Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A song for every year of my life #14: 1990

1990 really was a time of weeping, metaphorical or otherwise. At the year's start, I was short, cadaver-skinny, mulleted (I thought I had long hair but I didn't know you had to grow out the front part, too), lousy at sports, invisible to girls, easily intimidated, and short-changed by the slow onset of puberty. It was not my favorite year, though most of them have been lousy if we're going to be honest about life and its inherent crumminess, but it taught me a lot about how power is structured and acquired and how weak and puny most people's ethics are when they're insecure about whether or not other people think they're hot stuff. Plop! By year's end, I remained cadaver-skinny, lousy at sports, and invisible to girls, but I was much taller, no longer easily intimidated, funnier, and my haircut was better. I'm still lousy at sports, but now I have a beer-drinker's paunch and some muscle tone. Plus, anyone who cares about sports is as boring as the sex life of a fundamentalist preacher's wife. Weep with me, peers.
Blixa Bargeld and I shared an awful haircut in 1990. He was probably having a better time, though. Paddling around with Nick Cave and singing songs about weeping is higher on my list of possible fun times than listening to a redneck math teacher tell me I looked like a woman and would probably do poorly in his class because I was a shitty athlete. Teachers could still say these things out loud in 1990. It didn't hurt my self-esteem because just look at that guy with his crew-cut and dim, poorly ventilated classroom. Just look at him.

Alternate choice: Motherfuckin' "Painkiller" by Judas Fuckin' Priest, because why the fuck not?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A song for every year of my life #13: 1989

I'm still trying to find a job and still trying to blast through the degradation, frustration, and monotony of that search, but I thought I'd been managing okay when I got sideswiped a few weeks ago by the return of my depression. It came on gradually. My wife noticed it before I did. Last night, it got so thick I could physically feel this imaginary murky, brown soup surrounding my brain, making my thinking paranoid and incoherent. Unfortunately, I was hanging out with a crowd of people. Bad timing. That's one of my many middle names.
I stumbled onto a trailer for a book (they do those now?) by a doctor dying of cancer. He passed away a few days ago. The book is about his gradual peaceful acceptance of his terminal illness and how he learned to live with it instead of fight with it. It became another part of his life, rather than something from the outside destroying it. This trailer made me feel ashamed of my lack of enthusiasm for my own life. I'm here now. It's not all going to be a good time, but I need to love it more. I need to be a little more present. This is basic stuff, and I'm an idiot to have to keep relearning it all the time, but this fog just comes in and surrounds my brain and I have to work to get rid of it.
You know what's good, though? Music.
"In the mind of Ronald Reagan/Wheels they turn and gears they grind/Buildings collapse in slow motion/And trains collide/Everything is fine/Everything is fine."

Alternate choice: John Zorn w/ Naked City - "I Want To Live"

Saturday, September 24, 2011


It's best to just ignore these things because they tend to go away on their own if we do, but I also think GQ needs a public shaming for hiring Natasha Vargas-Cooper as a film columnist. Read this typo-plagued column and see if you agree with me that this woman is the worst writer and stupidest thinker ever to appear in an international publication.
I have a strong personal belief that critics need to understand the history and canonical works of the medium they choose to write about, which is unfortunately unfashionable with a certain breed of loud, twentysomething critics who are surprisingly getting work from a lot of mainstream and prominent alternative publications terrified about the future of print media and scrambling for relevance in all the wrong places. I like long, thoughtful pieces from critics with a lot of knowledge. I guess I'm a dinosaur. If Vargas-Cooper, Karina Longworth, and Nathan Rabin are the future, I'm happy being a dinosaur. Also, hire a fucking copy editor, GQ.
Here are some highlights (lowlights?) from Vargas-Cooper's column if you have better things to do than read the whole thing (and everyone clearly does have better things to do):

"Let the film school prigs, art house snobs, and the better half of film critics publishing today slavishly catalogue the classics and engage in numbing debates over who did it first and who did it better. Whether reverence for movies from a bygone era is rooted in merit, nostalgia, or neurosis about film being an inferior medium to literature, movies keep pace with social mores of a time and deserve to be free of the tastes and prejudices of people who grew up without Quentin Tarantino."

"Let's be untethered from history, ignore the tug of the familiar, and resolve that any movie made before, say, 1986 has received its due respect and move on."

"History does not inform the value of a film; you need never see a stylized Godard flick or Cary Grant comedy to understand the enthralling power of Fargo or Independence Day."

"This column will survey the new movie canon. The rules of the game (Ha! That's the name of a classic movie I have never seen. Eat it ,1939!)"

Boy, I bet 1939 is really stewing over that zinger. She really stuck it to 1939 good. Yeah, she really did say that "any move made before ... 1986" has received its due respect and should no longer be discussed. I can think of at least 500 pre-1986 movies off the top of my head that haven't received their due respect. Finding these films has been one of my life's greatest joys. Isn't the Internet saturated with more writing about post-1986 films anyway? I think you'll find that The Dark Knight has already received its due respect and then some, while Raoul Walsh's The Man I Love (1947) or Wim Wenders' The State of Things (1982), to pick just two random examples that came to me quickly, haven't been written about enough or even released on DVD in this country. When Joe Strummer sang, "No Elvis, Beatles, or the Rolling Stones in 1977," he was making his case for the present and the future in a way that Vargas-Cooper may think she's doing now. They're similar positions, I guess. The difference is, Strummer knew his history, was a hell of a lot more eloquent, had more at stake, and knew he was being a bit of a liar. (He loved those three artists.) Strummer spent the rest of his musical career incorporating the rich history of the past into the present and the future. Vargas-Cooper brags about her lack of knowledge of film history like it's some kind of intellectual badge of honor. That's a stupid thing to do. Why close yourself off from any part of the past or the present? Why be proud of narrowing your interests? Why gloat about it? I've already given her more of my time than she deserves. Articles like these don't matter much. The proliferation of articles like these, though, matters a lot in the long run. If our culture decides the present is the only thing worth investing in, the past becomes economically unattractive and some of it disappears from availability. Everything is not available on the Internet, despite a sometimes overwhelming belief in this myth. I don't expect most people to care about esoteric 1940s films. We have different hobbies and interests. I don't care much about furniture or baseball. Some people live for those things, though, and I don't want their passions and histories to disappear.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A song for every year of my life #12: 1988

I heard a few Dinosaur Jr songs when I was 14 and wasn't impressed. 14-year-olds are idiots. I heard some more Dinosaur Jr songs when I was a weary, battle-scarred, streetwise 15-year-old, and it all made sense. J Mascis is my spirit guide. Maybe that's why I'm unemployed, depressed, and kind of a failure, but I wouldn't trade my Dinosaur Jr albums for happiness or a job or even a never-ending supply of tacos and donuts. Get your own Dinosaur Jr albums, I say. "Yeah We Know."

Alternate choice: Womack & Womack - "Teardrops"
Sorry to those of you sobbing because I didn't choose The Beach Boys' "Kokomo" or something from Y Kant Tori Read. The culling is brutal around here. Some of you may find this song cheesy. It does have a slight Velveeta quality to it, but I don't care. I like it. It was a rare late 1980s R&B song that didn't suffer from massive overproduction and soulless gloss. I like the unarguably cheesy video, too. 1980s videos made the studio look like a great place to be. Everyone was having a good time, nodding their heads and twiddling various knobs and dancing around. We should all be twiddling knobs instead of working for the man. Knob twiddle!

Friday, September 09, 2011

Portion of a telephone conversation with my father from a few weeks ago

My dad: Say, did you watch any of the MTV Video Awards last night?
Me: No. I don't usually watch stuff like that, and I don't have cable.
My dad: We watched about 20 minutes of it, but I don't care for that kind of music.
Me: Yeah.
My dad: I never did like that rap... (long pause) ... or hip-hop is I guess what they call it now.
Me: Yeah.
My dad: Some of those guys are real wild-looking characters.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A song for every year of my life #11: 1987

Mainstream top 40 radio was at one of its lowest points in 1987. The first half of the 1980s was full of great pop singles, but look at this lackluster collection of overproduced inessentiality. The late 1980s was the first time in my tiny little life that pop radio stopped meaning something to me. I turned off my radio and began listening to a lot of hard rock and metal instead. It would have been a fine choice, except I listened to a lot of shitty metal instead of the good stuff, though I wouldn't figure that out until I became the embittered, prematurely aged curmudgeon of today's future yesterdays of tomorrow today you all know and love/hate/ignore/like/have no opinion about/are planning to kill, cook, and eat. 1987 became an important musical year for me in the mid-1990s, when I discovered a lot of records I missed out on while I was listening to Whitesnake and Faster Pussycat, including the debut albums from Guided By Voices, Eric B. & Rakim, and Public Enemy, Big Black's Songs About Fucking, Negativland's Escape from Noise, Dinosaur Jr's You're Living All Over Me, Prince's Sign O the Times, and Sonic Youth's Sister. And so on.
I did listen to the shit out of one great record in 1987, Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction. "It's So Easy" is a weird song. It doesn't sound like anybody else's stuff, though you can hear the influences, none of which should belong together this cohesively. I don't feel like getting into a debate, internal or otherwise, about the lack of political correctness in the lyrics, because I really don't give a fuck about that shit in art, except when I do. Some of the lines make me wince, but I'm a form and structure guy, not a subject matter guy, and I think it's better to creatively spew your inner dirtbag instead of suppressing it. I just want people to be honest in their work. A lot of hip hop artists are just as sexist but get more of a free pass from cultural critics because of white liberal guilt. It's a lot less complicated for Pitchfork writers, etc., to criticize Axl Rose. I'm off the subject, though. This record is so finely produced compared to the expensive wall of shit, cavernous yet empty sound prevalent in 1987. It's a big rock record, but it's stripped down. The drums sound like drums. The guitars sound like guitars. It hasn't dated like so many records from this time period have dated. These guys had their own thing going. They weren't Poison. I'm still on board. I just don't get tired of this record.

Alternate choice: Butthole Surfers - "Sweat Loaf"
I wish my father would have had this talk with me. I regret too many things I haven't done. For example, I was at the park one day, and I thought maybe I should SATAN SATAN SATAN!