mass violence: simulated, real, and the inability to tell the difference.

In The Dark Knight Rises’ unsettling centerpiece, Bane hijacks a stadium of screaming Gothamites as the city crumbles completely around them, resulting in a sort of orgasmic visual dénouement that only a $230 million  superhero movie would attempt.  Sitting in the (police-guarded) theatre watching this scene, I wondered why I’d paid to feel so uncomfortable: terror as entertainment seems an indulgence when people around the world experience such scenes of decadent bloodshed (or at least the fear of such) as their daily reality. I often get into arguments with friends and acquaintances over issues of cinematic violence; I’m preternaturally squeamish and unconditioned to the gory trauma, both visual and psychological, that serve as most Hollywood blockbusters’ most alluring selling point (the general consensus is that no one else seems to mind).

On Marathon Monday in Boston, I thought back to Bane and his takeover of Gotham during a football game. I wasn’t in Copley Square, but instead in my kitchen about a mile away from downtown. Cryptic text messages from my mom and a friend alerted me to the bombs at the marathon; phone service was down.  My stomach turned with the proximity of the danger, and then again at the sickening familiarity of what has now become a sort of regular occurrence of life in America: unnatural disaster in some form, a shooting, a bombing, a tragedy. Earlier this year, the city was shut down for Nemo, and before that, Sandy. In order to most effectively live in America now, should we cautiously expect random acts of terror much in the same way that we anticipate inclement weather? Bring an umbrella;  get ready to sprint from a crowd?

And within minutes of the news breaking, texts pour in from friends and relatives, close and long-lost, neighboring and the farthest-reaching. Far from the scene but close enough, the events themselves are experienced almost exclusively in digital format: the ever-tactful Huffington Post with their sans-serif shout BOSTON MAYHEM, controversial tweets and well-meaning but ultimately useless hash-tags (#prayforboston: thanks or something).

In my crude search for some semblance of a live feed, I accidentally, regrettably, listened to footage from the first blast. A pop, a beat, then the screams: I’ve seen this one before. We’re so inured to such scenes that it becomes nearly impossible to discern the simulacrum from the original.

Mayor Menino recommended that everyone stay inside for the evening. Never before have I been unable to leave the house for fear of my own safety in the wake of a disaster that doesn’t involve three feet of snow, which is indeed a luxury. From inside the house as the sun set, I listened as the birds chirped almost perversely, and reggaeton returned to the street in the usual passing blurs. Tweets turned back to regularly scheduled selfies and hopefully we can leave the house again tomorrow.

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unfortunate events of early December

I’m high on zinc and short on sleep + dignity. For a moment, laid up on the couch trying to get the snot to flow back into my nose while pouring hot ginger tea down my throat, Love Actually seemed like a good idea. Having seen the film in London in 2003 (me: “It’s like we’re at the premier!” my friend Avery: “no it’s not”) I’ve watched it a few times since (which I’ll blame on my sister) and what I can only explain as a strange combination of my double X chromosomes and sheer masochism keep me coming back for more. Stray thoughts:

!  Never does my inherent American femaleness make itself more apparent than when faced with Hugh Grant (whatever crags he may be assuming as of late),  for whom my inexplicable love runs as deep and dark as my natural hair color.

& If for nothing else, this movie is notable for its 2003-era barely veiled jabs at “American imperialism,” (despite Prime Minister Hugh’s weird “sympathetic” (?) 9/11 reference in the opening monologue).  The American president is sleazy, not good at playing with others, and Texan! Which may be preferable to the producers’ apparent assumption that all Americans are hot sluts? Thanks? Shannon Elizabeth (HAHAH my fingers just typed those words) and Denise Richards (annnnnd again)?

& Quite a bit has been made on certain corners of the internet about the all-but-blatant female subservient nature of two of the vignettes: Hugh falls in love with his secretary (who’s “fat,” OH GOD YES GIVE ME MORE)  and Colin Firth with his Portuguese house keeper. AND despite everything else I’ve ever said, I’m ok with both of these things, because I love both Hugh and Colin and both their chosen ladies are JUST so dark-haired and adorable that I find myself wishing I was a Portuguese housekeeper so I could fall in love with a handsome English turtle-neck-sweater-wearer (oh sorry, in British, ROLL-NECK JHAHAH) who like “writes” or something at a French (?) villa because his wife was fucking his brother. However, the real problem I have with this whole scenario, which is the real problem that I’ve had with being alive every moment since that moment in Boulder Colorado a lot of Augusts ago is this: Portuguese homegirl is sweet and adorable and natural-nosed, and she seems like she’d have, oh I don’t know, A PERSONALITY. And. Wait for it. Colin loses his manuscript to the French wind or whatever, because obviously writers in the 21st century practice their craft OUTSIDE ON A TYPEWRITER. So all the leaves of his work of genius (which we later learn is a crime novel, LOLLLL) blow away, and this beezie strips off her clothing to dive into the pond after the would-be movie starring Will Smith. And at the moment she’s in her virginal white bra and undies and her “surprisingly ” tight little brown body is on display (with full on-lower back tatt WHOLE NOTHER ENTRY) that little soft-sparse “falling-in-love-score” starts playing straight into the psyche of YOU THE VIEWER who is subliminally soaking up “oh they had this little cute thing before but now that he sees she has a beautiful body he’s in love with her and we’re in love with him being in love with her. I’M NEVER EATING AGAIN.” Hey kids, but obviously specifically women, NO ONE WILL LOVE YOU IF YOU DON’T LOOK GOOD NAKED. LOVE, HOLLYWOOD. (they won).

& THEN ITS EVEN WORSE because I’m like, UUGHGHHGHGHG I’m going to be one of those horrible people (in another universe, in which people actually want to date people and don’t have “baggage” or other bullshit I don’t care about because DUH) who passive-aggressively forces (like so p-a-ively that I make him suggest it or I’m dumping him on Christmas eve) her poor s.o. to watch Love Actually but then tries DESPERATELY not to like OOGLE the shit out of Karl (IRL some Brazilian cologne model) whilst he’s in his undies (black! undies!!) ??? HAHAHA EWWWW maybe we should stick to the Muppets or like nothing?

Of Bloodlust and Batman

Everyone saw The Dark Knight Rises except anyone I know so I couldn’t talk about Violence In the Media and How It Causes (allows, perpetuates, etc) Real War with anyone who has actual opinions on these things besides “PEOPLE LIKE TO WATCH VIOLENCE THAT DOESN’T MEAN THEY LIKE REAL VIOLENCE”/ “JUST BECAUSE I WATCH TORTURE PORN DOESN’T MEAN I’M A BAD PERSON.” Which, ok.

However. The usual “media outlets” (if that’s what we’re still calling the non-events of monied mannequins’ love lives printed on slash-and-burned Amazon) turned the resulting actual violence inflicted in Colorado on opening night into a bloodbath of their own (via a violent lack of respect for the victims and a continuation of their brutal war on good taste), without ever stopping to ask actual questions concerning the events of that night as indicative of greater truths of the culture they occurred in. The earth kept turning, and there was another shooting the next week, this time by a white supremacist, no big deal, is the divorce final and who’s pregnant now?

Nolan’s undeniably deft handling of an imaginary, beloved legend has been the most fun I’ve had at the movies as an adult: pondering whether the Gotham of Batman Begins is an analogue for an America at late-capitalism and the League of Shadows a barely veiled reference to Al Qaeda ignited my little pre-college cranium, and much of the The Dark Knight’s thematic tension, pulled straight from the pages of an Ethics 100 textbook, appealed equally to the philosophy nerd and the young and stoned among us. Plus, Christian Bale is one of probably two “movie stars” that I find legitimately babely and compelling (see: vintage Christian in Little Women, squeal). Mysteriously (intentionally) lacking any real public persona, we graft Bruce/Batman onto to the blankness of the Bale and revel in his dark and tortured nature, imagine he gets slightly too drunk at Hollywood events and is kind of a dick, and we like that, as any woman worth her mercurial self-respect loves a good smirk from a strong jaw.

Nolan’s franchise remains the only contemporary one that seems to have any real darkness to it: the brightest moments of the trilogy reveal dirty psychosis and unanswerable questions that no big budget films, especially summer popcorn superhero-y ones would dare to venture near. And here’s the other however.  During the more overwhelmingly violent arcs of The Dark Knight Rises, I felt like I’d just paid to ingest the filmic equivalent of pizza-flavored Bugles: something that I’d never knowingly consume, and would suffer the consequences for days after. The visual dénouement of the Dark Knight Rises, a conceptually and visually orgiastic rendering of the destruction of Gotham and palpable terror of all of its citizens, is so overblown in its goal of Maximum Possible Destruction (ok, so like what if the cops are all in the tunnels underground! And then let’s blow them up and show all the streets in the city like just COLLAPSING, THEN let’s get Bane to hold an entire football stadium captive while he proselytizes to the masses in a so-ridiculous-as-to-be-embarrassing-to-the-filmmaker Sean Connery voice about how to reclaim their freedom from the decadent capitalist pigs [or whatever point the summer-blockbuster-as-moralist-societal-allegory is trying to make], all while most of the football team falls into the depths of the crumbling earth below and the mayor’s box seats are engulfed in flames) that I wondered if the screenwriters had recruited a coterie of fifteen-year-old boys to help them imagine the absurd climax (yup) of the film, much as it looked like Nolan hired actual murderous psychotics to conceive the Dark Knight’s opening sequence. As I internalized what it would be like to live in a society that has actually been hijacked by armed and violent vigilantes [choose your own George W./ Wall Street joke], I thought of the Holocaust, 1990s Colombia, Hussein’s Iraq, North Korea, the litany of instances in modern (!!!) history that have provided Real models for Nolan’s simulacrum, Gotham. Then I wondered if I’m the only American who doesn’t consume movies about the Vietnam War, the Mafia, hyper-violent superhero movies, etc, without my hands in my pants.

Experiencing violence through cinema is a first world luxury. We pay to witness the destruction and murder, ostensibly to experience the emotion granted by chaos and its resolution.  But our spikes are relegated to the safe cocoon of the dark theatre; the credits roll and we go out for a beer and talk about how we should be getting paid more. Watching Gotham crumble for my enjoyment and adrenaline rush, I was overcome with something like guilt and disgust at the realization I could turn on the news, live from Kabul, and witness a live-action version of Gotham’s destruction. Watching Nolan’s suddenly homeless children and families gripped with fear for survival seemed the ultimate first world indulgence when this condition is reality for millions of human beings that we share a planet with. Right at this very second.

And closer to home: we claim to mourn the events of September 11th  (what will we say this year, the eleventh after the fact? What is left to say?). Not to get all French theorist over here, but: We Loved It, in the way we love the events, whether joyful milestones or tragic losses, that give our lives meaning. It was what our movies had prepared us for, and we got to experience the true horror and what later settled into real tragedy in real time. Finally, we were in our very own Hollywood movie: a pornographicly violent event that caused us to finally feel authentic fear, disgust, rage and the terror of real loss. There were villains and victims and there was no question which one we were.  We remember watching the news that Tuesday, and it’s too recent in our collective cultural memory to not acknowledge the undeniable reference by Gotham’s crumbling. A decade later, are we over it? Can we go back to fantasizing about terrorism, lusting for it (while vindicating ourselves through a fictional hero)? One billion dollars in worldwide gross, a cool half of that provided by Americans says: Yes. We mourned the stock market crash more.

In something so normalized that we don’t even question anymore: the very theatre I saw The Dark Knight, about three weeks after the Colorado shooting, had an armed police officer in the lobby. Can we pause for a moment and think about the fact that somehow in America today we need to be protected by armed officials when we engage in public events? Mitt Romney and all of his blank-eyed supporters believe in the RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS, the media doesn’t perpetuate violence and this is our Freedom.

Love Letter to Lester

Maria Bustillos on Lester Bangs in the New Yorker:  “for a certain cohort of bookishly inclined kids… there was only one writer.”

Perhaps the sweet spot of a Venn Diagram conjoining “bookish” and “reckless” might be more descriptive of Lester Bangs, his writing and his legions of young followers.  This isn’t Proust, where the squares of our Venn will huddle.  Lester writes about acid-drenched parties where he and his friends do stupidly destructive things in psychotropic-induced rages, his battles with his own demons and intermittent hero, Lou Reed.  As a tween from the purgatory of mid-Atlantic suburbia looking toward bored binge-drinkers as the best-case scenarios at the liberal arts college of my choice, I was scandalized and intrigued. I forfeited my pass to join the future bloated depressives of America in a game of STD bingo and spent weekends with Lester instead. For those certain bookish and (imaginarily) reckless among us, reading Lester was not only finding a friend, but a key to that desperate, manic, breathless, joyful voice in our own heads, to magically transform us into writers, or at least made us think that it could.

I began living vicariously through others’ accounts of what went up Charlie Watts’ nose as a sixteen year old, and the third-hand records satisfied all the curiosity I had toward real recklessness; my lust for the dark side remained cerebral, not manifested (back then at least). My journey through bold-faced names of the 1970s underworld led me to Lester, and cracking open his first collection, Mainlines, Blood Feasts and Bad Taste was like meeting a person I’d always imagined existed and was waiting to meet: someone who never shuts up but everything that comes tumbling from his mouth is somehow thoughtful, impassioned, shocking and true. Sure, like anything that has enough courage to be alive, he’s damaged, but you wouldn’t trust an artist who wasn’t crushed under the weight of existence (or the Lower East Side in 1977), and also drunk. In a self-penned “about the author” featured in the intro to his second posthumous collection, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, Lester refers to himself as the best writer in America, pitting himself against Hunter S. Thompson. He’s right. Thompson may remain the the ruling king of the literarily debauched, but thirty years later, the poetry and rage of Lester’s work somehow hum and scream off the page to a truer tone.

Aside from Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s turn as Lester in Almost Famous and a few name-checks by unknown contemporary bands, Bangs has been conspicuously absent from pop cultural discussion (a biopic starring R.Patz is somehow not in the works), so I was thrilled to see Bustillos’ paean to him in the pages of such a tony rag.  In awe of his wit and seemingly tireless intellect, Bustillos outs Bangs as a lit nerd in rock writer’s clothing, rather than painting him as the oversized, benzedrine-ridden Falstaff many others have (perhaps that both portraits are accurate explains his true complexity and endurance).

A comment on the article  identifies Bangs as “mainly notable for being an extreme example of rootless, insecure, self-destructive hipster nihilism,” inviting others who subscribe to his worldview to follow his example “all the way to the cul-de-sac where it inevitably leads.” Besides assuming that the commenter must then view a cubicle and three-car garage as ultimate transcendence above said existential cul-de-sac,  nihilist struck me as a low and ugly epithet, as well as completely misguided. A true nihilist does not create. To create requires an intense engagement with the world, a leap of faith that another human will understand what you’ve made.  Each of Lester’s pieces are loaded with nothing but his impassioned joy or hand-wringing. Sure, he hated Prog Rock and most white male singer-writers of the 70s and his teenage hero, Bob Dylan, let him down. But true despair (for Lester, over the career of James Taylor) can’t be known without experiencing pure ecstasy (granted by seeing the Stooges live or tricking a record clerk into selling a favorite, obscure Count Five record for 89 cents).

Between airing his many grievances over the state of popular music, New York, Detroit, Idi Amin, women, men, and the list goes on, Lester let his joy and wonder of life and the world show through:  “Lately some people have begun to assert that, with 1967 so far gone and all, ain’t nothin’ cosmic anymore. They say that rare evanescent psychic Pez drop has gone out of contemporary life. But I Know Different.”

I live like a trust-funder on less than 13k a year and you can too.

this is my pretty sister Elsa being chic on public transport.

I’m currently too broke to leave the house– and I’m having the BEST VACA EVR. Magnum P.I. is streaming on Netflix AND two words: Vinho Verde. Consider all my contacts DELETED (sorry bros, grow some chest hair and I’ll reconsider).

By now, we can all agree that having money is for the homely and sad who can’t get by on their good looks and charm. People who have money or are concerned with the pursuit of it are morally vacant and spiritually dead. Not to mention illiterate and definitely not 10s. I barely work, but I’ve got a great tan, my embroidery could make you cry and I’m currently absorbing the grace of Olga Korbut through osmosis and youtube:

Here’s how to live like like a member of the idle rich: (But with friends, because everyone knows that rich people are boring and vacuous and responsible for luxury brands and their vicious war on subtlety [burn your counterfeit handbags yesterday everyone, you’re embarrassing yourselves])

First of all, stop going out. Bars are boring and no one is hot. When’s the last time the bro/ad of your dreams made eyes at you during some drunk boomer’s sad rendition of  “Some Kind of Wonderful” while you were waiting twenty minutes for a six dollar microbrew? Ok except for that one time which turned out to be a huge mistake, NEVER. Make some friends, have a porch and pick up a $5.49 bottle of Sauv Blanc. No awkward encounters with people you’ve formerly thrown up against a wall in the bar bathroom, BONUS.

bkyd bbq > sweaty bar full of 4s.

Make your own food. All you really need is some Udon noodles and Shoyu and you can trick people into thinking they’re dining with Ina Garten. Making fresh food is easy plus everyone will want to marry you. I made salsa the other day and now I’m like STOP SEXTING ME EVERYONE. Just grab a can of tomatoes, salt, pepper, garlic and onions and pour some Sriracha on it. Get creative. Recipes are for mainstreamers.

the phrase “domestic goddess” is by this point exhausted, but basically.

When your backyard is a paradise, you’re on vacation every day! Who needs Ibiza when you have this:

christ, I'm jealous of myself.

Also, sell your car.  I ride my bike everywhere and I basically get a tax break for having this butt. And that, friends, is true wealth.

Rack up yr library fines!: summer reading part une

blue highways.

It’s August, and if you’re lucky or European, that means evening out your tit-tan and finally putting some quality hours in with those books you’ve pretended to have read for so long. Well, call me Amelie or Emilia because I’m as colored-blocked as a Rothko and my library overdue fines are just skyrocketing. Thanks to my woeful underemployment/ entitlement granted to me the day I was born in 1980s America, I wake up every day (not before 11, obviously), pour yesterday’s french press down my gullet and get to work on the porch with a stack of books and a dictionary (a real live paper Websters, guy) while ignoring the influx of phone calls and mail that my student loaners shower me with every day (seriously guys, I never loved you. We don’t owe each other anything. Let’s move on) (and stop threatening me with the notion of “bad credit” which I can TOTALLY see through as a tool of State control DUH).

I’ve been reading Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon (naming my first born Heat-Moon, obviously) for a few months, slowly only because I don’t want it to end. Perhaps it’s because I’m feeling all too stationary, but his journey through the back roads of America is filled with quiet wisdom and wry wit, and a worthy one to live vicariously through. The book itself is an extended meditation on modern America through the eyes of its roads and the people on them, and what it means to be a human living on this land mass of incidental nationhood.

Least Heat-Moon encounters a young Hopi caught between tradition and striving for success in the white man’s world: “my heritage is the Hopi way, and that’s the way of the spirit. Spirit can go anywhere. In fact, it has to go places so it can change and emerge like in the migrations.” College students in Portland incite Least Heat-Moon to “give up on the times”: they believe that “(a) anything less than more than enough was not enough; and (b) anything not taxable was of dubious use: community, insight and so on.” Thirty years after the publication date, America continues unabashedly toward the same end. Jesus freaks, teen runaways and the old and heartbroken color the rest of Least Heat-Moon’s  highways.

Whitman provides the soundtrack to Least Heat-Moon’s journey (O public road, you express me better than I can express myself) and our narrator provides sage poetry of his own: “If a man can keep alert and imaginative, an error is a possibility, a chance at something new; to him, wandering and wondering are part of the same process, and he is most mistaken, most in error, whenever he quits exploring”; “Take the land, take the old ways, Christian soldiers, but please, goddammit, leave me my soul.”

The library set up a “Mad-Men” themed display ostensibly to trick the masses into reading (marketing degree at work, folks!), and it worked because I found Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution by Debra Knight. The following statement is an exercise in redundancy, but I picked up the Beats in college and fell in love with Jack, Allen et al. In fact I’m probably still suffering from a post-adolescent wanderlust that’s since congealed into a pathological aversion to commitment of any stripe that the Beats first awakened in my then-nascent sense of life beyond the ideals I’d been (silver-)spoon-fed from day one. I hesitated to pick up the volume, as my teen crush on the Beats is now a bit of an embarrassing cliche if not an outright personality disorder, but the female angle intrigued and guilted me into picking it up. Little did I know this little book would validate all my life choices! From the intro: “…the liberal arts educations these young women were given created a natural predilection for art and poetry, for a life of creativity instead of confining it to an occasional hour at the symphony. Nothing could be more romantic than joining this chorus of individuality and freedom, leaving behind boredom, safety and conformity.” Thanks Diane Di Prima, Kerouac’s ex-wives and all the rest! Y’all are beautiful.

Next! Water crises! Sex scandal! Semiotics!

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.

Books That Ruin Lives (in a good way)

During my tender college years, I read a few volumes that made me miserable and temporarily unable to function, the effects of which I’m arguably still suffering. But that’s what getting your mind blown feels like, DEH. Read on to do an overhaul on your own brains! If you don’t feel like the rug’s been pulled out from under you, you’re not trying hard enough.

kind of a babe, actually.

My “freshman year of college,” I was just a young pup of a sentient human, “getting into Cat Power” and realizing that I didn’t learn anything in high school aside from the fact that being a  size-two neurotic is the path to success. Well fuck them! I’m into philosophy now! Little did I know what a slippery slope I was sledding.

One ordinary Tuesday, with that particular brand of baseless smug found in abundance and exclusively in dark-haired liberal arts college freshmen running through my veins, I decided to go for a run that afternoon (efforts toward armchair microbrew drunk wouldn’t begin in earnest until I completed my studies, thus at this juncture my extracurriculars were still wholesome and fitness-centric) (I also harbored a middle-school crush on a similarly smug and dark-haired peer, who identified himself as an “deist existentialist” [HA] and looked like a j.crew model. Weirdly, it went nowhere).

Before my own attempts at remaining a size-two neurotic could commence that day, however, I had a philosophy class to attend: Ethics 105. We’d covered utilitarianism (I’m a utilitarian!) the rebuttal to utilitarianism (ok, I’m not!) and on this occasion were delving into the finer points of Camus’ absurdity from our reader, The Moral Life. Our discussion basically resulted in the acknowledgement of the truth that there’s no point to life, so we might as well kill ourselves. Or at least that’s how my barely-post-adolescent brain absorbed the day’s lesson, and my nascent cerebrum was blown all over the wood paneling of our classroom. In a bad way. I promptly went back to my cinder-block dorm room and got into bed. No run would be had that day.

I spent the rest of the year writing in my journal and fantasizing about dropping out of school/life, with only my self-righteousness and the Shins to fuel me through June. It was around then that I  recovered, having clumsily distilled Sartre’s existentialism (for my own purposes of having a good time all the time) into “life ‘doesn’t matter’ in the sense that there’s no afterlife SO WE CAN DO WHATEVER WE WANT!” This “philosophy” has served me well to this day. (I also learned that if you drop an approximation of basically that in conversation with approximately 97% of people, they’ll think you know what you’re talking about.) Then I transferred to a state school and learned how to talk to boys.

Thanks Griel! Now I believe that not wanting a job is a moral imperative.

Also at my state school of choice, which mercifully had no football team, a small Greek scene and enough bearded babes to fill the non-existent stadium, I would ride my first wave into the whirlpool of armchair anarchy and attempt to navigate the ensuing downward spiral. A teenage obsession with Rolling Stone led me to deeper, darker annals of various subcultures (hey, I checked out Naked Lunch, man), beat poetry and living vicariously through the cocaine-fueled misadventures of the Rolling Stones et al. My repressed tendencies toward existential anarchy began to blossom around this time, as a postmodern fiction class proved the falseness of our world is its only true defining quality. (I’m sure my flirtation and eventual commitment to intellectual anarchy has something to do with having been half-assedly raised Catholic/reading too many teen mags and as a result not liking my nose, and could have been cured by a boyfriend/eating disorder but WHOLE NOTHER STORY). I ditched my homework to tear through Delillo, oral histories of 70s London, Warhol’s aphorisms, accounts of eastern European anarchist memoirs and Baudelaire– DOES THIS BROAD KNOW HOW TO PARTY OR WHAT. (I cringe at that list; I now know I should have been drunk and making mistakes like everyone else, and would not recommend being overly-read to anyone, ever, as it only leads to debilitating hyper-self awareness.) It was around this time that I checked out Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century by Griel Marcus from the university library. My life would never be the same. Already rendered an insomniac by All The Ways In Which The World Will End, as was my chosen course of study, Marcus’ account of post-WWI European anarchists, dadaists, Situationists and the revolution of 1968 convinced me that a) a better world is possible and b) that  it will never happen. COOL, NOW I CAN SLEEP. So I started making art like this:

besides having an enormous impact on American culture in general, this brilliant send-up of consumerism/objectification of women will be shown at the Whitney. nah jk, I think it’s kinda cool still.

Continuing my path of Postmodern study and thinking I was a key factor in the Revolution, (um, Chinese kids melt down our laptops for metals with acid baths that they breathe in, guys) (no, seriously), I got kind of into contemporary leftist European thought; the shining gem in that crown being the one, the only, Jean Baudrillard. This guy will RUN A TRAIN ON YR MIND S00 HRD. He throws around terms like hyperreality and simulacra to illustrate his key thesis that (and I’m paraphrasing here) everything is like, fake, because it’s a construct of something real, which we recreate to experience something “realer.” I.e. Southern California is HYPERREAL AS FUCK; it’s a desert that humans turned into Eden so that they could ignore the crushing vacancy of the human soul in the modern world. Or something.

Baudrillard-approved.

Really interested in the pursuit of denying the goodness of life in general (but in a totally lame, uncommitted way, because I still had friends and stuff) I decided to acquire a copy of Baudrillard’s America for myself. In this book, he deconstructs the image of a man running on the beach with a Walkman as a symbol of the End of A Society, the Harbinger of the Apocalypse, oh except that’s already happened, obviously.

Sample quote: “The marathon is a form of demonstrative suicide, suicide as advertising: it is running to show you are capable of getting every last drop of energy out of yourself, to prove it… to prove what? That you are capable of finishing. Graffiti carry the same message. They simply say: I’m so-and-so and I exist! They are free publicity for existence.”

Obviously a natural choice for a 21-year-old American with nothing but a bright future ahead as her birth rite. YES TO LIFE!I basically couldn’t describe a concept, place or material object as anything but “hyperreal” for the ensuing year or so. Which is totally sexy, obviously.

After having my cranium rocked by these tomes, I eventually devoted my entire existence to the pursuit of getting made out with whilst wearing jorts. Baudrillard is turning in his grave over people like me, but he probably never went to a dance party. PLUS, at least I have an abundance of fodder just in case I ever meet anyone who’s also a recovering psyche-destroying book junky (call me).

The point, of course , of all this reading (living in general, really)  is to construct one’s own toolkit with which to take on the world. Open your mind, let the infinite in and build your own haven of beautiful truths.

Keep reading, yallz!

❤ hyperreality 4 lyfe ❤