scenes; emotionally-relevant, figure/spatial arrangements; and unsparing, facial close-ups on the same screen. His work is the great bond that holds the film together where the script and performances falter. There is much to learn of what not to do as well as what succeeds in this film. Joe Bob says check it out. PS Stephen Sondheim wrote parts of the score.

Of course, I can't help thinking of another Hollywood Commie Love Story, which I'll gripe about another time because it shares so many of the problems that plague Reds. That film, of course, is...

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Jewish Radical loves Aryan God

But I've said enough for now. Instead I leave you with two seconds of comic relief and Babs, in one of her more unfortunate outfits:

The Norma Desmond look was hot hot hot that year....

15 September 2006

Fun with the New York Times: The TV Listings

I usually read the New York Times online, but when I pick up the snail edition, I cannot help myself--after reading the front page and the editorial section--I go straight to the TV program grid, which offers all the delicious televisual treats the culture industry has planned for us this evening in thrillingly microscopic detail. I say "thrillingly" because, for me the best part of the program grid, with its overwhelming array of channels--a grid that stretches across, that consumes, an entire page of the newspaper--is that so little space remains to actually describe the program appearing in each shallow rectangle. I'd love to meet the person in charge of writing these telegraphic, almost haiku-like, sketches because, when the words aren't truncated almost to the point of unintelligibility, our writer includes a sardonic opinion in what is surely intended to be a straight-up program guide. It makes me wonder if the Times is writing for a perceived "hip" audience, or if this is the work of a precocious mind desperately fending off boredom. Plus, all the capsule bits are written by my favorite author, Anonymous.

Enough of that exposition. Let's take a look at yesterday's paper.

The first main rectangle of network and local channels offers the most descriptive and therefore, usually, the least interesting examples:

7:30pm, ch 2, CBS
Entertain Tonight
"C.S.I.: NY"
[This is fun, only because space requirements tighten "Entertainment Tonight" into "Entertain Tonight," which I'm certain is only wishful thinking. I especially admire the punctuation-happy quotation marks, periods between C, S, & I, and, of course, the colon. (Keep an eye out for hyphens.)]

8pm, ch 2, CBS
Survivor: Cook Islands
Based on ethnicity, contestants divide into four tribes.

8pm, ch 7, ABC
Grey's Anatomy
The interns care for a family involved in a car accident.
[This is where the theme of a show comes into direct conflict with (or maybe the direct realization of) a given episode's specific story. I mean, except for the "family' part, doesn't this sort of thing happen every week on a show set in a hospital? When space is even less available, these can be shortened into: "Doctors care for accident victims." Or even better: "Doctors work in hospital." Will the excitement never stop?]

In our next two examples, from an NYC local channel, we get consecutive descriptions that sound alarmingly like, well, like the same show.

8pm, ch 9, WWOR
Fate intervenes in love affairs.

9pm, ch 9, WWOR
Fashion House
Surprises in love.

While I have no idea what "Fashion House" could be about (is it an import from Japan?), if we do a little rearranging, it becomes clear that perhaps all TV really is interchangeable:

Surprises in love.

Fashion House
Fate intervenes in love affairs.

Or maybe we could just make them one fabulous 2-hour program:

Fashion House Desire
Love surprised when Fate intervenes in affairs.

NEXT WEEK on Fashion House Desire!
Tensions build when Love borrows Fate's designer shoes.

It is in the Cable listings that our intrepid writer really shows her stuff. Extra points for creativity and critical opinion when the star list crowds out the story.

6:30pm, ENC
Elf (2003)
Will Ferrell, James Caan.
[Bitchy irony or heartfelt admission? You decide.]

8pm, ENC
Out of Sight (1998)
George Clooney.
Escaped convict and federal marshal, via Soderbergh. Sultry, steamy charmer.
[So much with so little. Or is it so little with so much? We get the director and the opinion, but as for plot: "Escaped convict and federal marshal." What on earth could that mean? The possibilities are... endless?]

8pm, FLIX
Better Off Dead (1985)
John Cusack.
Lovesick teenager. Surreal romantic comedy.
[You have to admire Anonymous' ability to distill the essence of a film, even Better Off Dead. Protagonist + Genre = Um... lame description for readers who won't watch it anyway?]

9:30pm, FLIX
Fearless Fighters (1973)
Chang Ching, Chen Lieh [Oh my god! I LOVE them!!]
Martial artlessness.
[Snap! Snap! Oh, no you di'n't! (Oh, yes. You did. Oh, Anonymous....)]

6:30pm, HBO2
Indecent Proposal (1993)
Robert Redford [Oh my god! I LOVE him!]
Sleek, strained, with absurd ending.
[Here, the snobbery of our author overrides any attempt to submit a cogent, or even a coherent, plot. And where's Woody? Where's Demi?? How about "Million Dollar Adultery. Strained."? See? I could do this job! I could write the TV Listings for the New York Times! See? See?]

10pm, SHO2
The Hazing (2004)
Brad Dourif, Philip Andrew [What-the?]
Lacks class.
[(slapping thigh, wiping tears from eyes) Oh, stop, Anonymous! Stop!]

6:30, AMC
A Bridge Too Far (1977)
Dirk Bogarde
Pounding, graphic WWII drama.
[I don't know about you, but it sounds like, well, it sounds like porn. I'm renting it tomorrow.]

8pm, AMC
Enemy of the State (1998)
Will Smith, Gene Hackman
Victim of assassination cover-up. High-tech turn-on. [Yay! Double hyphens! Double whammy!]
[With AMC, Anonymous clearly turns to thoughts of love, or at least becomes a bit over-heated. What are the odds of seeing descriptions of back to back films that use "pounding," "graphic," and "turn on," I ask you?]

Dirty little Anonymous continues the sexual subtext with our next AMC film:

10:30pm, AMC
Narc (2002)
Ray Liotta, Jason Patric.
Guilt-ridden cop [hyphens!] with nowhere to turn. Grimy and entertaining.
[Cop with nowhere to turn? This is an alleged plot? You'd be better off with--oh, who cares! The spectacle of seeing "grimy" and "entertaining" together at last in the same sentence is excitement enough.

I leave you with a quick listing of some of the everyday tresures (and I mean every day), because I think the beauty of Anonymous' work truly only shines when robbed of context.

Color of money downtown. Brilliantly constructed, with feet of clay.
[Gives with one hand, takes away with the other.]

Half-baked and faintly ridiculous.
[But only faintly. Do you smell that too? This is Cruel Intentions, by the way.]

Women and Baseball, back when. Immensely enjoyable.

And my favorite:

American scrambles through demon-filled mystical world and falls in love with goddess. Wildly uneven.
[Oh. My. God. Where do I sign, bitch? I assume the "American" part is very, very important to the plot. I mean, right? It at least gives you a visual feel...?]

14 September 2006

I Post Song Lyrics Sometimes: Rid of Me

I know I posted a video of this little ditty last time, but some things deserve a more focused appreciation. The sheer obsessiveness of this song is breathtaking all by itself, but to really understand what she's up to, you have to hear the original on the album. It's fucking scary. For now, just read the lyrics like a poem.

And now for the song.

Rid of Me

Tie yourself
to me,
No one else,
No, you're not rid of me.
Hmm, you're not rid of me.

Night and day I breathe,
Ha, hah, eh, ay,
You're not rid of me,
Yeah, you're not rid of me,
Yeah, you're not rid of me,
Yeah, you're not rid of me.

I beg you, my darling,
Don't leave me, I'm hurting.

(Lick my legs I'm on fire)
(Lick my legs of desire)

I'll tie your legs,
Keep you against my chest,
Oh, you're not rid of me,
Yeah, you're not rid of me.
I'll make you lick my injuries,
I'm gonna twist your head off, see

Till you say don't you wish you never never met her?
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her?
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her?
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her?

I beg you my darling,
Don't leave me, I'm hurting.
Big lonely above everything,
Above everyday, I'm hurting.

(Lick my legs, I'm on fire)
(Lick my legs of desire)
(Lick my legs, I'm on fire)
(Lick my legs of desire)

Yeah, you're not rid of me.
Yeah, you're not rid of me.
I'll make you lick my injuries,
I'm gonna twist your head off, see.

Till you say don't you wish you never never met her,
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her,
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her,
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her,

Don't you don't you wish you never never met her,
(Lick my legs I'm on fire)
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her,
(Lick my legs of desire)
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her,
(Lick my legs I'm on fire)
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her,
(Lick my legs of desire)
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her,
(Lick my legs I'm on fire)
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her,
(Lick my legs of desire)
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her,
(Lick my legs I'm on fire)
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her,
(Lick my legs of desire)

Lick my legs I'm on fire,
Lick my legs of desire,
Lick my legs I'm on fire,
Lick my legs of desire.

"Rid Of Me," music and lyrics by P.J. Harvey, on Rid of Me, 1993.

08 September 2006

I Post Videos Sometimes

On a lighter note.

Kick-ass video from Enon: "Daughter in the House of Fools." It's been around a while but always brings me pleasure.

Solo, acoustic Polly Jean (my girlfriend) doing one of my favorite songs in 2001, "Rid of Me." She doesn't tear your face off like she does on the album, if anything, this offers a kinder, gentler "Don't you wish you never never met her."

Krazy Kate Bush (another GF) singing "Wuthering Heights" on Top of the Pops in 1978. Her facial expressions on this are awesome, proving once again that when you're a genius, you can do just about whatever you want.

04 September 2006

Labor Day


What do we celebrate, after all, on Labor Day? 

Grover Cleveland set Labor Day up in the 1880s but placed it at the end of the summer, in September, to keep it far away from May Day, the Communist and labor movement's very European day for honoring The Worker and the hard-won eight-hour work day. That's an easy way to remember the difference between Labor Day and Memorial Day, incidentally: Labor Day can never happen close to May. Anyway, that's how I do it.

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That initial reticence of Cleveland's has now blossomed into a full denial of the value of labor and the worker in twenty-first century America. Unions? A joke. A labor movement? What's that? Worker's compensation? Fair wages? Benefits? Insurance? Vacation time? Job security? In the Age of the Corporation, the pursuit of profit has overshadowed everything else. Companies move production and customer support "offshore" (in every possible way, a repellent term), in the pursuit of ever-higher profits. CEOs make salaries many times over lower-ranking employees for the first time in decades. And who suffers in the pursuit of corporate expansion and profit: always the rank and file worker. Always.

How did this happen? Well, the founding fathers put careful strictures on corporations, keeping them within states and denying them the right to buy and own each other, i.e., other corporations. But one day, the Supreme Court allowed--and not even in an actual decision--that corporations were persons, and therefore were granted the right of freedom of speech, ownership, etc. The 1950s, and 60s, especially, marked a backlash against earlier corporate exploitation and indulgence, but with Reagan and deregulation, the backlash against the backlash has increased exponentially. Under the current occupant of the White House it has only gotten worse, as if you needed informing of that with the many scandals of corporate interests and the lobbyists who serve them. Your government serves corporations, not you. Your government does not care about you, your health, your livelihood, your job, your wages, your ability to feed your family, or your safety (remember the mine workers killed recently, none of the many violations reported were investigated. If those violations had been acted upon, those men would be alive today. This is just an FYI.).

But always remember, even if Labor Day is a joke, always remember that your labor has value. Even as you toil in a salaried job for more than the eight-hour work day that was guaranteed over a century ago, I hope your labor has some value to you.

Hey, let's repeal the child labor laws, too!

But don't worry, be happy. There's always a silver lining in every dark cloud. Truest of the dreams is The American Dream. Trust in The American Dream, in a country where anyone can become President. Remember that we live in a society unburdened by class. Trust that progress is the driving engine of our time and that your representatives have your best interests in mind. Don't forget that when God closes a door, he always opens a window. In spite of everything, still believe that people are good at heart. And always remember that murder will out.