Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Red & The Brown

The most misleading picture I’ve ever taken.

As you continue to read this blog, please recognize what a simpleton I am, maybe more so now than ever before. Reading (b)log is not an evolution of thought, but a convoluted word game. And lately, like Algernonian Charlie in decline, I mostly respond to shapes and colors.

You know who else seems to be fascinated by shapes and colors? Michael Stipe. He’s so wowed by them that for every great R.E.M. album cover, there’s a bad one (Around The Sun…). Sometimes the cover art, even sub-par, resembles the music, or lays a film of line and color upon it. “Walk It Back,” which I used to think was the worst song on Collapse Into Now (filler in a way that even the “And Your Bird Can Sing”-style intentionally throwaway genius of “That Someone Is You” isn’t) and which I now recognize as probably the best, is that rare thing, a real sonic cathedral (not the kind often meant in rock writing, a combination of loudness and layering), full of bold, clean lines and warm colors.

Speaking of R.E.M., this is nice. The thesis is correct, so that my own, or anyone else’s, personal details would prove it equally correct.

I had a dream in which I came very close to line dancing with Michael Stipe to the song “Damaged Goods” at some kind of gay social event. I don’t know if that’s the method in which I’d prefer for it to happen, but any personal connection with Stipe would be the validation of my entire life.

A classic panel from The Far Side: A woman screaming in the shower as a tank crashes through the bathroom door. The caption: Psycho III. There are certainly movies as obvious as that in circulation right now, but they’re not these:

Healthy attitudes toward death: In Restless, deny it by getting as close to it as you possibly can; in Chris & Don: A Love Story, paint it, simply paint it.

Che, like Carlos, is that rare biopic that knows the ending doesn’t need to validate the entire film. These people are already dead, they don’t need to be resolved by narrative closure. Isn’t that what biopic means, to show life?

The violence of naming: My mind first started down that road while reading Another Country (something in the way Leona is named and introduced) and has been on it since, through Todd Haynes’ Poison to the perfectly titled Martha Marcy May Marlene (a movie that strips the glamour from the Manson family by bringing them to the present day and showing how vacuous and lifeless cult people are). A movie that takes the lead character’s first name for the title will generally be about how that person created himself or herself, especially if it’s a biopic. But a movie that triples the naming in its title will be about the various ways that person is controlled. Our overdetermined protagonist is very much without freedom, indeed.

With all of this in mind, what about J. Edgar? A title that denotes a self-made man? Sort of. A biopic that ends with validation, resolution, closure? Sort of. It’s a really great script by Dustin Lance Black, and ends up as much gay love story (Edgar & Clyde: A Love Story) as biopic, despite what the critics are saying about the movie not really touching Hoover’s homosexuality. The whole point of the ending, one of my favorites of the year, is the way Hoover’s professional and personal lives finally reach a sort of truce, after death, in a final act of supreme generosity. So there’s your validation of the life of Hoover, though the movie’s too smart for forgiveness, or any other biopic trapping.

Something in the mad, violent rush of Point Blank and its “many years later” resolution (the long awaited sigh of relief) made me consider the enticing possibility of a thriller that begins after the action, and serves as a commentary on the audience’s experience of a thriller. The characters would fill the role of the audience, as they try to account for the storyline (told only in their dialogue), make sense of all the frantic action that so lately swirled around them, let their bruises and cuts heal, etc. Basically, a “what the hell just happened?” movie, with the hell left out of it. Also noted: the inevitable American remake will inevitably get the bizarro police station all wrong, somehow make it too plausible or too implausible; Point Blank is another movie that actively destroys the medium shot, so prevalent are close-ups that any non-close-up has a weird unintended feeling of Coenesque irony or misanthropy to it.

Ebert says the remake of Footloose is “a movie without wit, soul or purpose.” I was able to divine its purpose pretty easily, though maybe it’s the same as that of the original and therefore irrelevant: presenting Southerners to a general American audience as a fairly enlightened bunch, retaining their weird ways and love of school bus racing even as they’re slowly changing their lexicon to include “vegan” and lose “fag” and beginning to recognize the need to separate church and state, but dad gum it (real dialogue), that’s easier said than done. When Ren McCormack finds out dancing is outlawed because certain townspeople consider it a sin, he says, “We’re talking about the law here, not heaven and hell!” But then he talks about heaven and hell in his rousing final speech, because, heck, it’s what they understand, let ‘em have it. This makes it sound like I hated the movie, but I didn’t, and found it to have a small amount of wit and a fair amount of soul.

Normally the interest of a movie like Summer Pasture, which records the daily lives of ordinary people, would be limited to audiences composed of ordinary people who aren’t the ordinary people of the film. But since the movie shows people who have never seen a movie, I guess that makes this a movie for all movie lovers.

I know In Time is great sci-fi, given how long I spent pondering all the unanswered questions about the world it creates. What would this world’s art be like? Would there be any art at all?

The Skin I Live In is sort of like a surgical conjoining of the two sides of Almodovar’s cinematic passion, i.e. man and woman. Some say it lacks passion, but it’s got the invisible passion of a man beholding art, beholding the plasticky paintings that will serve as inspiration for the poreless skin of Vera.

Take Shelter explores big themes (America! Man & Woman! Apocalypse! Paranoid Schizophrenia!) in a modest fashion (scratch those exclamation points, though maybe “apocalypse” deserves one). It’s so perfect, so simple, the way our protagonist’s symptoms are such a complete metaphor for his illness. And the wife comes to know it! (vague spoilers) The movie starts off in the Breaking Bad / Mad Men mode of much of today’s great American drama (a man who won’t confess to the logic behind his strange behavior, and yet we’re meant to forgive his concealment but not his wife’s attendant worry and questioning) but ends in a place where she knows him better than he knows himself, holds the key to his recovery (I’d say literally, but not quite), and retrieves him into a feeling, however fleeting, that his American life might endure. The final sequence is another dream, of course, but its placement forces us to take his apocalyptic visions more seriously than we otherwise would. And it also suggests something has changed, or shifted: he looks to his wife for a nod of acknowledgment (she’s on his side) and then he’s the one who calls her inside (he’s back in control).

I watched the entire Nightmare On Elm Street series and have quite a bit of admiration for it as a whole. The most interesting patterns I noticed: the way the movies avoid the routine of sex plus slashing by maintaining an awareness of their own fascination with teen sexuality, even allowing for an explicitly gay entry (“[Krueger] lives on your fear,” “what’s wrong with Jesse?” and other telling lines in part two); the beyond hideous finales (especially parts four and five), grotesque successions of bile and brown latex tableaus, to Christian iconography what the cover of Born This Way is to shock art.

Gay short film compilations are an emergent Netflix priority. Last time I shared Tumbleweed Town, and this time I’d love to share the romance-via-backwash, peeing-in-nature greatness of a short called Soda Pop, if I could. There’s great untapped narrative potential in soda, no doubt unrealized because writers and artists are under the mass delusion that cigarettes and coffee give pleasure.

Agenda: Did you know Altman made a gay-themed movie? And Dreyer? My full report next time, I hope.

Commencing the year-end list making.

Cream of the Crop*
(*pop crap)

1. Lady Gaga, “Marry The Night”
2. Britney Spears, “How I Roll”
3. Katy Perry, “Last Friday Night”
4. Jennifer Lopez, “On The Floor”
5. Ke$ha, “We R Who We R”

Slumberland’s Banner Year
(of Banner Years)

1. Devon Williams, Euphoria
2. Big Troubles, Romantic Comedy – released, I believe, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of GBV’s Isolation Drills and Pernice Brothers’ The World Won’t End, it’s nearly as melodically memorable as those, and as Days (by current tourmates Real Estate), which is an album about the idea of an album like this one.
3. Veronica Falls, s/t
4. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Belong
5. Crystal Stilts, In Love With Oblivion
6. Weekend, Red EP
7. Girls Names, Dead To Me
8. Brilliant Colors, Again And Again

Parallax, continued (from)

I first heard the album during a moment of mid-morning silent comedy, as my loved one made amusing soundless gestures (thus reigniting my childhood ponderings about how to tell when music is “comedy” and when it’s “drama,” intentionally humorous music being of course relegated to an altogether different category, “novelty”), and a certain lightness in the music made me believe it was created at a similar moment in the author’s life. I started to consider the possibility that Cox and Patrick Wolf had created their own versions of the same album this year, Wolf’s Lupercalia being a seemingly irrevocable concession to true love. Then Cox described Parallax as the loneliest album he’s ever made, and I discovered the evidence upon further listens. But true love can be lonely, so maybe I wasn’t entirely wrong.

Also noted: Cox’s esses have a very distinctive sibilance.

He’s been killing it in these interviews, indeed. My favorite parts from the Pitchfork one:

On his connection to Jay Reatard: We share that anger. Punk. It manifests itself in many ways, and for him it was just there like a neon strobe light. And now it’s not there anymore … I need punk rock. It’s the medicine for me, but it’s bitter and sickening. I feel like if you don’t need it—if you’re happy and healthy—run toward that.

[Not-so-radical honesty: It’s true, but I’ve never wanted to admit it. I don’t need punk rock anymore, except as it helps me maintain a connection to my youth. I’m happy if not entirely healthy, but for my criminally vulgar shyness, any kind of music is as good a balm as any other, so long as it provides the deficient, in real life, human connection. Anyway, I have to sometimes remind myself all of that when in the presence of great music like what’s found on Parallax, otherwise I continue with my miserable, mean aspiration to the art of unhappy, unhealthy people.]

I’m not independent. I’m co-dependent. “Codie rock”—co-dependent rock.

I walk around the neighborhoods and the record stores here in Atlanta, and I just don’t feel like a hotshot—like, “Hey man, I just got back from Japan, high five.” I feel like a nobody, and that’s cool. That’s why I live here and not in New York. I tried that, and it’s just not me.

[Yeah, what’s the deal with people living in New York?]

When money and fame happen too late, it’s like pouring kerosene over a fire of self-loathing.

I have really low self-esteem, and it’s not easy for me to put myself on an album cover like that. My friends give me a hard time about it, but they don’t get it, and I don’t give a flying fuck what they think of it. Nobody else I know is willing to put themselves out there like that right now.

[I suspected as much about the recent album covers. I always come back to the idea that the best music is made by people who need music to live, and then I feel ashamed for listening to and enjoying fashion music.]

When young groups put out albums, they’re always forced to go through this cycle of touring and talking and flaunting and posturing and peacocking. Nobody makes me do that anymore. They’re just like, “Oh, it’s fucking weird-ass Bradford, let him lay in bed reading H.P. Lovecraft for two months and he’ll have a new album.”

I’d call him Dylan, today’s great rock personality, our mythic man of art, if he wasn’t so relatable: his public persona doesn’t seem like a willful creation or a defensive reaction to fame. Here’s one musical figure, if figure is even the word, I don’t need Todd Haynes to help me understand.

p.s. Sorry I never did my Bedroom Databank track-by-track review, I’d still kind of like to.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Year In Song

Politics / Identity


Our careless lifestyle, it was not so unwise now.

Hey, buddy, can I borrow five grand? 'cause my dad's in chemo and they want to take him off his plan.

Your mommy suddenly becomes your daddy.

In Gothenburg we don’t have VIP lines – in Gothenburg we don't make a fuss about who you are.

What’s it like to be small town and gay?

How can I feel free when all I want to be is by your side in that municipality?

Alex has a band so who cares about war?

If it takes all summer long just to write one simple song – there’s too much to focus on – clearly that is something wrong.

I write poetry for myself.


I once thought a good name for a band would be orgy
But that’s when I lived in the city
Then I thought a good name would be children
That’s when I looked out my kitchen window drinking
green and raspberry liquids and seeing for a moment
through the hedge a mom and her child
at play

Real Estate, "Green Aisles"
Jens Lekman, "Waiting For Kirsten"
M83, "Raconte-Moi Une Histoire"
EMA, "California"
Real Estate, "Municipality"
Girls, "Alex"
Real Estate, "Younger Than Yesterday"
Destroyer, "Blue Eyes"
Thurston Moore, lost verses from
Demolished Thoughts

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Days: Past the Train tracks, all ancient as a stone


Art washes away from the soul [is] the dust of everyday life.
—Pablo Picasso [corrected]

A nation that forgets its past has no future. [So written on the side of the seemingly abandoned State Records Center and Archives building in Santa Fe. I failed to get a picture of the freshly painted quote above the faint outline of the word ‘archives,’ sad, because it could serve as a great first panel in a comic book of whimsical, or meaningful, irony.]
—Winston Churchill

What a beautiful day: the sun is shining, the birds are singing!
—A young boy in the square at Old Town in Albuquerque [the smartest one of all]

There are six things I need to find before a new place can feel like home: a library, a convenience store, a record store, a (gay) bar, an art museum, and a scenic nature trail. The first two must be within walking distance of my domicile. I’ve found most of these things in Albuquerque.

A library: the main branch is downtown, a 15-minute walk.

A convenience store: the 7-11 on Lomas sucks, but a little further is the very inviting G-Mart, whose owner continues to tell us the benefits of their DVD rental system (new releases available before Redbox!) even after we’ve rented from her.

A record store: I think I went to most of them, minus the still eagerly anticipated Krazy Kat (if it’s real), in search of the new M83 and Real Estate albums. The notable ones are Charley’s (huge!), Mecca (close to home, and with hilariously random hours) and Natural Sound (the oldest, I think).

A (gay) bar: Still working on the parenthetical (and hope to be a Social Club regular once I pay my dues) but downtown’s Blackbird suffices as a place to sit in the dark and listen to really loud 80s dance music.

An art museum: All the great ones are in Santa Fe, so we took the train there. After the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the Chuck Jones Gallery, I realized what I’ve probably always known, which is that I prefer both artists when they’re painting the Southwest. Did they ever cross paths? Does my regard for Jones’ palette diminish the same for O’Keeffe’s, which is profound? The New Mexico Museum of Art had all sorts of amazing pieces by New Mexico artists whose names I neglected to write down and have already forgotten.

A scenic nature trail: We walked near the Rio Grande, and three days later in the Sandias.


I find our courtyard beautiful, and not just accidentally beautiful (as there’s nothing decorative about it), but helplessly beautiful, in the pattern of the region, and ready to go unnoticed against other more commanding scenes nearby. A closed courtyard, even a rudimentary one, is a great idea simply for the way it frames the world above, separates it from whatever might exist beneath it. I like to stand outside our door at night and look at the faint glow of the city, a halo around the courtyard tree. Anything from a Mennonite community to Krazy’s Coconino County could exist beyond the walls.

Inside is coming along too. After receiving new (old) furniture today, these early triumphs of interior design:

And, for all these photos I’ve taken, some others I wish I’d taken, or still need to take: the neon sign of Dog House reflected in a window across the street; the nearby fire hydrant; shirts hanging in a car, seen from the passenger side window; two big dogs sleeping on the back of a couch, seen through and framed by a living room window; the neon bail bonds sign in the bottom window of the square building that Mt. Helena perfectly frames, from the right angle; a red-brown pitbull, a beautifully lit art object and yet totally my equal in its aliveness.

These last four won’t be getting taken, as I saw them in Helena in October, the bulldog on the 11th of that month, while taking a very sentimental fall stroll around the block of my youth (’95-’98), along six foot tall hedges and walls (always such a calming sensation, to walk near something the same height as you) and listening to Yuck’s awesome album-closer “Rubber” (the perfect song for the occasion, as it’s the sound of my youth but in a new form not available to me at the time). All this seemed conclusive proof against music videos, there being such a complete, yet accidental, convergence of sound and vision that beat anything that could ever be planned. And that pitbull: it was amazing, sort of like in movies when two different types of creatures are shown to acknowledge each other’s existence with silent regard, but it was a real feeling, not a cinematic one, though it did have a certain camera panning momentum, the dog sitting on a low wall and me passing at eye level, with a steady, panoramic view of his proffered majesty.

- - -

Back to Albuquerque: What is the music that is helping to solidify all these new connections, you ask?

I should acknowledge the local New Age flute duo Amauta’s version of “El Condor Pasa,” and not just because it was the first live music I heard here (in Old Town). Also because it was an element of a certain atmosphere.

Real Estate’s finally located (at Hastings) Days is the album of these months.

I’d like to think it says something about Albuquerque that the pieces its Philharmonic Orchestra chose to perform last night were so breathless and strange. Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments was mere overture for Alan Hovhaness’s Fantasies on Japanese Woodprints, as instantly overwhelming as the first time I heard The Soft Bulletin or “Haitian Fight Song.”


Two pop philosophy books conceived during city rambles:
Mannequin: The City Scarecrow
Our Bodies: Temporary Galleries of the Soul

Dreams: I’m able to rise from lying down to standing, without bending, like Dracula from his coffin, by flexing the muscles in my feet; I’m filled with anxiety about pending or overdue math homework (at least six times in the past month); I’m planning to move across the country, every room I’m in is all a-clutter (also numerous occurences); the apocalypse, again, this time via frogs raining down from the heavens, like in Magnolia, only during the day; same dream, I escape into an apartment at the top of a tall building, it starts folding in on itself and then expanding, like an accordion.

Last: Here’s a video that doesn’t have as much to do with my experience of the Southwest as it does with general childhood fantasies of stop-motion animation. But, recently seen, and dizzily great:

Movies, music, and more, next time.