Category Archives: Music

Delayed thinking on Courtney Love

courtneyloveSeveral weeks ago, I read an interview with Courtney Love. For sure, she’s a little crazy (or finds it useful to appear to be a little crazy), but that’s a red herring. The woman’s work speaks for itself, and she is magnetic – a woman who is not afraid to look bad to subvert expectations, a woman who advertises her anger, a woman who could probably kick your ass.

I watched the Miss World video embedded in the article and it still feels really fresh to me (contrast it with Beyonce’s (Sia’s) thematically similar Pretty Hurts and tell me which one is more raw – I don’t question that the material resonates with Beyonce, but she is too much the Pygmalion of her own image to go all the way with it).

I’m so grateful that I came of age when Live Through This came out. That was an important album to me, not only that it was more viscerally raw and angry than the Tori Amoses of my rotation and more accessible to me than, say, Bikini Kill, but also that it was good, as good or better, than a lot of the Sub Pop catalog that the culture was holding aloft.

I just can’t think of any Courtney Love corollaries for the current generation. Are they there? The ones I think of are of her generation, e.g. PJ Harvey. Patti Smith was the blueprint, but I was too young for her. Probably there are women who feel that way about Courtney Love.

I’m not using my status as An Old to wax nostalgic. The culture has moved in a different direction, and there are a great many women whose musicianship represents a bigger project than breakup songs and Auto-tune (see: Swift, Taylor). While I find her music jarring at times, St. Vincent is really interesting. I’m more into Digital Witness than I have been her previous three, and I thought her SNL performance was the best kind of weird and electric. Seth suggested that although different stylistically, perhaps Lady GaGa had the potential to be a force similar to Courtney Love. She has unfortunately disappeared so far up her own ass that it’s possible to tell if there’s anything real there. It’s all artifice.

There may be some degree of artifice to Courtney Love’s hijinks, but they always looks pretty fucking real.



Timothy McVeigh stayed here.

Timothy McVeigh stayed here.

I am 36 years old, and damned if I’ve made peace yet with the weird, ugly place where I was raised. I’ve spent over half my life defining myself against it – I wasn’t born there, I hasten to point out, I was transplanted as a small child from my native Southern California (a laughably short nativity). I’ve cautioned people to not stop when they drive through my hometown en route to Vegas, used its name as a descriptor for certain types of gun-toting nutjobbers/yokels, and still think of it as a bastion of the worst kind of small-minded conservatism.

But even at my most virulent, I wouldn’t have wanted to trade out all those years I spent roaming the desert as a child with dirty, scratched-up legs, eating the bitty black seeds of barrel cactus fruits and sucking the bitter stems of the plant that, once steeped, yields Mormon tea. I think of all that now and wonder what my son will lose coming up in the suburbia of Tucson. (Though kids create their own satisfying cultural microcosms, geography notwithstanding.)

I’ve staged two major attempts to write about home, but both failed. One was through the wrong lens, the other was psychologically sloppy, too quickly resolving my ambivalence about home into what my adviser referred to as sullen acceptance. There’s an essay in there, but I’m still a ways from finding it. I kind of envy people who have uncomplicated love relationships with their hometowns, but maybe they just have better hometowns than me (ie, Roger Ebert, John Hughes).

Ambiguity is probably closer to the norm, and the ladies get it right re: their respective homes.




Love this origami by Kumi Yamashita…click for more. Via SwissMiss.

I’m in one of those places where I can’t seem to create a cogent string of thoughts around a single topic, which leads me to then babble in brief on a variety of topics. To wit:

Beasts of the Southern Wild. We saw this Sunday, with the full knowledge that it could be the last movie we will ever watch in the theater without having to sort out childcare plans. I thought, based on what I’d seen, that this film might actually fulfill the promise established by the Spike Jonze Where the Wild Things Are trailer (that movie being a huge letdown for me personally). And you know, it kind of did. But I’d tried so hard to avoid reading reviews that it came as a complete shock to me that the film is incredibly sad. I spent its latter half quelling my own sobs, and the credits wiping my eyes with the clean edges of an otherwise buttery napkin. WTF. I think sometimes loose narratives leave more room for emotion to seep in and take over.

The Mists of Avalon. I was so thrilled last week to see this written up as classic trash on The Awl. I read The Mists of Avalon no fewer than three times when I was a teenager, and I distinctly recall my copy more or less disintegrating, which is why it is no longer on my bookshelves. Retrospectively (and especially after reading the comments), I tie this book’s influence to my hippie phase, which now only manifests in rare instances (views on childbirth, for instance). This is probably also why it was such a big damn deal to me to make a pilgrimage to assorted Arthurian spots on a daytrip from London, including Glastonbury Tor and the Chalice Well Gardens (I drank the water). The Mists of Avalon. Oh my god, what glorious garbage. This is right up there with Clan of the Cave Bears. Marion Zimmer Bradley + Jean Auel = sex ed for a generation of young bookish ladies.

The Gaslight Anthem. I can’t seem to get past the first three songs on the new album (funny to link to its Amazon page…I can’t recall the last time I bought an actual CD. We are still on eMusic, though we bitch about it all the time). That ’59 Sound is so good. I never got into American Slang. And I had such high hopes for Handwritten…perhaps I will get there yet.

What kind of stuff do you write?

As I was getting ready to enter the MFA program, I thought it would be smart/useful to meet a few people and pick their brains on the program. Get the inside skinny on faculty, etc. So I chatted with a couple graduating students, and they both asked me, What kind of stuff do you write? I had no idea how to respond.

Four years later, I still don’t.

I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with how to frame my work in a larger context, or even just offer a workaday description of it. For instance: a lot of what I write about involves pop culture and family. But what does that mean? Nothing! And to answer the question more thoroughly would invite all manner of horrible blowhardisms. I imagine the result would read something like the impenetrable, jargony gabble your average young visual artist composes to describe his own work (I think architects do this as well). The kind of language I’m talking about is the sort that tries to create its own ironclad case for a) seriousness and b) intelligence. It’s the equivalent of waving one’s own creative insecurity like a banner. This is the stuff that drove Orwell to “Politics and the English Language.”

Not everyone struggles with this. Maybe some have a knack for discussing their work in an interesting way, or maybe it comes with practice. Take, for instance, this really great interview with Johnny Marr. Here he is answering a question about bands that were clearly influenced by The Smiths:

There’s no bigger honor. Occasionally, though, there’s a sound from some of those groups that is, shall we say, quite fey. I’ve heard some records by bands that came after us who had their music been any more fey and lightweight, then I’d expect petals to come out of the speakers. [Laughs.] That’s kind of missing what we were about, because The Smiths were not all “Oscar Wilde at 3:30 in the afternoon” and feyness. The truth of it is, if you were to see any songs from any of our shows, we were, what I would say, quite heavy. Even the ballads were intense. We were a rock band, really, that played a type of pop music, if I care to analyze it. I don’t know very much about The Wedding Present’s music, but what I’ve heard of Belle & Sebastian was often quite fey, and light in a very deliberate way. I think they have their own thing, which is absolutely fine. But I don’t actually think they sound like The Smiths.

Which makes total sense. Belle & Sebastian are obviously influenced by The Smiths in terms of their album covers/visual look, too.

Morrissey did all the artwork, and it was always a surprise, and a great sense of anticipation of what was going to happen next. I loved the sleeves, and I still do. Obviously you have your favorites or some you like over others, but I like them all. That was there from day one as well. Even when we were making little cassettes, Morrissey would do little photocopied ideas on the cassettes.

I did not know that. But these quotes aren’t the ones that are focused on sound specifically, and Marr is equally interesting and down-to-earth in that section of the interview as well. In contrast, this Jack White interview is almost intolerable. Is it supposed to be funny? I am not amused. Is it supposed to be revealing about its subject? I feel as if I’ve seen an ugly side of him, self-conscious and prickly, but not in an especially interesting way. More’s the pity.

A short compendium, perhaps of interest

Here is my bad habit. Click for the Roald Dahl essay in which he maligns my beloveds as "fondant-filled horrors." Jerk.

I read the excerpt of Charles Duhigg’s  book in The New York Times a couple weeks ago; last week the story was name-checked on the Colbert Report, and this morning the author was on NPR, sharing the same Febreeze anecdote. So it seems to be a thing, as we are all anxious to change our bad habits, yet seemingly powerless to sustain the change. The material about Target’s analytics department is of course very interesting, but it’s hard for me to read that content and not crow about how little they know of me. OR DO THEY KNOW ME ALL TOO WELL? It is Seth who gets their mailers. They don’t bother sending them to me because I never use coupons and thus, they have me right where they want me.

Point the second: I felt vindicated seeing this piece on Slate’s XX blog today about the passing of Jan Berenstain. While Hanna Rosin is just a bit harsh (“good riddance”? really?), I have long loathed the insipid Berenstain Bears, possibly dating back to my own childhood. They have an unappealing wholesome squareness and are drawn to look both sleepy and doltish. These are not bears I want to spend time with. On this topic, I am probably in the minority, as I am with my ongoing dislike for Girl Scout Cookies. The girls themselves are great! But the cookies, blah. Especially everyone’s favorite, Thin Mints, which seem to me to be coated in brown wax.

And in conclusion, a musical interlude.

Valentine’s Day: Who needs it?

Not I. But in the spirit of love, this.

Why is this not bigger stateside?

This weekend past, I went to download a particular song, but reflexively downloaded many more. It was basically the music equivalent of the internet research wormhole, where one thing leads to another.

Anyhoo, here is one result from this downloading spree.

I think the British ladies are killing it these days. This song reminds me of Concrete Blonde.

(also…neither of these videos does justice to the songs.)