alt-love traxxx

Gettin Breaked: LAW, c. 1977

Now that its Fall, summer’s electro-pop’d neck snapping gives way to Autumnal basement dwelling and I give up on leaving the house for six months and settle in with The Band, The Freewheeling Bob Dylan and Niño Rojo. Over at the station, I was rifling thru the stacks prepping for this week’s show and happened upon some GEMS.  Deep in the crevasses of music history and the station’s sixty year old collection of wax lies LAW (above) sometimes known as The Lawson 5. From Youngstown, Ohio, a veritable hotbed of erstwhile rust-belt genius RAWK (rust-belt-core?),  the band’s website proclaims:

From the 1950s through the late 1970s few areas of the country boasted a more dynamic or more exciting popular music scene than Northeast Ohio and Southwest Pennsylvania. The entire Steel Valley between Cleveland and Pittsburgh teemed with brilliant talent, great bands, and hundreds of clubs and concert venues for music fans of all ages. Many of the rock era’s most celebrated musicians spent their formative years in this area. 

(Next week’s topic: is a nation-wide exodus of this country’s young creatives to five or so coastal cities a new indicator of American cultural poverty or are such cycles natural: today’s San Fransisco is tomorrow’s Cleveland? Discuss.)

I pulled out their 1977 cut Breakin’ It, because puns in classic rock are criminally underused. A track entitled “Be My Woman (Be My Friend)” caught my eye because I am one large weak spot for such sentiments, especially when pronounced by shirtless long-haired dudes. It spun through the airwaves to all both of my listeners who were no doubt FLOORED by such a magical, Romantic and pure iteration of love, partnership and a truly modern&progressive imagining of that whole matrix. “It’s the 20th century! Neither one of us necessarily has to till the fields while the other one makes porridge with the kids! Let’s be friends!” with horns and stuff (Before we say we’re in love/ we both already know).  I might have to ditch the Eagles in favor of these guys at my commitment ceremony after-rager.  Not a peep from the band exists on teh youtube but you can listen here.

Every student of pop music will get bludgeoned in the cranium with decades of boring love songs that are about a) being in love with someone and it’s going to like, last forever or b) being in unrequited love that makes the singer want to supposedly kill themselves. I say go for it, I’m bored out of my skull. This is perhaps why Law’s track somehow seems novel even thirty-five years after its release, and why another, newer jam really worked its way into my hardened ears last spring (or around there, who can keep track of real time anymore; we have the internet):

“I don’t wanna own him or control him/ I just want our souls to be aligned.” Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Plus homegirl is a serious super babe. Respect. Friends released their full-length debut Manifest! in June, and the flip-side of the aforementioned transcendent union is the album’s other standout, “Home”. There’s no video, but can you listen here.

Peace, love and Death 2 FM lite*

 

 

*excluding the Eagles who I don’t even care, desert/peyote/leather vests, are fabulous.

 

 

 

My really incisive observations of modern art.

When I was younger I was obsessed with print media and the hoarding of it (and by younger I mean “now”) and filed away accordion folders and shoe boxes and under-bed storage containers full of clippings from Vogue, Entertainment Weekly (seriously), Rolling Stone, etc. One set of images that remained filed away for years was from the September 2001 issue of Vogue (which I remember because that was the season of the debut of Gap leather, which I promptly procured for myself in shiny black blazer form and which my sixteen year old self just wore the shit out of at every varsity hockey game, as did every other girl at the existential jail we called our high school). There was a lengthy spread of graphic, sculptural curiosities: the pope on the ground, burdened by a large rock,  a mouse dead or asleep at his desk, a stuffed horse unsettlingly suspended from the ceiling. The weight of the images was undeniable, which is why I kept them for years, waiting to use them in the collages or cards that occupied my school breaks and summers. But the images were too heavy, obviously more than wallpaper to line my missives with– they demanded more than the inane musings of tween girl chatter. So they sat filed away for years.

This past fall, I picked up the November installment of W for the first time in 10 years because it was the “art issue”, featuring Nicki Minaj on the cover. It was by chance that its pages not only featured a solid spread on Detroit and its supposed burgeoning art scene, but the same pope and mouse from the annals of our young millennium and my own leathered youth.  The Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, described as the “tragic poet” or “prankster” of contemporary art, was primed for a retrospective and announcing his retirement.

This winter in New York, I spent some time rolling around from Queens to lower Manhattan and back again in pursuit of decent espresso and some vegan pho. My sister and I were deliberating between the MOMA and the Guggenheim, and our friend’s free passes to the Goog sent us their way; her membership led us straight to the front of the line. Firmly established as VIP, we strolled into the famed rotunda and looked up to a massive installation– a gallows of sorts– hung from the ceiling of this iconic building: the pope. The mouse. The horse.

As we worked up the tiered ramp and around the installation, Maurizio’s “pranks” slyly revealed themselves: every loss of the English national football inscribed into black granite (shown in England, and probably why, Cattelan himself muses, he hasn’t shown there much since). Hitler.  New York city cops strung from their feet– a veritably cheeky move in a city whose patrol cars are marked with stickers that offer a reward of ten grand for any information involving the death of a city cop. In the W article, Cattelan claims that the installation begs the viewer to “kneel down and convert to the saving faith of that mysterious religion called Cattelanism, where God is a prankster.”

The cops and art criticism as a house of cards. I fell in love.

Some “critics” (whose occupational legitimacy is always up for debate to any artist, for good reason, as most “critics” seem mostly only littered with their own pathos) (also, this isn’t a review or critique, just an appreciation) challenge the place of humor in “serious” (read: real) works of art. But as Cattelan makes very clear amidst this sea– wreckage, really– of modern culture, one can’t fully internalize the experience of being alive in the modern world without laughing at the fringes of the horror we’re suddenly capable of (cf.  Hitler).  Cattelan’s humor then becomes a piece of art in itself, woven within the objects.  His own humanity is hanging from the ceiling. The true power of “art”– in any of its forms– is when it becomes a means of communication between human beings. What we call “art” is really just a platform to reveal some truth about oneself or the world, or oneself in the world.  In Cattelan’s case, his experience manifests itself through his razor-sharp wit, which cuts you while you laugh and you’re not quite able to articulate why it hurts.

Revisiting that W article after seeing the show, I found in Maurizio what seem to be twin muses: a disarming vulnerability and an iron resolve. In New York Magazine, he wondered if his Guggenheim retrospective itself meant that there was “something wrong somewhere.” He begs forgiveness from the self he failed to take seriously (among others), he reveals the stuffed horse as a sort of self portrait: while living in Milan, he was depressed, “waging a war against [him]self”:  “I felt powerless, hung out to dry, horse meat for grinders wielded by curators and critics,” yet he goads those same curators and critics, daring them to denounce him as merely as a prankster.

He describes himself as two halves: “the freewheeling individualist and the artist chained to his ambitions.” That phrase stopped me cold: it was as familiar to me as something inscribed on my own arm, but much simpler and more honest than anything I ever would (or could) have written about myself.

This morning, I read my first own bad press, in which the critic wondered if I was dumb or sarcastic, and advised me, should I ever want to be a “serious” artist, to “lose the sass.” I felt a strange sort of pride, and thought of Maurizio.

MISS U 1977 (4 yr brainz)

the king of the cranky drunk geniuses, Lester Bangs.

Hey kids, once upon a time, media outlets existed that didn’t have “Verizon” or “BankOfAmerica” in the title, people went to see “musical artists” who they actually enjoyed, rather than read about on the internet and wanted to see so other people who read about them on the internet would want to have sex with them (back in the old days, such formalities were unnecessary, as everyone walked around in a perpetual crochet-top state of mind, so I hear/imagine). ( The last such event I attended was two full years ago. It was a band that was getting a lot of “internet buzz” at the time, and I naively wasn’t expecting the line to be crawling with mall cast-offs and sorority also-rans.  After shotgunning some PBRs in the parking lot, my jorted crew and I found ourselves lingering in the shadows of some local poli-sci majors, who were rolling their stripey polos off and spilling their seven dollar beers on my dance moves. At one point, I listened while one leaned uttered to other, “she’s hot, but not as hot as [other female performer].” Ok so maybe I’m being a tad sensitive but as I have a PhD in “female artists aren’t taken as seriously as male artists! They’re judged on their appearance more than their talent!” I went home, deleted my facebook account and decided to retire from the buzzworthy circuit then and there.)

I digress. Back before “rock and roll” and the concert-going experience were commodified within an inch of their lives and completely de-clawed of any of the actual danger that defined the genre in the first place (I’m talking like ALTAMONT, man) music journalism was marked with the same amphetamine’d snarl of the artists themselves. (Wikipedia Lester Bangs and then read the rest of this.) Can you imagine a contemporary  Rolling Stone without a naked seventeen year old, ambiguously “talented”  human-shaped void on the cover? ME EITHER!

However. I am pleased to report that even these wearied eyes have spied some actual illumination in the music-journo cave. This century even! Some high points:

This piece, published on Pitchfork back in February, ignited my hope in a music journalism renaissance: “popular” music itself has evolved worlds from our Long National Nightmare of 1997-2003 (perhaps those young pups at the “alt show” were more a harbinger of hope than the end? half glass full yall!), as should sentient takes on This Whole Thing. William Bowers tears through the Florida festival circuit like the quietly enraged progeny of David Foster Wallace and Lester himself. I imagine him to be PhD’d and drunk in equal measures, but of course. Admittedly prone to such sentiments, I found myself grateful for his existence in this post-Village-Voice-as-actual-cultural-arbiter universe.

In the mood for Dos and Don’ts but bored of Street Boners (incessant whining and casual misogyny is s0 over), I wandered over to Vice and discovered the brilliant accounts of Moe Bishop, who seems to hate most music, as all music writers worth their wayfarers should. He had me at this rewrite of a classic John Mayer inanity.  Bishop also thinks music festivals are overblown and dead,  which makes me want to chuck warm beers at the revelers with him.

Finally, for a more cerebral, less gloriously unhinged approach, check out (Pitchfork’s editor-in-chief) Mark Richardson’s Resonant Frequency column. Scouring teh world wide web for a thoughtful take on Grimes, I stumbled upon Richardson’s commentary on gender as informative of our experience of various artists, which basically fits into the center of the Venn diagram of my obsessions (cf. this entire post).

Long live benzedrine-/egomaniacally-fueled proclamations about rock and roll saving/destroying Western civilization.

um, you don’t know her?

ZERO CRAP, YALLZ

Get out your 3×5 index card labeled LANGUISHING IN OBSCURITY BUT ABOUT TO BLOW UP and jot down this hyperlink. That is one Kelly Schirmann, who is, full disclosure, my sister in arms in running the train/wrecking/leaving a trail of honest mistakes and SOOPER sad dudes in our wake (uh, cause we’re riding out on the same horse we rode in on, sorry bros), and also a genius for real. She has a PhD in metaphorology and will make you feel like you never went to college. The aforelinked post garners her the coveted “Walt Whitman Of Our Generation” bestowed by yours truly only once like every seventeen months, the last recipient being LCD Soundsystem for the illuminative “Drunk Girls.”

YOU’RE WELCOME.

Slack’d


Back in 2003, I was living at home, wearing purple eyeliner to my boring service industry job and spending most of my time collaging. I had a fresh driver’s license and the thrill of rolling around in my mom’s car at night listening to the Raveonettes and using her Hollywood Video rental card to check out Marlon Brando movies was unparalleled.

The guy at the counter was a plump ginger with a long ponytail under his Hollywood Video-issued baseball hat who I suspected had a crush on me since I was the only teen coming in without my kid and buying the king size pack of jujufruits. I ignored his halting glances since I didn’t really start talking to boys until I was about 20, even ones I had no interest in.
One day, I checked out Slacker, because the case looked weird and I had just recently discovered that I was cooler than anyone I knew, having been educated at a prep school in which my peers’ interests ranged from the fall j. crew catalog to the spring j. crew catalog. I got home, popped in the VHS (earnestly) and got to work stenciling “London Calling” lyrics onto t-shirts I’d just picked up at the Gap on sale for $9.99.
Slacker was weird, I couldn’t really make sense of the characters and the lack of plot line got lost in my intense stenciling session– I later moved onto Bowie lyrics.
Eight (!!!!11) years later, my life is eerily (depressingly?) similar to that of my eighteen year old self. Despite my B.A. and having traveled the world, the only tangible element that’s different today from the scene described above is that I now use my mom’s Netflix account. And I know how to talk to boys now, but that’s a different story entirely. Tonight as I was sitting around making record cover journals, feeling inexplicably attracted to Ted Nugent, I decided to scroll through the Netflix collection, and Slacker caught my eye once again.
The film that I watched tonight, of course, is the same as the VHS I rented a thousand beers ago, but oh how my perception of it has changed. What once seemed like dreamy esoterica has since become the soundtrack to my own life; the characters, once just that, are now people I have met over and over, comprising my own anchor to post-collegiate reality. While I was completely engrossed in the film and finding myself in conversation with these people, a thought entered into my head: Is this movie making fun of us? Is Richard Linklater looking at 20-somethings who sit around drinking beer, talking about their lives and the world, politics and their relationships, with their friends and roommates and strangers, and deeming it all a waste of time? The film is called Slacker. Is the film’s thesis that we’re aimless, rootless, wasting our time and our potential to fulfill that great American myth of “making something of ourselves”?

As anyone with a hundred thousand dollar degree in Why The World Sucks and a barista job to prove it knows, “Our Generation” is the topic of a thousand porch/bar/breakfast PBR 30-packs. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “slacker” as “a person regarded as one of a large group or generation of young people (especially in the early to mid 1990s) characterized by apathy, aimlessness, and lack of ambition”. They may have to alter the era included in their definition. Is it not “Our Generation,” the children of those hardworking model Americans, the baby boomers, that has been called out on a hilariously frequent number of occasions by the New York Times for being lazy, ego-driven, sext-crazed narcissists? Slackers, in the truest sense of the word? Intra-generational hand wringing abounds at the NYT as their op-ed columnists tell us to stay out of restaurants and save our money. In preparation for footing the bill for “Their Generation’s” gross mistakes, of course.

Every conversation over porch beers at noon on a Tuesday elicits the same conclusion: we’re not unmotivated, the ones pushing papers and paying their bills are. We’re the ones who are looking for something more, the ones who refuse to settle for what we’ve been given. We’re taking the path of least resistance, fighting with ourselves and everyone else for answers instead of with the TV over Dancing With the Stars.

And it turns out Linklater agrees: “Slackers might look like the left-behinds of society, but they are actually one step ahead, rejecting most of society and the social hierarchy before it rejects them. The dictionary defines slackers as people who evade duties and responsibilities. A more modern notion would be people who are ultimately being responsible to themselves and not wasting their time in a realm of activity that has nothing to do with who they are or what they might be ultimately striving for.”

Slack on, “our generation.”