Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bryan Ferry, Todd Seavey, GG Allin, and the Sounds


The final rocker to be considered as we close out this “Month of Rock!” is me.

Or rather, I was tickled when humorist and critic Marie Mundaca (at the Get Lit! night of readings that Michele Carlo hosted) recognized me, not from debate-hosting or other places that sprang to my mind but from my performance of Roxy Music’s “Virginia Plain” at a Janice Erlbaum book release party two years ago at Bowery Poetry Club — a book release party that had karaoke and that I recounted in this blog’s first regular entry.

That means we’ve come full circle, faithful readers, and it may be time to alter this blog’s style a bit for the modern era of quick soundbites and tiny Twitter statements — and so I shall, starting the day after tomorrow, tomorrow being the day we do our momentous, epoch-marking Debate at Lolita Bar on the question “Is America Economically Doomed?” — surely a fitting time to try something new and perhaps desperate (like attending another Tea Party protest, which I’ll also do tomorrow, at 6:30 in Times Square before heading to Lolita).

Marie Mundaca’s reading at Get Lit!, by the way, was about the time she scraped together just enough money to see berserk punk GG Allin in concert and got to see things like a male-female couple fighting over which of them would perform oral sex on Allin while he was onstage — until Allin decided the matter by kicking the woman in the head.


Getting back to the far classier Roxy Music for a moment, though: Helen says Bryan Ferry was perhaps the rocker she found most attractive in her youth, so I have an incentive to keep honing my impression of him. And in case you haven’t noticed, the Sounds song “Rock N’ Roll” contains the line “jump up bubble up what’s in store,” so Sounds singer Maja Ivarsson likes the Roxy Music classic “Love Is the Drug.” On the downside, she also sings in the impromptu supergroup seen and heard during the closing credits of Snakes on a Plane, a terrible, terrible film, as I learned when Jerm Pollet and his pals in the Raspberry Brothers hosted a screening of it recently.

Let’s end this “Month of Rock!” on a more positive note, though: I’ll just say that if tomorrow’s “no” econ-debater had his way (judging by his book), Maja and her girlfriend would be able to marry legally in the U.S., and I will at least do her this service: Instead of thinking about Snakes on a Plane, I will link again to her amazing performance of “Seven Days a Week” on Letterman. It’s punk, it’s pop, it’s Dave, it’s a sexy lesbian or bisexual woman, it’s a reminder that periods of market-leaning thinking and New Wave seem to go together in Sweden as in the U.S., and simple though it looks it may be my favorite live performance clip of the decade. And on that surprising note ends the “Month of Rock!”

Monday, June 29, 2009

Tomboys of the 80s


Amidst all the playing of “Billie Jean” in honor of the late Michael Jackson, let us not forget the other Billie Jean in pop culture in the 80s, namely The Legend of Billie Jean, from which we get the themesong “Invincible” by Pat Benatar. It’s odd that anyone would use the name Billie Jean just three years after it had become so closely associated with Michael Jackson (unless they were actually hoping to confuse people), but Jackson got a sort of (likely unintended) revenge sixteen years later, with the release of his album and song “Invincible.” What goes around comes around. (Remember to always think twice. Oo!)

Both my musical and romantic tastes may have been shaped by the fact that so many 80s acts I liked as a teen who weren’t robotic androgynes like Annie Lennox were instead (in some sense) impassioned tomboys: Pat Benatar, Kim Wilde, Patty Smyth (not Patti Smith, though she’d probably appear on some people’s list), Lita Ford doing “Kiss Me Deadly” (not necessarily anything else she did), the Motels, Heart, Joan Jett, Exene Cervenka, etc.

(It’s a wonder I didn’t end up a lesbian myself — or did I? Al Franken, who may yet be a senator, joked long ago that he thought of himself as “a lesbian trapped in a man’s body.” Whether that means he should have been in the Gay Pride Parade making its way through Manhattan yesterday is debatable — and if you want to see Bryan Harris, who wrote a gay-friendly book mocking sexually-hypocritically politicians, debating the fate of the American economy against paleocon Richard Spencer, remember to join us this Wednesday at Lolita Bar.)

These musical acts at least tended toward the tough-of-demeanor and the husky-of-voice in a way that makes, say, Britney look very wimpy. It does not surprise me to hear of Patty Smyth holding her own in a marriage to notorious hothead John McEnroe, for instance — that’s no role for a wimpy girly-girl. And she is the Warrior, of course.

(A nerd aside: the star of The Legend of Billie Jean also had the title role in the Supergirl movie that you barely remember existed, and it just so happens that an interesting debate about Supergirl’s status as sexual icon cropped up in the comics world this month: specifically, whether to show her panties. My impression is that Third Wave feminist types tend to prefer the more overtly sexual — and at the same time more overtly muscled and masculine — Power Girl, a Supergirl doppelganger from an alternate universe. I don’t think you’ll hear any complaints about that from the boys — indeed, it often seems that the Third Wave’s odd primary contribution to gender relations has simply been to put the “hussy” back in “brazen,” while still acting as though they expect males to combat them on this. Everyone, male and female, seems to have headed to the strip club and ended up on the same page. The long historical digression that was feminism is thus over.)


While praising tough-sounding 80s broads, I should note that I’ve always thought the embarrassing song “I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls has been unjustly elevated on the heavy-rotation lists above their far superior, darker, earlier, half-forgotten song “Pleasure and Pain.” It also seems that my favorite Go-Go’s songs aren’t the ones getting the most airplay years later — and one of those favorites happens to be the one with a video in which they’re in drag, “Turn to You” (though that doesn’t enhance my enjoyment of the song — nor does the cameo by a young Rob Lowe).

On another tomboyish front, Ayn Rand and the late Farrah Fawcett apparently admired each other so much that Fawcett consider playing Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged, as noted by the Daily Beast (in an article by one of Katherine Taylor’s neighbors in L.A., which was in turn linked by another of their neighbors, Brian Doherty, on Reason.com and finally pointed out to me by Jacob Levy).

And if this whole entry sounds a bit too gender-bendy, this somewhat conservative Norm MacDonald audio sketch depicting the world’s first gay couple might serve as compensation (Note: It is not perfectly historically accurate). The reader who pointed it out to me shall remain anonymous, though I suspect said reader is likely to be present at Wednesday’s debate if you wish to express your outrage — we’re expanding the parameters of audience participation a bit this time.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Guns N' Roses Are Dumb for Such Brilliant Guys


I say this with the utmost love and concern: The following excerpt from the Wikipedia page about Slash seems to sum up what a sad bunch of stupid screw-ups all the parties concerned are (the only thing missing is an official press release headlined “Where Do You, Like, Fucking Get Off and Shit, Man?”):

Feud with Axl Rose:

In 2007, Slash admitted to going to Rose’s home with the intention to settle a long-standing legal dispute and make peace with his former band mate. Slash elaborated on the incident in his autobiography, claiming that what actually occurred was that he simply went to Rose’s house while intoxicated and left a note asking Rose to contact him to settle a pending lawsuit. He also added that he had not actually spoken to Rose in person since leaving Guns N’ Roses in 1996. Slash further stated that incident’s publicity created a rift in Velvet Revolver; as his bandmates were unsure of what Slash had actually done and Slash had confronted Weiland over his scathing reply to Rose, feeling that Weiland did not have the “right” to criticize Rose, not actually knowing him. In March 2009, Slash responded to an interview in which Rose referred to him as “a cancer”, saying that “it doesn’t really affect me at all. The fact that he has anything to say at all it’s like ‘Whatever, dude’.”

They may be grown men with millions of dollars, but it’s hard not to think of them as just ornery, poorly socialized boys who need to spend detention period in separate rooms because they will always find some excuse to take offense.

Makes one long to hear about pleasant, peaceful, consensus-building ladies — but instead, tomorrow it’s a look at one of the most important music-celebrity phenomena of the 80s: tomboys!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Pixies! Yaaaay! (But I Am Not Referring to Gay Pride Weekend)


As if Michael Jackson — and Phil Spector, with whom we began this “Month of Rock” — weren’t troubling enough figures, morally, there were also the reports this week that not far from where I live the Oscar-winning songwriter behind “You Light Up My Life,” now seventy-one, may have raped some eleven women after luring them to his place with promises of a music career (all three of these guys have a haunted, emaciated look that causes one to instinctively back away as if from a Ringwraith, though I hate to convict them on that basis alone).

You know, my mother always thought there was something horribly wrong with “You Light Up My Life.” Who sings about shining joy in such a dreary-sounding fashion? Rightly seeing as part of a much larger problem of wimpy, soft 1970s non-rock, Mom christened such numbers “shit-rock” and, like Dad, waxed (ha!) nostalgic for the 50s and 60s. In retrospect, they were right and of course influenced me greatly in this as in so many other things.

My negative reaction to the overly-mellow radio fare of my earliest years probably helped ensure a lifelong allegiance to fairly energetic or dramatic rock, including a lot of postpunk stuff (leading to resentment of anyone like Sting, much as I admire the Police, who insists on turning driving, powerful songs into lazy calypso variations or whatever.


Occasionally, though, tempering big scary songs can yield interesting results. I only recently heard for the first time the live version of “Monkey Gone to Heaven” from Pixies at the BBC, which has Frank Black doing much more clear and mellow vocals than usual, somewhere between Lou Reed and the poem part of “Nights in White Satin” — with the funniest moment being when, instead of saying “Rock me, Joe!” as in the original, he says, in a very mellow fashion (and using the guitar player’s full real name), “Rock me…Joseph…Alberto…Santiago.” (And while praising the Pixies, I should also note the very Pixies-like or at least Breeders- or Amps-like band the Oohlas, and their song “Rupert Krikor Chang,” for those interested — and should note that in the unlikely event I start a Pixies cover band, I think I will call it the Proxies.)

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not all about the noise. Even my friend Jake Harrison, whose tastes tend toward the rougher and punkier than mine recognizes the pop brilliance of, for example, the Vapors, recently urging me to get their album New Clear Day. I failed to find it in my initial short search (done the old-fashioned way, at stores, just for the heck of it, though I’m sure I could get it easily online) but did hear “Waiting for the Weekend” from it, which was good — and reminds me a bit of what I have come, with maturity, to regard as the best Robert Palmer song, “Johnny and Mary,” undeniably a case of a mellow number being better than the artist’s bigger, more dinosaur-stomping ones.

In the end, though, despite endless debates about objectivity and subjectivity in aesthetic reactions, I suppose the in-between truth of the matter is that you notice objective differences between texts or songs more depending on which things you’re deeply invested in attention-wise and emotion-wise, a basic psychological insight that few people — even ones aware of the pattern — seem to take to its logical conclusion: maybe other people’s investment in other nuances and other things is just as intelligent as your own (like that Onion piece about sci-fi and sports fans mutually pitying each other).

This goes double for most political and religious thinking, but we’ll leave that until after the “Month of Rock.”

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson Dead, John Lennon a Sadist

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I didn’t expect this blog’s “Month of Rock” to include the death of the King of Pop — and let me hasten to add that easy as it is to make fun, I liked several of his songs and was quick to point out that Thriller had the most top ten hits of any album when that question was raised among some of my friends.

I know exactly where I was when I heard Michael Jackson was dead: getting a drink at swanky little Quantino Bottega Organica, where bartender Lareesa (sp?) said that her childhood was dying along with Jackson.  Of course, I’d had my suspicions earlier, a few blocks away, when I saw a punkish guy in a mortician-like black tophat blasting Jackson hits on his boombox around 7pm.  An hour later, at a Bowery Poetry Club event hosted by Opium magazine, not only did Lisa Carver dare criticize her fellow bohemians for knuckling under when faced with threats such as the Secret Service’s apparent interrogation of her boyfriend (Carver can pick ’em, as noted yesterday), but the evening’s co-hostess dared say of Jackson that “Somewhere tonight, a little Guatemalan boy is safe because that man is dead.”

I’ve long said that if Jackson were a movie character, he’d have long since reached the point where death was the cleanest next move, like a mad scientist so transformed that the explosion of his lab seems like a mercy-killing.  So long ago, it seemed like time for the amusement park full of molested children to burn down, possibly after the mad leader’s chimpanzee sidekick accidentally started a fire or tore his master’s artificial face off.

Let us not forget, though, that one of the things that kept Jackson rich and able to afford things like moving to a mansion in Brunei toward the end was his ownership, for a time, of the music of the Beatles — and we might do well to think of John Lennon (subject of next year’s Nowhere Boy biopic), revered by so many leftists and neo-hippies, as an even greater monster than Jackson.  Jackson may have had some uncontrollable attraction to little boys (and perhaps would have been flummoxed by this week’s congressional push and Supreme Court ruling suggesting, respectively, that you should give junior high girls breast exams for highly-unlikely breast cancer but should not examine their underwear for over the counter painkillers), but John Lennon was an outright sadist, as historian Christine Caldwell Ames has explained to me, doing things like mocking the mentally retarded during his concerts and relishing telling his first wife about every single time he cheated on her, while he was dumping her on a long plane flight.

The man was a monster but was beloved by peaceniks and enlightened capitalism-bashers everywhere — much like his contemporary Mao Tse-Tung (which reminds me: don’t forget our debate on economic doom, July 1).  Perhaps, like so many politicians (see: Mark Sanford), he felt the need to preach in favor of the things that he lacked in his own private life (sexual self-discipline in Sanford’s case, kindness and love in Lennon’s — we’ve seen these sorts of public/private compensatory patterns too many times now to consider them mere ironic aberrations).

There is simply nothing lower than a sadist, almost by definition — a deliberate source of suffering in a world that already has too much of it.  But I’ll say more about that in a week, since I’ve promised economist John Bellettiere I’ll explain and defend utilitarianism a bit more.  Before that, though, lest I sound too kindhearted and soft, let’s finish up the week of rock over the next few days with entries about the rough-sounding Pixies, the hard-living members of Guns N’ Roses, and the tomboys of the 80s, though we’ll finish up with a gentle Ferry on Tuesday.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: Is America Economically Doomed?


Wed., July 1 (8pm): “Is America Economically Doomed?” with:

Managing editor of TakiMag Richard Spencer arguing yes.

Journalist and political author Bryan Harris arguing no.

Hosted by Todd Seavey and moderated by Michel Evanchik.

Free admission, cash bar.  Basement level of Lolita Bar at 266 Broome St. at the corner of Allen St. on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, one block south and three west of the Delancey St. F, J, M, Z subway stop.

With a trillion being spent on banks, another trillion or so on healthcare (per Obama’s big plans from yesterday), and the usual 3 trillion or so on old people, sick people, foreign foes, and miscellaneous ludicrous projects — plus a national debt about the size of the GDP, a financial sector about as trustworthy as a Survivor contestant, and more sclerotic institutions than you can shake a calcified index finger-bone at — you might be a bit worried about the economy.  But is it hopeless?

“No,” says Bryan Harris.  “Yes,” says Richard Spencer.  “I had better attend and find out for myself,” says you.


And if you’re also saying to yourself, “I do worry that we’re doomed, but I’m not sure I want to attend a debate about it featuring someone from that radical right-wing TakiMag,” let me just observe that even the most left-wing and hippie-like among you would probably be comfortable joining me tonight (Thursday the 25th, 7pm at Bowery Poetry Club) for a completely unrelated event, a set of dueling readings by writers affiliated with Opium magazine, featuring famed writer and performance artist weirdo Lisa “Suckdog” Carver, right?  (She knows Pagan Kennedy and Dame Darcy, after all, and they’re nice and liberal.)

Yet Carver’s been linked romantically to purported fascist, Satanist, and all-around scary political extremist Boyd Rice — and maybe my friends out in Colorado ought to hang around with him, now that I think about it, just to keep things interesting.  Compared to him, both our Lolita debaters will seem downright respectable — likewise, the positively mainstream (almost centrist, really) folks at this coming weekend’s New York reunion, which I’m lucky enough to be attending with Helen, of Yale’s Party of the Right.  (And I say that even though one of their members claims to be a traditionalist-conservative convert to Hawaiian paganism.)

Look, you never know who might be useful when you’re organizing a small band to navigate the wastelands and hunt squirrels after the whole system falls apart — if it does, I mean.  But to find out whether it will: join us next Wednesday.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Transformers vs. "Deceptacon"


You know, I’m not currently planning to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (out today) even if it does have forty different robots in it, but I’d be sorely tempted if they actually used the cool song “Deceptacon” [sic] by the band Le Tigre (and let me add that tigers are the most beautiful non-human animals, don’t let anyone tell you different).

The real menace to civilization today, though, is the deceptive transformation of ABC News into a platform for advertising Obama’s healthcare plan, in a broadcast hosted by Charlie Gibson tonight — though the truth will be presented today at noon at the Harvard Club, in a Manhattan-Institute-hosted luncheon speech criticizing Obamacare given by ACSH Trustee and former New York lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey (whose copy of Atlas Shrugged I’ve seen beside her bed — would that she were governor). It’ll be interesting to compare her complaints to the seven-point list of objections recently published by the Cato Institute — and it will be interesting to see if the American Medical Association sticks to its guns and continues to oppose the plan as well.

One film transformation we will not be seeing after all, alas, is that of Sean Penn into Larry Fine of the Three Stooges in the Stooges biopic by the Farrelly Brothers — and that puts the whole project in doubt, reportedly, after the Farrelly Brothers went to such great effort to secure Jim Carrey as Curly and, even more strangely, Benicio Del Toro as Moe. We live in an odd world.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Book Selection: "The Great Rock ’N’ Roll Swindle" by Michael Moorcock (Who Is Not Exactly a Proponent of "Conservatism for Punks")

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Todd Seavey.com Book Selection of the Month (June 2009): The Great Rock ’N’ Roll Swindle, or Gold Diggers of ’77 by Michael Moorcock (and judging by the prices for used copies on Amazon, perhaps I should sell mine — OR BURN IT!)

Like me, British “New Wave” science fiction author Michael Moorcock enjoys juxtaposing several related texts or ideas — unlike me, he doesn’t waste any time concocting segues. So today, neither will I:

•Julien Temple made a documentary about the Sex Pistols — two actually, the more recent one being The Filth and the Fury and the far earlier one being The Great Rock ’N’ Roll Swindle, for which Moorcock, oddly enough, wrote the official companion book in novel form, depicting his already-existing sci-fi mod/punk character Jerry Cornelius (not to mention Cornelius’s evil brother Frank and other associates) interacting with the Sex Pistols. The Pistols are depicted as despising their manager and record label, something you don’t normally see in official companion books.

Thanks to time travel and various ghostly apparitions (and wiseman Lemmy from Motorhead), London and reality itself unravel, with the Pistols repeating their Queen’s Jubilee boat performance but this time with actual accompanying aerial assault and widespread bloodshed. That Moorcock makes all this seem sexy and right and does so with an amoral smirk shows he’s an anarchist in a much broader sense than I am — and that he was a big influence on comics writer Grant Morrison, as I’ve noted before.

(And from there, if I were doing segues today, how easily we’d glide from Morrison to the comic Godland and its use of the chant “IBOGA” and thus to Morrison-lookalike Hunter S. Thompson’s groundless claims about drug use during the Muskey campaign, but we don’t have time for that or for an analysis of the prince in Hellboy 2, so do your own research for a change.)

•Moorcock himself would probably look with great suspicion upon my philosophy of “conservatism for punks” — but I have always found his godson, who is really named Elric and unlike his namesake character is a swarthy Brazilian and a friend of Reid Mihalko (rather than an albino swordsman), very pleasant, and Elric informed me of this new, definitive collection of Moorcock’s best short stories — the Best of Michael Moorcock, just out last month, so check that out, too.

•Was it Moorcock, the ungrateful bastard, who likened the works of J.R.R. Tolkien to Winnie the Pooh because of their conservatism and warmth? (Has he really watched the suicidally-dark Winnie the Pooh: A Day for Eeyore, as Helen and I have been planning to do, maybe along with the director’s cut DVD of Surf Nazis Must Die, which I just realized I have in my three-disc collection of hardcore punk songs Amp Records Has a Hard-On for Tromaville.com, which I’m listening to as I write this?) Regardless, I have to be grateful to him for creating a sci-fi/punk cultural crossroads that reminds me a bit of his fellow cut-up, William S. Burroughs, unbeknownst to most folks, writing the original, utterly unfilmable, vastly complex and cityscape-focused treatment for the movie Blade Runner, based at that phase of the project not on Philip K. Dick, kindred spirits though Burroughs and Dick might seem, but on the novel Blade Runner about black market doctors written by Alan Nourse. They kept the city, ditched the whole plot, inserted Dick — and, like much Moorcock, laid the foundations of cyberpunk while they were at it.

(These weird geek culture intersections are like a hipper version of that time the Avengers were on Letterman in one issue of their comic book in the 80s and he rescued them with his giant doorknob, a recurring prop on Letterman broadcasts back then, which made its final, climactic appearance in a bit that explained the need for the giant doorknob by unveiling the terror of the even larger, albeit more crudely made, Soviet doorknob.)

•Speaking of anarchist metropolises (damn — segue), while making an honest but failed effort the other day to locate a copy of The Case for Big Government (which I’ve promised the author I’ll read) at the disturbingly empty and doomed-looking local Barnes & Noble just before, to my relief, it moved two blocks west and got larger, I instead spotted something I thought Helen might like and so picked up Kat Long’s The Forbidden Apple: A Century of Sex & Sin in New York City, which — and I swear I had not anticipated this when I bought it, honestly intending to expand my horizons — turns out to be the latest book to endnote me (the last one I knew of being Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto by Mark Levin, which is rather different in political orientation from Long’s work, but that’s how we libertarians roll). Makes you wonder how many other books mention me without me happening to pick them up…

A Reason article of mine from 1997 is foonote 27 in chapter 8, about Giuliani conspiring with Disney to zone the porn out of Times Square (another reminder to shed no tears over his failed presidential bid, I suppose, though instead we get Obama…who appoints Sotomayor…who likes eminent domain…which likely leads to more stuff like zoning out porn, so you can’t win, not without a bigger dose of anarchy).

Kat Long, it should be noted, is not to be confused with Pussy Galore. With the addition of the mention by Long, if memory serves, I have now been a footnote or endnote in a libertarian book, a green/organic book, a conservative book, and a liberal book (that I know of) and should next aim for Perotista, maybe. (In the meantime, I’m just toasting Iranian protesters, or was here at last week’s Manhattan Project gathering — and if that sounds more to your liking than toasting Leader Obama for the hundredth time, join us one of these months, per the directions on my main page’s right margin.)

•There’s a Moorcock reference in the very avant-garde old MTV sci-fi cartoon Aeon Flux, by the way, since the cloned/redundant nature of the characters is marked by giving Aeon a sister named Una, a recurring character name in Moorcock’s work, filled like sketch comedy with half-familiar, half-transformed characters, all of it rationalized as a side effect of the existence of the multiverse. (And is it coincidence or the best homage ever that Una was also the name of the all-by-herself duplicate of the Legion of Super-Heroes’ Triplicate Girl who bit the dust, horribly devoured by super-rats, in DC Comics’ Countdown to Final Crisis miniseries? And why is the final issue of the Legion of Three Worlds miniseries that resolves the multiverse’s connection to the awesome villain Time Trapper delayed once more to July 22, putting me within two perilous goddam weeks of ending up a forty-year-old comics reader? And will the homicidally deranged Superboy-Prime somehow be redeemed?)

•In a similar vein, from the Wikipedia page on comics writer extraordinaire Alan Moore:

Moore has written one screenplay, entitled Fashion Beast, loosely based on both Jean Cocteau’s version of Beauty and the Beast and the life of fashion designer Christian Dior. The script was commissioned by former Sex Pistols manager, Malcolm McLaren. It has yet to be made into a film.

•The most sci-fi British thing I’ve experienced this week, though, may have been a concert by hilariously textbook-perfect prog rock band Van Der Graaf Generator — with opening act the Strawbs, who sounded a bit like a cross between Fairport Convention and Yes and, sure enough, have counted Sandy Denny and Rick Wakeman as members, according to J.R. Taylor, who got me in and mentioned the concert recently on his invaluable blog, RightWingTrash.

New York Times’ Jon Pareles reviewed the Van Der Graaf concert yesterday — and now I realize he was the twitchy Boomer ubergeek in front of me and J.R. in the VIP section who asked us to move back because he was having trouble seeing around the speaker system, then twitched and spasmed and occasionally air-conducted to the most obscure and prog-rocky eleven-minute songs in rock history. He looks like this.

But it’s Beyonce, per NYT on the same day, who is a “rapacious animal-robot-dance-titan,” which undeniably sounds hot — and oddly enough, I weaved through her fans in the MSG area (after seeing Helen off at the bus for DC) as I made my way north to see Van Der Graaf at Times Square. Naturally, I will always think of Beyonce as an R.A.R.D.T. now and like her all the more for it.

•Unlike J.R. (or Helen), the site io9 likes horror movies most when they’re socialist. The real horror, of course, is that the mind-virus of anti-capitalist thinking is so powerful and widespread, hardly anyone can even imagine movies or novels with morals the opposite of the ones listed in that article, but, hey, why try thinking outside the communal box?

My own list of “socialist horror” would include China, Cuba, and Obama’s healthcare plans and bank subsidies. Cool as io9 may be, its editor is just one of countless intellectuals in our day — and in our society for centuries now — who sympathize with government control of the economy for what are essentially aesthetic/cultural reasons, which in a sane world would be regarded as about as shallow as thinking Coast Guard vehicles are better suited to reach Mars than NASA vehicles because of the color of the Coast Guard ships or the jaunty tunes the sailors play. Grow up, people, and learn economics. Now or never — and not from Marxists or labor unions.

•I praised the twee music last week, but I must also say that Postal Service’s version of “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” is another reminder that even alt-rock bands you like are often revealed as gnats beside gods when they attempt to redo classic rock. And that’s probably why Johnny Rotten reportedly liked to dance over and over again to “Hot Blooded” by Foreigner. My praise of them in my Flag Day entry doesn’t seem quite so unhip now, does it, you arrogant jerk?


•You know, prior to watching it with Helen, I’d never seen Pretty in Pink (you may recall me listing big 80s movies that I somehow failed to see back in the 80s, presumably because I was busy rewatching Raiders of the Lost Ark — which in fact I also just did a few days ago).

Anyway, Helen mentioned the Duckie/Blaine dilemma being a bigger one than just what’s on the screen. As you may know, the script originally called for Ringwald to stay with Duckie at the prom, but the studio made Hughes change it so she reunites with rich guy Blaine — and Hughes made the same-plot-opposite-genders Some Kind of Wonderful precisely so the Duckie-analogue could win instead, apparently. That’s one of those making-of notes that makes it hard to think of the familiar ending as the “real” ending, meaningless as that label may be to sophisticates and deconstructionists.

Then again, Duckie is kind of annoying. I also strongly suspect the character was inspired by the obscure but very interesting wacky 60s black comedy Lord Love a Duck, about a man (played by effete Roddy McDowall) so eager to serve the woman he loves and make her acceptable to others that he ends up committing crimes and wacky 60s mayhem on her behalf. Netflix it if you don’t believe me.

•The closest filmmaking development to the dual endings thing among last month’s new nerd films may be the two different post-credits bits attached to different versions of Wolverine, for what little it’s worth: one hinting that Wolverine’ll be in Japan next time, where perhaps the best story ever told about him in the comics took place (involving a hot she-ninja and Yakuza and samurai and stuff), and the other hinting that villain Deadpool still lives and can “see” the audience, in keeping with his odd ability to break the fourth wall in the comics, one of the quirky characteristics reportedly making him likely to get a spin-off (of a spin-off) film of his own.

•We may not have many anarchist politicians (almost by definition), but I was pleased to see that we have a governor, in South Carolina, who doesn’t mind being called a “libertarian” (on social conservative issues he isn’t, but even if it’s just on fiscal issues, that would make him better than virtually all other Republicans these days). Needless to say, then, I was unhappy about the overblown hullabaloo that accompanied his little disappearing act last week when he decided to go off and hike the Appalachian Trail on the same weekend as Naked Hiking Day. I doubt there’s anything scandalous there except in the eyes of his enemies, but I can also imagine the whole incident easily being turned into a mildly offensive USA Network movie (perhaps from Troma Studios), based on the most logical explanation of the whole incident, like so:

The governor heads into the woods with naked co-eds to get away from it all and remind himself what liberty truly is, at a time in his life when he isn’t sure he feels inspired to carry on with his political career, then gets captured by nudity-hating, authoritarian Appalachian Mountains hillbillies who feed naked chicks to the Bigfoot they have captured in their barn, but Sanford and the hot chicks manage to win Bigfoot over to their side with a big orgy that Bigfoot attends, and then the Bigfoot rips the hillbillies’ limbs off so that the good guys can escape back to Columbia, SC, where Bigfoot is given the key to the city and Sanford’s wife takes him back, recognizing that he’s beaten his demons and is now ready to set all America free — but the one hillbilly with the hook hand may still be alive at the bottom of the gully.

(More sci-fi film stuff tomorrow, and more political radicalism in the next day’s new Lolita Bar debate announcement.)

•In other political news: Yes yes yes, a thousand times yes, to continued 50/50 senatorial gridlock and the suspension of legislative business in Albany.

•And no to France for trying to ban the burqa. You don’t talk people into adopting secular ways by having the law literally force them to remove their clothes. And I say that as a guy who toasted the Iranian protesters and would be happy to see political Islam vanish into history with fascism, communism, and government in general.

You know what you get if you’re in an oppressive (but not physically threatening) family? The right to leave when you’re a teen. With the average human lifespan, that gives you plenty of time remaining to decompress and read Reason (where you’ll find more of my thoughts on culture and whether or not it can truly oppress absent law, in a couple months, if all goes as expected).

•I’m pleased to see comics columnist Val D’Orazio quoted me this month, but what’s weirder is that the previous time she quoted me led, apparently, to me appearing on the Wikipedia page about the DC Comics character Anarky, along with left-libertarian Rod Long, who I criticized in December during this blog’s “Month of Feminism” (a spat in which Val would likely not be on my side). Here are the “relevant” passages from the Anarky Wikipedia entry:

Following the publication of Robin #181, Roderick Long, an anarchist/libertarian political commentator and Senior Scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and self-professed fan of the character, expressed annoyance at the portrayal of the character of Lonnie Machin and the usurpation of the “Anarky” mantle by [another character named] Armstrong. Upon learning of [writer] Nicieza’s reasoning for the portrayal, Long “summarized” the explanation as a mock-dialectic:

•Thesis: Anarky is too interesting a character not to write about.
•Antithesis: Anarky is too interesting a character for me to write successfully about.
•Dialectical synthesis: Therefore I will make Anarky less interesting so I can write about him.

…Besides Breyfogle and Peatty, Todd Seavey was another professional writer who expressed an interest in creating stories for Anarky. A freelance libertarian writer and editor, and author of several issues of Justice League, Seavey considered authoring an Anarky series his “dream comics project”…

•Tomorrow, though, I will fulfill my humbler dream of writing a blog entry about Transformers.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Political Nirvana, Krist as Savior, Journalist in Limbo


If Boomer hippies tended toward socially-libertarian and economically-statist views, where does grunge lead? It would seem to lead logically (like a lot of Gen X thinking) to great cynicism about “the whole system,” and indeed former Nirvana member Krist Novoselic is now running for local office, as explained by libertarian columnist Paul Jacob, on a voting-system-reform platform. Jacob approves — and has himself fought for term limits and even faced criminal charges in Oklahoma for petitioning there for ballot initiatives despite being from out of state.

I’m increasingly anarchist in my outlook, I think, and while I’m delighted to see numerous avenues to limiting the power of the state pursued simultaneously, I wish people would focus very directly on getting spending cuts and deregulation passed. Reforming campaign and referendum processes smacks a bit of Progressive efforts to make government “good,” a contradiction in terms and a potential distraction from the more appropriate cause of simply disposing of government. But that’s not going to happen anytime soon, so in the interim every little bit helps.

For a less compromising dose of anarchism, though, check out my Book Selection of the Month entry tomorrow, examining a Michael Moorcock novel that mixes anarchism and the Sex Pistols.

And in other political news, my friend and fellow Brown alum Kristen Mulvihill’s husband, New York Times reporter David Rohde, who she just married nine months ago, has escaped from militants after a (largely unreported) seven-month captivity in Afghanistan. So congratulations to them all over again, needless to say.

I hosted a debate dealing with the Middle East this month and partied with a departing Commentary staffer this weekend, and I admit that’s about as close to the Middle East conflict as I want to get personally. Good thing we have some intrepid David Rohdes out there, though. (At the same time, I’m guessing Kristen wouldn’t much mind seeing him switch to a desk job.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Overhearing Music


I realize there’s that software now that enables you to use your cell phone to record and thus identify songs you overhear while walking around.  But I would imagine most music nerds these days are using my default method — trying to overhear one distinctive snippet of the lyrics for later Googling purposes (or Binging purposes, I should perhaps now say — though I think for people to convert from Google to Bing, one’s first impression of Bing can’t simply be that it works about as well — which is what you’re likely to think unless you happen to be vacation-planning or doing one of the other things for which Bing is designed to be superior — but rather that you have been blown away and converted on the spot away from use of an old reliable search engine that has become second-nature for most of us already).

Anyway, the snippet/Googling method works surprisingly well but of course does lead to moments of great frustration when none of the lyrics are audible — save perhaps something near-useless like “love, baby” — and your friends are starting to notice that you’re craning your neck in a funny way to try to hear the song better while everyone else is eating a meal or otherwise going on with their lives.

I had a hard time hearing the psychedelic rock lyrics playing in the dress shop Beacon’s (Helen’s idea, not mine) one week ago today until suddenly hitting a garagey-sounding cover of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” sandwiched between psychedelic instrumentals and preceded by what I now take it was not actually a Zombies song but, yes, Vanilla Fudge covering Zombies (mmmm — vanilla fudge covering zombies), as some Googling and checking of track lists revealed.  And the real music nerds will now be appalled, convinced that I should already own Vanilla Fudge’s self-titled first album.  (Or they may fear that what I heard was really Tea Company’s cover of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”)

Music nerds may be less persuaded that I needed to purchase from Beacon’s hyper-hip CD section one Ennio Morricone experimental album (Crime and Dissonance) and one impassioned but not terribly catchy MC5 CD (Kick Out the Jams).  Just knowing I finally own the song containing the immortal spoken intro “Kick out the jams, motherfucker” is nice, though.  And I bought a rainbow ice across the street at Pizza Town.

But speaking of getting to know the neighborhood: tomorrow, an ex-Nirvana member’s foray into local politics.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Three(-Legged) Dog Night


Mark your keeping-track-of-progress calendars: On June 10, 2009, I saw a comfortably-ambling dog with a (jointed!) prosthetic leg near the veterinarian’s office on West 67th St., just hours before (and a few hundred yards away from) the Lincoln Center event honoring evolution expert E.O. Wilson that Gerry Ohrstrom was nice enough to get a few of us into.

I imagine animal prostheses will become more common — especially in Manhattan, where a lot of people (a) are rich and (b) opt for leashless freedom — and the car collisions that frequently come with it — for their dogs.  I remember once watching in horror, along with all the other patrons of a restaurant, as a guy played rather long-distance fetch with his dog right near traffic in Union Square.  I said the guy didn’t seem competent to have a dog, to which my friend Laura Zito said, “And he’s probably got kids.”

My parents were very good about exercising the late Uber’s back leg after she had an operation on it, but I remember being angered by the vet’s comment, reported by my parents, about the surprising number of pet owners who ignore instructions to exercise post-op dog legs and end up with a dog with one “frozen” leg.  Perhaps (though I have no idea) that’s the story behind the stiff-legged literal junkyard dog I used to see down on the Lower East Side (yes, even swanky Manhattan had at least one junkyard dog!), not far from scary Mars Bar.


Mars Bar, like much of Manhattan, has mellowed but still has a bit of the old air of a place (much like St. Mark’s and Tompkins Square a few blocks north, back in the day) where the line between “punk” and “homeless” blurs just a bit too much for comfort (much as “heavy metal fan” and “homeless” seemed to meld on Market St. in San Francisco back when I first saw that area).

That reminds me of a mix-up that gave me a moment of terror years ago: Back at ABC News, one of the video editors said he had to take care of some young kids for a day and thought he might take them to “Mars Bar” — but he meant to say Mars 2112 (the outer space-themed kid-friendly restaurant on the Upper West Side near Letterman’s studio, DC Comics, and the Kaplan main HQ where I worked before ABC).  I’m not sure which is weirder, come to think of it: him almost taking the kids to see Mars Bar or me actually once taking a date to Mars 2112.  I also gave her an anthology of Frankfurt School Marxist essays.  She probably thought I was giving off some odd mixed signals, at least culturally.

Come to think of it, she also happens to have been the only date I ever had who doubted evolution for left-wing postmodernist reasons, seeing it as all too convenient a Victorianism-affirming progress narrative, which is apparently the kind of thing they’ve been teaching people in literary theory classes — now that deconstructionism is safely behind us, causing academics to tell me I should just relax about all that long-discarded stuff.  I can only imagine what E.O. Wilson would think of that.  My date ended up moving to Austria, in keeping with the general pattern of women involved with me moving as far away as possible — though maybe she was just inspired to move closer to Frankfurt, in which case I had an impact.


That same editor who made the Mars/Mars mistake also induced one of the two work incidents during which I had the hardest time maintaining a straight face.

There is a plug-like, access-limiting attachment used with computers, video, and audio equipment called a dongle, then a rarely-mentioned novelty, so a co-worker and I, already exhausted by the usual ABC production grind, had to sit looking sympathetic, nearly weeping with repressed laughter, as the poor, pained editor, mere feet from us in the small, dark editing room, went on about how someone had sneaked into his editing booth and stolen his dongle — and he knew who’d done it, too, he said, since the guy had come in earlier, desperately seeking a dongle and asking if anyone had a dongle he could borrow.  If only he’d asked to use it at a more convenient time, our editor would have been perfectly happy to pass along his dongle, but as it was he was now forced to function without a dongle at all, which no one should have to do.  Where was he now supposed to find a dongle?  You don’t just sneak into a guy’s editing room in the middle of the night and rip his dongle out!  Etc.  (I see online, by the way, that you can also buy “driverless dongles.”)

The other straight-face-challenging incident, also at ABC, was the time Stossel, meeting with producers, asked whether we should mention a recent case of a man fined for shooting a bear that menaced his family, and producer Frank Mastropolo, deadpan as always behind his serious mustache — and not joking, I think — quietly, grimly intoned that the story, alas, might be more complicated than first thought because “It looks like the guy may have shot the bear in the back.”  I was still periodically cracking up about that about twenty minutes later, to Stossel’s dismay.


Speaking of tragic animal stories, there are, I should note, dogs more pitiable than the three-legged and frozen-legged ones mentioned above, such as Strong Bad’s pal Li’l Brudder and this poor puppy who survived being flushed down a toilet.  I salute their heroism.  Oh, Li’l Brudder.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Faster Pussycat, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown


My friend Tim Deroche had a hip L.A.-area girlfriend — the sort who’d long sought a pair of Tura Satana boots like the ones in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! — Laura Lovelace [NOTE: I've corrected this sentence per the Comment below], who was tasked with picking music from her record collection to use as the Pulp Fiction soundtrack (having played the waitress in the opening diner scene). I’m not sure she ever even filled out the contracts entitling her to royalties, seeing the whole music aspect as something of an afterthought, but clearly all Gen Xers in particular probably ought to give her money every time we see her. (Tim’s priorities being quite different from my own, he and the girlfriend eventually broke up in part because he wants kids.)

Laura Lovelace also played a waitress in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown — but that film is not the Jackie Brown that fascinates me today. Rather, I notice McDonald’s running online help-wanted ads about the joys of employment at McDonald’s — something that may be running through the minds of a lot of you lately — that feature a woman named Jackie Brown, who got her first McD gig in 1993 and, as the ad reveals in Before and After photos, is still working there today, a bit older and larger. (The ad then links to the employment site McSuccess.McState.com.)

And much as I love McDonald’s — as does an economist and gourmand from Italy I know, so it’s not just rubes who do — I can’t help wondering whether revealing that someone is still working there sixteen years later is the kind of inspiration the company’s ad department was aiming for. I mean, while I congratulate Ms. Brown, what you want to hear for ad purposes, I think, is something more like “This person started out at McDonald’s twenty years ago — and today is CEO of Boeing.” (I hung out last night with a guy who’s an avowed elitist who sometimes makes jokes about the mentally handicapped, so I hope it hasn’t just worn off on me, but you see what I’m getting at aesthetically.)

I’m just not sure advertising always sends the intended message. Nor do health articles, needless to say. Take this piece “warning” us about specific fattening meals at popular restaurants: Now I want to collect (and eat) them all. I told you yesterday that I’d blog about fast food — and tomorrow’s the three-legged dogs.

Thursday, June 18, 2009



Tonight may be Twee as Fuck night at the Cake Shop on Ludlow St., meaning I’ll hear bands that sound precise and dainty and effete a la Stars or Secret History — or, to use as an example a band that will actually be performing there, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, whose songs Nes Weigand was nice enough to introduce me to (though they also sound a tad shoegazer, to use what is apparently the term for all those skinny neo-psychedelic bands like Stone Roses that made up most of MTV’s 120 Minutes lineup circa 1992 before the grunge completely took over).

But sometimes, a bit of manly slovenliness is OK, too (whether in music by males or females), and in that spirit I applaud things like Holly and the Italians, who sound sort of drunken and apathetic in the way that an alcoholic child of Tom Petty and Patti Smith (Petty Smith?) might. I also like the song “You and Your Parrot” by the Muffs, who verge on Joan Jett-like “too tough to perform for you” sullenness.

And I’d write more about all that, but, ah, who gives a damn, man, and what’s it to ya? So I’m spendin’ the next two days bloggin’ about low-paid fast food clerks and three-legged dogs, just see if I don’t.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rock On, Roger of "American Dad"


Today’s entry is a bit less macho than yesterday’s, but there’s no denying it celebrates a raucous party animal (who has even hosted a massive, and eventually fatal, spring break party on MTV): yes, the gay, disguise-wearing alien Roger from American Dad.

But first a more blatantly rock-related note: As it happens, the last thing I watched in its entirety on June 12th before the great digital conversion silence fell on my TV set was, fittingly, the Simpsons episode in which Homer and Marge’s history is revised to make them Gen Xers who went to college, grunge-rocked, and nearly deconstructed in the 90s. So it was like having my TV-watching life flashing before my eyes before the end came.

And it is the end — despite Ali Kokmen offering to set me up with a digital converter (similarly, my TV viewing nearly ended way back in 2001 when a set I’d had for thirteen years died, but a succession of friends, with uncanny timing, sold me super-cheap sets as each predecessor kicked the bucket, each set with aerial reception: Scott Nybakken, Meredith Kapushion, and Kyle Smith — and Kyle’s set still lives, but my antennae will not be receiving, and that’s fine).

If I were still watching, though, I’d be looking to the ongoing evolution of American Dad with optimism. Initially a somewhat awkward Family Guy wannabe, the show has really come into its own since they realized that Roger is the key and that the more insanely and selfishly he behaves, the better, with his love of costumes and role-playing now essential to his m.o. My favorite episode of the series — and not just for political reasons, though it is a good primer in the pettiness of politics — is the one where Roger disguises himself as cowboy Roy Rogers McFreely to take over the local homeowners association just to harass Stan.

Of course, there are Rogerless AD moment I’ve liked: Dad (Stan) peers into his mind’s eye, imagines his teenage son’s activities, and asks: “What do you think Steve’s doing at the party? …debating whether or not to hook up with that black chick?” then adds more quietly, with determined, squinting eyes: “Do it, Steve — do it for both of us.” All the characters on the show seem to be getting a bit more intense and nuts.

In one episode repeated recently, there is an extended Ocean’s Eleven-parodying sequence narrated in voiceover by teenaged Steve, scheming to steal another kid’s bar mitzvah presents at a restaurant. Logical enough in its way — but at the end of the bit, we suddenly cut to Roger, disguised as a waiter with a large fake nose, uselessly thinking to himself in very satisfied-sounding voiceover narration: “And what Steve won’t know is that I have my own plan…I’ll be headed to the bathroom to share a doobie with the busboy in return for an angry handy-j.” Magnificent.

But if instead of a parody of Ocean’s Eleven, you’d rather see Ocean’s Twelve perfectly fused with The Royal Tenenbaums — and if that doesn’t sound alarmingly precious — I recommend The Brothers Bloom. The only thing more twee is — well, the Twee as Fuck night of twee bands at Cake Shop on Ludlow St. tomorrow night, which is where you’ll find me, Katherine Taylor and her fella, and possibly Michael Malice, as dangerous an agent provocateur as Roger in his way.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Heavy Metal -- in at Least Two Senses


I’ve mentioned cases of sci-fi and rock overlapping, but usually one looks to instances of decidedly non-macho nerdery for such intersections: Gary Numan in his motorized chair, Styx singing about robots, etc. There are, however, other forms of rock — and other forms of sci-fi.

Unlike Debates at Lolita Bar moderator Michel Evanchik, I was never a big fan of the comics magazine Heavy Metal — nor the Incredible Hulk — but these things lent themselves to some very macho displays of growling, rock-hurling, mindless brutality, and partial nudity, no doubt warping Evanchik to this day. There is an undeniable visceral appeal in all this, though — more akin to my praise of Foreigner the day before last than to my carping about the young yesterday.

Like Vikings and Nietzsche, we recognize it is better to feel bold and alive than to be turned into a servo-droid photographing rocks on Io. Heavy Metal was a good name for the magazine and good musical accompaniment for the animated film adapted from it back in 1981 — by Canadians, incidentally. (It was as gaudy as the carnival sideshow art that I found so alarming and compelling as a child, which hinted in its very inelegance at atavistic pains and pleasures, like “outsider” art — and caused me to enjoy the film of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes very much.)

If all this brings back good memories, you’ll be pleased to hear that there’s a live-action film of Heavy Metal now in the works, with segments by geek-beloved directors James Cameron, David Fincher, and Zack Snyder, among others — but perhaps even more fittingly, with a segment featuring Tenacious D. That makes such perfect sense. Rock on (I’m also pleased to hear that production on the Jack Black comedy about him being the lone male student at a school for witches, Man-Witch, now appears to be moving forward).

Tomorrow, though, a look at another seriously rockin’ sci-fi dude: Roger from American Dad.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Young Folk, with Their Sock Hops and Noise-Making


After today’s entry my “Month of Rock!” is half over, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of the topic. Time flies — and seems to keep flying faster as one ages, so here are some more cranky-old-man observations:

•Why do kids seem to enjoy seeing other kids perform as rock acts these days? I didn’t want to see kids rock when I was a kid — did anyone I know? I wanted to hear the Who, the Police, and Talking Heads, not children. When did this change, and why? Is this more fallout of the late-90s Disney pop takeover? (Note: I realize rockers have traditionally been young, but there’s a crucial cultural and aesthetic difference between being a Beatle at twenty and a Britney at eighteen, and you know it.)

•I can’t help but hear the mumbliness of the Strokes or the muffled heaviness of Radiohead as the sonic equivalent of the slacker/stoner-guy pose that has become the typical tone of comedy in the past decade or so. It has become all too easy for the default tone of rock to be boredom and the punchline to every joke to be a (stubbly, scruffy) guy looking befuddled and wary and saying something like, “Uh…or we could, uh, do that…I guess” and then furrowing his brow — just slightly — with confusion. Enough. I miss vaudeville.

•If you take inspiration from Tom Petty, the Police, the death of John Lennon, and a misheard phrase, then produce a song that itself contains another often-misheard phrase (indeed, that is often erroneously referred to as if the non-existent phrase, “one-winged dove,” were the song’s actual title, as happens when it’s discussed in School of Rock), you have the complex cultural crossroads that is…“Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks.

•I’m pleased to see that Bob Bowdon and company’s documentary The Cartel, about the child-wrecking obscenity that is public education (and why school choice offers an escape, if evil self-serving outfits like the United Federation of Teachers don’t stop it) got an award at the recent Hoboken International Film Festival. My only suggestion is that if they show it in DC, they get the band called Cartel to play at the screening — including in its lineup conservative writer Mark Hemingway (married to equally rock-savvy conservative writer Mollie Ziegler Hemingway).

•I just want to add in closing that if the name Lady Gaga sounds ridiculous, her real name would likely strike people as even more implausible: Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Flag Day Rocks, from Loverboy to Foreigner


There are narrow regional sounds and we should treasure them, sure, fine. But there’s something inspiring about stuff that simply sounds “American” and unlike the Old World — and I’m as alienated by the subset of paleo-leaning conservatives who claim (usually unconvincingly) to feel far more deeply “Iowan” or whatever than American as I am by socialists, really. I mean, what damn country did these people grow up in, you know what I mean?

Surely, to the wider world (let us reflect on this fine Flag Day), there is little mistaking an American, except in so far as the spread of freedom and capitalism has made the whole planet a bit more like us (and good for the planet, I say — any right-paleos or left-anti-globalists who feel otherwise are in some important sense traitors). Perhaps the simplest visceral expression of contemporary Americanism is a long-haired rock fan hitting the highway, and the 80s were full of appropriate musical accompaniment — not all of it, strictly speaking, from the U.S., and I don’t see that as a problem with the theory.

Take Canada’s Loverboy, responsible for a song Helen admits is a major guilty pleasure (since she usually hews to stuff with more convincing “roots,” greater age, or at least compensatory cleverness): “Working for the Weekend.” As a man who only recently rediscovered the joy of listening to Billy Squier, I’m certainly not going to criticize.


Furthermore, I think it’s fair to call “Jukebox Hero” in some sense the ultimate American “rock” song (see Appendix: “Juke Box Hero” Lyrics, below). I don’t care that the band’s partly British. I don’t even care if Lou Gramm has said somewhere that the song was inspired by a town in Scotland or something. You know damn well that on a metaphorical level, that “town without a name” is somewhere on the prairie in the U.S. It is not near Swythington-on-Ongar. And the boy with “stars in his eyes” is not a friend of the Duchess.

I put “rock” in quotes in that paragraph to distinguish it from actual “rock n’ roll,” using an intuitively-appealing dichotomy devised by Dave Whitney. The band Yes, for example, is “rock.” Rockabilly, by contrast, is “rock n’ roll.” Bill Haley, “rock n’ roll.” Asia, “rock.” You get the idea, I expect. (Dave has also forbidden his sons to buy Guitar Hero, on the grounds that they could be learning to play actual guitars instead. And he definitely wouldn’t be interested in buying Sousaphone Hero, even on Flag Day.)

Lest I seem implicitly hostile to Europe in all this, rest assured that one of the most beautiful moments of affirmation in my life may have been hearing the Fixx song “Wish” on the radio in a hotel in Germany as a teenager, feeling as if I’d confirmed my aesthetic impression that the Fixx was sophisticated stuff meant to be heard in a glamorous foreign metropolis at night (or possibly while cruising over a futuristic cityscape in a hovercraft). Europe has its role — and with them wisely leaning right in recent elections and us spiraling down into debt and socialism, we may need them very badly soon. At least we still have rock to trade with them.

APPENDIX: “Juke Box Hero” Lyrics

This is not just a rock song — this is perhaps the quintessential argument for rock, turned into a song (try speaking it aloud and not believing it). Is it any wonder that the Mooninites once managed to battle Aqua Teen Hunger Force (and turn Carl “cold as ice”) simply by wielding a belt with “the power of Foreigner”? Of course not.

Standing in the rain
With his head hung low

Couldn’t get a ticket
It was a sold out show
Heard the roar of the crowd
He could picture the scene
Put his ear to the wall
Then like a distant scream
He heard one guitar
Just blew him away

Saw stars in his eyes
And the very next day
Bought a beat up six string
In a secondhand store

Didn’t know how to play it
But he knew for sure
That one guitar
Felt good in his hands
Didn’t take long
To understand
Just one guitar
Slung way down low

Was a one-way ticket
Only one way to go
So he started rockin’ ain’t never gonna stop

Gotta keep on rockin’
Someday he’s gonna make it to the top

And be a Juke Box Hero (got stars in his eyes)
He’s a Juke Box Hero
He took one guitar (stars in his eyes)
Juke Box Hero he’ll come alive tonight

In a town without a name
In a heavy downpour

Thought he passed his own shadow
By the backstage door
Like a trip through the past
To that day in the rain

And that one guitar made his whole life change
Now he needs to keep rockin’, he just can’t stop –
Gotta keep on rockin’, that boy has got to stay on top

And be a Juke Box Hero (got stars in his eyes)

He’s a Juke Box Hero (got stars in his eyes)
Juke Box Hero got stars in his eyes
With that one guitar he’ll come alive
Come alive tonight

So he started rockin’
Ain’t never gonna stop

Gotta keep on rockin’ –
Someday he’s gonna make it to the top

And be a Juke Box Hero (got stars in his eyes)
He’s a Juke Box Hero
Juke Box Hero

Juke Box Hero (got stars in his eyes)
Stars in his eyes

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fascistic Bowie, New Dealer Obama


In yesterday’s entry, I said David Bowie has the best aesthetic sensibilities of anyone — but should I care about his (or any artist’s) grasp of history, science, or (if I really wanted to shoot for the moon) economics?

My friend Andy Ager, who likes beer, once claimed that outside of New York and L.A., hardly anyone cares what celebrities think as long as they keep doing their jobs as entertainers (and I certainly hope that’s true — Megan Fox, for example, who appears in this month’s Transformers sequel, said that if Megatron were real she’d try talking him into only killing Midwesterners and conservatives, but this scenario will probably not arise in real life, at least not soon).

Bowie, you see, was briefly fascinated by fascism circa 1970, but then so was solidly non-fascistic, left-anarchist sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock (about whom, more in this month’s Book Selection entry in a couple weeks), and for similar reasons: mysticism! As alluded to in Hellboy, the Nazis were crazy for the supernatural stuff, with the affiliated Thule Society chock full of conspiracy theories about occult powers and visitors from other worlds. Combine that with some “superman” aspirations (which recur in several Bowie songs and several Moorcock sci-fi novels), and you’ve got more than enough hooey to keep a young male mind transfixed without any need to go murder millions of Jews or engage in industrial planning.

All this is a reminder, incidentally, that the Nazis were not atheists — heretics, maybe; neo-pagans, sort of; but definitely not atheists or secularists, despite what some religious folk might tell you. The Nazis had more anti-materialistic, mystical, unscientific beliefs than you can shake a Spear of Destiny at.

Hooey is not harmless (as my co-workers at ACSH could tell you), and it’s nice that Bowie has left ritual magic and other forms of borderline insanity behind as he ages. On a far less sinister note, I was also pleased to hear U2 correct a minor but embarrassing historical error from the studio version of their song “Pride (In the Name of Love)” — I noticed when I saw the spectacular IMAX movie U2 3D (one of the best uses of cinema I’ve seen, really) that Bono replaced “early morning April 4″ in the song’s description of the MLK assassination with the correct “early evening April 4.” Nice that they cared enough to do that. Now if we can just get him to switch to laissez-faire capitalism as the preferred means of rescuing Third World economies, he’ll really be changing for the better.

(And then someday, maybe rockers everywhere could even revise their songs to eliminate grammatical errors, if they really want to make me happy — while avoiding the hypercorrectness that led to Chrissie Hynde’s unfortunate line, in her cover of “Live and Let Die,” “If this ever-changing world in which we liiiive/ Makes you give in and cry…”).

I also question whether “Leslie Ann Levine,” in the Decemberists’ ghost-story song by that title, is really the most nineteenth-century-sounding name they could come up with (I mean “up with which they could come”) — but it’s still a great song (and I have come to like them so much I can happily forgive the new album being a little bit prog-rock boring).


On a more legit historical note — though perhaps an even more dangerous one — I saw historian Kim Phillips-Fein and economist Jeff Madrick (at an event organized by Julia Kamin) defend the New Deal and even lament that Obama may not be doing enough to bring about a comparable political/economic transformation. The two speakers weren’t evil or consciously authoritarian, just wrong and even naive, as I was reminded in particular by Phillips-Fein’s comment, when asked what regulations she’d like to see if not the ones we have now, that we can always get a bunch of economists together later to figure out that stuff — what matters is (a) summoning the political will to make big changes and (b) fighting against the people in industry who might want to block big changes.

That’s the left in a nutshell: Work out actual policy that can miraculously run the lives of 300 million individuals in the market better than they can run them themselves? Bah, details! We’ll handle that later! What matters is our collective good intentions + smashing the bad guys who oppose us. This is juvenile nonsense that needs to end immediately if we are to survive, the econ equivalent of creationism or flat-Earthism.

(On a similar note, the night before the New Deal talk, I got a chance to ask sociobiologist E.O. Wilson his opinion of string theory, to which he replied politely with words he’s heard appear on a plaque on an Anglican church: “Wonderful if true.” He quietly speaks volumes.)

Despite my complaints about the New Deal night, I told Madrick I would heed his advice to read his book The Case for Big Government, now out in paperback, and so I shall, likely adding it to my jam-packed, utopia-themed October Book Selections entry. My favorite recent observation about the New Deal, though, was made by the brilliant Helen Rittelmeyer, who notes that the so-called “reformists” of the New Deal often wasted ten times as much money as the local political machines they displaced and looked down upon (now I understand Helen’s qualified defense of machine politics a bit better).

Speaking of Helen, I should be grateful she’s here in my locality, NYC, this weekend, since NYC means hanging out with media-obsessed weirdoes like me, Michael Malice, and Malice’s pal Dick Masterson, whereas DC offered the chance to party with colossal political luminaries like Megan McArdle, Peter Suderman, Matthew Yglesias, and recently-annointed New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. But then, Helen has her subtle differences with Douthat anyway, as she noted on the blog of American Spectator (where she’s now working, for those keeping track). Like New Deal fans and Obamaphiles, social conservatives should acknowledge when we face hard choices and tough trade-offs. Only in the mystical realm do we get stuff at no cost.

But tomorrow is Flag Day, so I’ll put aside all these petty factional squabbles in tomorrow’s entry and celebrate AMERICA, along with some technically non-American bands.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Farewell, TV -- Hello, 10 Favorite Videos!


Today is the day of the great Digital Conversion, and I have deliberately avoided getting a digital converter box to accompany my aged and bent rabbit ear antennae (I also don’t have cable — nor a cell phone, anything faster than dial-up Internet, membership in any social-networking sites, or a Twitter account, and that’s the way I like it).

Don’t get me wrong — I am grateful to the idiot box for all it has given me over the years, but enough is enough (and I’m not too crazy about these endless computer “upgrades,” either, which is why, coincidentally, I can no longer hear any audio on YouTube after their recent refurbishing, another seeming-inconvenience that will in fact probably save me a lot of otherwise wasted hours).

I am grateful in particular to NBC’s Friday Night Videos and MTV for bringing me my TEN FAVORITE VIDEOS (in no particular order), to wit:

•“Synchronicity II” by the Police (my favorite song of all time, too, coincidentally or not from the first album I ever bought)

•“Road to Nowhere” by Talking Heads (the video so good, it almost tricks me into declaring this their best song — but that’s “Burning Down the House”)

•“Stand and Deliver” by Adam and the Ants (I want to live in this world: punk, old-fashioned, Enlightened all at once)

•“Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen (ah, puberty)

•“Is There Something I Should Know?” by Duran Duran (quintessential 80s tropes abound)

•“Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics (Annie Lennox being the first celebrity I was ever really conscious of being attracted to, which may explain a lot)

•“Ashes to Ashes” by David Bowie (the one person on the planet who fully understands aesthetics — and mime, which even a couple professional clowns I recently met look down upon!)

•“Head Over Heels” by the Go-Go’s (the one high-spirited video guaranteed to restore my usual emotional equilibrium if anything bad happens)

•“Freedom of Choice” by Devo (shown on the Merv Griffin show when I was a child, this became the first rock video I ever saw, explaining a great deal aesthetically, politically, and nerdily)

•“Shock the Monkey” by Peter Gabriel (rock for grown-ups, and a perfect cultural crossroads of alternative, classic, and prog rock)

And since they can’t all be from the 80s, let me add a bonus one from the 00s:

•“Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” by Stars

And another best-of recommendation, since Stars is only one act to fission off from the older band Broken Social Scene: check out BSS’s other female singer, Feist, doing “1234” on Sesame Street, just as a little reminder that hipness is an ongoing tradition. (And keep your ears on Montreal, which gives us bands like Metric as well.)


While I’m at it, here are some other videos (with links, which I spared you above so you aren’t stuck reading this entry all day long) of note:

•Tin Machine (the last great phase in Bowie’s career, in my opinion) doing an amazing and aggressive medley of most of the songs from their first album, in a long montage-like video that Dawn Eden theorizes was meant to be seen by radio stations and promoters, not by ordinary fans.

•Two reminders that even Genesis was once really cool: the creepy song/video “Mama” about a deranged man with an Oedipal fixation on a prostitute and “Home by the Sea” about an insane asylum — and I’m not ashamed to say that Genesis’s self-titled album is one of my favorite albums of all time. I don’t care how unhip that seems — it’s also got “That’s All” and the cool assassin song “Job to Do” (Bang bang bang! And down you go!). I’m so pleased I grew up in a good area for album-oriented 80s rock (eastern Connecticut, in the middle of a triangle formed by Hartford, Boston, and Providence) so that things like “Home by the Sea” were on the radio constantly, right alongside the New Wave stuff, exerting their powerful influence on my tastes to this day.

•If one wanted to argue that 80s fetishization of cookie-cutter model chicks can go too far, the video for Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible” should probably be Exhibit A, not that I’m complaining.

•And if all that seems too trashy, let us elevate the cultural tone of this blog with a look at the band formerly containing Brown head historical librarian Ted Widmer, a.k.a. Lord Rockingham, the Upper Crust, here favoring the masses with their composition “Let Them Eat Rock.” Indeed.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Missing Persons? No Doubt


I’m attending an art-unveiling party tonight co-organized by someone who happens also to be a Gwen Stefani employee — but not organized by Stefani herself, so it won’t be ingratitude if I take this opportunity to criticize her band No Doubt just a bit.

Now, I start off leaning in favor of No Doubt, if only because they are an actual, living, breathing 80s band that’s still kicking and growing, neither a retro band nor a comeback/revival thing. It took them a while before they found fame in the 90s, but they’ve been at it for over twenty years.

In fact, I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought, when he first heard their vocals and guitars, “They sort of sound like if Madonna became the lead singer of the Cars” (which, by the way, would be no stranger than the Cars’ actual comeback a few years ago, sans Ric Ocasek and the late Benjamin Orr, with Todd Rundgren as lead singer). But I have recently realized that there is a much closer analogy to No Doubt, indeed, a band that at times sounds almost exactly like them: Recall Missing Persons, and pretend you’re listening to No Doubt as you hear “Walking in L.A.” and see/hear “Words” as if for the first time. Eh?

No Doubt would barely have to change a note if they covered those songs (and would no doubt do a better job of it than Traci Lords did). Perhaps No Doubt should cover those songs instead of the ones they’ve so far picked because (and here’s the negative part, at the risk of sounding like a jackanapes or some manner of hollaback girl), much as I might share their fond memories of the songs “It’s My Life” by Talk Talk and “Stand and Deliver” by Adam [Ant] and the Ants, I don’t think the No Doubt sound does these songs justice, distinctive as each of them is — the original version of the first sounding almost David Gilmour-like in its ethereal, hovering way and the second being practically a comedic-piratical old-timey/New Romantic world unto itself, as unfit for a half-assed cover by someone else as, say, “When Doves Cry” by Prince or a Stones song.

The original “Stand and Deliver” also happens to be my favorite video of all time, I admit. But for the complete list of my all-time favorite videos, you’ll just have to come back tomorrow.

P.S. Here’s one of Dave Whitney’s favorite No Doubt songs while we’re at it.

P.P.S. Ah-ha!! Ric Ocasek (one of the weirdest-looking men ever to study at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, though not necessarily the weirdest) has been a producer for No Doubt. Like autistic people (according to Tyler Cowen’s speech a week ago), I seem to have a better than average ear for audio nuances. And a rather blank facial expression. And a preference for rules and trivial knowledge over the reading of emotions. Best not to think about it. Again, tomorrow: a painstakingly-compiled list of my favorite videos.

(Ocasek’s wife, Paulina Porizkova, is also something of a nerd/autistic boy’s dream come true: a highly intelligent fashion model who dismisses her facial beauty humbly as merely a matter of “geometry” over which she has no control. That non-haughty attitude may be what’s helped keep her hitched to the marvelously freaky-looking Ocasek for exactly twenty years this coming August 23 — congratulations.  Hey, you know who else has been happily married for twenty years now, even though he’s sixteen years older than she isKevin Kline and Phoebe Cates — and that gives me one more reason to always think of her in conjunction with the Cars.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Depeche Mode vs. Sheena Easton


Today, as I prepare to see a Lincoln Center tribute to sociobiologist E.O. Wilson, I find myself mulling one of the deepest questions regarding sexual strategy: Did you know all five current and former members of Depeche Mode are married (or in one case divorced)…to women…even the guy who left to start Yaz and Erasure? (One of them to a lingerie model, just like a heavy metal band.) I gotta admit this is something of a surprise. It’s nice in a way, though, to be reminded that not all New Wave bands were gay (not that there’d be anything wrong with that), since I’m sometimes astounded in retrospect how androgynous they all looked without me realizing it back when I was thirteen.

After having the New Wave as one of my most important aesthetic influences (Duran Duran, Eurythmics, etc.) at a formative age, I have long thought that if I am ever summoned before a court and asked to give evidence that I am heterosexual (as all straight men of course assume they may be at some point), pointing to my manliness will be a losing strategy, using the usual standards. (No interest in sports…not only defeated in arm wrestling by a female but by the one who resembles Bryan Ferry that I mentioned in my blog entry on June 6…genuinely wish people would be nice to each other…wish everyone would sort of bellow less…etc.)

The case is going to have to rest entirely on enthusiasm for females (now, of course, you’ll hear plenty of people point to repressed cases who’ve been drawn to many women in a misguided effort to “prove” their heterosexuality, and I’m sure there are such people, but all I can say is, if that’s gay, bring it on — and may straight men everywhere aspire to be as gay as Hugh Hefner).

No, whatever warping effects the New Wave males may have had on my aesthetics, I think the credit for shaping my hormones during those pivotal years of 1982-1983 clearly has to go to numerous female singers appearing in rock videos back then. And if for any terrible reason I find myself single again, I notice that Sheena Easton (who at that stage in my life seemed just about ideal, odd as that may sound now to some of you) is only fifty, lives in Las Vegas, and has been through four marriages of about one year each. Sounds like an easy mark. We’ll call that Plan B, though.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Is Bob Mould Moldy? How Old Is the Clash? Cab vs. Python


•You know, I heard something from Bob Mould’s 2008 album, and now that he’s mellowed just slightly with age, he ends up sounding a bit like a cross between emo and Dave Matthews Band, I fear. Perhaps in retrospect, though, even when he was young and angry he was really just a cross between grunge and Dave Matthews Band.  Am I becoming disillusioned too quickly?  Do I see in his decline a hint of my own mortality?

Yet it was such a short time ago that I was pleased to hear a friend of mine say she still felt somewhat hip because her son’s skateboard-culture magazines (probably written by Gen Xers) make occasional references to bands like Husker Du that she loved in college.

•On a similar getting-old note, the 1979 Clash song “London Calling” is an interesting reminder in at least three ways of the point in history that spawned it (I mean, aside from the ska influence and actual musical concerns): They were singing about “phony Beatlemania” biting the dust a mere nine years after the Beatles’ breakup but still safely one year before Lennon’s assassination; they meant it when they said “the ice age is coming,” as that was then the most-feared possible result of changing CO2 levels in the atmosphere; and the song’s eco-apocalypticism was reportedly inspired by that year’s Three Mile Island accident, now thirty years gone by.  (Though for the record, I was myself a child when the song came out and had no idea who the Clash were, being too busy humming the Star Wars theme song at the time.)

Sidenote: Dave Whitney points out that the cover of that Clash album was an homage to an Elvis album.  It’s vital to acknowledge your roots.  (It was also Dave who pointed out to me that Billy Idol cited Elvis as his biggest influence, which makes a ton of sense the moment you think about it, right down to the sneer.)

•Ninety but still kicking is Richard Hoggart, the culture analyst who coined the phrase “Death-Cab for Cutie” as a hypothetical example of a pulp fiction title (in his 1957 book The Uses of Literacy) — inspiring a 1967 song by that title by the Bonzo Dog Band (which appeared in the Beatles TV-movie Magical Mystery Tour and shared member Neil Innes with the second-tier Monty Python ensemble).  Hoggart’s phrase also, of course, inspired a more recent band’s name.

When some government project in 2040 is nicknamed S.I.T.H. or a college student in 2059 writes a prog-rock holographic opera about Pokemon that ten years later inspires a clothing style by that name, let us all agree not to be shocked by the staying power of pop culture memes.  Some of the catchiest things are retro-viral, so to speak.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Richard Cheese vs. Al Capone


I think I’m officially going to wuss out. A friend is co-organizing a comedy revue tonight at 7:30 at Comix, and I may actually pay to go to that instead of going for free to that David Byrne concert in Prospect Park. Sounds crazy, I know — especially what with it being my “Month of Rock!” and all, but I just can’t face the, uh, prospect of thousands and thousands of people packed together without pre-assigned seats. Yes, I’m paying to avoid excitement, a sure sign of aging. Tough.

Of course, in an ideal world, devoid of trade-offs and cost-benefit analysis — the world the government thinks we live in, in other words — a man wouldn’t have to choose between rock and comedy because he’d always be able to experience both at the same time. I managed to achieve that state two months ago by going to a Richard Cheese concert, and I must say, of all the events Helen and I have gone to in the past several months, I would have thought that would be one of the least likely to be written up in the Wall Street Journal, but it was. Good for Mr. Cheese.

If a guy who often sings obscene rap songs in a Sinatra-like lounge style is too gangsta and not enough gangster for you, though, you’ll be pleased to hear that a song by Al Capone about his mother (or his wife or the Virgin Mary) was also discovered around the time of that concert. I’ve heard David Byrne is a lousy tipper, though, so who’s the real criminal?